Category Archives: Ink Reviews

Meet the Ink Test Guru

Several years ago I met Donn D. at the Chicago Pen Show. We got to talking outside of the main room afterhours, and he was the one who introduced me to Ink-Fast Tests. He had a binder of very organized ink swatches that showed what an ink looked like when protected from the light, what it looked like after it had been left in the sun for 3 months and after it had been left in the sun for 6 months.

As I was on a quest for the perfect replacement blue for my beloved Waterman Florida Blue, I began making ink tests for this site. I figured you would be as curious as I am about how ink holds up to UV light.

Donn and I got together at this year’s Washington DC Pen Show and resumed our inky discussions. I asked if he would be so kind as to share some of his tests on the blog, and he said, “Yes.”

Included in this post are 4 pages of his tests of Pilot ink, Diamine ink, Noodler’s ink, Waterman ink, Parker ink and Pelikan ink…among others.

Donn described his methodology as such: “I exposed fountain pen ink samples to ultraviolet light from the sun for 3 months and 6 months.  The exposure method involved simply taping them to the inside of a patio door, which does not block UV very well.  I exposed all samples in the same manner, but not at the same time, and have no record of the number of cloudy vs. sunny days for each test.  The paper was standard office copy bond.

The inks in this test happen to be colors I like, rather than a general test of a manufacturer’s entire product line.

What surprised me most was how well green inks held up, and a chemist friend speculates a copper compound may be involved.

Note: Test sheet #1 shows 6-month results only.”

Thank you, Donn, for sharing so many of these ink tests. Everybody else, I hope these help you in your quest for the perfect inks.

Click on any of the images to see a larger, clearer representation of the inks tested. Please also note that these are not performance tests of the ink inside a fountain pen. Some of these inks are not as well suited to vintage pens as others. This is strictly to showcase how an ink will hold up to time and light. (For example, Noodler’s Ink often clogs the hell out of vintage pens. Beautiful inks but a pain to deal with unless you love spending hours cleaning pens.)

Ink Fast Test #5: Diamine & ColorVerse

I went a little ink crazy at Vanness Pens during the Little Rock Pen Show, back in April. Afterall, they only have the world’s largest selection of ink…and they were kind enough to ply just about all of the vendors and weekend pass holders with free food (including chocolate-covered bacon) and beer. As such, I dove further down the Diamine rabbit hole…and then I won a free bottle of ColorVerse Kepler’s Laws ink in a raffle!

These are before and after samples of Diamine and ColorVerse inks left in the sun for 3 months.

Now it is time to share my experiences with the inks. My all-time favorite blue ink is the old Waterman’s Florida Blue, so I had to try some of Diamine’s Florida Blue. Diamine Florida Blue is a very pale blue that is just a little too deep to be turquoise. I still prefer the much darker Waterman version. I put a test sample in a sunny window, and the UV rays completely erased the Diamine Florida Blue test sample! Definitely not archival quality ink, although it is attractive for artistic writing uses.

Diamine Mediterranean Blue ink is gorgeous when used in a really wet pen. The photo proof sample isn’t as generous of its deeper hues of blue. It could be my replacement for Waterman’s discontinued ink…except it too was completely erased by the sun!

My favorite ink find of the past year or two was Diamine’s Ancient Copper. When I saw the Diamine Autumn Oak at the shop, it looks about a shade lighter in a rich orangy brown. It is a beautiful ink when fresh. Annnnd, luckily it holds up a little better than Diamine blues in 3 months of sunlight.

Of the four inks, ColorVerse’s Kepler’s Laws held up best to the sun. It is a rich red color with purple hues and a little shimmer when fresh. (I don’t see the shimmer, but all of my pen pals insist that they see it.) It writes better than I thought it would. I was really worried it would clog up my pen, but I didn’t have that experience in a Delta Fusion A2 I have with a stub nib. After 3 months in the sun, the more vibrant red aspects vanished, but a slightly watery merlot color remained strong.

And for those who are curious about the black header ink, it is the already tested and proven Aurora black. A bad-ass ink that never quits.

Frau Tinte’s Iron Gall Ink Test

One of my favorite parts about owning a pen business is meeting so many amazing pen and ink collectors from around the world.

