Beginner's Guide to Fountain Pen Inks

If you’re new to fountain pens, using bottled ink can seem like jumping into the deep end of the pool when you’ve just learned how to swim.

We have so much ink at Goldspot Pens that we could fill up an entire swimming pool with all the colors. And that pool would have all sorts of ink properties like shading, sheen, and shimmer.

What type of ink will work best for you? In this article, we’ll take you, step-by-step, into the deep end of fountain pen inks so you can best understand which ink is best for your fountain pen.

Ink Cartridge vs. Bottled Ink

Cartridges

Most beginners have experience using a fountain pen ink cartridge. They are pre-filled, plastic containers of ink purchased in packs and (typically) disposed of after empty.

While most cartridge/converter filling fountain pens can use the standard “international” cartridge, some brands make cartridges with a proprietary design that only fits specific pens. You can find a comprehensive list of fountain pen brands and their cartridge converter compatibility here.

Pros: Quick, plug-and-play filling, little to no mess

Cons: Colors are limited in variety, higher cost per mL than bottled inks, plastic hurts the environment. Proprietary cartridges won’t fit all pens

Bottled Inks

Traditionally, fountain pen ink came in bottles or ink wells, often with only a few color options. Today, writers have the luxury of selecting from a wide array of colors made from around the world.

Ink bottle sizes, shapes, and materials vary, depending on the manufacturer. Some bottles are small, holding only 10-20ml of ink. Others provide more value with a higher volume of 50-90ml. Some ink bottles are made of economical plastic while others are glass and look like delicate desk ornaments.

Pros: Wider range of ink color options, best value of cost per mL, bottles themselves can be desk art

Cons: Filling could be messy, glass bottles are not travel friendly

Since there are so many different inks to try, some fountain pen enthusiasts prefer ink samples instead of buying a full bottle. Samples are usually contained in a 5ml test tube vial and provide 2-3 fill-ups of ink.

To fill your fountain pen with ink from a bottle or ink sample, you will need a device to draw and contain the ink. For most cartridge/converter fountain pens, that tool is the converter. This device operates like a syringe, sucking ink up through the nib to be stored in the converter’s reservoir.

Alternatively, some fountain pens are self-filling and do not require a separate part to fill with bottled ink. Piston-filling, vacuum-filling, and eyedropper fountain pens have a higher ink capacity than cartridge/converter pens and do not accept ink cartridges.

If you need help on how to fill your fountain pen, we suggest you check out this how-to guide (with videos) here.

Fountain Pen Ink Colors

Now that you understand the basics of how ink is contained and put into your pen, let’s get to the fun part - COLORS!

There are thousands of fountain pen ink colors being made by companies around the world. If you threw a dart at a color wheel, no matter where it landed, there’s an ink color that matches it.

So, how does a newbie in the world of fountain pens begin to explore the vast variety of inks out there? First, let’s point out our customers’ all-time top favorite fountain pen inks.

Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-Peki
Beautiful glass bottle, ink has a brilliant hue, wet flow, low shading, and a hint of pink sheen

Waterman Serenity Blue
Safe for all types of pens, exhibits shading, and coppery sheen

Noodler’s Bulletproof Black
Archival, waterproof, business-appropriate black, for artists

J. Herbin 1670 Anniversary Emerald of Chivor
Super saturated, red sheen and golden shimmer

Sailor Manyo Haha
light saturation, multi-chromatic shading

Ink Properties

Hue

OK, this might seem really basic. But, the hue is the first thing that you will notice about any fountain pen ink. In the case of Pilot Kon-Peki, the ink has a bright, cerulean blue hue. Waterman Serenity Blue’s hue leans more toward a classic, royal blue.

While two inks might have almost the same hue, there are other properties that can set an ink apart from its chromatic twin.

Shading

Fountain pen inks can have varying degrees of “shading.” This is the ink’s ability to show depth of color. Inks like Serenity Blue shade so you can see a darkening value scale within each line stroke.

Then, you have a multi-chromatic shading ink like Sailor Manyo Haha, which shades in both value and color. The lighter saturation of the ink shows dramatic color separation. Is this ink a green? Blue? Pink? It can be all of the above!

High-shading and multi-chromatic shading inks tend to be lighter in saturation and might be a little on the drier side in terms of flow.

Sheen

A fountain pen ink with a high concentration of dye might be a good candidate for “sheen.” Often seen in highly-saturated colors, sheen is the metallic, reflective shine. The effect is more pronounced when the sheen contrasts with the base color. Emerald of Chivor, for example, has a teal base hue with a strong red sheen.

Much like shading, fountain pen inks can also vary in their intensity of sheen. Some inks might only show a little hint of sheen, even while using broad or stub nibs. Others, which are usually referred to as “monster sheeners,” look as though you’ve embossed an entire page of writing in colorful metal foil.

Inks with high amounts of sheen tend to flow a bit wetter and take longer to dry on the page. Smearing tends to be a concern with sheen inks. Even if the ink dried a month ago, all it takes is a clammy hand to reactivate the dye and smear your writing.

Shimmer

Add pizzaz, flash, and glamour to your everyday handwriting with a shimmer fountain pen ink.

Shimmer inks contain small sparkle particles that glisten in the bottle and on the page. The particles are small enough to flow without harming your fountain pen. However, one should always be cautious when using shimmer inks, especially with pens that are hard to disassemble and get completely clean.

