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The Chemistry Of Fountain Pen Inks



phillieskjk

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Hi all! I did a little essay on the chemistry of fountain pen inks for extra credit in my AP Chemistry class. I thought you might enjoy reading it as well. Please feel free to let me know if anything is wrong (I don't think there's anything wrong but I know there's chemists lurking on this forum) and enjoy!

The Chemistry of Fountain Pen Inks

Even in today’s increasingly digital society, writing and print publications remain ubiquitous parts of our daily lives. From completing chemistry homework to reading the newspaper, we are constantly in contact with words on paper. Although the structure of the paper is mostly consistent, even with seemingly different types, the inks used vary greatly and are impressive examples of chemical engineering applied to an important part of daily life.

Inks are used for countless applications, but the two most common uses are printing and writing. Printing inks, which create the vibrant pages of textbooks, newspapers, and magazines, however, represent only one part of the ink family. The other, more chemically diverse branch of this family, is writing ink. The chemical makeup of inks has incredible variation between the types of pens the inks are designed for, and even within different inks for the same type of pen.

The most strikingly variant and chemically interesting group of writing inks are those designed for use in fountain pens. Due to the feed system used in fountain pens to bring ink to the tip, or nib, of the pen, fountain pen inks must be solutions rather than pigment based like many of their ballpoint peers. The inks for fountain pen use must also be water soluble, not tinctures. This requirement stems from the nature of the material that the pen bodies are made from. Many pens, especially those from the early 20th century, are made from celluloid, ebonites, or other natural plastics, which are soluble in alcohol. Any tincture inks would damage these pens.

Because of the unique requirements created by a fountain pen’s feed system and the materials used to make vintage pens, many fountain pen inks are made of several fundamentally similar ingredients. First and foremost, all are made mostly of water, the solvent of the ink. A solute that occurs in nearly all fountain pen inks is a water soluble aniline dye composed of a Nitrite group bound to a phenyl group, forming a basic amine, phenylamine. Although many of these dyes are actually more soluble as tinctures, they are dissolved in water to protect the pen materials, as discussed earlier. Other common solutes are surfactants to increase ink flow, biocide compounds to prevent fungal growth in ink, and glycerin to increase ink viscosity.

Despite fundamental similarities and rigid requirements to protect pens, fountain pen inks manage to present a wide range of properties to the consumer.

These features include greatly decreased freezing points, total permanence on paper, scents, color changes, and decreased drying times. Inks with lowered freezing points are formed by the addition of solutes that dissolve into multiple ions or ring-based covalent hydrocarbons (in the case of polar covalent solutes). Paper permanence is achieved through the addition of solutes that bond with the cellulose of the paper, ensuring that the ink remains permanently marked on the paper and fraud-proof.

Scents are the easiest of the properties to create, made by adding ester based solutes formed by the reaction of carboxylic acid and alcohols to the ink solution. Color changing inks are formed by making an ink with multiple dyes, only one of which forms the type of permanent cellulose bond described earlier. When the ink is rinsed with water, all of the dyes except that which bonds with the cellulose wash away, “changing” the color of the ink on the page. Decreased drying times are created, counterintuitively, by adding higher surfactant levels than usual and increasing flow. This allows the ink to seep into the fibers of the paper faster, and stay wet and smudge-prone for a shorter period of time.

Inks remain one of the most important parts of everyday life, and will for the foreseeable future. The chemical diversity is striking across different types of inks, for different applications. For fountain pen inks however, more unites the inks than differentiates them. Yet even with this surface level chemical uniformity, the addition of trace levels of different solutes allows fountain pen inks to come in a vast rainbow of colors and an array of special properties.

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I'd like to be able to say that I understood your paper, and it was a great essay.

 

Sadly, I'm not a chemist, so I didn't fully understand it...but that's not going to stop me saying it's a great essay anyway. :thumbup:

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Pen Engineer

 

Hi all! I did a little essay on the chemistry of fountain pen inks for extra credit in my AP Chemistry class. I thought you might enjoy reading it as well. Please feel free to let me know if anything is wrong (I don't think there's anything wrong but I know there's chemists lurking on this forum) and enjoy!

