Writing Down the Ink #14: Settling Down

Nearly five years ago, I resolved to strip down my ink stash to a few essential bottles. Such resolve led to a slight obsession over the number of bottles kept on hand, as you can see here:

A snapshot of the last five years. Prior years include a lot of Noodler's ink, and some Pelikan. More recently, experiments with Waterman and Pelikan long cartridges were conducted.
A snapshot of the last five years. Prior years include a lot of Noodler’s ink, and some Pelikan. More recently, experiments with Waterman and Pelikan long cartridges were conducted. Also kept on hand: a pack of Pilot Blue-Black ink cartridges.

Once the plethora of ink bottles were under control, counting bottles became less useful. Especially when bottles vary in size, from 50ML to 350ML. Assessing how many milliliters were needed to have on hand was far more useful, especially concerning the “one” daily ink.

Ink as of April 2015

The current amount of daily ink on hand will last me about a year and a half. Maybe two. While averaging 10ml of daily ink a week when drafting stories by hand, there are times I don’t write by hand at all. There are times, too, when even more ink may be used. And yes, sometimes an ink classified as “occasional” gets used in place of the daily Pilot Blue-Black.

In the occasional use category, the bottle of Sailor Doyou was bought in August 2014. With only about 25ml left, Doyou clearly gets consumed a lot. There’s still about 40ml of Sailor Chu-Shu. That bottle has been around since 2010. I like the Chu-Shu’s purple-gray nature, but clearly not as much as the dark brown nature of Doyou.

Anyhoo… the above chart gives you the picture of what ink is on hand, and how it’s classified in my mind. Of interest to moi, is that nearly half my inks are not in production. That’s one way of cutting future ink purchases, ay? Or at least freeing me to move on to other colors.

 Decisions, Decisions – How These Bottles Came to Be

Two basic criteria are applied in purchasing ink. Both criteria must be met:

  • The ink must flow without issue in all my pens.
  • I really like the color. (Duh, huh? Why hold on to a color one doesn’t really enjoy?)

My daily writing ink must include the above, along with two more:

  • The ink must procured at or under $.16 per ml.
  • The ink must have decent water resistance, so that my pages survive an inevitable coffee ring or spill.

Very few fountain pen inks come in at under $.16 per ml. Brands meeting this requirement can include Diamine, Monteverde, Noodler’s, Parker, Sheaffer, and Wahl-Eversharp. Sadly, none of those brands met all the criteria for a daily ink: low cost, water resistance, a likable color, and good flow in all my pens.

☮ → Of note: A tiny number of ink manufacturers make large bottles of ink available, and the cost per ml is driven way down. For example, Pelikan makes 1 litre bottles of black and royal blue,  and Pilot makes 350ml of blue-black, red, and black inks.

The non-daily ink doesn’t have to be water resistant, although I’m slightly spoiled in that regard. Also, a higher allowance is allowed: $.20 per ml. That said, however, $.20/ml has been extremely difficult, my friends, and I’ve rarely succeeded achieving my non-daily inks under that cost. I know, I know, you’re thinking I should raise that allowance, ay?

If Diamine flowed as well as Sailor, Diamine would win hands down for likable colors and cost per ml. But some of my fountain pens find Diamine rather dry, and hard-starting.

There are four brands I’ve found that do flow well in all the pens of my tiny hoard: Pilot/Namiki (including a lot of the Iroshizuku line), Sailor, Platinum, and Waterman.

Really.

Four brands.

Remember, my tiny hoard currently consists of modern fountain pens. (Except for the Sheaffer Tuckaway.) The point is, I’ve few pens in number, and an ink that won’t perform in all of them becomes rather intolerable.

My fountain pen idiosyncrasies probably seem eccentric, or maybe even boring, to the average pen collector or user. Doesn’t matter. I’m very pleased with my squirrelly system.

Pilot Blue-Black

Namiki or Pilot Blue has been replaced by Pilot Blue-Black as my standard, daily ink. The ink can be purchased in 350ml bottles, well below my acceptable price, often at less than $.10 per ml. That includes shipping direct from Japan. Yes! What’s not to love about that? And it’s got great coffee spill/ring resistance.

Pilot Blue-Black will remain my daily ink until it ceases to become available to me, or the price rises above what I can afford. A single 350ml bottle lasts me around eight months.

pilotbb

The big 350ml bottle is used to refill the tiny 30ml ink bottle. Also kept on hand for traveling: a pack of Pilot Blue-Black ink cartridges. These hold .9ml of ink. I keep the empty carts for refilling from the bottle. Although, all in all, I much prefer converters or eyedropper barrels for dispensing ink from pen to page.

