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The Best Brown Fountain Pen Ink of 2020

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Choosing a fountain pen ink is largely about personal preference, but some inks do stand out from the rest of the pack. In this article we’ll talk through the top brown fountain pen inks sold today.

Don’t miss our article on the best black fountain pen inks

Brown fountain pen inks aren’t the first thing that comes to mind for most people, but they are a fun, highly readable color with a huge variety. Brown inks are both popular with artists who love the aged, sepia tones and writers who like the proximity to black and as use it as an alternative to more standard colors.

Most of us spend so much time writing with black and blue inks, but the range of tones and the level of nuance in today’s best brown inks is really impressive. These are definitely something you should consider for any growing ink collection.

The Range of Brown Inks

Brown inks come in a huge range of colors — from nearly black, to nearly orange, to reddish browns that are bordering on maroon. All shades of brown were acceptable for consideration as a best brown ink, so long as the primary color was in fact brown. This means the testing generally excluded brown-black inks and anything that veered too far from being generally considered “brown.”

The brown inks under consideration were ones that most people would consider to be non-speciality, non-limited edition, easy to find, inks that would be acceptable for general everyday usage. Purely artistic inks, iron gaul inks, and the like were not considered. No preference was given to any specific tones, amount of shading, etc.

Popular Brown Fountain Pen Inks

If you were to do a survey of some of the most popular and well-received brown fountain pen inks sold in 2020, these ones would make that list. The list is far from exhaustive, but it should be a good snapshot of the preferred brown inks of 2020.

These are all very good brown fountain pen inks that are recommended by people in the fountain pen community. They are also all reasonably priced (to varying degrees) and easy to find both online and at local pen shops. Generally speaking, buyers are happy with all the inks above and continue to buy and rebuy them, as proven by their reviews, popularity, and longevity… but that doesn’t make them the best.

Best Brown Fountain Pen Ink
Brown Fountain Pen Ink Test Scan

The Best Brown Fountain Pen Inks

Of the many brown fountain pen inks sold today there are a few stand-outs. These are inks that we, as well as other people in the fountain pen world, come back to time and time again, despite there being an incredible array of ink company’s and colors to choose from. Even within the spectrum of brown inks there are dozens available, but these warrant special attention.

Pilot Iroshizuku Tsukushi

The Iroshizuku line has many excellent colors and it’s not short on nice brown tones. If you want a medium brown with a hint of complexity then Pilot Iroshizuku Tsukushi is the way to go. Most of the time it’s a standard brown, bordering on dark brown when used with a broad nib, but at times there is a hint of purple. We even like this ink for artistic uses and it holds up well against water and some interesting colors can come out of it.

While Tsukushi is a great brown ink, it’s not generally one of our top picks out of the entire line of Pilot’s 24 luxury inks. On the other hand Pilot’s Iroshizuku Yama-Guri is a dark brown that is almost black. This “wild chestnut” color is great for everyday use and has an elegance that explains why people love the Iroshizuku inks so much. Like all of the inks in the series it’s very well behaved, with good flow and reasonably easy cleaning. The main knock against it is that that it more of a brown-black than a true brown tone.

Price: $25 for 50 ml

Diamine 150th Anniversary Espresso

Espresso is a dark brown ink that is well-behaved and consistent. It’s about as dark as you can go without being a brown-black ink, which means it’s highly legible. Shading and sheen are limited and it’s a good choice for a true, dark brown ink where most other inks this dark have hints of black or other undertones in them. This is a solid day-to-day ink that isn’t too expensive (and it’s inexpensive in Europe).

Akkerman Dutch Masters #4

Dutch Masters #4 Hals Oud Bruin (Hals’ Old Brown) is our pick for a light brown ink. It has a tan, yellowish that shades into a dark brown that is reminiscent of Espresso or even Yama Guri, but the rest of the ink strokes are a much lighter color.

The entire Akkerman Dutch Masters line is just a joy to use and Hals Our Bruin is no different. The only knock here would be that the ink is a bit light in color for some papers so can lack legibility when used with an extra fine or fine fountain pen nib.

If you want something like this that’s a bit darker, Papier Plume’s Pecan is a good pick.

Robert Oster Caffe Crema

It can be a little confusing to tell the coffee inks apart — Espresso, Caffe Crema, Coffee, and Cappuccino are all inks! Something like Melon Tea is much easier to remember. Even so, Robert Oster’s Caffe Crema is the best of the bunch. This is a middle-of-the-road brown ink with great shading. It’s one of the most fun inks in this entire list to write with because of the color variation you can get from it.

This is just a good looking ink that is great fun to use. We’ve paired it with a Pilot Justus 95 to really get a chance to see what it can do. The ink and pen combination has a lot of range but also has no problem with general note-taking and journaling.

Best Brown Ink - Water 02

Best Waterproof Brown Ink

If your goal is doing artwork or working around water than you might want a permanent, bullet-proof, or pigmented brown ink. These inks are highly water-resistant thanks to using pigments instead of dyes to hold their colors. The selection of brown inks that are water-resistant are a bit limited but good ones do exist.

Some of the best options are:

  • De Atramentis Document Brown
  • Noodler’s #41 Brown (pictured above)
  • Noodler’s Polar Brown
  • Sailor Storia Light Brown
  • Platinum Pigmented Sepia
  • Platinum Khaki Brown (pictured above)

Of these we’d recommend Noodler’s #41 Brown as being a great choice not only for day-to-day use but for water-adjacent usage.

Ink Testing Notes

While testing the inks (an in previous usage of each) more notes were taken than possible to add to this article. Here are some choice details and observations distilled from the testing process.

  • Robert Oster Caffe Crema – This is a handsome brown ink with really nice shading. There is a touch of sheen too. It really was a nice pick for medium and broad nibs that could bring out its full range. It’s the ink used for the topmost image.