Ink Shoot-Out : kyo-iro Stone Road of Gion vs Mont Blanc Swan Illusion Plume
In 2018, Mont Blanc presented us with the Swan Illusion Plume ink, that accompanies the Patron of Arts Ludwig II limited edition pen. A great grey-brown ink that I highly recommend. Fellow member JulieParadise suggested Stone Road of Gion as a near equal to this ink - "but a tad darker on paper". That of course peaked my interest... time to do a detailed comparison and find out which of these inks I like the most.
Enter... the Ink Shoot-Out. A brutal fight spanning five rounds, where two inks engage in fierce battle to determine who is the winner. In the left corner, the martial arts champion of Japan, the man with the lightning fist - kyo-iro Stone Road of Gion. In the right corner, the iron man from Germany, tough as nails - Mont Blanc Swan Illusion Plume. Both champions enter the ring. The tension in the boxing hall goes through the roof. Crowds are cheering! The bell rings signaling the start of the first round. May the best ink win...
Round 1 - First Impressions
Both inks make a great first impression on me. The inks have a greyish brown dusty appearance that looks elegant and sophisticated. As such, they immediately enhance your writing. For me, the colour totally works - I like it a lot. Even though these are muted inks, they still provide excellent contrast to the page when used with my Lamy Safari M-nib on Rhodia N°16 notepad paper. Both inks also exhibit subtle shading, without too much contrast between the light and darker parts. This gives your writing an aesthetically pleasing look. The inks look nearly identical, but there are some differences:
- Swan Illusion leans more towards the grey end of the spectrum, which is especially notable in swatches, less so in the written text.
- Stone Road of Gion is a wetter ink, and produces a more saturated line. In contrast, Swan illusion feels less lubricated and a bit undersaturated. This is especially noticeable in finer nibs.
- With broader nibs - e.g. with the scribbles made with a 1.5 mm calligraphy nib - Stone Road of Gion shows a bit more character, with a more pleasing appearance.
Both inks make a great first impression. Stone Road of Gion works better with the pen - it feels wetter and produces a bit more of a saturated line. On the other hand, I personally prefer the slightly greyer brown of Swan Illusion. These inks are well matched. No clear winner emerges, and this round ends with a draw.
Round 2 - Writing Sample
The writing sample was done on Rhodia N°16 Notepad with 80 gsm paper. Both inks behaved flawlessly, with no feathering and no show-through or bleed-through. With the EF nib, the slightly darker colour and better saturation of Stone Road of Gion come into play, resulting in more contrast-rich writing. With broader nibs, Swan Illusion no longer feels undersaturated and dry, and lays down a beautifully muted grey-brown line. With Stone Road of Gion, you get much more saturation in broader nibs, and a stronger presence on the paper. You could say that Swan Illusion is more of an introverted ink, while Stone Road of Gion has more of an extravert character.
Colourwise both inks look similar in writing, although there is definitely more of a grey undertone in the Mont Blanc ink. Both inks also shade nicely, without too much contrast between light and dark parts. This aesthetically pleasing shading gives more character to your writing, and shows up even with the finer nibs.
For this round, the focus is on writing, and here both inks are strong performers. Stone Road of Gion works better in EF/F nibs, producing a more saturated line. On the other hand, Swan Illusion looks more aesthetically pleasing, especially in broader nibs (or wetter pens). Damn... these fighters are good. They really are on par with each other. Again this round ends in a draw.
Round 3 - Pen on Paper
This round allows the batlling inks to show how they behave on a range of fine writing papers. From top to bottom, we have : FantasticPaper, Life Noble, Tomoe River and Original Crown Mill cotton paper. All scribbling and writing was done with a Lamy Safari M-nib.
Both champions did well, with no show-through nor bleed-through. But this round is not about technicalities, it is about aesthetics and beauty. Are the fighters able to make the paper shine ? One thing is immediately apparent: these inks are at home on a wide range of papers, both white and off-white ones. On more absorbent paper like Fantasticpaper (top), the inks look really similar. With Tomoe River - definitely a non-absorbent paper - Swan Illusion shows a bit more character. But on Life Noble, the roles are reversed, with Stone Road of Gion being the more beautiful ink.
Both inks are on par with each other, with neither of the champions giving any ground. As such, round 3 also finishes with a draw. The tension in the hall is now going up by the minute. Are both fighters really each other’s equal ? Will one of them show some weakness ? Let’s continue the fight to find out.
Round 4 - Ink Properties
Aha... now we get some differences! Stone Road of Gion - being a wetter ink - takes a bit more time to dry: 15-20 seconds with the M-nib versus 10-15 seconds for the Swan Illusion ink. To test their smudge resistance, I rubbed the text with a moist Q-tip cotton swab. Here Swan Illusion shows its dominance - the ink is almost immune to smudging. Stone Road of Gion smudges a lot in comparison, but still leaves a very readable line that is still crisp and clear. To test water resistance, I dripped water on the grid and let it sit there for 15 minutes, after which I removed the water with a paper towel. Here Swan Illusion totally dominates - this ink is strongly water resistant, while Stone Road of Gion loses all the ink on the paper. If you look for an ink to use at the office, Swan Illusion is your friend.
In this round, the Japanese champion caves. Swan Illusion delivered an uppercut that floored its opponent. The public roars... the applause is deafening... What a spectacle. There is no doubt whatsoever. This round is a solid win for Mont Blanc.
Round 5 - The Fun Factor
Welcome to the final round. Here I give you a purely personal impression of both inks, where I judge which of them I like most when doing some fun stuff like doodling and drawing. Both inks do well, and show off a broad colour spectrum, ranging from very light ochre-brown to a really dark brown-grey. I really enjoyed using them.
Personally I prefer the slightly greyer looks of Swan Illusion. This ink also feels a bit more complex, hinting at orangy undertones. This is confirmed when looking at the chromatography of these inks. Here you can clearly see the inherent complexity of the dyes that make up Swan Illusion. In my opinion, this gives the Swan Illusion side of the drawing a more vibrant look.
For this round, both champions are again well matched. But for this judge, Swan Illusion showed the best moves, and wins this round on points. Mind... this is a relative comparison. Standing on its own, Stone Road of Gion is still a terrific ink to play around with. But side by side, I definitely prefer the Mont Blanc ink.
Both inks are real jewels, that work on all types of paper. And it took a while to notice some differences. But in the end, round 4 is the decisive one : Swan Illusion clearly dominates when water resistance comes into play. You might not care about this slip-up of the Japanese ink. In that case, round 5 still gives a slight edge to Swan Illusion as being the more interesting ink. For this judge, the conclusion is clear: Mont Blanc Swan Illusion is the winner of this exciting fight.