Category Archives: Ink Reviews

Whoa! Montblanc Inks…Beware!

Happy New Year, everybody!

Sorry for the long absence. December and early 2022 have been quite the rollercoaster. Happily, all is well now, and we hope to be back to rockin’ and rollin’ the ink-o-sphere.

Wow! Three months in the sun fades the pigment right out of modern Montblanc inks. Mont Blanc ink burns worse than I do in sunlight.

The biggest shock to me in Dawn’s and my ink tests comes from Montblanc! At $26 retail for a 60ml bottle of ink, you’d think you’d get something close to perfection…especially with the company’s luxury marketing! It is worth it to do a little math here. A 60ml bottle of ink at $26 per bottle means the price of a single milliliter of ink is 43¢. A U.S. gallon is a shade over 3,785 milliliters. Ergo, a gallon of Montblanc ink costs $1,627.55! A gallon of gasoline here in Norwich is $3.39, and a gallon of milk can be found for $4.29. It will seem as though gas and milk are a better bargain, especially after these results.

Now before you start thinking I’m being completely unfair to Montblanc, I’ve always liked its ink. At pen shows I use it as my test ink for anyone wanting to dip a nib to try out a pen. When people asked me what was one of the safest brands of ink…based on no research but word of mouth around pen shows…I’d usually tell them they could trust Montblanc best.

I hereby rescind that proclamation of safety. I got my first wind that trouble was in the air when a customer returned a pen to me after only 3 or 4 months of use with Montblanc Mystery Black ink. Its rubber ink sac had melted. At the time, I thought that was weird and worried the customer had used something far more toxic and then tried to cover it up with Montblanc Mystery Black. Nope. I doubt that now.

Back in July, 2021, I stuck a sample of 8 new bottles of modern Montblanc ink swatches in my sunniest window. These inks included: Oyster Grey, Midnight Blue, Irish Green, Toffee Brown, Royal Blue, Lavender Purple, Burgundy Red and Mystery Black.

After only 3 months in the sun, nearly all faded out! Royal blue turned a faded green. Irish Green and  Lavender Purple almost went invisible.

When Dawn and I tested the fresh ink’s pH, we were equally surprised. For a quick chemistry refresher. Everything is measured in pH on a scale from 0 (extremely acidic) to 14 (a base that is extremely alkali). 7 (distilled water) is perfectly neutral. We calibrated our pH tester at 24.6ºC.

Here are our results from the Montblanc ink pH Test:

Mystery Black          4.3
Royal Blue                3.8
Burgundy Red         4.8
Midnight Blue         4.2
Irish Green               3.9
Oyster Grey              3.9
Toffee Brown           5.6
Lavender Purple     3.8

All of these inks are quite acidic. Blue and black inks are supposed to be the safest inks. They are very acidic in Montblanc! Now, we aren’t chemists. We do not know how the chemistry between the ink sacs, pistons and converters interacts with the ink. Yet, this raw data casts doubt on the safety of Montblanc ink. Perhaps it is the special “cleaner” Montblanc uses to keep inkfeeds clear that is to blame for the acidity. The company recommends only using MB ink in MB pens. Perhaps there is more to that than just their greed of simply wanting to sell more ink.

As we still have a few of the old bottles of Montblanc ink from the 1990s, we didn’t do a UV test on them, but we did a pH test and it was even worse.

Black          2.2
Turquoise 2.8
Red            6.5
Green        3.0

Maybe you’ve had great results. I certainly don’t want to ruin your faith in Montblanc ink, if it has always worked for you. However, it might not be the gold standard I once thought it was. The information here is simply raw data, but it seems striking.

Levenger’s Ink Kicks Ass!

Mathematical and computer genius Alan Turing famously said, “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” In addition to being one of my all-time favorite quotes about people, it seems to apply to the world of fountain pen inks, too.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of Levenger’s ink left in the sun for 3 months and the proof sample saved in the dark.