The Chemistry of Fountain Pen Inks

Even in today’s increasingly digital society, writing and print publications remain ubiquitous parts of our daily lives. From completing chemistry homework to reading the newspaper, we are constantly in contact with words on paper. Although the structure of the paper is mostly consistent, even with seemingly different types, the inks used vary greatly and are impressive examples of chemical engineering applied to an important part of daily life.

Inks are used for countless applications, but the two most common uses are printing and writing. Printing inks, which create the vibrant pages of textbooks, newspapers, and magazines, however, represent only one part of the ink family. The other, more chemically diverse branch of this family, is writing ink. The chemical makeup of inks has incredible variation between the types of pens the inks are designed for, and even within different inks for the same type of pen.

The most strikingly variant and chemically interesting group of writing inks are those designed for use in fountain pens. Due to the feed system used in fountain pens to bring ink to the tip, or nib, of the pen, fountain pen inks must be solutions rather than pigment based like many of their ballpoint peers. The inks for fountain pen use must also be water soluble, not tinctures. This requirement stems from the nature of the material that the pen bodies are made from. Many pens, especially those from the early 20th century, are made from celluloid, ebonites, or other natural plastics, which are soluble in alcohol. Any tincture inks would damage these pens.

Because of the unique requirements created by a fountain pen’s feed system and the materials used to make vintage pens, many fountain pen inks are made of several fundamentally similar ingredients. First and foremost, all are made mostly of water, the solvent of the ink. A solute that occurs in nearly all fountain pen inks is a water soluble aniline dye composed of a Nitrite group bound to a phenyl group, forming a basic amine, phenylamine. Although many of these dyes are actually more soluble as tinctures, they are dissolved in water to protect the pen materials, as discussed earlier. Other common solutes are surfactants to increase ink flow, biocide compounds to prevent fungal growth in ink, and glycerin to increase ink viscosity.

Despite fundamental similarities and rigid requirements to protect pens, fountain pen inks manage to present a wide range of properties to the consumer.

These features include greatly decreased freezing points, total permanence on paper, scents, color changes, and decreased drying times. Inks with lowered freezing points are formed by the addition of solutes that dissolve into multiple ions or ring-based covalent hydrocarbons (in the case of polar covalent solutes). Paper permanence is achieved through the addition of solutes that bond with the cellulose of the paper, ensuring that the ink remains permanently marked on the paper and fraud-proof.

Scents are the easiest of the properties to create, made by adding ester based solutes formed by the reaction of carboxylic acid and alcohols to the ink solution. Color changing inks are formed by making an ink with multiple dyes, only one of which forms the type of permanent cellulose bond described earlier. When the ink is rinsed with water, all of the dyes except that which bonds with the cellulose wash away, “changing” the color of the ink on the page. Decreased drying times are created, counterintuitively, by adding higher surfactant levels than usual and increasing flow. This allows the ink to seep into the fibers of the paper faster, and stay wet and smudge-prone for a shorter period of time.

Inks remain one of the most important parts of everyday life, and will for the foreseeable future. The chemical diversity is striking across different types of inks, for different applications. For fountain pen inks however, more unites the inks than differentiates them. Yet even with this surface level chemical uniformity, the addition of trace levels of different solutes allows fountain pen inks to come in a vast rainbow of colors and an array of special properties.

 

good writing... most of it I understood.... only when you went into high tech I could not follow.

 

Many of the more natural plastics were quite alcohol resistant, better than some contemporary ones.

 

Ink, feed and nib are a unit and since most fountain pens are based on the same design principles, laws of physics, the inks produced are very similar

 

I had a smile when you talked about the freezing point of ink... are you from the North?

 

The few drops of glycol do the trick... I have not noticed that adding glycol increased viscosity....

 

Generally, ink is not permanent. that depends what you call permanent. Iron gal inks do that well

 

The multi colour int sounds fun

 

increasing drying time through adding a surfactant.... your explanation makes sense.... but I would not add much of it...

