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Jacques Herbin - Gris De Houle


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Jacques Herbin - Gris de houle

La Société Herbin, Maître Cirier à Paris, was established in 1670. This makes J. Herbin probably the oldest name among European ink makers. Today, Herbin produces a range of beautiful fountain pen and calligraphy inks, writing instruments, gift sets and accessories. Herbin inks are made in France, and the finishing touches on the bottles are still done by hand in Paris.


Recently, the company jumped on the premium product bandwagon, and started to release more high-end inks under the Jacques Herbin "Les encres essentielles" label. Nicer boxes, nicer packaging, much higher price (18,50 EUR versus the 7,50 EUR for the J. Herbin inks from the "La perle des encres" series). Nevertheless, I couldn't resist and decided to test these new offerings - are they really better than the standard J. Herbin inks?


In this review, I take a closer look at Gris de houle, a cool grey from the Jacques Herbin line. First impression: a good-looking cold grey with some green and purple undertones. The ink has a pencil-like appearance when writing with fine nibs. It looks quite nice on the paper. Gris de houle writes really wet, and is well-saturated - all this even with my dry-writing Lamy Safari test pens. Shading is very prominent, even with finer nibs. Being a grey ink, the contrast between light and dark parts never gets shocking, and the effect is quite aesthetically pleasing. I really like the looks of this ink on paper.


The ink has quite satisfactory lubrication, even in drier pens like my Lamy Safari. With my wetter Pelikan pens the ink is very saturated, and produces a much darker grey colour. Gris de houle has quite a broad colour span, ranging from a wispy light-grey with a purple haze beneath the surface, to a really dark, almost black grey. To illustrate this, I did a swab on Tomoe River paper where I really saturated portions of the paper with ink. This clearly demonstrates the ink's wide colour span.


On the smudge test - rubbing text with a moist Q-tip cotton swab - the ink behaved perfectly, with no visible smearing. Water resistance is also very good, both with a 15-minute exposure to still water, and with running tap water. Some of the ink gets flushed away, but a very readable grey residue remains. I have no issue whatsoever to read what's left on the page. Very well executed! This is also apparent from the lower part of the chromatography, which shows that the grey components of the ink firmly remain on the paper.


Unfortunately, Gris de houle is a slow-drying ink. Depending on the paper, I got drying times from 10 to 20 seconds with a dry Lamy Safari with M-nib. In my book, this slow drying time makes the ink unsuitable for use at the office. A pity, because I like the way it looks on paper.

I've tested the ink on a wide variety of paper - from crappy Moleskine to high-end Tomoe River. On each scrap of paper I show you:

  • An ink swab, made with a cotton Q-tip
  • 1-2-3 pass swab, to show increasing saturation
  • An ink scribble made with a Lamy Safari M-nib fountain pen
  • The name of the paper used, written with a Lamy Safari B-nib
  • A small text sample, written with an M-nib
  • The source of the quote, written with a wet M-nibbed Pelikan pen
  • Drying times of the ink on the paper (with the M-nib Safari)

Gris the houle looks best on pure white paper. In my opinion, it doesn't look good on more yellowish paper. What really surprised me is that this premium ink only works well with premium paper. The ink doesn't like the lower quality papers in my test set. On printing paper, generic notepad paper and Moleskine, I noticed quite some feathering, which gets worse the wetter your pen. With the wet Pelikan pen, there is even some feathering with OCM vellum paper and GvFC 100 gsm paper. Ouch! Another reason not to use this ink at the office (where the paper in reach is often simple printing paper).

Fortunately for me, Gris de houle looks beautiful on Paperblanks journal paper, no feathering, good contrast, smooth writing and reasonable drying times. So this ink will be great for my personal journaling. But objectively speaking, the ink disappointed me at the technical level. I had expected better from a premium ink. The J. Herbin inks from the classic series I've tried so far performed better than this one.





Writing with different nib sizes

The picture below shows the effect of nib sizes on the writing. All samples were written with a Lamy Safari, which is typically a dry pen. I also added a visiting pen - a wet Pelikan M101N Lizard with an M-nib. Here the ink leaves a very saturated dark grey line. As you can see, Gris de houle manages to look really nice in all nib sizes, with great contrast and elegant shading. Nice. I really appreciate the pencil-like appearance with the EF/F nibs, which still shows enough contrast to remain effortlessly readable.