Ink collectors today understandably go ga-ga for Iroshizuku, Diamine, ColorVerse, J. Herbin, Noodlers and many other brands. Yet, often overlooked, is Levenger’s Ink. In many respects, Levenger’s kicked off the ink-color craze a decade or two before our current manufacturers and spectrum was readily available. Levenger’s has had scores of inks of every hue available since some time in the 1990s. Better yet, they are far more affordable than the competition.

Nevertheless, I kinda blew them off…until I stumbled into a large collection for sale. When Dawn and I started testing them for UV light fastness and pH balance, we were blown away.

We started testing 17 colors in March. From March 7, 2021, through June 7, 2021, we hung these samples in the sunniest window of our house. Afterward, we tested the ink still in the bottles with a pH meter calibrated to 21ºC.

Here is a side-by-side image of Levenger’s inks left in the sun for 3 months and the sample proof left in the dark.

Without a doubt, these are the most consistently light-fast inks we have tested to date. Even the worst-hit inks were still very close to their original colors. Blue Bahama likely lost the most vibrancy, but it is still easily read and distinguished. Cardinal Red faded to a rich pink, but it is still quite legible. Raven Black, Gemstone Green and Greystoke got DARKER in the sun!

Given the great results from the light-fast testing, we feared the worst with the pH tests. BUT! We were only further dazzled. Many of the inks were very close to neutral, and none of the inks veered off the spectrum of acidic or alkali.

As a basic chemistry refresher, 7 in a pH test is neutral. Distilled water is 7. The closer to 0 you go, the more acidic something is. In the opposite direction going up to 14 is more base or alkali. In theory, you don’t want an acid or a base sitting in your ink sac for too long. Yet, one thing we always like to remind people is that regardless of what the pH result is, we do not know the chemistry of the ink nor how it interacts with your rubber ink sacs, celluloids or converters and the like. Depending on the chemical reaction between the ink and what it is resting in, a neutral ink can do damage and an acidic ink might be safe. The pH measurement is simply a data point we find fascinating, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate which inks are safest for your pens. With that in mind, here are our Levenger pH results:

Ink Color              pH Measurement
True Teal                        7.1
Empyrean                      6.8
Blue Bahama                 6.6
Skies of Blue                 7.3
Cobalt Blue                   8.0
Regal                             7.2
Amethyst                      8.4
Raven Black                 8.3
Claret                            8.7
Pomegranate               8.3
Shiraz                           8.7
Cardinal Red               6.8
Blazing Sunset            6.7
Cocoa                           7.3
Forest                           7.1
Gemstone Green        7.2
Greystoke                    7.4

As always, I hope you find this information to be interesting and enjoyable.

Diamine Versus the Sun & a pH Test

People often ask what my favorite ink brand is, and, more-and-more it is Diamine. Just like the Beatles, Diamine is based out of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. However, they beat the Beatles to the scene by 100 years in 1864.

In all of my experience with the ink, so far, it has been very fountain pen friendly. I’ve had great success with it in modern and vintage pens, plus, it has a zillion different colors for sale. The only things I don’t mess with are their shimmer inks because shimmer inks clog the daylights out of pens.

Diamine blue inks generally hold up pretty well to the sun’s harsh rays. It is a rare feat among blue inks.

When I stumbled into 14 different ink bottles from a collection I knew it was time to do one of our famous inkfast tests and pH tests.

The results are interesting. Although they lose a bit of their luster, most of the blues are pretty tough and don’t let the sun and UV light bully them. Silver Fox barely fades at all. When still fresh looking, three of my favorite blues in production are Diamine’s “Majestic Blue,” “Blue/Black” and “Blue Velvet.” The only blue to really fade much was “Presidential Blue.”

 

Ancient Copper holds its beauty better than most colors, and it is almost pH neutral!

Breaking into some of the more colorful Diamine inks, the sun proves more aggressive. “Ancient Copper” holds up amazingly well, but  “Red Dragon” takes a hit. “Amazing Amethyst” really takes it  hard and almost completely fades out. The very popular “Oxblood” fairs well, but it still fades a bit.

The pH testing surprised us. As a quick reminder, in the world of pH testing a 0 is extremely acidic, 7 is neutral and 14 is extremely alkali or base. We calibrated the testing device and tested the inks at 24ºC.

