Fountain Pen Inks

Latest Update: Updated the page, mainly to make it a bit simpler to keep up to date. That big table was a pain to work with, and giving one page to each brand is more likely to work for us than trying to write a whole separate post about every colour we try.

Bottled Inks

One of the best things about fountain pens is that by either using a pen that takes bottled inks directly, or (more commonly in modern pens) using a converter, you can use any of a huge variety of different inks, all in the same pen. A bit about fountain pen ink first, then we’ll look at some specific inks…

Fountain Pen Ink

First of all, you have to make sure that any ink you’re going to put in a fountain pen is actually fountain pen ink. There are other types of ink, and they can clog up a fountain pen quite badly. The dye used in fountain pen is in a solution, so there are no tiny bits of dye floating around in the liquid. Some types of ink are a suspension of dye or pigment, and the particles can badly clog up a fountain pen, and cleaning can be expensive.

It can work, and may work fine for quite some time, but it’s not something you should risk with an expensive pen. Michael Nobbs, for example, uses Rotring drawing ink (which is not fountain pen ink) in his Rotring Art Pen, and has for quite some time with no problems. With one of these pens, though, there’s no great loss if it gets badly clogged – they’re available for under £10.

Most fountain pen ink isn’t waterproof, which is good if you want to do line and wash (painting through the lines with a wet brush to spread them and ‘paint’ with the ink), but not much good if you’re intending to paint watercolour over the lines. It may not matter to you at all, but if you carry a notebook everywhere, it can easily get splashed, so waterpoof ink might be better. Some people also like waterproof inks, as they’re a bit more difficult to wash out of cheques and legal documents. If you’re worried about this sort of thing, just go straight for the Noodler’s inks.

Specific Inks

Inks by Brand…

  • Diamine: Safe ink, with a wonderful range of colours. Prussian Blue is a dark blue, similar in shade to Pelikan’s Blue-Black, and Steel Blue is almost green. Diamine also make Registrar’s Ink, which is a blue-black iron gall ink – not so safe, but waterproof, as used by registrars for permanent records.
  • Noodler’s Ink: Most famous for the waterproof, bleach-proof, and everything else proof Eternal inks, Noodler’s make a good range of colours, some waterproof, some not.
  • Lamy Ink: Nice bottles, and not bad ink. At least some of the Lamy inks are the same as Mont Blanc ink, but I don’t know who actually makes them. The Blue-Black in bottles is an iron gall ink, which is acidic and can clog pens – might be best avoided in an expensive pen.
  • Parker Quink: All are fairly safe, except for problems reported with the black. The Washable Blue is very safe stuff, recommended for capillary fillers, and for cleaning out other ink from pens through usage. The Quink Blue-Black is interesting stuff – goes on relatively dark, but changes as it dries to a pale, almost turquoise-blue. All of the Quinks I’ve tried tend to feather quite a bit on cheap paper.
  • Pelikan Ink: The only brand we sell in bottles at Cult Pens, Pelikan inks are generally reliable and safe, but a little uninspiring in colour range. I’ve actually been very impressed by the Blue-Black, though. It’s a bit slow-flowing, tending to make pens drier than usual, but flows ok in my Lamy 2000, and the colour is very much to my taste – a slightly unusual dark blue that changes a little as it dries. It’s also fairly water-resistant. One of my favourite inks now. I’ve also tried the green, but found that quite disappointingly pale.
  • Private Reserve: Highly saturated inks, much like Noodler’s, but without the ‘Eternal’ features. Generally strong colours and good flow. As with any saturated inks, take a little more care to avoid letting PR inks dry up in a pen – they are a little more likely to clog than most. If properly looked after, though, they are perfectly safe, and have a great range.
  • Rohrer & Klingner: A relatively obscure brand, which we’d never heard of until The Writing Desk started selling it. The Leipziger Schwarz is a rather grey black, which I’m not keen on, but the Old Bordeaux is very nice. I wouldn’t say they’re anything special, but they are perfectly good inks, with good colour range, and they are very cheap – so you can try more colours.
  • Sheaffer Skrip: I’ve only tried the black, and didn’t like it. A bit grey.
  • Visconti: No idea about the ink, but the bottles are beautiful, if unstable. Like glass mushrooms filled with ink.
  • Waterman Ink: Only the black so far, actually, but I’ll try to get some others. I wasn’t too impressed with the black, but I could see why other people would like it. In a survey on The Fountain Pen Network, for people’s favourite overall brand of ink, Waterman came second, after Noodler’s.

Parker Quinks

In the UK

At the time most of these reviews were written, my employer, Cult Pens, had a limited range of inks, so most of the ink we’ve talked about here has come from The Writing Desk – they carry a fantastic range of inks, including everything mentioned above. The range of colours from Diamine and Noodler’s just has to be seen to be believed, and the Rohrer & Klingner is great value.

We’ve improved our range at Cult Pens a lot since then – most notably stocking all Diamine colours – see our bottled inks here. It’s worth checking us both out now, but TWD still have some brands we don’t.

24 thoughts on “Fountain Pen Inks

  1. I am left handed so it is difficult for me not to smear fountain pen ink. I need an ink that dries quickly. Is Parker the best for that purpose?

  2. I am a reunited fountain user, after being bought a new Waterman pen for my last birthday (well I hope that it will not be my last birthday) by my daughter, I am beginning to enjoy writing again with a pen, I was wondering if anyone knows what the shelf life is of a bottle of ink once opened, as I intend to experiment with a number of colours untill I hit the right one for my taste. BUt do not want to risk cloging my new pens, yes I caught the bug and have bought quite a number since my daughter tempted me on that day, I am interested in finding the best turquoise & purple inks a deep purple, any sugestions. Thanks

  3. You shouldn’t have a problem. Plenty of people use ink from many years ago. The only ‘shelf-life’ problem with fountain pen ink is if enough of the water evaporates to make it too concentrated, but that shouldn’t be a risk if the lid is on the bottle. It might be worth giving it a gentle shake if it’s been standing a while, and if half the bottle seems to have vanished, be careful.

    Some people also go with swirling a toothpick through any bottle that’s been unused for some time – if anything unpleasant has grown in there, that would help spot it. It’s a fairly small risk, though.

    Cartridges do need a little more care, as the plastics used don’t stop evaporation. Old cartridges will often have noticeably less ink in them than new ones, which would make them likely to clog a pen.

    As for colours, have a look at Diamine’s range. 50 colours, with five more coming soon.

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