choosing the right ink - our guide

Q&A: Guide to choosing the right ink

A guide to choosing the right ink

So you have maybe decided to buy some new ink, but where do you start? With so much choice, it is hard to know where to turn. Are all inks essentially the same? What do you get for paying more? And what about all those technical terms?

Choosing the right ink can be a daunting process and so this article aims to make the process a lot easier by breaking it down into the various elements that will affect your choice, and to give you a guide on how to go about choosing the right ink.

a guide to choosing the right ink

The Basics

We will start by looking at the basics of making a decision. These are four factors that should easily rule in or out some inks and help give a basic pointer to guide you.

Colour

At the time of writing we have 338 colours available to choose from, and this is spread across 18 choices of inks, not allowing for variations in the bottle size. 300+ colours is overwhelming, especially when you consider that the Diamine ink range has something like 27 blue inks alone.

However, colour is an important factor in choosing your ink, maybe the most important alongside price. For some people this may mean just wanting a basic blue or black ink. For others it means having a specific colour – Enzo Ferrari famously used to sign his name in his signature colour. And no, it wasn’t red – he was a purple ink man.

For others, it will extend down to matching an ink to something specific – to your notebook maybe. Others might place importance on matching the colour shade precisely as no two shades are the same. It really comes down to how specific a shade of colour you are looking for. This may mean you have to search around various different inks to find your perfect colour.

Price

The other obvious influence on your choice of ink is likely to be cost. With some bottles costing under £7 and some costing over £30, there’s a big difference in price. The question is what do you get if you pay more? Is it a straightforward case of the higher the price, the better the ink? Er…no.

With quality brands like Diamine and Herbin costing well under £10, it clearly doesn’t follow that more expensive = better. We only sell good quality inks and so the advice on price would be to choose an ink that suits your budget. We will go on to look at other reasons why you might consider spending more on a bottle of ink later.

We previously looked at the relative costs of different inks, and with inks being sold in various sized bottles you might want to consider this as well. There is little doubt that Diamine ink is the best value, all things considered.

Size

Size is less of an issue, but it’s worth a mention. Bottled ink tends to be around 50ml per bottle. Some inks have bigger bottles – Diamine is a whopping 80ml, KWZ is a hearty 60ml – whilst others might be a more modest 30ml.

A big bottle is going to be better value and will last a good while – an 80ml bottle of ink will fill the TWSBI Eco fountain pen about 40 times over! A big bottle of say 50ml+ is perfect when you know you’ll want to use the ink frequently, or it’s your favourite ink.

Herbin do small 10ml taster bottles which are a great way to test out colours without feeling like you’re wasting ink and even this will last you a while. The point being, size might not be so important in deciding since even a smaller bottle will last a long time.

We did look at the relative costs of different inks vs cartridges before – click here to see more

Purpose

The last of the so-called basic decision makers will be the purpose you intend to use the ink for. Some inks are more suited for specific jobs. You might want a calligraphy ink (which has properties more suited to calligraphy writing), or you might require an ink for archival purposes. You might need a waterproof ink, like Blackstone Barrister ink.

Another element to consider is drying time – if you need an ink that dries quickly then you might consider an ink like Herbin. The alternative is a wetter ink like KWZ, and you might find this proves very impractical if you need to wait ages for an ink to dry.

Your paper choice will also impact upon this – some papers are better for inks to dry quickly if time is an issue. Look at papers from:

choosing the right ink - how much does bottle size matter?
Bottles range from 10ml to 80ml
waterproof ink
Blackstone waterproof Barrister ink

Beyond The Basics

Now this is where the choice of ink becomes really interesting. It is also where you move from choosing an ink for more more functional reasons, and find yourself taking greater pleasure from the act of writing and using ink itself.

At the heart if this lies three key elements you can get from an ink – the Three S’s. Some inks will display none, some or all of these elements and discovering them is part of the pleasure. Their presence, or lack of, doesn’t makes an ink better or worse, it simply helps give an ink its true character.

At this point it worth mentioning the paper. Inks don’t exist in isolation and since it is likely you will be using them on paper, then your choice of paper is very important. The same iink will perform differently on different papers. See below for more notes on this.

Sheen

So what is sheen? This is when the ink dries with with a shiny finish to it. Most ink when dry will be flat and have no ‘surface’ to it. Sheen is when the ink has an edge that catches in the light. Discovering this when using an ink is part of the pleasure, but as a guide you will find a good sheen to inks like:

If you want to get the best out of the sheen an ink has then we recommend using Tomoe River paper, which just lets the ink show off its best qualities.