One of my many great new friends is a brilliant “amateur” ink historian from Germany who doesn’t want to be identified, so I shall simply refer to her as Frau Tinte. (Ms. Ink, auf Deutsch) In addition to collecting great vintage and modern pens and having a phenomenal talent with calligraphy scripts, Frau Tinte loves researching medieval ink recipes!

Frau Tinte’s iron gall ink goes down very faintly. You can barely read what you are writing. The cool thing is that you can smell the pomegranate and iron in the ink.

She has combed some truly amazing libraries in search of rare and original documents from as long ago as the 1200s and 1300s. As ink making was a very inexact science back then without a lot of consistent, formal measurements like today, recreating these inks is an art form in and of itself. Some of the ingredients are rather vaguely named, as the medieval German word for an item might not be what that ingredient is called today. Plus, old German scripts are practically a different language from modern German lettering. Yet, she methodically tests recipes until she can get reasonably consistent and accurate recreations.

Frau Tinte very kindly and graciously shared with me an old iron gall recreation that is partially made from pomegranates. You can smell the fruit and iron in the ink! The ink is toxic and highly aggressive in its relation to mammals, nibs and inkfeeds. She made it clear that I could only use this ink with a glass dip nib or a 14k gold dip nib with no inkfeed. If I filled a vintage or modern pen with it, it would quickly begin to eat the insides of the pen and feed.

Here are three samples of Frau Tinte’s Iron Gall Ink after a little more than a year in different elements.

Thus, I have spent the past year plus writing with it using a glass-nib dip pen. It is pretty amazing stuff. The iron in the ink oxidizes over time to get darker. Basically, it is rusting on the paper. When you write with it, you can barely read it. Yet, within a few minutes it darkens, and it can continue to darken for years. Many surviving handwritten documents from hundreds of years ago using this or similar iron gall inks are black, and you can see it is getting pretty dark in the samples, but it isn’t a true black, yet.

Wondering how a year would treat the ink, I created 4 samples. One was only seconds old when I shot it, so you can see what it is like to write with. It is a very faint grey that you can barely read. Test #1 was left in a cool, dry place with no direct sunlight. Test #2 was left in a window with direct sunlight. Test #3 was left in a dark, humid place. Each writing sample was written on Montblanc Meisterbütten paper…similar to the parchments used in the 1800s.

I thought the humid sample would have been the darkest, as it might have allowed for more rusting action, but it is about as dark as the control sample #1. The neatest result for me was the sunlight sample. The paper is bleached at least three shades whiter than the other samples. (Photo lighting makes that a little harder to see, but the difference is immediately obvious once you hold the samples together.) Although the ink is maybe a shade lighter than the other year-old samples, it is still really dark on the paper, unlike about 90% of the inks we leave in a window for only 3 or so months.

If you are looking for a permanent ink with a unique chemical signature, find yourself a good iron gall ink.

As for the availability of Frau Tinte’s creations, we are pondering the legal aspects of it on the market in the U.S. What worries us are the facts that it is toxic and how it can ruin pens so quickly if used inappropriately. I know you loyal readers are bright enough not to shoot it with your whiskey or fill your pens with it, but if McDonald’s can get sued for their coffee being too hot…well, you know where this can end up. Eventually, somebody’s poor kitty will find an open, untended bottle and think it is a snack or someone who possibly received it as a gift will fill their beloved $2,000 Montblanc with it. We definitely don’t want to be responsible for those tragedies. Yet, it would be nice for people who want to try it to have a safe and fun writing experience that is centuries old.

If you happen to be a product safety lawyer and happen to know the answers to such questions, please feel free to share them with me.

Ink Fast Test #3

Attracted by the many colors and properties of Noodler’s Inks, I just had to start exploring.

Finding the right orange ink for me became an obsession last winter. Loving the color samples online for Apache Sunset and Habanero, they were the first in my cart.

The top portion of this photo showcases fresh writing with Noodler’s Apache Sunset, Habanero, Polar Blue and Anti-Feather Black inks. The bottom of this photo shows how much or little they faded after being exposed to 6 months of summer sunlight.