Pilot Blue-Black 30ml bottle, box of Pilot Blue-Black ink cartridges
Pilot Blue-Black 30ml bottle, box of Pilot Blue-Black ink cartridges
  • Pilot Blue was my daily ink for a time. But by cost per ml, Pilot Blue-Black won over, hands down.
  • Pilot Blue comes in 30ml or 70ml bottles; Namiki Blue comes in 60ml bottles.
  • Pilot Blue has great coffee spill resistance.
  • I rarely notice things like feathering, but both Pilot and Namiki Blue (and also the Black) will feather on HP 32# paper, and some cheaper papers. From what I’ve experienced Pilot Blue-Black does not feather.

Click on scans to view more closely:

Pilot Blue-Black on Rhodia No. 18
Pilot Blue-Black on Rhodia No. 18
Pilot Blue-Black - coffee filter chromatology
Pilot Blue-Black – coffee filter chromatology

Sailor

For color I’ve opted for Sailor inks. These are well-lubricated, saturated inks. The cost of Sailor inks, however, are well above my ink spending allowance of $0.20/ml. The current Sailor inks cost approximately $.36 per ml, up from $0.25 per ml. That’s a huge price jump over the last year.

Platinum inks average $.34 per ml. Pilot Iroshizuku inks average $.56 per ml. Although if you get into some of Sailor inks made exclusively for various department stores in Japan, you can spend a great deal more than the average Sailor cost of $.36/ml. Some of those Sailor department store inks include, and are not limited to, Nagasawa, Maruzen Athena, Kingdom of Note, and Bung Box.

While I spent above my allowance for a small number of Sailor inks, I was also able to obtain a number of them through other collectors far below my price point per ml. Uh, so the spending evened out a little, ay? Okay, okay, maybe not.

Ink stash as of April 2015
Ink stash as of April 2015

Current Favorite Sailor Inks

  • Doyou, a deep, dark brown. Costs approximately $.36 per ml. Mixed results for coffee ring resistance.

Click on scans to view more closely:

Sailor Doyou on Rhodia No. 18
Sailor Doyou on Rhodia No. 18
Sailor Doyou
Sailor Doyou – coffee filter chromatology
Sailor Doyou on Rhodia No.18
Sailor Doyou on Rhodia No.18
  • Nagasawa #8 Arima Amber, a brownish, redish gold – not part of Sailor’s regular line-up, but made for the Nagasawa store in Kobe, Japan. Costs approximately $.38 per ml. No coffee ring resistance.

Click on scans to view more closely:

(Sailor) Nagasawa #8 Arima Amber
(Sailor) Nagasawa #8 Arima Amber
(Sailor) Nagasawa No. 08 Arima Amber
(Sailor) Nagasawa No. 08 Arima Amber
  • Sky High, a discontinued bright blue ink. The current production Souten resembles Sky High somewhat. Souten costs approx. $.36 per ml. No coffee ring resistance for Sky High.

Click on scans to view more closely:

(discontinued) Sailor Sky High on Rhodia No.18
(discontinued) Sailor Sky High on Rhodia No.18
Sailor Sky High - coffee filter chromatology
Sailor Sky High – coffee filter chromatology
  • Sailor Gray, a discontinued ink. I like a good gray ink that doesn’t look like a washed out black. Mixed coffee ring results.

Click on scans to view more closely:

(discontinued) Sailor Gray on Rhodia No.18
(discontinued) Sailor Gray on Rhodia No.18
Sailor Gray - coffee filter chromatology
Sailor Gray – coffee filter chromatology
  • Sailor Chu-Shu, an LE ink no longer in production. A light purply-gray. Some coffee ring resistance.

Click on scans to view more closely:

Sailor Chu-Shu LE on Rhodia No.18
Sailor Chu-Shu LE on Rhodia No.18
Sailor Chu-Shu LE - coffee filter chromatology
Sailor Chu-Shu LE – coffee filter chromatology
  • Sei-Boku, a permanent ink, more teal-blue in color than blue-black, and with shading qualities. Costs approximately $.48 per ml. Perfect coffee ring resistance. It’s a pigmented, rather than dye-based, ink which means this ink will clog your pen if you don’t take care. Don’t ever let a pigmented ink dry in your pen. Flush it out when you’re not going to use your pen for more than a few days.

