In August 2010 I began a quest to reduce the number of ink bottles sitting around looking pretty, and determined to be mindful about my ink consumption. Bottles were written empty, traded, and given away. Small vials of Ink samples grew in the search for the desirable-to-moi Blue-Black, Black and Blue inks. A commitment to myself to cease purchasing inks, until all bottles were empty, proved difficult. I fell off the wagon a couple of times. Yet the quest to reduce the ink hoard into a simpler one has, I feel, been successful.
One of the things learned along the ink journey is that on average I consume 50ml of ink every five weeks. No idea if that’s a lot or a little, really, for a writer. There are folks who say they consume more than that in a single month. There are others who say it takes them a year or more to use 50ml. Please do tell if you know how much you consume on average over five weeks time. I would imagine illustrators use up more. Anyhoo, my ink consumption rate emphasizes a need for affordable ink.
The inks I wanted to acquire needed to meet the following personal criteria:
- Coffee drip resistance.
- An agreeable color to moi.
- Fast dry time (3-5 seconds).
- No bleed-through on 28# Staples (FSC) laser paper or Staples Sustainable Earth/Bagasse notepads. (Mind you—no bold nibs here, two mediumish, mostly fine and extra fine for moi.)
- Must perform well in all pens in my tiny collection—not always so easy to achieve!
- Complete cost (includes shipping if buying online) under $.20 per ml of ink.
To save us some time in a very long read: I’ll only mention bleed-through with an ink if it was experienced. Why is bleed-through important? Because I want to write on both sides of a piece of paper!
So Many Blues, So Little Time
Blue or Blue-side-of-Blue-Black are the colors I like to write with regularly. It took many months of rotating through samples searching for a blue or blue-black meeting my criteria. (Uh, remember, mine may not be yours.)
Hoping for an ink similar to Noodler’s Black, of course I sampled many of the blues available from Noodler’s. I looked at Bad Belted Kingfisher, Bad-Blue Heron, Midnight Blue, Navy, Midway Blue, Ottoman Azure, Standard Blue, and Blue-Black. (Some blues, such as Bay State Blue, were already tried years ago.) Noodler’s Blue-Black was a good performer, except that it’s on the Black side of Blue-Black, and did not offer much variance from Noodler’s Black itself. The other blues had nib creep and assorted other intolerables. Again, YMMV.
Other brands of ink sampled included Lamy Blue, Lamy Blue-Black, Parker Quink Permanent Blue-Black, Sheaffer Blue, Sheaffer Blue-Black, Pelikan Royal Blue, Waterman South Sea Blue, Waterman Florida Blue. Some had a decent cost, along with good coffee drip resistance, yet the color did not appeal. Some had good color and little to no coffee resistance. Any ink that cost $20 or more per bottle was excluded automatically from my quest.
One of my favorite blues, Sailor Sky High, averaged $.24 per ml. While expense alone was enough to retire Sky High from regular ink consumption, there was an additional reason. I addressed an envelope with Sky High, and as said envelope awaited the postal worker, an unexpected light rainfall washed the inked address completely away. (Sky High’s water-contact survival depends on many factors. Just don’t rely on it to be water resistant.) Cost knocked out two other great performing inks: Sailor Blue and Sailor Blue-Black. Sailor Sei Buko was never seriously considered, despite its great qualities and color because of its expense per bottle.
Everflo Blue-Black was eagerly examined because it met another personal preference to “buy local” as the ink is made in the USA. My desire to “buy local” is not the same as a desire to “buy American.” If I lived in Tokyo, or London, or Costa Rica, the desire to buy local would be the same.
The original release of Everflo Blue-Black (Fall 2010) had lots of nib creep and very slow dry time. The current formulation, at least as of November 2011, is a different, much improved performing ink. (I still had a sample of the original formula and you will see them both in the scans below.)
Everflo Blue-Black has a quick drying time, minimal to no nib creep, and is a pleasing blue color. The ink is somewhat coffee drip tolerant, but not so much coffee ring tolerant. However, I experienced bleed-through on the ink even on Rhodia #18 and Rhodia webbie using my Edison Mina (wet Fine nib), Levenger True Writer (Fine nib), and Nakaya Piccolo (medium stub). On my cheap Staples papers (28# Laser and the Bagasse notepad) the bleed-through was horrible. That’s why the paper’s cheap, eh? As always, YMMV.
Three Blue Contenders
There are three inks in the blue family that meet all my criteria in an ink with a caveat about cost. Each of these inks is at $.20 per ml or slightly over. However, they can be bought for less than $.20/ml if you do your shopping research. Sometimes ink can be bought in bulk where discounts are given, or bought on sale. Buying in brick and mortar stores allows you to forgo the cost of shipping (your gasoline is another matter).
Listed below in order by weakest coffee-drip resistance to strongest are three inks vying to be my standard blue:
Using Waterman Blue-Black as a standard for a smooth flowing ink, the other two inks also meet that standard. In my opinion and in my pens, of course.
Waterman Blue-Black, a favorite ink, performed exceptionally well in all my pens. Yet the ink’s coffee drip survival varies tremendously depending on the paper quality/characterists, and how long the ink has been left to dry. Some important notes, freshly written on an Exacompta index card, were completely washed away in an accidental spill once upon a time. Waterman B-B must be understood to have only some resistance. I would have stopped my ink quest at Waterman Blue-Black had it not been for the aforementioned index card incident.
Recently, Waterman Blue-Black has been renamed “Mystery Blue.” The ink comes in 50ml bottles. The bottles themselves are great for filling your pens from. The faceted shape allows you to turn the bottle on a side, when the ink is low, to access ink when the bottle’s near empty.