Diamine Ink Name              pH  Test  Result
Ancient Copper                                   6.7
Red Dragon                                        2.5
Oxblood                                              2.5
Amazing Amethyst                             6.1
Sherwood Green                                4.4
Blue/Black                                          4.1
Oxford Blue                                        3.8
Presidential Blue                                3.2
Majestic Blue                                     4.2
1864 Blue/Black                                4.5
Silver Fox                                          4.0

Before you throw out any ink you might love, please keep in mind that the pH is only a data point. We don’t know what chemicals are in each ink, and we don’t know how their chemical properties will react to your ink sacs or converters. We’ve seen acidic inks used safely in ink sacs for years and neutral inks destroy ink sacs in a matter of months.

That said, we’ve always had great success with Ancient Copper, which is one of our personal favorite ink colors.

We hope this information is interesting to you…and maybe even help you.

Strong Enough for a Man; pH Balanced for a Fountain Pen?

One of the many great aspects of marrying a scientist is the gadgetry. Intrigued by my ink-fast tests  with UV light, Dawn decided to get a professional pH meter to test our ink for corrosiveness. If you remember basic chemistry from high school…which I barely do…you will remember that we have acid on one side of a scale and base/alkali on the other. The scale ranges from 0 to 14. 7 is neutral like distilled water. The further you move away from 7 in either direction is more corrosive. The 0 side is acid and the 14 side is base/alkali.

You would think that all inks are hovering around a 7 to be safe in your pen and on paper. We certainly did.

Holy cats! We were wrong.

First you saw these Pelikan Edelstein inks in our UV ink fast test. Now we’re going back and checking their pH balance!

For years I told people…as I was told by many pen collectors and dealers before me…that you can always trust simple blue and black inks from the major pen manufacturers. However, just our initial testing indicates that might not be the best advice any longer.

Before I go on, let me preface the following by saying that we are not chemists. We feel confident in our results from our testing. However, we do not know the chemistry of the ink interacting with ink sacs, celluloid, gaskets, seals and other assemblies inside your pens. Our pH testing is simply raw data we gather from bottles of ink we have collected. Yet, it might help shed some light if you are experiencing trouble with certain inks interacting poorly with your vintage or modern pens over time.

Having recently written about Pelikan Edelstein inks in an ink-fast test, I thought I would revisit these inks for our pH testing. For those keeping score at home our meter and inks were tested and calibrated at 24ºC.

Pelikan Edelstein Amethyst               5.6
Pelikan Edelstein Aquamarine          3.3
Pelikan Edelstein Aventurine             6.4
Pelikan Edelstein Garnet                   6.5
Pelikan Edelstein Jade                       5.3
Pelikan Edelstein Olivine                    6.0
Pelikan Edelstein Ruby                       7.9
Pelikan Edelstein Sapphire                 3.7
Pelikan Edelstein Smokey Quartz       6.5
Pelikan Edelstein Tanzanite                7.3
Pelikan Edelstein Topaz                      6.4
Pelikan Old Version Violet                   2.7
Pelikan Modern Violet                         3.4
Pelikan Brilliant Red                           6.9

Again, I’m not a chemist, and I have not studied how these inks interact chemically with ink sacs and other pen parts.

That said, what really strikes me as fascinating is that the “traditionally safe” blues such as Sapphire and Aquamarine are really acidic. I love Edelstein Sapphire and use it more than any of these other colors, and I would never have guessed it was as acidic at it is.

Also fascinating, I’ve been told for years never to put red ink in an ink sac, but Garnet, Ruby and Brilliant Red are among the closest inks to test near pH neutral.

Again, the chemicals in the ink might interact differently with the chemical compositions of our pens, but we find this to be a really fun look into our favorite inks. Many more UV and pH tests to come!

Pelikan Edelstein Inks Go Under the Sun

I feel that the harsh news must be tempered.

