Beginner's Guide to Ink

Louise doing some calligraphyHello, my name is Louise and I'm an ink addict. Seriously, I love inks of all colours and all brands. I use a range from standard fountain pen inks for my everyday writing and note-taking to calligraphy and drawing inks which I use with dip pens for my calligraphy work. I've learnt a lot about inks over my years working at Cult Pens but the most important is that 'ink' is not all the same and can vary wildly in performance from brand to brand and the type of ink. Even the pen and paper they are used with will affect its performance and overall look.

So where do we start when looking for a new ink? Well the first thing to consider is what type of pen you're using the ink in or with. First up - and those with the widest range of options and colours available - are fountain pen inks. Fountain pen inks are water-based dye inks which are thin enough to flow nicely through a fountain pen ink feed without it clogging up the nib or feed itself. As fountain pen ink is dye-based they are not (usually!) waterproof. If you have a fountain pen you must ensure the ink used with it is fountain pen friendly. A common issue is when people think that any 'ink' can be used with their pen: for example metallic inks or waterproof drawing and calligraphy inks. A lot of fountain pen users would like to use metallic inks in their fountain pens, or a waterproof option but unfortunately there are no true metallic fountain pen inks available and very few, if any, waterproof options available. This is because metallic and waterproof inks are highly pigmented and these pigments will clog up a fountain pen feed and nib very quickly, making it unusable. In some cases they can ruin the pen altogether. Anyone who has tried waterproof or metallic inks in their fountain pen will soon realise they are not compatible or if they are, they take a lot of cleaning and TLC to keep them flowing nicely. The only waterproof fountain pen ink that's tried and tested by us is Platinum Carbon Ink available in black.

Please note the warning we have online for this ink :

IMPORTANT NOTE: We will not accept liability for damage to fountain pens arising from use of this ink. We do not recommend its use in vintage, valuable or sentimentally-valuable pens! This ink should only be purchased by expert users who understand the risks associated with using it. By ordering this item you confirm that you have read and understood this.

It really should only be used in low value pens, certainly nothing of a high or sentimental value and does come with a risk, even when caution is used, that it may well ruin the pen and stop flowing after some time. Our general advice is to only use waterproof inks with dip pens or brushes, not fountain pens.

So what ink CAN you use with your fountain pen? Well, the good news is there are plenty of options and luckily most writing doesn't actually need to be subjected to water so its being waterproof isn't important or necessary for most. After all, is the paper you're writing on waterproof? Probably not, so why concern yourself over the ink being waterproof either? Standard fountain pen inks come in a huge range of colours and from lots of different brands. One of the first we always recommend is Diamine's range of inks which is made here in the UK. Their inks are available in a huge range of colours and are of excellent quality. They are also supplied in smaller 30ml 'sample' bottles, perfect if you'd like to try a few different colours from their range before deciding on a bigger bottle, as well as the larger 80ml bottles, great if you know what colour you like and you use a lot of it.

Example of sheening inkWe've worked with Diamine for years and have also created our own ink ranges with them, including our Deep Dark Inks (a lovely range of, well, deep dark inks!) and our Iridescink range which are sheening inks, so they dry with a different colour or sheen to them, great for something a bit more unusual. Sheen inks do tend to smudge a lot easier than standard colours, though, even when dry, so it's worth bearing this in mind if you use them.

Diamine also have a range of colours available in cartridge form if you're not able to use your pen with bottled ink for example. Their cartridges are a standard international format, which will fit most fountain pens, but it's always wise to check beforehand!

This is another thing to consider when looking at fountain pen inks: can your pen use bottled ink, or does it have to use - or do you prefer - cartridges only? Some pens will only use cartridges or only bottled ink while others can use both. If your pen does use cartridges only then does the pen take standard international cartridges, like Faber-Castell, Visconti and Waterman? Or can it only be used with the brand's own proprietary cartridges, like LAMY, Cross and Parker? If the pen can only use the brand's own cartridges you'll likely be stuck with very few ink colour options, not a problem if you only use black or blue ink but it can be problematic if you'd like to try coloured inks and the brand doesn't make them. If you're a real ink and colour fan, the best option is to choose a pen that will use a converter (which is essentially a refillable cartridge) or a pen where the barrel itself is the 'converter', like the Pelikan Souveran range and TWSBI pens. This will give you a much wider range of inks and colours to choose from.

Fountain pen inks don't always have to be used in fountain pens either of course; they can be used much like a watercolour with a brush for painting with. For example, here I've used our Diamine x Cult Pens 'Louise' ink (of course!) to create a Tarr Steps image, and Montblanc 'Rebel Red' to create a James Dean image, both of which worked really well on watercolour paper without the need for paints. I also only used one colour for each image, starting with a watered down layer and then adding more saturated ink to create different shades which really brings them to life.

Ink drawing of Torr Steps, Exmoor Ink drawing of James Dean

Now, I mentioned calligraphy and drawing inks above - for these there aren't usually quite as many colour options as fountain pen ink but they do include metallic colours, opaque white and waterproof options. As these are highly pigmented they are not suitable for use with fountain pens so need to be used with dip pens or brushes only. Ideal for calligraphy and art but not so ideal for note-taking. Some of the best calligraphy inks are from KWZ; they are lovely and rich and are supplied in a wide-mouthed bottle, perfect for dipping in oblique nib holders or larger brushes:

For a wider range of standard non-metallic colours Diamine again are well worth a look.

For drawing inks specifically, which are thinner than calligraphy inks but offer a waterproof option, again suitable for use with dip pens or brushes only, Winsor and Newton have a fantastic range to choose from.

Bottles of Winsor & Newton ink

Well I could go on (and on) about inks but I'd best stop there and get back to my customer service role with Cult Pens. I do hope this blog has been useful and if anyone has any questions I encourage you to send our customer service team an email and we'll be happy to advise.

Happy inking all!

13 October 2021


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