One of the great joys of owning a fountain pen is the ability to use a vast number of bottled inks and to express yourself in new colours and ink-effects such as shading, sheen & shimmer. To think, when I first looked at fountain pens I thought you could only write in blue or black!
Fountain pens simply work using capilarity, where the ink will seep and travel down very fine channels/grooves in the pen’s “feed” and then run under the metal nib into the groove and out to the tip. Feeds are usually made of plastic these days but in the past have been made out of a vulcanised rubber called “ebonite”. Ebonite feeds are prized because they promote good ink flow due to the microsculpture of the surface being very easy to wet.
Most inks are what I’d call “normal” in that they just write a single colour and are good, all-rounder inks for writing with. They can write wetter or drier according to how well they flow but most inks will just work in most pens.
Some of my favourites are: Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-Budo, Tsuki-yo & Asa-gao; any of the Diamine inks like Blue Velvet, Damson, Grape, Oxblood, Writer’s Blood, Ancient Copper (also see below); Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Goldgrun; J.Herbin Pousiere de Lune & Eclat de Saphir; Sailor Manyo Ume & Kuzu and Sailor Shikiori Rikyu-cha, Yodaki, Yamadori; Taccia Sabimidori. Technically the latter are also sheenign inks but they work very well as normal inks too.
Ink effects are a particular draw for anyone starting to use the modern range of fountain pens. They break down into 3 main types:
These are normal inks but they have very wide colour variations across a stroke, being much darker where the ink pools at the end of the stroke. Some of the most modern ones are called dual-shading or chroma-shading, where they appear to vary their colour across the pen stroke according to the thickness of the ink applied.
Some of my favourite shady inks are: Sailor Manyo Haha; Troublemaker Petrichor & Abalone; KWZ Honey
This is an ink that writes with a particular colour but which exhibits a different colour when you shine light across the writing. The written text has the glossy sheen of another colour from certain angles. These inks tend to have longer drying times and the mega-sheening ones remain sllightly sticky and prone to smudging for weeks after being written.
Some of my favourite sheenign inks are: Organics Studio Nitrogen & Walden Pond; Diamine Maureen, Christine, Robert, Noel, Billberry, Ancient Copper, Alexandrite etc.; KWZ Sheen Machine & Sheen Machine 2.
This is an ink which contains glitter particles, usually of a different colour. It is a lovely and quite striking effect but it comes at a high price because the glitter can clog the ink flow, through the feed and nib. It can also take a lot of time and effort to remove all the pieces of glitter if you ever want to clean the pen and swap to another ink. Most people only use shimmer inks in pens with very wet ink flow and with very broad nibs, which show off the effect better.
Some of my favourite shimmer inks are: J.Herbin Emeraux de Chivor; Diamine Firefly, Cobalt Jazz; DeAtramentis Gold Velvet Black; Pelikan Golden Beryl.
WARNING: DeAtramentis Pink Rose Gold has clogged every single pen I have tried it in.
Most fountain pen inks are water based and so they are water soluable to varying degrees, even after they have dried on the page. This can be a big problem if you want to write an address label that could get wet in the rain or you actually want to submerge the paper in liquids. For this reason we have waterproof and archival inks which use a sooty pigment rather than a chemical dye.
Some of the most popular waterproof pigment inks are:
- Platinum Carbon Black: This is almost an industry standard for a waterproof black but some users criticise it for not being black enough. However, I actually love the graphite sheen that it produces.
- Sailor Kiwa Guro & Chou Kuro: These are both very black inks but Chou Kuro is the latest “Ultra Black” ink and comes at a fairly high price!
- Parker Quick Non-washable: This is a traditional and very safe waterproof ink that is often recommended for vintage pens.
- Noodlers & DeAtramentis also make some very waterproof, document inks too but I haven’t tried them so I can’t comment on how well they work. Waterproof inks are safe to use in fountain pens but they do often require more cleaning effort to flush them out and so they shouldn’t be left in pens for long periods so that they dry out.