Shading

Shading is where an ink dries with some variation in depth. So rather than leaving a single solid colour, the ink will be more saturated in colour in one area than another. Is that a good thing? Well that depends on what you like and want from your ink, but it is another area that you can discover more about an ink and how it performs in subtle ways to create something richer and more rewarding.

Inks that are good for shading include:

Shimmer

Some might argue that this comes under sheen, but it is something quite specific. Shimmer inks have a metallic sparkle to them. Literally. They have small particles in the ink which you can see in the bottle., and which will settle and need agitating before using. The result is an ink that sparkles on the page. The result can be quite varied but when it works it can be magical.

There have been a whole host of new shimmer inks released in recent years, so there is a good choice, but you might want to look at these for some good results:

Sheen on Kyoto Nurebairo ink
Sheen on Kyoto Nurebairo ink
Shading on Herbin Vert Olive ink
Shading on Herbin Vert Olive ink
ink shimmer
Shimmer on Diamine Arctic Blue ink

What Else Can Inks Offer?

Is there anything else to an ink outside the basics and how it appears on paper? Well, arguably no. Choosing an ink based on those values will likely last you a lifetime after all. But there are other factors to consider, and these may help guide you in your choice of ink.

Limited Editions

Some inks release special or limited editions, and these can be in high demand. For some ink manufacturers this has become an annual event, and most notable amongst the limited edition inks are the Herbin Anniversary inks (this might now have become the Herbin 1798 range as of 2017) and the annual Edelstein Ink of the Year from Pelikan.

Lamy have also started to produce limited edition T52 inks to coincide with the annual launch of the limited edition Safari and Al-Star fountain pens. These tend to be very limited in supply.

Cult Inks

Some inks acquire an almost cult-like status. Sometimes there is an obvious reason for it, other times it seems to defy reason. But no matter, if an ink has been given this lofty status then it is popular above all other colours in that range.

Example inks here would be KWZ Honey, Herbin 1670 Emerald de Chivor and Robert Oster Fire and Ice.

edelstein ink of the year
Edelstein Aquamarine limited edition ink
robert oster fire and ice
Robert Oster Fire & Ice ink

Extras & Exotic Imports

Some inks are worth buying because they come beautifully packaged (I’m looking at you, Kyoto ink) or have extras in the box (Colorverse ink is a perfect example here).

In other cases it is simply that the inks have that exotic something – imports from afar that you are unlikely to stumble across in your local WH Smith or inks with a story to tell. Iroshizuku and Kyoto inks come from Japan, Robert Oster and Blackstone inks are from Australia. KWZ inks are made by a husband-&-wife team in Poland. Feeling closer to the story can make you appreciate the ink in a different way.

The Kyoto inks are also just beautiful objects in their own right, from the box to the bottle. Does this affect the ink? The obvious answer is no, but then again you can gain extra enjoyment from something more than just purely functional, and an ink like this is very desirable!

Complexity

Last but not least is the fact that inks are complex substance. It is no coincidence that KWZ ink is made by two chemists, or that we have worked with chemist-come-bloggers on ink reviews. The process of making an ink requires a lot of input, and not just in terms of colour choice, packaging and marketing.

Look at Iron Gall inks for a clear demonstration of how complex an ink can be – these very traditional inks require sensitive handling in your pen as they can damage it in some cases. As the name suggests, it is made with iron elements and this helps it bond with the paper to form a more permanent mark. More interestingly it is chemistry in the making when you write with it as it changes colour and darkens.

Some inks really are just a complex mixture and discovering inks can leave you somewhere between a writer and a chemist at times.

Colorverse inks packaging
Colorverse inks have extras in the box
KWZ Iron Gall inks
KWZ Iron Gall inks

In Conclusion

To summarise, the most powerful influence on your decision of choosing the right ink will be price. A quality ink like Diamine or Herbin comes in at under £7 and will let you choose from well over 130 colours. But once you start to find more pleasure in using inks so you will likely seek out other more expensive inks for the unique properties they can demonstrate. Whether that is the unusual colour, how it performs when used or just a desire to seek out ever new creations will depend on where you ink odessey takes you! In short, start somewhere that feels right, and let you enjoyment lead you.

Blackstone Uluru Red
Blackstone Uluru Red
Diamine Apple Glory
Diamine Apple Glory
Lamy Dark Lilac
Lamy Dark Lilac
Edelstein Mandarin
Edelstein Mandarin
the price of ink

Q&A: Is Bottled Ink Cheaper Than Cartridges?

The Price Of Ink

the price of ink

It is a question often asked – is bottled ink cheaper than cartridges? Is it more economical to buy ink in bottles or go for the simplicity of cartridges? And if it is cheaper, how much cheaper is bottled ink? Well I decided there was only one way of resolving this problem – find out how much ink costs pound for milliliter. And with the results in we have a clear winner and sort of an answer to the question.

Is bottled ink cheaper than cartridge ink?

Bottled ink - Price per ml

Diamine 8p per ml
Lamy T52 19p per ml
Diamine Shimmer 20p per ml
KWZ 22p per ml
Lamy T51 22p per ml
Blackstone 23p per ml
Herbin D 23p per ml
KWZ Iron Gall 28p per ml
Herbin Scented 30p per ml
Herbin 1670 Anniversary 30p per ml
Robert Oster 30p per ml
Edelstein 34p per ml
Herbin Mini 38p per ml
Kaweco 40p per ml
Herbin 1798 Les Encres 42p per ml
Blackstone Barrier 47p per ml
Kyoto 50p per ml
Colorverse 56p per ml
Pilot Iroshizuku 64p per ml

Cartridges - Price per ml

Lamy T10 Cartridges 20p per ml
Monteverde Cartridges 24p per ml
Kaweco Cartridges 32p per ml
Herbin Cartridges 55p per ml

Well, the simple answer is yes – bottled ink is cheaper than cartridges. However it is surprising how little there was in it, in some cases not at all. Take Lamy ink – at 20p per ml in T10 cartridge form it isn’t that much more expensive than bottled T52 ink which comes in at 15p per ml. And Kaweco ink cartridges actually came in cheaper than their bottled ink. But if you want real value then of course a bottle of Diamine ink will see you through for a long time with an 80ml bottle costing just 8p per ml.

To be clear, these results were based on our retail prices as of 1 May 2017, across all bottled and cartridge inks in our range. For cartridge ink there was a small problem because no one seems to quote the volume of a cartridge, but general consensus seems to suggest that a small cartridge (e.g. Kaweco or Herbin) is 0.9ml and a larger cartridge like the Lamy T10 is 1.5ml so I based all calculations on those volumes.

Incowrimo 2017 Letter

Incowrimo 2017 – Writing Letters – Part 2

Incowrimo 2017 Letter

International Correspondence Writing Month. One a day. Every day. February. That's the tag line that got me interested last year 🙂 Are you ready to take on the challenge and put pen to paper?

You can read the first part of our series on Incowrimo 2017 here.

What to write always seems to be the hardest thing about Incowrimo. The good news is that it’s actually easier than you think. Reconnect with people – find something you have in common. Write about something nice 🙂 Be kind, ask questions, or just one 🙂 Keep it light.

I always mention pen and ink combo and then decorate remaining space with doodles, ink splats, stamps, washi tape, stickers, etc.

Plan your incowrimo – it’s perfectly fine to start with few quick thank you notes, postcards, Valentine’s card and slowly build up to letters.

Incrowrimo 2017 postcard ideas

In this second part of our letter writing series, we will be looking at paper and filling those envelopes.

My recommendation for a more sophisticated writing experience are the Original Crown Mill sets. Each box comes with enough stationery to get you through a month of incowrimo, easy.  The laid paper in these sets are the reason why this feels luxurious. Ordinary copier paper is no match for the ribbed texture here which looks and feels more personal. That is the tone we want for Incowrimo 🙂

The Crown Mill comes in two different sets. The gold box comes with cream coloured materials. Silver box contains white paper and envelopes.

Incowrimo 2017 letter on a desk

When I talk about writing letters I have to mention Triomphe. It is a brand of pads and envelopes by Clairefontaine – famous for its glassy smooth 90gsm bright white paper. These pads have plain paper in them and come with a ruled cheat sheet which will magically help you write in neat, straight lines. Simply genius 🙂 Envelopes are lined with white paper and the seal is diamond shaped which makes them perfect contestants for wax seals. They certainly do look classy and are fantastic value for money.

