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A Newbie's Guide to Inks - Part II



dcwaites

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Types of Inks

There are many, many different inks for pens, but they fall into a few basic types, and shouldn’t be confused with inks for ink-jet printers or other industrial printers. Inks for pens are grouped into two types – those for dip pens and those for fountain pens. ( I am ignoring, or course, the inks in disposable pens or pens with disposable refills like ballpoints, rollerballs and gel pens.)

 

Dip Pen Inks

Modern day dip pens are, except for a few traditionalists, used almost exclusively for artwork, either calligraphy, posters or drawing. The inks for these purposes tend to be relatively thick compared to FP ink, and often contain pigments or substances like gum arabic that can clog (or ‘gum up’) a fountain pen.

 

I am going to split this discussion up into three sections – Art inks, Document inks and Writing inks.

 

Art Inks

These are inks that are used for creating works of art, rather than documents, such as those for historical, business or personal purposes. The works of art may be calligraphy, drawings or posters, where crispness of line, depth and intensity of black or colour, and permanence are all required. There are two types of inks in this class – Black and Coloured. The Black inks I will discuss under Carbon Inks and the Coloured inks will be under Pigmented Inks.

 

Carbon Inks India Ink and China Black Ink.

These two inks are made from finely divided particles of carbon, sometimes called Carbon Black. The most common source was lamp black, usually made by burning oil and collecting the soot.

 

India Ink is made when the soot, lamp black or carbon black is suspended in water. An agent like gum arabic or shellac is added to help the ink stick to the paper or parchment. This latter is also responsible for clogging up fountain pens, which is why you should never put India Ink in your fountain pens.

 

China Black is made by taking some soot, as above, and mixing it with glue, and letting it set in a mould. It is then used by putting a little water on the ink block and grinding a little free. This is then used with a brush to write or paint. This ink is also sometimes called Sumi ink.

 

Because the active ingredient of these inks is very fine carbon, which is relatively inert, it never fades or discolours with age. As well, the very fine particles penetrate into the matrix of the paper, making them almost impossible to remove without damaging the paper. Documents written with carbon inks have been known to last for two millennia.

 

Pigmented Inks Traditional and Modern.

Carbon Inks and Iron Gall Inks (discussed below) are excellent for many purposes, especially since they give a crisp, clean line and are so permanent. However if you need colours with a similar degree of permanence, then you will need inks made with coloured pigments.

 

Traditional pigment inks were usually made with ‘earth’ pigments. These were minerals like lapis lazuli to make Ultramarine and cinnabar to make Vermilion. These were finely ground and mixed with water and binders like gum arabic, as for India Ink.

 

Modern pigmented inks are made using synthetic pigments. The result is not only much safer products (cinnabar, for example, is an ore of mercury) but in a far wider range of colours. The binder in these inks is mostly acrylic, which stays dissolved in water before use, but when dry is perfectly waterproof. Another advantage of the acrylic inks is that the makers of each brand say that you can blend all of their inks easily. Consequently, if you have a Royal Blue which is too bright, and a Prussian Blue that is too dark, you can blend the two to make a perfect Marine Blue which is somewhere in between.

 

Document Inks

For over a thousand years documents were written with iron gall inks. These rely in the chemistry of oxidising iron to work. Very simply, in the bottle an acid (usually gallic acid) keeps dissolved iron ions in solution. When applied to paper, oxygen in the air oxidises the iron to a black oxide. The particles of iron oxide, like the particles of soot in the carbon inks, embed themselves in the matrix of the paper or parchment, becoming impossible to remove. And, being an oxide, they are stable. Consequently, as long as the paper itself is stable, the writing will last indefinitely, i.e. as long as the paper lasts.

 

Traditional Iron Gall Ink as used in Europe for over a thousand years, was made by combining the liquor from fermented oak galls, with dissolved iron from copperas (ferrous sulphate). The resultant ink can be quite thick, especially if gum arabic has been added, and can leave a lustrous, glistening black line. It is, however, only for dip pens, as this ink will clog any fountain pen irreparably.