 

Enjoyed reading, your style is uplifting :)

 

PS: I have written about ink on my blog... link in the orange writing on the bottom of the post

with kindness...

 

Amadeus W.
Ingeneer2

visit Fountain Pen Design

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Your essay is a concise and accurate summary of ink chemistry. Of equal importance is your command of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. You have had some excellent Chemistry and English teachers, and you have learned well.

Rationalizing pen and ink purchases since 1967.

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Great job!

PAKMAN

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Did you handwrite the paper for submission.....?

 

I think many of us under appreciate the fluid dynamics of the fountain pen: the need for the ink to be sufficiently fluid to pass through the pen mechanism and be drawn down by the nib to the paper and produce ink flow not faster than the writer is writing. I have had pens with nibs (nails) which forced me to write slowly just because the ink flow was too parsimonious. My favourite writer feels like I've got Niagara Falls by the tail, yet still gives me wonderful control and writing expression. Needless to say, I like wet wet wet.

 

Good scholarship, well-written and interesting. Congratulations.

...be like the ocean...

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A solute that occurs in nearly all fountain pen inks is a water soluble aniline dye composed of a Nitrite group bound to a phenyl group, forming a basic amine, phenylamine.

 

Aniline/phenylamine has an amine, not nitrite, added to the phenyl ring.

 

I really liked the last sentence of your essay, btw!

 

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Fun fact:

Modern injection molded plastic feeds are too hydrophobic and need to be treated with some harsh stuff to make the surface more wettable by ink.

 

Other than that a nice write-up, althoughone cannot help but feel you are biased towards fountain pen inks 😅

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Nicely done. Good because it's well written and conveys a lot of information clearly and concisely.

 

Thanks for posting.

The prizes of life are never to be had without trouble - Horace
Kind words do not cost much, yet they accomplish much - Pascal

You are never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream - C.S. Lewis

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pepsiplease69

The essay itself is quite well written and addresses the topic at hand 'fountain pen ink chemistry' very well.

 

I was going to add that it was mentioned in passing that ink has two categories, printing ink and writing ink.

 

The other places I use ink is in ink-pads for rubber stamps, and ink for dip pens for hard-core calligraphy. This ink usually has shellac and is not suitable for fountain pens. Both of these didn't need to be mentioned here but they do have their own nuances and classifications, dye-based / pigment based, alcohol based versus water based rubberstamp inks. You have to know your way around that landscape in order to use the ideal ink for the job. All of this is just editorial remarks as an aside.

 

Another thing about fountain pen ink is the latest fad of adding glitter to the ink. In the past few years, J. Herbin and now Diamine have introduced these glittery inks and they've made a splash (pun intended) in the ink market.

 

Also there was the traditional use of iron gall in ink which is still present in the market, iron-gall inks, but they are specifically formulated to be FP friendly and not corrode the pen components.

 

Sailor has been pioneering the use of nano particles in their inks, which they claim, makes the ink flow smoother and facilitates the act of writing. Sailor Kiwa-Guro is a miraculous ink in its own right, but how much of that does it owe to the nano-particles, I am not sure about. Their second nano ink Sei-Boku is not nearly as good a performer (feather resistance), so it sort of disproves the hypothesis.

 

Monteverde bills their bottled ink as containing an additive which they call ITF (ink treatment formula). Not sure what that includes, but I'm sure it's a monteverde trade secret. (the secret sauce in their ink).

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  • 2 weeks later...

@OP Amazing job, understood all of it thanks to your amazing way of explaining everything in a clean and concise way. Wish I could do that with some of my thoughts! Would love to hear your thoughts about the recent resurgence of *modern* IG inks!

Dr. Jafar Mohammed Uddin (MBBS.)

 

Daily Drivers = Visconti Kakadu LE #100/100 - 18Kt Gold 'M' Nib -- Visconti Homo Sapiens London Fog LE #785/888 - 23Kt Pd "1.3mm Stub" Nib -- Pilot Custom 823 - 14Kt Gold 'M' Nib

Currently Inked with MB Toffee Brown, Akkerman #10 IG, and Akkerman #10 IG respectively :wub: :wub:

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There must be some, just shoot and see what drops out of the sky ...