Shimmer particles are denser than the ink they float in. So, when you receive a bottle of shimmer ink, the particles will always settle toward the bottom. To ensure proper distribution of shimmer, be sure to shake the bottle before filling your fountain pen.

J. Herbin’s Emerald of Chivor was one of the first shimmer inks to explode in popularity. The gold shimmer contrasts brilliantly with the deep teal and red sheen. Fast forward several years later and there are shimmer pigments in all different colors.

Diamine, Colorverse, and Wearingeul are at the forefront of ink manufacturers using multi-pigmented pearl shimmer. Diamine calls it their “Chameleon” ink in the latest Inkvent Green Edition Calendar. These shimmer inks glisten with different colors depending on the angle the light is catching.

Waterproof

For artists and writers who want their marks to last a lifetime, waterproof fountain pen inks are the way to go. Artists might want to use fountain pen inks to sketch or complete line drawings for a watercolor or mixed media piece. Writers appreciate using indelible ink to prevent their words from being washed away or someone intentionally removing their signature to commit fraud.

Noodler’s “Bulletproof” Black is one of our most popular waterproof and archival inks. Not only is it waterproof when it dries on paper, but it is also lightfast and resistant to the methods of check forgery. UV resistance is also important to artists, as the ink color will stay the same intensity while being exposed to the sun over time.

Scented

For a multi-sensory, refreshing writing experience, a beginning writer could try using scented fountain pen ink. From the moment you open the ink bottle, a scented ink (like Diamine Spruce) treats you to an aroma similar to perfume, but usually not as intense.

An ink’s fragrance tends to be strongest in the bottle. You could also whiff the ink from the pen’s nib. However, if you were expecting your writing to still contain the ink’s fragrance, you would be disappointed.


Paper And Fountain Pen Ink

It is worthwhile to note that fountain pen inks rely heavily on the quality of the paper being used.

A common problem with ordinary notebooks is that they tend to have lighter, absorbent paper stock that turns into a messy mush once liquid fountain pen ink touches it.

A notebook that is fountain pen-friendly won’t feather or bleed through using most inks. A quality notebook will display the ink’s vibrant hue and accentuate its other characteristics like sheen and shading. You may find our top recommendations for ink-loving notebooks in the video below.

Frequently Asked Questions about Fountain Pen Ink

 

What Is Fountain Pen Ink Made Of?

If there was an ingredient list printed on the side of a fountain pen ink bottle, the first ingredient would always be water. Then, there are two different types of fountain pen inks that you will usually find - dye-based and pigmented. Dye-based inks use specific formulations of dyes to produce the final color. Pigmented inks contain small particles for a waterproof ink color once it dries on the page.

Where Does Pen Ink Come From?

Fountain pen ink is made around the world. There are pen manufacturers who also produce fountain pen ink (like Pelikan, Waterman, Montblanc, and Caran d’Ache) as well as manufacturers who only make fountain pen ink (Robert Oster and Diamine).

What Are The Most Expensive Fountain Pen Inks?

Montblanc tops the list with its 50ml bottle of “Elixir” ink for $80 ($1.60 per ml). Sailor is close behind with its 20ml USA States inks at $25 a bottle ($1.25 per ml). Most other brands price their inks at $0.40 - $0.60 per ml.

Are more expensive fountain pen inks worth the cost? That is a question for another day and a topic for a future article.

Are Iron Gall or India Inks bad for your pen?

Iron Gall and India inks are examples of early writing inks used primarily for dip nib pens. These inks have strong water-resistant properties and are used to write and create art.  

However, the traditional formulations of these inks are not suitable for fountain pens. India ink contains a shellac that would cause a nib’s feed to seize. Old-school Iron gall inks are acidic and tend to corrode metal (not good for your nib).

So, you should definitely avoid any “calligraphy” or traditional iron gall inks and any India inks. Modern formulations of iron gall ink (like the ones made by Platinum, Diamine, Rohrer & Klingner, and others) are safe to use with fountain pens.

How To Get Fountain Pen Ink Off Your Hands?

Inky fingers are a badge of honor for the fountain pen enthusiast. Since we all get ink on our hands at one point or another, it is helpful to know how to remove ink from your hands. After all, you won’t want to look like you just murdered someone if you spilled Diamine Oxblood while filling your pen.

While there are products on the market that claim to remove ink quickly, all you really need is a kitchen sponge and some mild dish soap. Wash your hands with the soapy sponge until the ink lightens up from your skin or completely disappears.

How To Get Ink To Flow In a Fountain Pen?

Depending on the type of filling mechanism, getting a fountain pen to flow with ink can be as simple as dipping it into a bottle of ink.

If you are using a cartridge-filling fountain pen, plugging the cartridge into the section will break the cartridge seal. Ink starts to travel from the ink cartridge to the tip of the nib through the feed. Ink doesn’t immediately flood to the nib, so it might take a few moments (or a few minutes) for the ink to fully saturate the feed.

The same principle applies to filling an eye-dropper fountain pen.

When you fill a fountain pen using a converter, piston mechanism, or vacuum, fully submerge the nib in ink and operate the filling mechanism to draw ink into the pen’s reservoir. Since the nib and feed are already saturated with ink, the pen should write immediately.

Are you still having problems getting ink to flow in your fountain pen? Check out our guide on troubleshooting common fountain pen problems.

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