 

There are two main problems with traditional iron gall inks. The first is that the ink is fundamentally acidic. The second is that there was no set formula or recipe for making the ink.

 

Acidity - The iron is kept in solution by acid, usually a mixture of gallic and tannic acids. So long as feather quill pens and parchment or vellum were used, it wasn’t a problem. However, when steel dip pens were introduced the acid ink could make the nib useless in only a few days. Consequently, some dip pens were made of copper, bronze and might even be gold plated to minimise this problem. As well, paper wasn’t as robust as parchment or vellum and some formulations of iron gall ink (discussed below) could destroy the paper.

 

Inconsistent Formulation - While traditional iron gall ink was being made, there was no set, optimal recipe or formula for making it. Indeed, many monasteries hand their own secret formula and wouldn’t share it with others. The result was that some batches of ink were too acidic, resulting in damage to the paper, so that letters could actually fall out of the paper. Other batches weren’t acidic enough, so that the iron in the ink faded from hard black to soft brown over time.

 

Document Material - The traditional carbon inks don’t attach at all well to vellum or parchment, whilst, as noted above, traditional iron gall inks can damage paper. Consequently, the oldest and best preserved documents are found when carbon inks were used on wood-based media (paper, bamboo, papyrus) and iron gall inks were used on animal skins (vellum, parchment).

 

Modern Iron Gall Ink combines gallic acid and dissolved ferrous sulphate. This is quite a pale mixture so a dye is usually added so that you can see what you are writing. This dye is most often blue, so that the ink goes down blue and dries to black, hence the name for the original Blue-Black ink ("Goes down Blue, Dries to Black"). Inks of this type are currently made by Ecclesistical Stationery Supplies, Diamine and Rohrer & Klingner. They work very well in dip pens, and are also perfectly safe for fountain pens.

 

Writing Inks

In the second half of the 19th century inks based purely on aniline dyes were developed. These inks weren’t as robust as iron gall or india inks, but were much cheaper to make in bulk, and more stable once their bottle had been opened. This was because the dye didn’t precipitate out in the same way that oxygen in the air caused the iron to precipitate out in iron gall inks. Since these inks could fade in time, they were used for less long term documents like business reports, manuscripts to be printed or personal correspondence. This is why I have called these Writing inks.

 

Dye inks for dip pens could be very simple, and in some cases the water could be removed. The ink could be packaged in a small sachet, or made into pills, and transported much more cheaply than bottles of ink. The purchaser could then reconstitute the ink by adding the required amount of hot water.

 

Fountain Pen Inks

The development of fountain pens in the late 19th century necessitated the creation of inks with better flow control characteristics. Dip pens controlled the flow of a small amount of ink on the surface of the pen by capillary flow down the nib slit. Fountain pens, on the other hand, had to control the flow of a relatively large amount of ink (in the reservoir) down a feed system and onto the nib tip. Fountain pen ink often needed the addition of tiny amounts of surfactant (a fancy name for detergent) to help it flow down the feed, as well as small amounts of a thickening and lubricating substance that would make sure the ink didn’t flow too quickly. Some makers also added a biocide to stop bacteria and fungus from growing in the ink, and cleaning solvents to stop the build-up of dried ink in the pen.

 

In the subsequent 100 years, both pens and inks have evolved synergistically. The feeds and associated collectors have become more sophisticated and reliable, and inks are available in a much wider range of types, behaviours and colours.

 

While writing about Dip Pen Inks above, I split the discussion up into functional areas, depending on the type of use. Fountain pens tend mostly to be used for one thing – writing. Consequently the discussion will be split up according to the chemistry of the ink, rather than its use.

 

Dye-Based Inks

The same aniline dyes that were used for dip pen inks were also used for fountain pens. However, as discussed above, ink makers found that they had to add other substances to the inks to help them wet the internal surfaces of the pen and flow along the narrow feed slit, but not so fast that the inks blob onto the paper. Further experimentation lead to changing the acidity of the ink, as that changed the colour of the dye, and to try and make inks that didn’t dry out in the nib, but dried quickly on paper. Parker’s SuperChrome ink was one attempt that failed (it behaved brilliantly as an ink, but destroyed pens).