Click on scans to view more closely:

Sailor Sei-Boku on Rhodia No.18
Sailor Sei-Boku on Rhodia No.18
Sailor Sei-Boku - coffee filter chromatology
Sailor Sei-Boku – coffee filter chromatology
Sailor Sei-Boku on Rhodia No.18
Sailor Sei-Boku on Rhodia No.18

Sei-Boku holds a special place in my ink stash. For one, it costs well above my preferred spending limit. For another, the ink is designed to be permanent. I used Sei-Boku once in my Newton Slug eyedropper pen, and the ink window got tinted from clear to a kind of gray. It remains tinted like that. Now I only use Sei-Boku in an ink converter, usually restricting the ink to the Platinum Kanazawa-Haku. I use Sei-Boku for my Chronodex, and for notes. A single bottle has lasted me a long time.

You can see in the photographs that follow that Sei-Boku has stained the converter near the base. But the piston is really clean, ay? That’s after a year without cleaning. I only flush the Platinum clean when I’m not going to use it for a few weeks. Then, too, I use a little Rapido-Eze to aid in cleaning.

☮ → Of note: Someone did an experiment with Sei-Boku, and posted about it here. If you use pigment inks, you’ll want to read it!

pconverter3 pconverter

Other excuses purposes for Sailor inks in the stash:

  • Yellow-Orange, a discontinued Sailor color that makes a great highlighting ink. The current production Apricot is also very nice, if more orangey in color.
  • Green, another discontinued Sailor color that’s being used as a highlighting ink.
Discontinued Sailor fountain pen inks, Yellow-Orange and Green that I use as highlighting inks.
Discontinued Sailor fountain pen inks, Yellow-Orange and Green that I use as highlighting inks.

Sailor Clingy-ness

Some Sailor inks, such as Sailor Sky High, Yama-dori, Miruai, among others, may cling to the walls of your pen. The inks may even appear to stain the inside of your pen. You will especially notice this ink’s behavior in an ink converter, or if you have an ink window or any barrel transparency in your pen. In fact, in my transparent pens, I often think to me-self, “that Sailor ink is gonna leave a stain,” and yet it always cleans out. [Exception: Sailor Sei-Boku. See note above under “Current Favorite Sailor Inks.”]

Converters, however, sometimes retain a tint, and do get stained. That happened with converters inked with Pilot Blue, too, (Perhaps the plastics used for converters are not as good as the plastics used for pens.)

In my experience, however, water alone will not thoroughly clean the pen of Sailor ink. Not to worry, though, because the standard recommended ammonia dilution solution will clean the Sailor inks out very well.

Even if you don’t see any clingy-ness of your Sailor ink inside your pen… well, personally I’d not assume the pen is clean unless a pen cleaning solution was used as a pen flush. But, hey, that’s me.

☮ → Of note: While I’ve not had Sailor ink leave a stain on/in one of my pens, other pen people have reported they’ve endured a Sailor ink stain left on their own pens. Poke around the forums, read, listen, ask. So. Hmmmm. Take extra care with your ivory, white, or light colored pens, ay?

And as I think of it, while Pilot Blue-Black doesn’t cling, Namiki/Pilot Blue certainly does.

Alkaline Cautions

In an attempt to dispel some myths about various inks being unsafe for fountain pens, Greg Clark bought himself a PH meter to test a large variety of fountain inks on the market. He (self-) published his results. (The past pamphlet appeared in 2007.) His results confirmed some inks as highly acidic, slightly acidic, neutral, or alkaline on the PH scale. (He tested other things too, like water resistance, and light fastness.)

Since Clark’s tests, others in the fountain pen community have also tested the PH in their inks, finding similar results.

Do we care? Well, yeah we kinda, maybe sorta, do. Although, if we’ve got a good fountain pen cleaning regimen going, we shouldn’t have to worry too much about this stuff. (If you’re mixing inks, that’s another story. Read here, only as a starting point.)

Inks that are not in a neutral PH range, have the potential to be corrosive to pen materials over time. For example, highly acidic inks, such Platinum Blue-Black, can be corrosive to steel nibs. Highly alkaline inks can also be corrosive to steel nibs. Additionally, according to Richard Binder highly alkaline inks are also damaging to celluloid and some organic resins.