Noodler’s Apache Sunset looked much darker in the online sample. In real life it was more of a running Pumpkin-Gut yellow-orange. It doesn’t offer much by way of shadowing effects unless you use a really wet nib or more preferably a wet, wide stub nib. In the six months it was posted in my sunniest window, it faded the most heavily, which really wasn’t surprising.

Friends know me quite well for my obsession with fiery hot tacos (My buddy Adam and I invented the notorious Flaming Hot Orgasmic Tacos from Hell while in college.), and I could not pass up a Noodler’s Habanero ink. This one looks spectacular and is the darkness that I thought Apache Sunset would be. It became my favorite of my 4 new Noodler’s inks. Unfortunately, its blazing color doesn’t hold up well to the blazing fury of the summer sun. As much as I love the color, I have noticed it is rather viscous. Generally, I have to thoroughly flush my pen every time between fillings of the Habanero ink. If I don’t, the pen gets too clogged up to write by the time I am half way through the second fill.

Since beginning these ink fast tests, I’ve been desperately looking for inks that won’t fade heavily with time or light. Noodler’s Bullet Proof inks are perfect for archival writing. Six months in the summer sun did little to diminish the strength of Noodler’s “Polar Blue” and “Anti-Feather Black.” These inks are promised to be UV resistant, water resistant, chemical uneraseable and many other incredible features. Our tests proved that out. When we soaked one sample in water, the paper disintegrated more than the ink.

Noodler’s Anti-Feather Black ink only gets a smidge fuzzy after being soaked in water. It holds its properties incredibly well in sunlight and under water…once it has been let dry, that is.

Yet, there is a cost to these inks as well. They clogged the living daylights out of two juicy writing pens. It was a matter of time more than of use. If I were to fill a pen with Anti-Feather Black and write it to empty in one day, there’d have been little problem. If I wrote out half of the ink in one day and then waited a week to use it again, then problems developed. Ink would dry out on the ink feed and start gumming up the works fairly quickly.

As much as I love the deep, rich black of the Anti-Feather, along with its archival qualities, I only reserve it for special occasions, using only a glass dip nib. The Polar Blue was so frustrating, I gave it away to a friend who wanted to try it.

Delving into Diamine Inks

It seems strange, even to me, that in spite of a lifetime using fountain pens, I had never previously gotten all that into inks. I used whatever was available, eventually falling in love with Waterman’s Florida Blue and Aurora’s black inks. And then Waterman went and discontinued Florida Blue. Sure, I bought up a bunch of it before it disappeared, but I found myself in ink crisis wanting to find something that I liked as much.

Witness the way sunlight fades fresh Diamine ink. The left writing sample spent 4 months in direct sunlight. The right writing sample is fresh out of the bottle. I was particularly impressed by the color, clarity and resistance to harsh UV rays.

Witness the way sunlight fades fresh Diamine ink. The left writing sample spent 4 months in direct sunlight. The right writing sample is fresh out of the bottle. I was particularly impressed by the color, clarity and resistance to harsh UV rays in the Diamine Ancient Copper ink.

This coincided nicely with a new generation of people exploring the wonders of many ink colors and brands! Now I have the bug, too. While still questing for my perfect Florida Blue replacement, I’ve been branching out trying new colors.

A penpal in Germany turned me on to the many wonders of Diamine last autumn. I picked out 4 colors to order and try on my own. I also performed an ink-fast test on them to see how they held up after spending 4 months in my window, during winter’s weaker light. Here are the results:

SHERWOOD GREEN: I’ve always loved Robin Hood stories, since I watched the Errol Flynn flick as a kid. Fresh on the page, it is a little darker and more yellow than I would have preferred, but it made a great ink for my Christmas cards last year. Given how dark and rich it is, I was surprised when it faded this much.

KENSINGTON BLUE: This is a beautiful dark blue with aqua accents in the shadowing, which you can’t see as well in this sample. Unfortunately, it suffers the same fate as many blues by fading too much over time.

PRUSSIAN BLUE: Given some German ancestry and an appreciation of their cheek-scarring fencing tactics, I had to try this ink. It is a good blue-black with some very nice shadow effects. As I am finding with other blue-blacks, it holds up a little better under the sun’s harsh rays.