 

Today’s dye-based fountain pen inks fall into three categories – Less saturated, medium saturated and highly saturated.

 

Less saturated inks are made by Sheaffer (Skrip), Waterman, J. Herbin and now Gate City (Everflo). They are generally recommended as safe for all fountain pens, papers and users. Because the dyes in the ink are not very concentrated (saturated) they are not as prone to clogging a nib or the feed of a pen. They are also usually easier to clean up if there is a spill, and easier to remove from clothing. The trade-off is that colours are often not as intense, particularly after they have dried.

 

Highly saturated inks are made by Private Reserve, Noodler’s, Wancher, Pilot (esp. Iroshizuku) and others. These inks have a relatively high concentration of dye, resulting in an intense colour on the paper. The trade-off in this case is that pens should be used regularly and not allowed to dry out. They should also be flushed thoroughly when changing inks and between every fill if using the same ink continuously.

 

Medium saturated inks are made by companies like Parker (Quink), Sailor, with their Jentle range of inks, Mont Blanc and many others. As would be expected, these inks are between the other two groups in intensity and performance.

 

Standard dye-based inks are usually not permanent. Many can be removed easily with water, and some fade quickly. Others will fade and change colour if you use cheap paper. If you need a permanent, fade-proof ink you will need to use one of the inks described below.

 

Pigmented Inks

For the same reason that dip pen users wanted to use pigmented inks, so did fountain pen users – intensity of colour and permanence. The problem is that traditional pigmented inks are quite hazardous to fountain pens. First the pigmented particles can clog the fine slits in the nib feed. Second, the binding agent (gum arabic, shellac, etc.) can solidify inside the pen, blocking it up permanently.

 

However, there have been some makers of pigmented inks that work well and safely in normal fountain pens. I believe the first of these was Pelikan, with their ‘Fount India’. The next was Platinum with their pigmented Black and Blue inks. Most recently has been Sailor, first with their Kiwaguro Black and then with Seiboku Blue-Black.

 

The reason these inks have been successful is two-fold – First, their inks do not contain any binder. Second, the ink particles are ultrafine, so that the molecular vibration called Brownian Motion helps keep the particles in suspension.

 

These three brands of pigmented inks are the only ones that are safe for fountain pens. Even so, a pen filled with one of these inks must be used regularly, daily if possible. As well, the pen should be flushed thoroughly between each fill to minimise any build-up of pigment particles in the pen.

 

Iron-Gall Inks

First, do not, under any circumstances, use any of the traditionally make iron-gall inks in a fountain pen. This is not a criticism of these ink, it is simply that they are only suitable for dip pens. As well, there are some makers of modern iron-gall inks that should only be used in dip pens because they contain gum arabic. Only use iron-gall inks that are made for fountain pens.

 

The makers of iron-gall inks that are safe for fountain pens are Ecclesistical Stationery Supplies (Registrar’s Ink), Diamine (Registrar’s Ink) and Rohrer & Klingner (Salix and Scabiosa). Other iron-gall inks mentioned on the FPN are Gutenberg Urkundentinte and Akkerman Ijzer Galnoten Bl/Zw. Lamy’s Blue-Black used to be made with iron-gall, but the current formulation no longer contains that. The same now applies to Mont Blanc’s Midnight Blue.

 

These inks contain a proportion of iron-gall ink along with a blue or dark blue dye ink. As the ink dries on the paper the iron component oxidises to black iron III oxide, making a permanent ink. The only things that can remove it are chemicals like bleach, which fade the black oxide to a light fawn colour.

 

It is essential to make sure that your pen has a modern stainless steel or gold nib, and that no other parts of the pen that are touched by the ink are metal. And, as with pigmented inks, pens filled with an iron-gall ink should be used regularly and flushed well between fills.

 

Cellulose-Reactive (Bulletproof) Inks

Until recently, if you wanted a permanent, irremovable ink, you need to use either a pigmented or iron-gall ink. However, one maker, Noodler’s, has developed a line of inks that are called Bulletproof. While being based on dye technology, these inks are proof to removal by all known solvents and techniques that don’t actually damage the paper.

