ink

Ink

Choosing your ink is part of the writing experience. The ink you use makes a statement.

Most pens will perform very well with most brands of ink. It is the exception where there is a performance. You will find instances where a particular brand of ink does not work well in a particular brand of pen.

Over the past few years, the range of inks and colours has become richer. Gone of the days where it was a choice of black or blue. Although blue, and the search for the perfect blue, is a very common topic.

For those who use fountain pens, the issue of the ink is important. I find questions about ink to be the second most popular topic that I receive e-mails.

What is the best ink? Impossible to answer. It really is a matter of your personal preference. For every writer who prefers a dark deep colour, there is another who prefers a lighter tone of ink and one that will show shade variations.

Some brands rank high in terms of being a dependable ink. While I can not answer the "what is best" question, I am pleased to share my views of the inks I have used.

Reviews by Manufacturer

  • By Manufacturer - I provide a list of inks that I have used sorted by manufacturer.

Inks of Choice

  • Inks of Choice - my ink cupboard has way too many bottles, however, my inks of choice are those inks that tend to be loaded in my pens, more than other brands/colours.

I hope you find the reviews helpful, but in the end, your experience with a particular ink will depend on four factors:

  • the pen, pens have different ink flow characteristics depending on the ink feed in the fountain pen;
  • the nib, the width of the nib influences the amount of ink that flows to the paper which in turn impacts the colour;
  • the paper and how it absorbs ink - does the ink soak in, does the ink sit on the surface; and
  • the ink itself as the various brands and colours within the brand have their own chemistry and that includes viscosity or tension.

About Fountain Pen Ink

So what is fountain pen ink? Basically a balanced combination of water (the fluid), dyes (the colour), additives (stop things growing in the ink) , and chemicals to control viscosity and flow of the ink.

Fountain pen ink is water based and this is the only ink to use in a fountain pen. There are other inks that are suitable for dip pens. Avoid art or Indian inks as they will cause problems with the ink feed system of a fountain pen.

Pen Companies Ink Brands

A common question is about the matching of pen and ink brands. When I have talked with various pen manufacturers they say their brand of ink is formulated to work with the ink flow system of their particular pens. They do this mainly by setting the specifications for the ink as very few companies actually make their own ink. In the pen world, the question: "Who makes a particular line of ink" is a regular question and very hard to answer.

You can tell when a pen manufacturer changes their ink producers. Montblanc did in 2010 and the resulting new line of inks was very different from what was in place before. Sheaffer also made a change resulting in basically a very different ink - and I will say, for both companies, the most current line of ink is better.

Simply put, you can use different brands of inks in different pens. You will find from time to time that some brands just don't perform as well in certain pens. That is why you never only have one bottle!

What is Wet and Dry Ink?

Particular inks are known as "wet" or "dry" based on the viscosity of the ink. Dry inks have more surface tension and therefore the ink has a slower flow. 

A recent Pen World article on inks noted wet inks to include such as: Private Reserve American Blue or Lake Placid, Sheaffer Blue, OMAS Blue, Waterman Blue, Noodler's Window Maker, Parker Quink blue, Diamine Sepia, Aurora Black or Blue, Caran d'Ache inks and Iroshizuku inks.

On the other hand, noted dry inks included Pelikan 4001, Waterman Blue/Black, most of the Diamine inks, Noodler's Black, Montblanc Black, Cross, Rotring and Lamy Blue or Black.

Are all colours safe to use?

The simple answer is no. Some inks have highly saturated colours and depending on the material of your pen, the ink may stain the pen. Reds and purples are particularly known for staining.

An all black pen nib section will have less issues, but some of the resin or celluloid pens, especially those with translucent or pale colours, may stain.

The staining can just happen. When the pen is resting, ink can be released from the nib into the cap of the pen, or around the base of the nib section. I have a few pens that have ink stains. It is not just a matter of wiping the pen after a fill.

Ink Protocol

Keep the ink in your pen fresh. If you are not going to use a pen for a period of time, flush the ink out. The best way to flush your pen is to expel the ink, and the draw up and expel some water and then expel. Then draw the nib across a piece of paper towel and you will see ink and water continue to be drawn from the pen.

Can you keep ink? Yes, but keep the ink bottle out of light. Light will break down the composition of ink. Some brands even sell their ink in black glass bottles. Keeping your ink in a closed cupboard is a good option. Some ink, such as Montblanc have a "Best Before" label attached to the bottle or box.

Bottle Design is Important

While the composition of ink important, the design and shape of the ink bottle is also a consideration. This is an issue especially important for those using pens with large nibs. For a good fill, the nib needs to be fully submerged in the ink. This prevents air from being drawn up into the pen. Shallow wide bottles are more difficult. Taller-narrower bottles much better.

Bottles than can be secure when at an angle, such as the classic Waterman and OMAS bottles are excellent options.

The classic Montblanc bottle is an example of a bottle with an indented filling section.

A bottle for the desk or travel?

There are ink bottles that look great on your desk, and those that will or will not fit in a briefcase. I like the multi-sided OMAS ink bottle on my desk. It is big and substantive enough to sit on the desk and not be knocked over too easily. I can slant the bottle on its side for a good fill. But in my leather briefcase the large round size of the bottle is a bit bulky. So I keep other bottles specifically as they fit nicely into the pouch of my briefcase.

Inks are Expensive

Today, buying a bottle of wine or a bottle of ink as a gift is almost the same price point. Yet the bottle of ink is so much smaller! Inks are expensive. Over the past year the price of ink has continued to climb. In my Pen Views column I havecompared the price of inks in 2014

In 2012 I looked at the size and price of a range of brands. The cost per ounce ranged from $4.72 for Diamine Ink to up to $20.59 for iroshizuku. Too bad I like iroshizuku ink so much!.

Waterman, Pelikan, Delta, OMAS, Visconti are all brands that quickly come to mind when I think of inks that work in a wide range of pens. These are all what I consider inks at a basic price point. Other lines of inks can get very costly. In 2013, I discovered Louis Vuitton ink. I love the ink. The price? I arrived back at our apartment in Paris and told my wife I just purchased $100 CDN worth of ink. When she asked how I was going to ship it back to Canada, I replied, "no problem, the two bottles will nicely fit in my suitcase"!

Noodler's, Private Reserve and Diamine are another groups of ink that I have used extensively and come in very vibrant colours. There are mixed reviews on Noodler's and Private Reserve Ink that rank from they are the best, to they are inks to use with caution.

Mixing Inks

There are ink mixing kits that can be purchases, or you can try mixing by experimenting. Mixing inks is done with caution and you may or may not have luck. Mixing inks of different colours and different brands can have unexpected results in how the chemistry interacts.

In 2011 Platinum issued an ink mixing kit. The inks were advertised as being specifically different from other inks in they are made to be mixed. As they said, "Mix free ink does not harden when it is mixed, and the ink does not clog up in a nib." That gives you an idea of what can happen with some inks as a result of mixing inks where there is a chemical imbalance in the final product.

So, do enjoy your inks.