Writing Down the Ink #5

Update:  Pear Tree Pens retired its business on 10/1/2011. Goulet Pens remains the primary source for retail ink samples.

Hard as I’ve tried not to, I’ve bought an ink bottle or two. And an ink sample or ten.

Since I began “writing down the ink” (Aug 2010), the bottle count reduced to 20 (some given away and some ‘written away’). Friends sent me three partially filled bottles of ink which brought the count up to 23.

Friends also sent me ink samples. Many of the ink samples were so generous I should probably classify them as partially filled bottles! I began the “ink journey” with one ink sample. As of this post there are 29 sample bottles. (This number includes what is expected in the mail today. *sigh*) The largest increase in brand samples were in the Iroshizuku inks sent to me by three different generous pen friends.

Ink Samples

Ink sampling is, of course, a wonderful way to explore brands and colors.  For a long time, those of us without access to pen clubs or pen shows, Pear Tree Pens was the one retailer offering ink samples. Once upon a time, only four ink samples could be purchased in a one month period. Good news, though, they no longer limit the number of ink samples. A Pear Tree customer can order as many and as often as desired. They charge a flat fee for a packet of four vacuum-packed 1ml ink samples. (Plus shipping, of course.)

Entering the fray, online retailer Goulet Pens offers 2ml ink samples. Costs are per bottle plus shipping. Goulet Pens also sponsors a monthly “ink drop” membership. Each month members receive five sample bottles ink. Ink Drop membership costs $10 a month and word is you get access to special discounts and promotions.

Important to note is that not all inks are carried by each retailer. Below is a summary of inks carried as of Apr 7, 2011 by both Pear Tree Pens and Goulet Pens. Check with the retailers for current information.

Brand Retailer
Aurora Pear Tree
Caran d’Ache Both
Diamine Both
Everflo Goulet
Herbin Both
Lamy Both
Noodler’s Both
Omas Pear Tree
Pelikan Both
Pilot/Namiki Goulet
Platinum Goulet
Private Reserve Both
Rohrer & Klingner Pear Tree
Sailor Both
Sheaffer Goulet
Visconti Pear Tree
Waterman Pear Tree

Goulet Pens has a “Swab Shop” that allows you to compare colors by brand or color. The U.K.’s Writing Desk has a more extensive comparison of inks via their “Col-o-rama.” In my opinion these ink swatches are helpful in the same way, uh, paint chips are helpful. The color of the ink depends a lot on the point and purpose of your nib. I image for sketch artists and calligraphers, for starters, these swabs are invaluable.  For a fine-point, non-flexy writer like moi they are less helpful. Shading is not something I’m going to see much of. Nor am I going to see the great coloration of an ink like Iroshizuku Syo-ru in my tiny print. I won’t know how a color really looks unless I see it in tiny print.

Ink sampling surely is not a “cash cow” for either of these retailers. I applaud them both for offering them up an important service to many of us.


For the first time in two years, Noodler’s has re-entered my ink mix as I’ve become more interested in inks that will withstand the occasional coffee spill. The decrease in Diamine inks occurred because they proved disappointing overall in terms of coffee cup/water resistance. The decrease in J. Herbin inks are a reflection of moving to a more simpler ink pallet with far fewer colors. The current inks on hand are largely blue-black, blue, and black.

Pendemonium’s Noodler’s Legal Lapis has become a favorite blue-black ink. My favorite blue is in sample bottles only: Iroshizuku Kon-Peki which held up quite well in coffee/ink experiments (although not as well as Fuyo-syugon). Once it’s gone it’s probably back to Sailor Blue. I’m unwilling to break the $20 barrier on fountain pen ink no matter how pleasing the ink and how much my pens love it. (Iroshizuku inks cost $28 or more.) Sailor has fewer offerings yet performs just as well for my purposes.

J. Herbin’s Perle Noire remains my black ink of choice. Perle Noire held up well in my coffee/water test. Through a recent ink trade I’ve received a bottle of Noodler’s Old Manhattan Black, a bulletproof ink. Today’s mail will bring four samples of black ink, two of which I know are water-resistent.

If Montblanc Racing Green were still being made, it would be an easy choice for inclusion. Nothing stays the same. Change is inevitable. No more white Quo Vadis Habana. No more MB Racing Green. Old news, eh? C’est la vie.

Why do I care about the numbers of bottles? Some of you know I’m one of those people who doesn’t live well with a lot of stuff around. I want my ink consumption to be simpler. Focusing on writing the ink bottles out has been very helpful to my process. As the world explodes all over the place in wonderment and disaster, thinking about ink is kinda relaxing.

Progress Report as of Apr 8, 2011

FPN links to Coffee/Water Testing on white Rhodia paper:

  • Mostly Diamine, J. Herbin with appearances by Sailor Blue-Black, Montblanc, Waterman Havana, Sheaffer Skrip Black
  • Mostly Iroshizuku with appearances by J. Herbin Perle Noir, Platinum Carbon Black, Private Reserve Ebony & Velvet Black

One thought on “Writing Down the Ink #5

  1. I appreciate your insights about your ink sampling. Thanks so much for mentioning me and linking to me. You’re right that ink sampling is not a cash cow, it’s really more of a labor of love. I know how invaluable samples are, especially now that there are sooooo many inks out there to choose from!


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