 

The secret is a cellulose-reactive chemistry that bonds the dyes to the cellulose fibres in the paper. Once the bond has been made and the ink dried, it is part of the fibres and cannot be removed.

 

A more recent development is the Warden’s series of fraud-resistant inks. While the standard Bulletproof inks were proof to chemical attack, it was found that some laser light could damage the dyes. The Warden’s inks are an advance that are proof to laser light attack as well.

 

Like the standard dye-based Noodler’s inks, the Bulletproof and Warden’s inks are highly saturated. Because of this the pens in which they are used need good and regular pen hygiene.

 

Certified Document Inks

Pigmented, Iron-Gall and Cellulose-Reactive inks are all 'Permanent'. They are difficult to remove, and generally accepted not to fade. However, they are not legally certified to have those properties. If you need to use a legally certified ink, then you need an ink that conforms to the Standard ISO 12757-2.

 

So far, I only know of two makers of FP inks that have been so certfied. The first is De Atramentis with a range of Document inks in eight colours, including Black, Blue, Dark Blue, Green and Red amongst others. The other is Mont Blanc, with their two new Permanent Inks, Black and Blue.

 

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“Them as can do has to do for them as can’t.


And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”


Granny Aching

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DCWaites, these guides are very helpful and I know they are the result of decades of thinking about ink. Thank you for sharing this with us. Amber

 

PS - I edited the title after Ii kept appearing.

Fountain pens are my preferred COLOR DELIVERY SYSTEM (in part because crayons melt in Las Vegas).



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Ink comparisons: The Great PPS Comparison 366 Inks in 2016



Check out inks sorted by color: Blue Purple Brown Red Green Dark Green Orange Black Pinks Yellows Blue-Blacks Grey/Gray UVInks Turquoise/Teal MURKY

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Thank you ma'am. More to come.

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“Them as can do has to do for them as can’t.


And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”


Granny Aching

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...and I never even knew certified document inks existed! thanks, great work.

 

Tim

Tim

 

@timsvintagepens and timsvintagepens.com

 

 

 

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This is very helpful indeed!

 

This post answers a lot of the questions I had in my "Confused" post. However, I have one more question and maybe it should be added to your post.

 

Shaking the ink bottle before use...yes or no? I have read posts from 6 or 7 years ago and in all of them some say yes to shaking and others say no. Personally, I would think shaking is a bad idea. It's like letting the gas tank in your car get into the red before filling up. If there is any sediment there you are just going to stir it up and it may possibly clog your fuel line.

 

So, shake or no shake?

 

Again, very informative post.

 

Thanks

 

David

For so long as one hundred men remain alive,we shall never under any conditions submit to the

domination of the English. It is not for glory or riches or honours that we fight, but only for liberty, which

no good man will consent to lose but with his life.

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This is very helpful indeed!

 

This post answers a lot of the questions I had in my "Confused" post. However, I have one more question and maybe it should be added to your post.

 

Shaking the ink bottle before use...yes or no? I have read posts from 6 or 7 years ago and in all of them some say yes to shaking and others say no. Personally, I would think shaking is a bad idea. It's like letting the gas tank in your car get into the red before filling up. If there is any sediment there you are just going to stir it up and it may possibly clog your fuel line.

 

So, shake or no shake?

 

Again, very informative post.

 

Thanks

 

David

 

The gas tank analogy isn't quite accurate. You keep on putting stuff into your gas tank, sometimes from not the best of sources. If there is any stuff in there that shouldn't, you let it settle.

However, your ink bottle is filled once, by the manufacturer. Everything that should be in there is in there, and nothing that shouldn't, isn't. Some components, such as what gives an ink it's bulletproof properties, do settle out, and it is sensible to redistribute them before filling a pen.

 

However, this doesn't apply to inks with iron-gall in them. When you open such a bottle, oxygen gets in, and causes some of the iron in the ink to precipitate out. That is the black sludge you might see at the bottom of the bottle. You need to leave that there. After a couple of years, enough of the iron will have settled out that the ink no longer looks or behaves like it should. What was a nice Blue-Black then becomes a tired Grey-Black. I have seen this happen with both Lamy IG Blue-Black and Mont Blanc IG Blue-Black. That is probably the reason both companies no longer make IG Blue-Black ink.