Ik ontken het grote belang van de computer niet, maar vind het van een stuitende domheid om iets wat al millennia zijn belang heeft bewezen daarom overboord te willen gooien (Ann De Craemer)

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There must be some, just shoot and see what drops out of the sky ...

thanks for the good laugh

 

What size caliper do you suggest? Or perhaps just shott?

with kindness...

 

Amadeus W.
Ingeneer2

visit Fountain Pen Design

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  • 1 month later...
PerytonPneuma

Got a chance to read it, thanks for posting!

 

It's always nice to see more about the chemistry of fountain pen inks; inks for other purposes (print making, printers, ballpoint-pens) don't have the same goals or makeup as fountain pen inks and it's hard to find stuff specifically about fountain pen ink when most companies keep the chemical makeup of the ink they sell a secret.

 

So, thanks a bunch for posting this, I hope you got a good amount of extra credit from it!

Edited by PerytonPneuma
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Very interesting article. Had to reach into the crevices of my brain to retrieve the chemistry bits - google did help as well! I was wondering if you there is an article on the chemicals which impart the colour to the ink?

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  • 1 year later...

Sorry to be late to the party, but here goes:

 

Colors in modern inks are mainly due to the family of aniline dyes, an area which was opened up by German chemists in the mid-19th century, and which we have been exploiting ever since for dyes, pharmaceuticals, and many other useful and quite common items. This discovery even led to the development of microscope stains which allowed the identification of disease bacteria and strongly fostered the acceptance of the germ theory of disease.

 

But put most simply, aniline dyes spawned the modern chemical industry.

 

The unrelated vegetable dyes have been used for centuries by J. Herbin. They take pride in having produced non-toxic inks since the mid-1600s using such resources. (Of course, toxic colorants are widely available in nature as well! One has to "know!"). But aniline, "coal-tar" dyes were the big break through. Google articles on them for Dditional information.

Brian

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  • 1 year later...

great post about the chemistry of FP inks. I'm also curious about the chemistry of Parker (solv-x) and Montblanc (supercleaner) from the past and its chemical composition today. are these additives still used today?

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    • A Smug Dill
      Even so, you'd end up with a fragmented list, and it becomes an O(N²) process for each prospective requestor to check what is available: effectively recreate the list of currently active servers (without any reliable up-to-date info upfront about the inks and number of samples on offer in the thread) from the sequential list of posts, which may be spread over two or even more pages, and then query each server independently to check what is currently on offer.   It comes down to not hav
    • LizEF
      If one wanted to do this, one could just use the "About Me" field which appears to be unlimited in size.  And if a bunch of people wanted to cooperate, the Member Title field (or signature) could be used to this end - "Ink Giver" (or some such) could be used by those with inks to give...  No software edits required.
    • Arkanabar
      I suppose the update issue could be mitigated.  One would post a link in signature, to the particular part of your profile where you list the inks that you're willing to post samples to others, gratis.  But looking at profiles, I suspect that would require an edit to the board's software, potentially a nontrivial task.
    • A Smug Dill
      I read your idea as getting willing givers to publicly register as members of a set of heterogenous servers, in a system in which a client would explicitly select an available server from a list, to which he/she will then send a request privately and asynchronously. Request handling in the system is unmanaged, and individual requests are handled by the targeted servers completely independently on each other. I think the model is fine, although there are some operational concerns you may want to
    • Daneaxe
      First thought on the method/system of ink sharing: Think the best way, to begin with, is to follow the way of the US thread: offer up a (small) list of inks you are willing to PIF, to whoever expresses interest. Write clearly in the "mission statement" how it works, with a tiny "quid pro quo" that even a struggling student can comply with, i.e. post your opinion and a writing sample, with option of a full review if desired.   So yours truly might say: "I'm offering up samples of D
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