What scale are we talkin’ about? It looks somethin’ like this:

pH 1.0 – 3.0 Strongly Acidic
pH 3.0 – 6.0 Acidic
pH 6.0 – 8.0 Neutral
pH 8.0 – 11.0 Basic (Alkaline)
pH >11.0 Strongly Basic (Alkaline)

Japanese inks tend to be more alkaline (basic) than the average fountain pen ink. For example, Greg Clark’s Fountain Pen Ink – A Sampler, rates Pilot Blue-Black’s pH at 8.5. Some information received via email correspondence with someone at Sailor suggests Sailor Blue-Black has a pH of 9.36. (Similar pH ratings can be found in some threads at FPN.)

BTW, Platinum Blue-Black, however, as a pH of around 1.77, making it strongly acidic, and is an iron gall ink. Other Platinum inks are alkaline. (Platinum tells us so.)

☮ → Richard Binder has cautioned against using alkaline inks in anything but acrylic, hard rubber or metal pens. [Read his great article on Inks: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly]

So consider the cautions about using Sailor, Pilot, Platinum, or other Japanese inks in your vintage or modern celluloid pens, especially in eyedropper or piston-filling pens.

Me, I have no celluloid pens anymore. Mostly acrylic, and a few metal pens. What’s happened to me, ay? Only that I have few worries about my pens, perhaps.

Hey, these inks are made for fountain pens, and so I use ’em. Ammonia, which I use as a cleaning agent for my pens, is far more strongly alkaline than my Japanese inks. Of course, I ain’t a chemist or an expert. Just a pen dweeb.

There’s only one ink I’m using that’s not a “basic” alkaline: Waterman Mysterious Blue.

Waterman Blue-Black aka Mysterious Blue

This is another special status ink in my stash. Waterman Blue-Black was the first ink I discovered that was well-behaved in all my pens. They clean up pretty easily with this ink, too. Waterman Blue-Black is my baseline for how an ink should behave.

I keep the ink around for troubleshooting recalcitrant pens, for letter writing, and for a 73 year old Sheaffer Tuckaway.

The ink has no coffee spill/ring resistance. The pH of Waterman Blue-Black is 3, according to Greg Clark.

Waterman averages $0.22 per ml which makes it unsuitable for daily ink gorging.

Still, I love this ink. It’s got a beautiful vintage quality to it.

Click on scans to view more closely:

Waterman Blue-Black on Rhodia No. 18
Waterman Blue-Black on Rhodia No. 18
Waterman Blue-Black - coffee filter chromatology
Waterman Blue-Black – coffee filter chromatology

And So It Goes

Many inks have come and gone. Some written out, like Sailor Yama-dori, and Miruai. Several partial bottles were given way, like Sailor Apricot, and Nagasawa Museum Blue-Gray. Writing a post like this, taking stock of where the ink journey is at, helps to clarify inks in the stash that just don’t get used, like the Nagasawa Museum Blue-Gray.

A teacher I once met told me he only used one ink: Parker Quink Blue-Black. Or was it Blue? The point is, he’s been using that one ink for many, many years, quite happily.

I’ve got one main ink, of course. But I still like a wee bit of color on hand. Currently, I’ve got 10 colors in my stash; a total of 12 bottles. I’m going to do my best to hold off any purchases until at least half of these bottles have been written away.

☮ → Update 2015-Apr-17: Three new bottles of ink procured on this date. Certainly lost “my best,” didn’t I?! More on these new inks, perhaps, for a later post.

Once 6 of those bottles have been written away, they can’t be replaced as those colors are no longer in production. Among the “occasional” inks on-hand, the only colors I know for sure I’d like to repurchase are the Sailor Doyou, and the Nagasawa Arima Amber.

I think about that teacher from time to time, and wonder if I’ll ever be a one ink person. Maybe a three or four ink person? I love the idea of that.

Click on the following three scans to view them more closely:

inks1
Nagasawa Arima Amber, Sailor Gray, Sailor Chu-Shu, Sailor Doyou, Pilot Blue-Black
Coffee ring resistance
coffee ring resistance Nagasawa Arima Amber, Sailor Gray, Sailor Chu-Shu, Sailor Doyou, Pilot Blue-Black
Waterman Blue-Black, Sailor Sei-Boku, Sailor Sky High
Waterman Blue-Black, Sailor Sei-Boku, Sailor Sky High
coffee ring resistance Waterman Blue-Black, Sailor Sei-Boku, Sailor Sky High
coffee ring resistance Waterman Blue-Black, Sailor Sei-Boku, Sailor Sky High
inks3
Sailor Doyou, Sailor Sei-Boku, Sailor Blue
Coffee ring resistance
coffee ring resistance Sailor Doyou, Sailor Sei-Boku, Sailor Blue

Some Reading