I LOVE Pelikan pens. It is my favorite modern pen brand. I LOVE Pelikan’s Edelstein inks. They are so vibrant and beautiful. I had extremely high hopes for testing them and having far better results than standard Pelikan inks. (I wrote a travel journal at 17 when visiting Germany and bought my first bottle of Pelikan Konigsblau Tinte—King’s Blue Ink, or Royal Blue by regular English naming conventions. I can barely read it, the ink is so faded after nearly 30 years.)

Look how vibrant and beautiful Pelikan Edelstein inks look when fresh on the page. Do you see what happens to them after 3 months in direct sunlight?

As fate would have it, I bought out an ink collection this past winter. There were more than 270 bottles of ink. Among the bottles were 12 different colors of Edelstein ink and 3 bottles of standard Pelikan inks, which I had not previously tested. Also included in this test are two non-Pelikan related inks.

Assisting me in this endeavor was my ever-more talented fiancé Dawn. You can immediately tell which test sheet is her’s by it being so much easier to see and read.

Pelikan inks were first started by German chemist Carl Hornemann in 1838, making Pelikan one of the oldest and most successful continuously operating ink companies in history. Yet, the company wasn’t really known as Pelikan until chemist Günther Wagner took over the company in 1871 and started using the Pelikan logo. The gemstone-inspired Edelstein inks were first launched with great success in 2011.

Our ink-fast test methodology remains simple. Put one sample in a sunny window for three months and one sample in a dark, cool place and check out the differences.

WOW!

Pelikan regular inks fare badly in three months of UV light. However, No. 5 Aonibi does very well.

None of the Pelikan inks withstood 3 months of UV light from the sun very well at all.  The beautiful Amethyst turned from purple to a faded brown. Blue-grey Tanzanite also turned colors to a faded brownish. My favorite Sapphire almost completely disappeared. So did Jade, Ruby and Topaz. When applied very thickly, Aquamarine, Olivine, Mandarin and Adventurine kinda held out. Only Garnet seemed to survive mostly intact.

Moving on to the standard Pelikan inks, Brilliant Red almost disappeared completely, turning a very faded yellow. Violet and Brilliant Green also lost about 70% to 80% of their color and visibility.

Our two non-Pelikan contestants were No. 5 Aonibi, which is a lovely blue-black when fresh and Organic Studio “N,” which is a stunningly beautiful sheening blue. Although I’ve never heard of No. 5 Aonibi, it held its own quite well in this test. Of the 17 inks sampled, it won the contest of looking the most like it did when it was first put to paper.

Organic Studio “N” could easily win the contest to be my new favorite blue ink, but it inexplicably turned black in the sun. That is way better than fading to near invisibility, but I really wish it held its true color when fresh on paper.

Bic Cristal Inks Get Testing

We tested these 8 Bic Cristal pens to see how ballpoint ink holds up to 6 months of sunlight. Blue, Pink, Green, Black, Grass-Stain Green, Purple, Turquoise and Red.

During my last visit with Ink-Fast Donn at the D.C. Pen Show in 2019, he said he was starting to test ballpoint inks to see how well they hold up to UV light.

Last summer, I discovered a collection of the famous and commonly used Bic Cristal ballpoints in my fencing gear. I taught a wonderful group of teens and tweens advanced competition maneuvers and strategy, and to help them remember their lessons and opponents, I insisted they keep “Diaries of Doom” and “Tomes of Terror.” To help personalize it more, I handed out colorful notebooks and pens.

Armed with 8 colors (blue, pink, green, grass-stain green, black, turquoise, purple and red), I created a sample on Rhodia paper and taped it to a sunny window of my home at the end of August. I took it down at the end of February and was surprised by the results.

This photo doesn’t really do full justice to the sample set and proof set. The blue doesn’t look as blue as it does in real life.

Surprise #1 to me was that the black ink faded. With fountain pen inks, you can generally count on black to be the most stable and fade-proof. While it didn’t fade away entirely, it had issues.

Side by side comparisons showcase the effect of 6 months of sunlight on Bic Cristal inks.

