Fountain pens use ink. This ink is sold in a near-infinite range of colors by a large number of companies. Some inks are sold by the gallon, others are handmade in small batches by artisans who only operate on special orders.
This page will walk through general information and help you on your journey towards finding the best possible fountain pen ink for you.
Two Choices: Cartridge Or Bottle?
Fountain pen ink is generally sold in two styles: in a single-use cartridge or a bottle. A bottle can be used to fill a smaller bottle, a cartridge, a converter, or to fill a pen directly, with some sort of built-in mechanism, like a piston or vacuum. Not all inks are sold in cartridges and not all cartridges fit all pens, so buying ink for your fountain pen almost always becomes a more involved question than you might have expected.
Fountain Pen Cartridges
Ink cartridges can either be of the standardized or proprietary sort. Yes, some companies design cartridges that only work with their pens. It might seem limiting, but this sort of horizontal integration is the norm, not the exception. Think mean fountain pen converters (which convert your cartridge pen to a pen with its own fill mechanism) are proprietary as well.
You can see a list of companies that use the short international cartridge standard at the bottom of this page. The size of this cartridge means that you can usually fit two of them inside of a pen, so you always have a spare handy. And the main advantage of this standard is universality among many (though as you can see, far from all) pens.
And who uses proprietary cartridge types? These are ones that are generally not interchangeable from one company to another (except if by design). This is a short, but highly distinguished list:
- Aurora (Aurora or Parker cartridges)
- Nakaya (Platinum cartridges)
- Namiki (Pilot cartridges)
- Parker (Aurora or Parker cartridges)
Read more at Unsharpen’s full guide to fountain pen cartridges.
Fountain Pen Ink Qualities
When evaluating fountain pen ink people tend to look for certain qualities in it. They are:
This has to do with how the ink shows up on the other side of a piece of paper. Does the ink appear to be splotchy when seen through the other side of the sheet? Do stopping points come through due to an excess of ink interacting with the paper?
Bleeding is not a desirable trait.
Paper is made out of tiny piece of pulp. Recycled paper is made out of medium size pieces of pulp. Each pulp piece is prone to having ink travel along it when absorbed into one side. Feathering if the process by which the ink spreads more than it should, making for messy writing and paper fibers get ink they should not.
Feathering is not a desirable trait.
Shading is when an ink’s saturation and tone varies as you write. The tops of letters might have a lighter color than the bottom, or the areas were ink collects might be dramatically darker than where long strokes are made.
Sharing is (generally) a desirable trait. It might not be seen as being a defect in a work or professional setting.
Sheening is when a dried ink has a shades of a different color appear when looking at it from an angle. A blue ink might dry to have a pink sheen. This would only be seen when the ink is dry and then the sheen will be more pronounced if the correct paper was used and a larger nib was used or some of the ink pooled. Sheening will appear to be metallic and shiny from some angles so it definitely catches the eye.
Sheening is (generally a desirable trait).
Specialty Fountain Pen Inks
Part of what’s special about fountain pens if that the ink is separated from the design of the pen. This allows for a huge variety of inks to be made, since almost every ink will work with almost every pen and every buyer of ink is a potential customer for every ink. Some specialty inks include: quick-drying, pigmented, sheen, shimmer, iron gall, and scented, but these are just general categories within the larger body of fountain pen inks.
Iron Gaul Ink
Iron gaul ink is a historic ink that is commonly made from iron salt and tannic acid. The ink has been made for hundreds of years and even the modern formulas are closely related to the inks of the past. While beautiful and of great historic interest, iron gaul ink is highly acidic (usually due to the use of acetic acid) which means it’s not good for most pens and won’t have great longevity on paper.
Pigmented ink is used when some water-resistance is necessary. This ink gets its color from nano-pigments suspended in a liquid as opposed to water-based dyes. These inks are water-resistant, not water-proof, but they are still useful for artistic work and mixed use. In the past pigmented inks were known to clog fountain pen feeds and to be very difficult to clean out, but that’s no longer the case with modern pigmented inks.
Pigments have more limited color variations than dyes but some companies, most notably J. Herbin do make these ink in a variety of colors.
The most popular pigments inks are Platinum Carbon Black and Sailor Kiwa-Guro.
Shimmering inks look like they have small amounts of glitter in them. The reason for this is just what it seems: the ink has tiny pieces of glitter (typically aluminum particles) in it. This won’t generally clog or damage a pen so long as the ink is purchased from a reputable manufacturer. Shimmer inks can be a pain to clean as small amounts of the shimmer can persist.
Shimmering is different from sheen because shimmer is due to a physical presence in the ink where sheen is due to the composition of an ink’s dyes alone.