ANCIENT COPPER: Hands down my favorite new ink of the past year! It’s rich, dark orange looks incredible when spread thin with a stub and then brought to a thick, darker clot when laid down thicker at the top or bottom of a loop. Its only downside is that it does seem to clog a bit in the pen over time. If I give my trusty Pelikan 800 a thorough flushing between refills, I have no troubles whatsoever. Best of all, it hardly fades at all, unlike my beautiful but fickle blues.

A 3-Month Ink-Fast Test

A gentleman at this year’s Chicago Pen Show showed me his very elaborate ink-fast test to see which of his inks could best withstand direct sunlight for an extended period of time. He tested dozens, if not more than 100 inks, to see how they looked new, at 3 months, at 6 months and a year.

As he said most of the damage was done to the ink within the first three months, I decided to try a 3-month ink-fast test on my 8 favorite inks.

8 inks testing day 1

Here are the fresh fountain pen inks on Day 1 of the trial before being placed in my sunniest window.

Hopefully the photos show the results. However, to clarify any difficulties due to all of the variations of computer screens, I shall describe the results, as well.

Lamy Green went from a bright kelly green a faded, almost camouflage green-grey.

Lamy Turquoise turned to a blue-black.

Monte Verde’s new blue fountain pen ink faired second to worst, turning from a nice medium blue to a light shade of grey.

Parker Blue-Black fared best, maintaining a strong dark color more black than blue.

Waterman Florida Blue turned medium grey.

Pelikan Edelstein Adventurine, which is almost a forest green, but not quite, turned turquoise.

Aurora Black Ink turned a medium to darkish brown. This made me wonder if Aurora put a touch of iron in its ink.

Inks after 90 days of sun

After 90 days in direct sunlight, all 8 inks faded. However, it appears that Parker Blue-Black ink held fastest and Yard-O-Led Royal Blue faded the most.

Yard-O-Led Royal Blue, which is an especially brilliant blue when fresh, fared worst and turned to a barely legible sky blue.

Although I had no idea how Waterman Florida Blue would deteriorate over the years, it has been my go-to ink since I discovered it in the 1990s. Now that they no longer make it and changed the formula to Parker’s slightly inferior blue Quink, I am on a quest for a new blue to love. I thought Yard-O-Led would be it, but now I have my doubts. A German friend has turned me on to Diamine Kensington Blue. We’ll have to see how that holds up to the sun.

When I know, I’ll be sure to share.

Testing Lamy Nibs & Inks

If you caught us at the Chicago Pen Show, then you saw our really fun Lamy nib-and-ink-testing station. It was a great opportunity to try each of Lamy’s 7 nib sizes used on their super-popular Safari, AL-Star and Studio pen models. Each of our pens was loaded with one of the 7 different ink colors Lamy sells in cartridges.

Check out the 7 standard nib sizes and ink colors put out by Lamy. These range from extra-fine nib to a 1.9mm stub! Blue-black ink gives the best shadowing in a Lamy pen. These nibs can be ordered for any Lamy Safari, Lamy AL-Star and Lamy Studio fountain pen.

Check out the 7 standard nib sizes and ink colors put out by Lamy. These range from an extra-fine nib to a 1.9mm stub! Blue-black ink gives the best shadowing in a Lamy pen. These nibs can be ordered for any Lamy Safari, Lamy AL-Star and Lamy Studio fountain pen.

This sample shows the nibs ranging extra fine, fine, medium, broad, 1.1mm, 1.5mm and 1.9mm. I think our most popular seller was the 1.5mm nib followed by the medium nib. Extra fine is popular these days, but so many write with a bit of feedback. Personally, I love the medium, 1.1mm and 1.5mm nibs. The stubs offer nice line variation at a very affordable price. In a Lamy Safari, they make great travel pens that can get beat-up or lost without inducing guilt. Plus, with a fancy stub nib, your postcards and journal will look great.

The broad nib is actually much juicier than the image makes it look.

Our most popular inks were purple and turquoise. Purple was no surprise, given the popularity of the new dark lilac Safari. Turquoise did surprise me. Men bought it in droves, and they typically stick to standard blues and blacks. Yet, I’ve been thinking of using it much more than in years past. It’s a nice color.

For folks who like the stub nibs, I highly recommend the blue-black ink by Lamy. As you can see, it offers the most shading. The black is more solidly black without as much shading as a Parker Quink or Pelikan. Green is a great color that seems underused.

