Label writing pens

Recently I’ve been looking at the possibility of using fountain pens to write my specimen data labels. These are small labels pinned under a specimen to hold the collection data and the identification of the specimen, so you have to write really small and the ink must survive for 100+ years.

Traditionally most curators use fineliners but there are other ways to do this. The basic requirements of a specimen label writer are: 

  1. Must use archival, waterproof inks
  2. Must write very fine indeed! 
  3. Should be cheap and, if possible, refillable to reduce waste

Here are a few of the pens I have been playing with and my thoughts:

  1. Sakura Pigma Micron 005: This is the standard museum curator’s pen – very cheap to buy in bulk and writes very nicely. This is still the best disposable fineliner. 
  2. Kuretake Zig Millennium 005: This is one I’ve been using at home and it seems to be at least as good as the Pigma but is a little bit larger so perhaps contains more ink. 
  3. Copic Multiliner SP 0.03: This is a metal-bodied pen that feels a bit more sturdy than the first 2 and it writes even finer (it’s the finest of all of these) but it isn’t refillable which seems a bit wasteful. It’s also quite a bit more expensive than the Pigma so not a lot of people use them.
  4. Platinum #3776 Century with Ultra Extra Fine <UEF> nib: This is the finest fountain pen nib around but I have found it to be a bit scratchy and so I need to investigate whether my nib is just in need of work or whether that how they are anyway. It’s possibly the finest writer in the fountain pen category but that does come at a scratchy price and the cap needs 2 hands to remove.
  5. Pilot fountain pen with a “Posting” nib: This is about the same as the <UEF> but I have found it a bit less scratchy and easier to write with but the cap on the pen is a bit tedious to keep taking off and putting back on again. It’s not really different enough from the UEF to consider though. 
  6. Pilot Vanishing Point / Capless with Fine nib: This is my preferred pen at the moment because the retractable nib is really easy to pop out and put away one-handed. The <F> nib actually writes more like an <EF> and I find it good enough for labels – would be nice to try an <EF> some day to see if it is finer while being as smooth. 
  Archival Ink? Fine line? Reusable? Notes
Pigman Micron 005 Y 4 N The NHM standard
Kuretake Zig Millennium 005 Y 4 N a good alternative to Pigma
Copic Multiliner SP 0.03 Y 5 N very fine but a bit scratchy & metal so more expensive & wasteful
Platinum #3776 Century <UEF> Y (+choice of inks) 5 Y a bit scratchy but the finest FP, but has screw cap
Pilot Elite <Posting> Y (+choice of inks) 4 Y smoother but that means a bit wider, but the cap is push
Pilot Vanishing Point <F> Y (+choice of inks) 3 Y very smooth but not fine, but one-handed retractable nib 
L-R: Copic Multiliner 0.03, Kuretake Zig Millennium 005, Pigma Micron 005
L-R: Platinum #3776 Century UEF, Pilot Elite 18k Posting, Pilot Capless F

Of course, with refillable fountain pens you have to then choose an ink and so far I’ve tried a couple of really good archival, waterproof, pigment inks: 

  1. Sailor Kiwaguro – this is currently my favourite as it is very high quality and just a good, dark blank with no sheen. It’s available in bottles and in Sailor-compatible cartridges. 
  2. Platinum Carbon Black – this one is a classic permanent ink with a great reputation but some people complain that it has a graphite sheen, which can make it look less intense than others. It’s available in bottles and Platinum-compatible cartridges. 
  3. Platinum Chou Kuro – I haven’t actually tried this one because it is so very expensive but many people say it is the ultimate dark, jet black. It is only available in bottles.
  4. De Atramentis Document Black is another one to possibly consider as it is famously safe and a good average black. It is only available in bottles.

Remember, if you are using a cartridge-filler pen but it isn’t the correct make for the Kiwaguro or Carbon Black cartridges then you can refill old cartridges of whatever type fits your pen, using a syring with a blunted needle 🙂


As always, that you choose all comes down to budget & personal preference but to get yourself started you can pick yourself up the disposable Sakura Pigma Microns for about £3-£4 each and they are the museum industry standard so they must be good. In comparisson the solid 18 karat gold nibbed Pilot Vanishing Point retails at around £200 before you fill it with ink but I still enjoy using the Vanishing Point because it’s so convenient and it has the benefit of being refillable. It can be used to write general letters and to scribble notes, which the fineliners would struggle at because they can get a bit scratchy. You can get cheaper fountain pens too – the Platinum Century #3776 retails at about £150 but you could even get an extra fine Platinum Preppy 02 pen for under £10 and an ink converter for about the same, then fill that with a good waterproof archival ink. It’s cheap and cheerful but it would do the job! 

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