Surprise #2: Blue! Blue fountain pen inks fade something fierce under the withering sun. Bic Cristal blue got stronger! It lost some of its blueness and turned blacker, but it held on defiantly under the sun’s gaze.

Surprise #3: Grass-Stain Green didn’t fade as much as I thought it would. It faded a little.

Red and purple faded the most. Green, turquoise and pink faded a little, but survived okay.

Reflecting on this experiment, for some reason, I always assumed oil-based ballpoint inks would be far more permanent than water-based fountain pen inks. Yet, their chemical compositions all have their frailties. Some ballpoint colors react differently than fountain pen inks, but that shouldn’t surprise me as much as it did.

Lamy Crystal Inks Undergo Light-Fast Testing

With four moves in 2 years and a ton of other life changes, we were slow to test the new Lamy Crystal fountain pen inks to see how they would handle ultraviolet light and aging on paper. Luckily, we were able to start our three-month test this July. We actually let the test run about 3 and a half months.

To run our test, we used two sheets of Rhodia paper. Each of the 10 inks was first written on to the margin with a wet-writing glass dip nib. Then a swatch was drawn with a Q-tip with the intention of having a thick patch of ink and a thinned out portion so we could see the effects of UV light. One of the sheets was saved in a cool, dark, dry place. The other sheet  was posted in the sunniest window of our office. The inks tested were called: Obsidian, Azurite, Ruby, Topaz, Amazonite, Beryl, Benitoite, Agate, Peridot and Rhodonite.

For nearly 3 and a half months, we tested the left sheet of paper with 10 Lamy Crystal inks in the direct sunlight to see how much they would or wouldn’t fade.

Here are the results. If you click the photo, you will see a larger version of the photo. It is surprising how much some of the inks change and others do not change.

To the relief of many, the Lamy Crystal Obsidian black ink holds fast. It only fades a little, unlike a suprising number of black inks. Yet, the purplish blue “Azurite” fades heavily to a reddish color that looks like if you dipped your finger in merlot and wiped it on a piece of paper.

Ruby and Topaz both held their red and sepia-brown colors very well during their time in the sun.

Peridot landed right in the middle. If the green was laid down thickly, it held. If it was thin, it faded.

Benitoite might also have a middle grade for its time in the sun. It was the only color that got darker! Benitoite is a blue-black. It lost most of its blue in the transition, but its black got stronger.

Amazonite is an odd color change. To me, it is one of the two most beautiful colors when laid down fresh. It is a very vibrant green-blue. And when set thickly on the page, it remains dark after time in the sun. Yet, the odd part is that the green gets lost in the sun and a faded blue remains. Normally, blue is the color we’ve seen disappear.

Beryl is my other favorite color when fresh. It is a lovely purply pink. Yet, after 3 months of sunlight, it completely changed to a very faded red. Even the thick/dark parts of the ink faded to a red, which itself is a faded color though remained darker.

The two colors that faded the most were Agate and Rhodonite. Rhodonite starts a beautiful reddish-pink and faded to a barely visible pink. The Agate was a light grey that actually turned light brown also fading to nearly invisible.

Hopefully, this information helps you with your ink obsession. Happy writing!

More Ink Tests with Donn

Ink-fast testing image

Donn D. shared this new set of ink fast tests he made in 2018. Look how well Cross inks hold up!

Ink Guru Donn D. and I ran into each other again at the Chicago Pen Show a week ago, and I was pleased to see he had some new ink-fast tests to share. This batch is concerned with more fountain pen inks, and I was surprised to find great results with the Cross inks. Who knew? So often happens that Cross gets written off as a boring legacy brand. They make a lot of good ink and surprisingly good pens, in spite of their ubiquity on the scene here in the States.

Much of my conversation with Donn revolved around the fact that ballpoint inks are more susceptible to U.V. light than previously thought. He has found some fade out just as poorly as fountain pen inks. Given ballpoint inks are formulated with oil as a base, this surprised me. As thicker inks, I thought they’d last longer. With any luck, Donn will share those ballpoint ink results with us one day.

In the meantime, enjoy these great tests with fountain pen inks. Click the image to see a bigger version.

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.