Iron-gall inks are another waterproof product but they are significantly more difficult to clean from pens and have been known to clog pen feeds if left for a long time. It’s usually recommended to use them with dip-pens or wash them out of a fountain pen after each use.
If you have a fondness for vintage fountain pens then you will recognise that they are often made from components that are prone to corrosion or degradation. In the past they just didn’t have the corrosion resistant plastics and metal alloys that we have now and so they made sure that the inks they used were not corrosive, with a neutral pH, and very good flow and wouldn’t clog the pens because these old pens are often hard to take apart and cleasn properly. Things like shimmer & sheen just didn’t exist back then, for very good reasons – they’d have wrecked too many pens and been nigh impossible to clean out.
So the following inks are generally recommended for vintage pens because they are still made to traditional recipes:
- Waterman: Serenity Blue (and others in that line)
- Parker Quink: Blue & Black
- Pelikan 4001: series
- J.Herbin single-colour, non shimmer inks
- Diamine non-sheen, non-shimmer inks
Paper isn’t “just paper”
One of the slight drawbacks with fountain pens, which use a very liquid ink to promote flow through the feed & nib, is that they tend to deliver a lot of ink to the paper very quickly. This can lead to a few problems:
- Feather: Where the ink spreads out on the paper and creates a fuzzy edge to the strokes.
- Bleed through: Where the ink soaks right through the page and comes out on the reverse side.
- Ghosting: Where the paper is so thin that the words from one side are clearly visible on the reverse side.
It’s also true that, although there are a lot of “fountain pen friendly” papers, some of them show off ink-effects better than others due to the way that these inks behave on the paper. Many of the cheaper FP-friendly papers just protect against bleed & ghosting by using very thick (high gsm) paper but this makes for a very thick/heavy notebook and doesn’t always prevent feathering. The best papers have coatings and use particular mixtures of different sizing agents and wood pulp.
As a rule of thumb, to show off ink effects best, you need a coated paper that has a very slow drying time – this allows the ink colours to develop on the surface and not to soak deeply into the paper. But these papers are awkward for left-handers to use because they want a quick-drying paper & ink so that they dont smudge it as their hand moves across the paper. Also, very thin papers are great for writing but they can be rubbish for painting or swatching large amounts of ink becasue they will wrinkle.
So to summarise my own findings, the best papers for writing are:
- Tomoe River 52 or 68gsm: an amazingly thin paper that resists bleed, ghosting and feather. It’s the paper from which all other papers are judged. The formulation has changed recently so I hope they havent ruined it but other reviwers say the new one isn’t very different. My only gripe is that it tends to come in very expensive notebooks or in very cheap looking notebooks.
- Midori MD 68gsm: Pretty much identical to Tomoe River. My only problem is that their notebooks are very minimalist/basic and only available in softback.
- Oxford Optik 90gsm: an incredibly cheap but surprisingly good paper – completely resists even the wettest of inks and shows off ink-effects very well. My only gripe with this is that it tends to only come in lined formats, suitable for student notebooks.
- Maruman Mnemosyne 80gsm: Great all-round paper – no bleed, feather or ghosting and shows good ink-effects. Sadly not usually available in a good notebook format – just ringbound etc.
- Endless Recorder Regalia 80gsm: Very good for showing ink-effects and resists 99% of bleed through but sometimes bleeds with a lot of ink. Doesn’t feather but I have noticed that the drawn line spreads a little so is fatter than on some other papers. I use these notebooks myself even with the slight downsides of the paper because they are a nice combination of paper+notebook.
- Leuctturm1917 80gsm: Great paper with good ink-effects and no feather or bleed but they do ghost through a bit. Available in a lot of notebook formats and colours to suit all tastes.
- Rhodia Clairefontaine 90gsm: Good on bleed through & ghosting and very resistant to feathering. Dries quite quickly though so doesn’t show ink-effects very well. Comes in a wide variety of notebook formats and colours.
- Dingbats 100gsm: Not a bad notebook paper but does allow more bleed through than the others.