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Fountain Pen 201: Ink Swab Catalog

Posted in Fountain Pens

Welcome back to Fountain Pen 201, and happy Fountain Pen Friday! I’ve had multiple requests over the past few months to give lessons or write a post about how I created and maintain my ink swab notebook. So this week, I’ll be covering my ink swabbing methods.

A little history before I dive into the meat of my post. I used to use the Col-O-Ring system. But once you fill your first ring, it starts getting bulky. So I looked for a different method. I figured a notebook would be suitably contained and portable. Because I love the Maruman Mnemosyne paper, I decided to try the Hardcover Executive Notebook (N195A) for my new ink swab adventure. It did not disappoint.

To set up the book, I numbered the pages for easier reference and drew a dividing line down the middle of the right hand pages. With the way the pages are already divided into three sections, the middle line gives you six swatch slots per page.

Divided page

Two positives: I found I didn’t need to draw lines on the left pages because you can see the line through the paper. Also, the notebook has tick marks at the top and bottom of each page to make drawing lines easier.

Tick marks on page

I divided the notebook into even sections for the eight color groups: Red/Pink/Burgundy, Yellow/Gold/Orange, Green, Teal/Turquoise, Purple, Brown, and Gray/Black. Each color got 19 sheets. I also created an index page, although I ultimately decided to add dividing tabs instead. I also considered dividing the notebook into sections by ink brands, but I knew I couldn’t divide that evenly, so I went with the colors.

Swab book index

Each sample has a “method” as well. The eight lines in each sample space are all accounted for:

  • Line 1 is set aside for notations when Jim and/or I dislike the ink.
  • Lines 2-4 are for the ink swab.
  • Line 5 is for ownership notations.
    • T – Test: This is when I’ve tested an ink at a meet-up or show. I don’t have any more of it.
    • S – Sample: This is when I own a sample of the ink
    • W – Want: This is when I’ve tested or sampled the ink and want a full bottle
    • B – Bottle: This is when I’ve purchased a bottle
  • Line 6 is for the ink brand.
  • Line 7 is for the ink color name.
  • Line 8 is for notations if the color is sold/discarded or a dupe for another color. (see more below)
Example of a swab
Click the image to view larger.

I use a small paintbrush for the swab instead of a q-tip whenever possible to improve shading. Look at the difference between the two. Even with a q-tip completely soaked in ink, it still doesn’t allow for much shading. I write out the ink colors with a nib holder fitted with a Zebra G nib because I can get an approximation of both wet and dry writing pens by varying the pressure I write with.

Swab comparison
Left swab is with a q-tip, right swab is with a paintbrush.

There are some downsides to this method. Within the color categories, there is no organization to the swabs. You can’t reorganize the book at all. If you mis-swab something, the only recourse is to make a notation on the top of the correct color page.

But, if those issues don’t bother you, it’s a nice cataloging system, and is very portable. So how do you swab inks? Do you think you’ll test this method? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Nice blog about fountain pen ink Thanks for share this.

    June 7, 2019
    • Glad you like it. 😊

      June 7, 2019

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