We are thinking of making the Lamy nib and ink stations standard for any show we can drive to. Hopefully, we will see you soon. In the meantime, I hope this photo serves as a good indicator as to the qualities of these Lamy nibs and inks.

Yard-O-Led Ink Review

It isn’t often we get to see Yard-O-Led inks on this side of the puddle. Luckily for all, ThePenMarket.com now carries these fine bottled inks.

Check out the new bottled ink we carry. Yard-O-Led inks come in four colors: Jet Black, Blue, Blue/Black and Claret. Look closely to see great shading in the Jet Black and Blue/Black. The Blue and Claret are radiant wonders that are treat with which to write.

Check out the new bottled ink we carry. Yard-O-Led inks come in four colors: Jet Black, Blue, Blue/Black and Claret. Look closely to see great shading in the Jet Black and Blue/Black. The Blue and Claret are radiant wonders that are treat with which to write.

What struck me first about these inks were the radiance of the Blue (Royal Blue) and Claret (Fuchsia) inks. The blue is a washable ink and very bright. As I have only had it for a short time, I’m not sure how much it will fade over time, as many washable blues do. Nevertheless, I am enjoying its fresh blueness.

The Claret ink seems to be lively combination of hot pink, purple and red. While I expected it to be more of a rich, red wine color, I think it be very popular among the teenage girls who want to explore fountain pens with a more feminine color ink.

Traditional ink lovers will get a charge out of the beautiful shading delivered by the Jet Black and Blue/Black inks by Yard-O-Led. The Jet Black is more of a charcoal grey, and the wider the nib you use, the more distinctive the shadows become. The same can be said for the Blue/Black ink. Fine-point nibs lose the shading and concentrate the colors more.

Sanford Ink: A Brief History

If you troll the antique stores of America searching for great deals on vintage pens, you cannot help but come upon those seemingly ubiquitous small pressed glass ink bottles by Sanford. They have myriad colored caps. Maybe you run into the Sanford Pen It inkwells and towers.

The Sanford Ink Company is one of the oldest ink companies in the world that is still in operation. They made many colors of fountain pen inks since 1857, and they invented the Sharpie in 1964! This Sanford Ink display is a metal carousel that is most likely from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

The Sanford Ink Company is one of the oldest ink companies in the world that is still in operation. They made many colors of fountain pen inks since 1857, and they invented the Sharpie in 1964! This Sanford Ink display is a metal carousel that is most likely from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

The more I found, the more I asked: Who and what was the Sanford Ink Company? Why aren’t they still around? Did their ink perform so terribly that they went out of business…just not before making billions of bottles of ink to litter our antique malls?

My ignorance got the better of me a few months ago when I was asked to sell a display carousel of those little cubed 1oz ink bottles. It had close to a dozen different colors on an aluminum spinner that appeared to be straight out of the late 1940s or early 1950s. I finally had to breakdown and research the company if I had any prayer of selling this thing. It was perhaps my happiest discovery about the ink world this year.

Sanford inks didn’t suck. They are so good that they are still the bestselling in America today. They just don’t sell fountain pen ink any more. You will better know their universally famous product: the Sharpie Marker. With its nearly indestructible permanent black ink markers and other colors, Sharpie is in nearly every home and office.

The Sanford story is actually a very interesting one. Sanford dates all the way back to 1857, before the Civil War. They made ink and glue in Massachusetts before moving to Chicago in 1866, just 5 years before the great fire burned the city to the ground. Sanford actually survived the tragic fire only to be burned down by another blaze a very short while later. The company rebuilt and became one of America’s largest ink manufacturers and suppliers by the end of the Great Depression. The only ink company we know that has been in the game longer is Pelikan, which got its start in Hanover, Germany, in 1838.

The Sharpie marker can write on most any surface with a permanent ink. This older Sharpie still shows the Sanford coporate logo.

The Sharpie marker can write on most any surface with a permanent ink. This older Sharpie still shows the Sanford coporate logo.