While Waterman may have indicated that they have only renamed inks, and not reformulated them, it’s too early tell as of this post. Keep an eye over at the Ink Nouveau blog as they are sure to do a comparison between the old and new Waterman inks. Waterman Blue-Black is made in France. If the ink properties change up too much, this ink will fall of my list.
Platinum Blue-Black I waxed on about in an earlier post. It performs better than Waterman B-B because it has excellent coffee drip resistance. I would have stopped the ink quest at Platinum B-B but for two things: (1) its tiny 30ml bottles, and (2) its price is slightly higher per .ml than Waterman Blue-Black. It requires some patience to find it at or below $.20 per ml. Platinum Blue-Black is made in Japan.
Namiki Blue is a blue-blue color and has wonderous water AKA coffee drip resistance. Namiki inks come to the USA in 60ml bottles. Namiki Blue is made in Japan.
In an recent email exchange with a pen pal, he mentioned his favorite ink was Pilot Blue-Black. Another friend had given me a bottle of Pilot Blue-Black last year, and I quickly fell in love with its qualities. However, fountain pen inks labeled as “Pilot” are difficult to source in the USA. (You might find Pilot ink in a Japanese book or stationery store if you’re lucky enough to have one!) Pilot does not distribute Pilot ink in the USA, instead they distribute Namiki ink.
Namiki is the name PIlot labels its ink in distribution for the west. You with me, so far? Namiki Blue and Black appear to be the same colors as Pilot Blue and Black inks. There is, however, no Namiki Blue-Black in bottle form. Pilot makes its ink available in 30ml, 70ml and 350ml bottles, quite different configurations from the 60ml Namiki bottles.
The Namiki bottles have a neat plastic insert to help with filling the nib, especially when the ink level gets low. You turn the bottle upside down to fill the plastic “cup” inside the bottle. Turn it right side up, unscrew the lid, and insert your fountain pen in the bottle to fill it.
A lot of inks have an odor. Sometimes a chemical-ly one. Namiki and Pilot inks have among the strongest of chemical smells. While my sense of smell is super sensitive, it’s rather tolerant. If yours is not so tolerate, you should be aware of this odoriferous factor.
I managed to find Namiki Blue on sale and with free shipping, which brought the cost for five bottles to about $.16 per ml! Thus, Namiki Blue ends my quest for a daily writing blue ink!
While Pilot Blue never exhibited bleed-through for me, Namiki Blue did! The bleed-through was not heavy as Everflo Blue-Black. Namiki Blue showed wee bit of bleed-through on both Staples and Rhodia papers, using my Nakaya Piccolo’s medium-ish stub and a Danitrio RF nib. No bleed-through using the medium stub on a Danitrio Cumlaude or any remaining pens. Bleed-through was not seen on HP 32lb laser paper (FSC). (A caution for you: if you use bold-ish nibs you may get some bleed-through on various papers.)
Overall, the Namiki Blue won me over because of color, performance, its incredible coffee resistance—and because I got an agreeable price on it ($.16 per ml). The ink is made in Japan.
Progress Report on Bottle Reduction
My quest to “write down the ink” began with 34 bottles. As of the end of January there were 13 in various of states of fullness.
I anticipate the five bottles of the daily use ink, Namiki Blue, will last me six to eight months. Noodler’s Black, as the secondary ink, will be reduced from two to one by the end of the year. There’s also a bottle of Platinum Blue-Black left in my stash.
The tertiary colors remaining will last much longer as those inks only get used for an occasional letter or card. What are those occasional colors I’ve held onto? Sailor Chu-Shu and Noodler’s Lexington Gray, J. Herbin Cacao Du Bresil and Noodler’s 41 Brown, and J. Herbin Lierre Sauvage.
My ink of choice, Namiki Blue, may not retain its first place status. The greatest influence will not be what some experience as “ink boredom.” Honestly, prior to returning to fountain pens, I got by using the same colors in a ball point or a rollerball pen for years. For me, the greatest influence when performance factors are relatively equal will be the cost per .ml on ink. Shipping costs are rising. Economies are crumbling, re-structuring, and evolving. Nothing stays the same. Especially the price of ink. More, as always, to be revealed as we write along.
Over these many months, my ink buying habits have evolved into a more thoughtful method of purchasing:
- Trade inks. Ask friends for samples. Freely give samples of your own inks. Do everything to sample an ink before buying a bottle!
- Look for bulk discounts offered by online retailers.
- Always include the cost shipping when looking at the price in ink.
- And buy in bulk even if no discount. Shipping will be usually be much cheaper and the cost per .ml of ink goes down.
- Take advantage of free shipping offers when available.
- Buy on sale.
So far so good. Reducing and simplifying hasn’t left me with two bottles of ink. The journey’s left me happily using the inks I’ve got.
01/03/2013: A post updating my experience with Namiki Blue: Writing Down the Ink #12 Revisiting Namiki Blue
- Brian Goulet’s video review of Namiki Blue, July 2011, Ink Nouveau on YouTube. Great!
- Namiki Blue! Oct 2010, FPN.
- Namiki/Pilot Blue Review, Aug 2011, FPN.
- Namiki Ink Water Resistance, Nov 2006, FPN.
- Water Fastness of Namiki Inks, Sept 2006, FPN. Includes a couple of links to some ink light-fading tests. Some concern that once the ink has hit water, the ink will fade over time.
- 350ml Pilot Ink, Pilot Catalog.
- The Smell of Ink, July 2010, FPN. Discusses Namiki and other brands.
- Mixing Your Own Blue-Black Ink, FPN, Jan 2009.
- Local Produce, Sept 2001, Cronicas Estilograficas blog, food for thought about the ink market and “buying local.”
- Ink Facts, Pendemonium. Always good to revisit even if you’ve read it before.