 

 

Further more, this doesn't apply to a bottle that has been infected with SITB (Slime in the Bottle). Ink contains organic compounds, and some microbes, fungus's or yeasts like them. They settle in when the lid is off and start turning your nice ink into slimy gloop. It also changes the way the ink smells. Discard the ink and bottle. If you want to keep the bottle for re-use, clean it out thoroughly, soak it in dilute bleach for a couple of days, rinse thoroughly again and let air dry, open end down. You may want to replace the sealing disk in the cap unless you are sure it didn't get contaminated.

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“Them as can do has to do for them as can’t.


And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”


Granny Aching

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Thank you for the history and general information about inks. I knew that India ink was bad for fountain pens, but I never knew why.

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The gas tank analogy isn't quite accurate. You keep on putting stuff into your gas tank, sometimes from not the best of sources. If there is any stuff in there that shouldn't, you let it settle.

However, your ink bottle is filled once, by the manufacturer. Everything that should be in there is in there, and nothing that shouldn't, isn't. Some components, such as what gives an ink it's bulletproof properties, do settle out, and it is sensible to redistribute them before filling a pen.

 

However, this doesn't apply to inks with iron-gall in them. When you open such a bottle, oxygen gets in, and causes some of the iron in the ink to precipitate out. That is the black sludge you might see at the bottom of the bottle. You need to leave that there. After a couple of years, enough of the iron will have settled out that the ink no longer looks or behaves like it should. What was a nice Blue-Black then becomes a tired Grey-Black. I have seen this happen with both Lamy IG Blue-Black and Mont Blanc IG Blue-Black. That is probably the reason both companies no longer make IG Blue-Black ink.

 

 

Further more, this doesn't apply to a bottle that has been infected with SITB (Slime in the Bottle). Ink contains organic compounds, and some microbes, fungus's or yeasts like them. They settle in when the lid is off and start turning your nice ink into slimy gloop. It also changes the way the ink smells. Discard the ink and bottle. If you want to keep the bottle for re-use, clean it out thoroughly, soak it in dilute bleach for a couple of days, rinse thoroughly again and let air dry, open end down. You may want to replace the sealing disk in the cap unless you are sure it didn't get contaminated.

So, for "regular" ink there should be no need to shake the bottle? I don't see me needing to use Iron Gall or Bulletproof inks as I mostly write letters or take notes.

 

I really do appreciate you taking the time to post this information. It has been very helpful.

 

Thanks again.

 

David

For so long as one hundred men remain alive,we shall never under any conditions submit to the

domination of the English. It is not for glory or riches or honours that we fight, but only for liberty, which

no good man will consent to lose but with his life.

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Fascinating article!

 

Do you know which category the standard Diamine inks fall into? They're very popular over here, being a native brand as well as having a huge colour range. Would they be suitable for a vintage CS (1950s) or should I stick to J Herbin?

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Many apologies, I still have some work to do on this series. More to come. Promise, treally ruly, cross my heart...

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“Them as can do has to do for them as can’t.


And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”


Granny Aching

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Great essay, thank you. I was unaware of certified inks. India inks are a major pain to deal with in fountain pens, as a former graphic artist, I'm quite familiar with that; the "Rapidograph" line of pens were what we used to use, and required regular cleaning, sometimes daily with the smaller diameters. It wasn't at all unusual to empty them out at the end of the workday, fill them with water, then empty and refill the next working day. That's one of the reasons that older artists preferred the old-style ruling pens; a quick rinse and wipe-down with a towel is all that's needed with them. Keeping them sharp is another story.

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Thanks for the effort in doing these articles. They clarified a number of things for me.

"Don't hurry, don't worry. It's better to be late at the Golden Gate than to arrive in Hell on time."
--Sign in a bar and grill, Ormond Beach, Florida, 1960.

 

 

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Thanks David. Just another 'bump' to let you know these articles are still read and appreciated.

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