The invention of the ballpoint pen during the 1940s spelled doom for the fountain pen (and ink) industry. By the 1960s, the Sanford Ink Company was looking to emerging markets to find a new product to keep the company afloat. The Sharpie marker was born in 1964—50 years ago this year! It could write on glass, paper, rocks, just about any surface. It was quickly endorsed by late night talk show comedians Johnny Carson and Jack Paar.

These days it is the “pen” of choice by many star athletes and performers for signing autographs on everything from footballs to glossy photos. Roughly 200 million markers are made every year, according to the Sharpie website.

In a bizarre twist of pen fate, Sanford was bought by Newell Rubbermaid in 1992. Newell Rubbermaid also owns the brands: Parker, Waterman and PaperMate. So, in a sense, Sanford has never fully left the fountain pen ink business. It is now owned by the same people who own what would have been some of Sanford’s greatest competitors 60 years ago.

Fountain Pen Ink 101

This is just an "inkling" of ThePenMarket.com's private collection of vintage and modern fountain pen ink. It includes Sanford ink, Sheaffer towers of ink, Carter's ink and Parker V-mail ink from WWII!

This is just an “inkling” of ThePenMarket.com’s private collection of vintage and modern fountain pen ink. It includes Sanford ink, Sheaffer towers of ink, Carter’s ink and Parker V-mail ink from WWII!

Many people ask me about ink and what they should use in their pens, and it is a great question.

The best rule of thumb is to never, ever use India ink. It has sediments that will clog your pen faster than a diet of Big Macs will clog your arteries. While these pens can be unclogged, it is often a time consuming mess that could potentially damage the pen.

Most of the major name brands make very reliable fountain pen inks that are specially designed to help clean your pen as you write. They might slowly clog your pen over time, especially if you routinely let the ink dry inside your pen. However, they are easier to unclog with a simple flush.

Brands such as Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer, Mont Blanc, Cross, Pelikan, Lamy, Aurora and other major pen makers are always safe bets.

Many modern pen lovers swear by a brand named Private Reserve. These specialty inks offer a zillion different colors that are truely vibrant and beautiful. My trouble with them is that they have always clogged my pens within one or two fills. Personally, I don’t feel they are worth the trouble. Other collectors I talk with insist they never have the trouble with clogging, but I am far from being alone with that issue.

Ink color should also play a role in your decision. Black, blue and blue-black are always safe choices. Red inks have a notorious past for more quickly rotting ink sacs. Even modern red ink shouldn’t be left to set in pens for very long. It is safe to use, but flush your pen when you are done with the ink. Other colors such as greens and purples have a checkered history of ruining ink sacs and pen seals if left in the pen for too long.

One of the many great myths about Mont Blanc pens is that they can only use Mont Blanc inks. The company line is that their inks are specially formulated to preserve and protect their fountain pens. That might very well be true, but most of the other major brand inks are just as safe. Mont Blanc just wants to cash in on their overpriced ink.

Can vintage pens use modern inks? Absolutely. That is virtually all I’ve ever used on my vintage pens.

Can you still use vintage inks on your modern and vintage pens? Certainly! Despite the fact it is a liquid, there are still huge reserves of fresh bottled ink from the 1920s up to present day. Most of the inks in the photo above are from the 1950s and ’60s, and they are still very nice. The #1 vintage ink you want to avoid is “Parker 51 Ink” or “Super Chrome” ink by Parker. It was designed for use in the Parker 51 pens that used latex/silicone ink sacs. The chemicals in the ink very quickly rot traditional rubber ink sacs, diaphragms and piston seals.

Vintage inks can go bad every now and again. When buying vintage ink, check it for “oil slicks,” stuff growing on or in the ink and color separation. Sometimes the old ink loses its pigmentations. Don’t use it if it has any of these issues.

One of my favorite hoaxes in history used vintage inks from the 1880s! In the 1990s, the supposed diary of Jack the Ripper was discovered in London. The diary was to have belonged to one James Maybrick who was never on the radar of “ripperologists.” The initial results on the paper and ink proved they were genuinely from the 1880s. Later tests realized that the diary had been written in the 1950s and cleverly tucked inside a wall of some old building or house, not to be discovered for another 40 years when new owners discovered it during a remodel. I think that makes the hoax all the better, as whoever perpetrated it was likely dead by the time it hit the book stands. That type of patience for a laugh deserves respect.