Fountain Pen 101: Ink

It’s impossible to cover ink in a single post. For one, I don’t know every ink brand, and new brands are popping up every day. For two, there are all sorts of properties that people like to discuss and/or include in their reviews. However, what I’m going to try to do is give you an overview of the ink properties I’ve heard discussed most often and the “best known” ink brands.

As a side note for newbies, make sure you only use fountain pen inks. Ink for dip pens could destroy your pen.

Ink Properties

As you start exploring inks, you’ll hear about various properties, including shimmer, shading, sheen, wetness, feathering, and bleeding. Most ink properties are at least partially dependent on the paper you use. Basic copy paper, for example, will negate almost all ink properties, while Tomoe River paper is well-known to enhance most ink properties. To enhance ink properties, you want to write/draw on “ink resistant” paper.

Shimmer

This is exactly what it sounds like. It’s fountain pen ink that contains glitter-like particles suspended in the liquid.

Shimmer Ink
Shimmer Ink

Many people like writing with these shiny inks, but there is a major negative: it can clog your pen. Despite what you may hear, it’s the feed that clogs, so a wider nib may not solve your problems. The particles can clog the feed channel (the slit on a feed that brings ink to the nib), keeping ink from reaching the tip. Pens that are wet writers tend to work best with shimmer inks.

I’d suggest devoting a pen specifically to shimmer inks, unless you have one that, like the Pilot Metropolitan, you can completely remove the feed and give it a good scrub, because shimmer can get stuck on the feed and appear in other ink later.

When using shimmer inks, you have to shake the bottle before filling your pen to ensure the shimmer particles are actually in suspension, rather than resting at the bottom of the bottle. You’ll also have to give your pen a little shake or roll before writing to get the particles back in suspension. However, if you like a shimmer ink color but don’t like shimmer, you can generally let the particles settle to the bottom of the bottle and fill your pen from the top. Presto! You have the color with minimal or no shimmer.

Shading

Shading Examples
Examples of Shading

This is how the ink changes as more or less ink is applied to paper. For example, a F nib will apply/lay down less ink than a B nib. Most ink has at least some level of shading. For many people, myself included, shading is a very desirable ink property, especially because ballpoint/gel/rollerball pens don’t offer much, if any, shading. The single downside to shading, in my opinion, is that depending on what pen/nib you’re using, your ink may look different. It’s nice to have a “solid ink” (my word) that will look the same in each pen.

Sheen

Sheen
Minor sheen vs a sheen monster

Depending on the pigment composition and the pigment density of any given ink, you may see a colorful sheen once your ink is dry. Not every ink sheens, but many inks have at least a little sheen around the edges if enough ink is laid down on the right paper. With some inks it’s just a faint sheen around the edge of the ink mark. With others, the entire surface of the ink mark is covered by sheen. Organics Studio Nitrogen, Ernest Hemingway, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson are well-known “sheen monsters”.

Wetness

This may seem odd, but people do discuss how wet or dry and ink is. Some inks tend to write “wetter” meaning more ink is laid down and it typically takes longer to dry. Goulet Pen Company has a good article and video discussing ink “wetness”.

Additional Properties

Other, lesser discussed, ink properties include:

  • Permanence/UV Resistance: I discussed this in the first post. Few inks (in comparison to the number of inks available) are UV resistant or “permanent”. There are some inks available with those properties, though, so if permanence is important to you, it’s worth researching.
  • Feathering: Feathering is where thin “veins” branch out from the line drawn/written. Some inks are more prone to feathering, and will feather on even the best paper.
  • Bleeding: This is how much an ink bleeds through paper. Some paper will cause bleed-through with nearly every ink, but some ink will bleed through on nearly every paper.

Ink Brands

I’ll start by saying this is a non-exhaustive list. I don’t know every ink brand, I don’t know every ink. I’m just passing along some information I’ve gathered over the last couple of years.

You’re going to want to test inks. Make sure you buy samples before buying bottles. You don’t want to find yourself stuck with a bunch of bottles of ink you don’t like. Several stores now carry ink samples, including Anderson, Goulet Pens, Ink Journal, iPenStore, and Vanness. Ink journal even offers an ink sample subscription box.

Ink Bottles
Pilot Iroshizuku and Diamine ink bottles. Photos from JetPens.

In talking to various fountain pen users, I’ve found that Diamine (non shimmer) and Pilot Iroshizuku inks are considered “tried and true” in that they work well with virtually all pens and flow well. If there’s a problem with your pen and you’re using one of these inks, it’s unlikely the problem is caused by the ink.

There are also many “good” inks that you don’t really hear anything negative about, but aren’t regarded with the same “goof-proof” standard that Diamine and Iroshizuku hold. If you’re having a problem with a pen and you’re using one of these, you’ll probably receive at least one suggestion to try swapping inks.

Some of the better “good” inks I’ve used include (in alphabetical order): Akkerman, DeAtramentis, J. Herbin, Monteverde, Organics Studio, Platinum, Pelikan Edelstein, Robert Oster, Rohrer & Klingner, and Sailor (including Jentle, Kobe, Bungubox, and Kyoto TAG).

Some “up and coming” inks that haven’t been used enough among my section of the pen world to form a solid opinion include Colorverse, Krishna, and Papier Plume. My limited experience with them has been positive so far.

There is one brand that is somewhat controversial in the pen world: Noodler’s. I’ve heard from some people that you shouldn’t use Noodler’s ink in any vintage or expensive pens. A couple weeks ago, I finally got a reason: the acidity in Noodler’s ink is higher than other inks. I’ve used Noodler’s in several pens and haven’t had any pen problems. However, I have experienced problems with the ink itself, including feathering, bleeding, and extremely long drying times.

So that’s my overview on ink. Is there anything specific you want to know that I didn’t cover? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Did you like this? Share with your friends:

2 thoughts

  1. Rachel,

    Thank you for this inkspiration. It is a good 101 for (new) FP people.

    Just missing one descent ink Pelikan – Edelstein. Maybe it’s only a classic brand in Europe, but it’s the most common. Used at school by all people of my age. Still it’s the most sold brand for cartridges in Belgium (classic Pelikan 4001 royal blue).

    Warm regards

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *