One might indeed call this discussion, "Inky Thoughts" !
Photoflo is an exceptionally good surfactant to use with inks, better than glycerine, and leagues better than dishwashing soap (dish cleaning fluid in some parts of the world). FPN's own Lady of Deeply Thoughtful Ink Reviews, Sandy1, gave an insightful assessment of how to use Photoflo in Post No. 8 of this thread, essentially providing a "prescription" for the use of Photoflo.
Why not use dishwashing fluids ? Simply put, the surfactant effects of these fluids are not predictable between brands, can result in bubble/foam formations where the ink is agitated/shaken, and there are additional additives for the cleaning effects that may not be good for the ink. Glycerine is better than dishwashing soap, but still not ideal.
Photoflo is intended to reduce, even eliminate residual materials on film, and just that. It's a very well formulated fluid with a specific concentration, allowing for repeatable results. It's not especially inexpensive, but even a small bottle will supply the ink experimenter with more than they can use in decades of testing. Anyone who has spent some time in the darkroom knows very well just how much of a difference Photoflo makes for their developing/processing.
Now, not to take away from Sandy's very scientific delivery on the use of Photoflo, but I've done some experiments where I've found that using a pinhead sized droplet of Photoflo in a 4 dram bottle with ink results in significantly improved ink flow of even the most recalcitrant inks. What's a pinhead sized droplet ? Well, roughly 1/10 the size of a small droplet from a medicine dropper, assuming that one is using a small dropper, not a turkey baster sized device... But more on the droplets later.
How have the results worked ?
On the whole, well, even very well, I'd say.
I was able to (mostly) tame Noodler's Manjiro Nakahama Whaleman's Sepia, an ink with the reputation of being hard-to-start and dead-stopping in some pens. My first attempt was with unadulterated MNWS, and it made a substantial improvement in the "hard-to-start" arena, but didn't quite solve the problem. MNWS is, however, an extraordinarily saturated, one might almost say, thick ink. A dilution of the ink in a ratio of 2:1 ink with distilled water (that's a ~66% solution for those who prefer that sort of description), along with an application of Photoflo in a 4 dram bottle worked quite nicely. I've kept the mixture in a test bed 'fifties Pelikan 400NN with a CI nib for almost two months. After this amount of time, it's not immediately starting with nib touched to paper, but with no more than a couple of strokes it starts right up. I'd think of that as a successful alteration, all things considered.
One of the conundrums of using highly saturated inks is that one can sometimes want them "just a little less saturated", but dilution can make them a trifle hard-to-start or result in other flow issues. At the same time, the dilution can make the ink provide some luscious shading or pull the saturation down in other ways to make the ink far more desirable, leading one to adding yet more water to reach those goals, but creating those pesky flow problems. The use of Photoflo along with a dilution can allow for best of both worlds, excellent flow and sensuous silky shading, changing some inks into "go-to" choices for a fountain pen.
I applied this logic to Noodler's Zhivago ink, as I'd thought I'd enjoy the ink as a 2:1 ratio mixture diluted with distilled water (66% again), but I wanted to keep smooth flow and easy starts with the ink. The results were nothing less than almost magical in my M600 pen with a CI nib ! The pen's nib glides over the surface of even marginal papers easily and smoothly like a sharpened skate over crisp fresh ice, the ink has more shading and definition, and I don't see the same feathering that I would on the marginal paper with the "normal" concentration of the ink. This is now a daily use ink for me, so much do I enjoy using it. As our Australian members might say, "Bonzer !"
Just as one can find in cooking that the use of two spices transforms a dish into an entirely different direction than the use of either one alone, the changes of Photoflo for surfactant effect, and dilution for shading and reduced feathering are together quite transformative. Inks that might have been dicey choices become more acceptable, and some other inks become nothing less than stellar in performance.
A few cautions, as one might expect, are very much in order.
The use of a surfactant material on an already "wet" ink could change it into a gushing mess from out of the nib on paper, or even in a pocket when clipped next to body heat. I hesitate to think what would happen with added surfactant in PR Tanzanite - things would be banjaxed as a certainty !
Those people who aren't accustomed to chemistry lab types of operations, especially pipette titration sorts of work with deft and steady hands in forming small droplets, should very certainly work with Sandy's excellent prescription, using that diluted Photoflo for the dilutions of an ink. Quite seriously, those people who've made their way through Chemistry or Chemical Engineering degrees will know exactly whereof I speak - the process of dilutions and managing these precisely drop-by-drop is very much an acquired skill. As Mies van der Rohe is supposed to have said, "Less is more", and that's a watchphrase for the addition of a surfactant to ink.
Next, take notes, and carefully label each small bottle with the specifics of the dilution and surfactant mixture. File folder labels cut to about 3 cm length work well for this, using a very fine nibbed pen with a waterproof ink, of course ! One should also apply a layer of cello or Scotch tape over the label to protect it from the inevitable overruns from the bottle when a pen is inserted to fill. Trust me on this - you simply won't be able to distinguish between a handful of small 2 dram bottles after even an hour.
Do it again. And then again. I've tried "successful" results out three or five times before moving beyond 2 dram or 4 dram bottles. I'm after reproducible results as I am, after all, an engineer and a scientist. Even though the net costs of ruining a bottle of ink aren't excessive, my Scots ancestors would rise up from the grave to smite me heartily about the head and shoulders with a stout oaken cudgel were I to be so careless as to just plunge forward without thorough testing.
Lastly, always use distilled water for the dilutions. Given the number of variables that are being (somewhat) controlled for repeatable new ink uses, finding that sediment from the water line, excessive chlorination/bromination/ozonination (which happens whenever an area has a break to re-condition the systems for safety), or some other problem with piping results in strange or unexpected conditions.
All of that said, recent times have given me some "brand new inks" without a single trip to the local B&M pen store or a delivery from a package service. Magic.
P.S. I had thought to also engage in a discussion here on fungicides to keep the new ink mixtures from the dreaded SITB, but I think Sam Capote has addressed this topic in several topics rather handily, even elegantly, and so I suggest reading those threads.
P.P.S. Given the lengthy, even discursive nature of this post, I'll address some homemade ink wash mixtures separately in another post.
Edited by PJohnP, 08 September 2012 - 02:13.