We had these pads reviewed by the wonderful Azizah on her blog. Have a look – there are some fantastic photos which will inspire you 🙂 Perfect incowrimo cue.

http://www.gourmetpens.com/2016/02/clairefontaine-triomphe-vs-original.html

My go-to is Rhodia R pad. Some may consider it as a budget option because it is just a pad. Don’t be fooled – it is gorgeous 90gsm buttery smooth ivory paper. We sell them in plain or lined paper. I pick lined over plain because when writing, I can anchor the letters to the lines and find it makes my handwriting look neater. Certain fountain pen inks ‘shine’ on ivory paper, others look great on bright white paper. My top 3 inks for ivory paper are KWZ Honey, Diamine Syrah and J Herbin 1670 Caroube de Chypre. Pages tear out easily, one by one, and it does look rather smart 🙂

Incowrimo 2017 letters with clips and washi tape

Last year we were part of Letters Live 2016 which was a spectacular event, defo check out www.letterslive.com for a spark of inspiration and get on incowrimo.org for further information.

Next week we’ll be helping you out with some ideas and creations we’ve been prepping for our own contribution to Incowrimo 2017 🙂 See you soon!

Incowrimo 2017 letters and ink
Bullet Journal with Incowrimo calendar

Incowrimo 2017 – Writing Letters – Part 1

Bullet Journal with Incowrimo calendar

February, the shortest month of the year is almost here... For many stationery geeks this is the time when we sit down and write one letter a day to someone. INternational COrrespondence WRIting MOnth aka Incowrimo here we go...

In the beginning it was a simple idea – write more letters. Vintage social media beats email/text every time. It is without a doubt more romantic and personal.

February was picked because it is the shortest month of the year. So if you commit, you will only need to write 28 (29 during leap year) letters, cards, postcards, notes, post-its, napkins…

Who you write to is up to you, of course. This is a fantastic way to reconnect with old friends and family. Write to loved ones, write to strangers…or write to us if you like 🙂

To start off Incowrimo, I make a list of 28 souls 🙂 Next step is my favourite one – grab all the stationery which I can find around the house/office and start brainstorming 🙂 The usual ingredients are: envelopes, paper, cards, postcards and stamps. Extras like shimmering inks, washi tape, wax seals, stamps are the cherries on top.

Bullet Journal with Incowrimo calendar

In part one of this letter writing series, we will be looking at envelopes.

Envelopes are the first thing that your recipient will see, so I try to make them stand out.

Colour usually does the trick – your bank would not send you statements in pink envelopes 🙂 Silver and gold envelopes catch the eye and say “you are special.” Plain envelopes are okay – Decorate! Why not recycle any old ones too?  Incowrimo is prime time to open that stationery drawer grab the cute stuff which is too good for use in your journals.

Check carefully that you have the correct address and also write a return address – you never know, one letter can be the beginning of beautiful pen-pal friendship 🙂

Make sure you use some kind of waterproof ink – this goes especially for fountain pen users in UK where we get a lot of rain. Iron Galls should do the trick, if you don’t have such inks, hack it with clear tape over the address or use clear wax to make it waterproof 🙂

I participated in Incowrimo 2016 while I was working on improving my handwriting. Those two go hand in hand and it was really rewarding to put all those hours of practice to some good use. Commiting to do something for a month became a lot easier as soon as I put my mobile away. Go offline and take time to unwind. Sit down, surround yourself with stationery, put nice music on and focus on someone and then just write… It is a very happy place, trust me 🙂 What are the chances that you will start a new hobby after writing 28 letters?

One last piece of advice. If you think that 28 letters is a lot and you will struggle, set yourself some kind of reward – a beautiful pen or new ink works for me every time 🙂

If you would like to join and pledge to write one letter/card/note a day please head over to www.incowrimo.org

In Part 2 of Writing Letters for Incowrimo we’ll focus a bit more on what goes in the envelope… (Hint: It’s paper!)

https://www.bureaudirect.co.uk/blog/2017/01/writing-letters-incowrimo-2017-part-2/

Konrad at KWZ Ink at the London Pen Show

Who are KWZ Ink?

Konrad and Agnieszka from KWZ Ink at the London Pen Show
Konrad and Agnieszka from KWZ Ink at the London Pen Show - image courtesy of @penfiend aka Aileen Peer

I spoke with Konrad, the founder of KWZ Ink, after the show and asked him some questions about KWZ Ink and how it came about.

Who are KWZ ink and what does the K-W-Z stand for?
 

KWZ Ink is a small family business operated by Konrad – PhD student of polymer chemistry, supported by his wife,  who is also a scientist in the chemistry field. K-W-Z are simply the initials of the founder.