Related inks

To allow for a good comparison with related inks, I employ my nine-grid format, with the currently reviewed ink at the center. Each grid cell shows the name of the ink, a saturation sample, a 1-2-3 swab and a water resistance test - all in a very compact format.


Inkxperiment - naïve portrait of mother and child

As a personal challenge, I try to create interesting drawings using only the ink I'm reviewing. These single-ink pieces often present a real challenge, and are a fun extension of the hobby. They also give you a good idea of an ink's capabilities in a more artistic setting. For this drawing I started with a sheet of 300 gsm rough watercolour paper. I then painted in the background with Q-tips, using different water/ink ratios. Next I drew the portrait of mother and child with a glass pen dipped in pure Gris de houle. As you can see, I have zero talent for drawing realistic images. So I designate this as a naïve portrait, that could just as easily have been drawn by a five year old ;-) I added some framing with the glass dip pen and pure ink. Finally I used my M-nibbed Lamy Safari to add some texture to the background. This little piece shows quite well the broad colour span of this grey ink, ranging from wispy light grey to almost black. Gris de houle definitely shows promise as a sketching ink for black & white drawings.



Jacques Herbin Gris de houle is a nice-looking cool grey premium ink, that unfortunately requires premium paper for writing. I was disappointed by its behaviour on lower quality paper. Water resistance is brilliant, but drying times are quite long. All this translates to an ink that is not well suited for use at the office. But given the right paper, the ink looks beautiful - I really enjoyed it for personal writing in my Paperblanks daily journal. Gris de houle also has quite a broad colour span, which makes it an interesting ink for more artistic activities. Overall not a bad ink, but I had epected more from the brand's premium product.

Technical test results on Rhodia N° 16 notepad paper, written with Lamy Safari, M-nib


Backside of writing samples on different paper types





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Thank you for the review! I'm tempted to get a bottle now.

I endeavour to be frank and truthful in what I write, show or otherwise present, when I relate my first-hand experiences that are not independently verifiable; and link to third-party content where I can, when I make a claim or refute a statement of fact in a thread. If there is something you can verify for yourself, I entreat you to do so, and judge for yourself what is right, correct, and valid. I may be wrong, and my position or say-so is no more authoritative and carries no more weight than anyone else's here.

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Thanks for the review - I never heard actually of Jacques Herbin inks and now looking online after your review found some interesting colors. Grey is not really my color now but I really liked their Blues.

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Jacques Herbin stuff is pretty... but I don't think I'll buy them at MSRP. They're going in the US for $25 a bottle, and that's a little high for less than 50mL

Selling a boatload of restored, fairly rare, vintage Japanese gold nib pens, click here to see (more added as I finish restoring them)

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As far as I know they make them themselves. I think it is one of the oldest brands in the market today.

it is a pity they dont´t have the "La perle des encres" anymore, I liked this series a lot.

BTW it is in the first line of the review....

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As far as I know they make them themselves. I think it is one of the oldest brands in the market today.

it is a pity they dont´t have the "La perle des encres" anymore, I liked this series a lot.

BTW it is in the first line of the review....


The "Perle des encres" line still exists I think, under the J. Herbin brand name.

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Anybody knows if they make their own inks or they buy white label from somebody?


All J herbin stuff is made themselves in france

Selling a boatload of restored, fairly rare, vintage Japanese gold nib pens, click here to see (more added as I finish restoring them)

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I bought a bottle based on this thread.
I am a firm Earl Grey from Diamante fan but I was intrigued.
The packaging feels nice but the ink feels thin.
The act of writing was weird. I'm so used to thicker, more luxurious feeling inks. And as it writes, it was a total "meh" for me.
But then it dries, and I am in love. It's weird and different and it feels as if you're writing historical documents, if that makes sense. I know it doesn't. But I've only just received my bottle and I can't wait to keep playing.
thanks for bringing this ink to my attention.

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I enjoyed your very thorough review, and the time you put in testing papers and nib sizes. Thank you so much.

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Anybody knows if they make their own inks or they buy white label from somebody?


Herbin belongs to the Exacompta-Clairefontaine group since 2003.

The relatively new line, more expensive squared bottle inks, with or without glitter, are highlighted and the old line cheaper 30ml line inks are put in the background.

They are said to be produced in Paris in a specific factory.

Edited by nibtip
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