Where are you based?

We are based in Poland, Nowe Grocholice which is just outskirts of Warsaw, the capital.

How long have you been producing ink?

The company is only 2 years old, but I started making inks 5 years ago as a hobby.

What got you into producing ink in the first place?

I do really love writing with fountain pens and I write with fountain pens whenever it is possible.

When I was making my master degree in chemistry I had few accidents when my laboratory journal came into contact with water or some organic solvents. Some fountain pen and ballpoint inks are water resistant, but even small amount of some solvents can remove both of them almost completely.

When I started my PhD studies I decided that I need more resistant ink for my fountain pens, this is how I came on Iron Gall inks. I was not actually satisfied with the ones that were on the market in case of color and properties, so my first thought was that I will improve one of the existing inks by adding more dye. When I was making research on what dyes are compatible with Iron Gall inks, I realized that making new ink from scratch will be much easier than modifying existing one. Well it was not, at least at the very begining, but it started a great hobby.

At the show you mentioned something about your inks being especially suited to fountain pens rather than for glass dipping pens. Could you explain a bit more about this? It isn’t something I had come across before.

The ink designed for fountain pen should be characterized by certain rheological properties like low viscosity, surface tension and etc., to flow nicely from the nib so writing with them is a pleasure. Dip pens require ink which have certainly higher viscosity and surface tension then standard fountain pen ink. As we make our inks on the “wet side” in terms of fountain pen inks, they might be flowing to easily from dip pens, making the writing very dark.

You also have a range of iron gall inks – can you explain a bit more about the historical significance of iron gall ink and how it is different to a ‘normal’ ink? You have to be very careful with this ink in your pen, don’t you?

Well this topic is really wide, and I will shorten it. Well first to mention is that Iron Gall inks as they are populary named, is a very broad term and cover a very large range of inks made from different materials and in different ways. The very special thing about those inks is that they contain complexes of iron with gallic and/or tannic acid. Those complexes are intensively coloured and are very stable, thanks to that we are now able to read manuscripts which are thousand years old or more.

Modern iron gall inks which are designed for fountain pens are way more fountain pen friendly than IG inks, that were produced 50-60 years ago. The only important thing you have to be careful with Iron Gall inks is to not let them dry inside of fountain pen, as they will be difficult to clean – this is general rule in case of using waterproof or partially waterproof inks in fountain pens.

You have a range of 39 colours in the standard ink range – I’m sure you love them all but can you pick some of those inks out and tell a story behind them? Which are your favourite inks?

Well this is very hard to tell which are the most favourite, because this changes from time to time. But from standard range of inks I repeatedly come back to (in random order): Turquoise, Azure #2, Old Gold, Honey, Orange, Grapefruit, Green Gold #2 and Thief’s Red. Most of the inks were made because I wanted to see how it would be to write with this particular color.

Some inks, like Thief’s Red was made because I heard a story about punishing caught thieves by putting them dressed in bright colors on public view. Also for example we made Grey Lux ink, because one of members from polish fountain pen board asked us about grey ink.

Finally, we have to give a special mention to your Honey ink – this is quite an incredible success and was hugely popular at the London Pen Show. People were seeking you out to get themselves a bottle of this ink. What’s the story here? Why is it so popular?

Well Honey ink is very unique in terms of how it was made. By the time I started working on Honey we already were producing Old Gold ink and Cappuccino ink was also made. When I was looking at our colour pallete I was thinking that we are missing a colour between those two inks. What we needed was a warm yellow-brown ink, well saturated and bright, but at the same very legible, so it could be used for daily writing.

At this time it was very busy time for me at the university, and I only had very little time I could spare on making inks on weekends. Thinking about how this ink should be made took me around a week, I had not time to make any trials so I was mostly imaging which dyes and in what proportions would give the color I wanted. When I was coming back home on Friday I finally make up my mind about the recipe for this ink, I wrote it when I come back home. On Saturday morning I wake up pretty early made the ink and it was basically it, I did not change the initial formula even a bit afterwards. Why is this so special? Because even in case of inks which are made from lower number of dyes we do need at least 10-30 trials till we get the colour we want, and in case of inks of the same complexity this can go up to 40-70 trials. I do think that this ink so popular because it has pleasant and very unique color and ink performance is really good.

If you want to see more you can see the standard range of KWZ inks here and the special Iron Gall inks here (use with caution – you have been warned).