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Tag Kyoto - Kyo-No-Oto - Urahairo


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TAG Kyoto - kyo-no-oto - urahairo


TAG is a stationary shop in Kyoto (Japan) that produces some interesting soft watercolour-style inks. With the kyo-no-oto series they produce a line of inks that replicates traditional Japanese dye colours. According to available only info, the manufacturing process of the kyo-no-oto inks follows traditional dying techniques dating back to the Heian era between the years 794 and 1185. The inks come in 40 ml bottles, packaged in luxurious thick paper with a texture that feels like heavy watercolour paper.


In this review I take a closer look at urahairo. This is a wonderful grey-green-blue ink, a beautiful subdued colour that really appeals to me. While some people might see a weak and washed-down ink, I see the softness, elegance and harmonious nature of an ink that delicately caresses the page. To remove any doubt... I love my inks soft & toned-down, and this one is right up my alley.

The name urahairo comes from the words "ura" (meaning underside) and "ha" (meaning leaf). The colour reflects the pale and subdued green colour you often find on the underside of leaves. Since the Heian era when Kyoto was the capital of Japan, people loved this colour and used it for the colouring of kimonos and other textiles.

The ink writes fairly dry with my standard Lamy Safari test pens. Saturation is also quite low, especially with the finer nibs. This is not an ink to use with an extra-fine. You need broader nibs and/or wetter pens to bring the best out of this TAG Kyoto ink. The colour is difficult to describe. It's definitely a green, but with a lot of blue without becoming a teal. It's also greyed down quite a bit. This mysterious blend of colours provides some extra character to the ink, and works out really well. I've tried a number of TAG Kyoto inks to date, and love them all. This line of inks really fits my taste - I'm glad I discovered them.


To show you the impact of saturation on the ink's look & feel on paper, I made some scribbles where I really saturated portions of the Tomoe River paper with ink. This gives you a good idea of what the ink is capable of in terms of colour range. Urahairo has a fairly broad dynamic range, but without a harsh contrast between the light and darker parts. This translates to strong but still elegant shading. Such a broad dynamic range is often difficult to capture by scanner, and that's also true here. The scanner tends to exaggerate the contrast, making the shading a lot harsher than in reality. I've therefore added some photos to the writing samples below, to allow you to get a better feel for the ink.


The ink's chromatography shows a wonderful complexity of dyes, with blue, light-blue and yellow in the mix. The bottom part of the chromatography seems to indicate a measure of water-resistance, but this is just an illusion. In reality, there's not much that remains on the paper when it comes into contact with water. Definitely not a water-resistant ink.


I've tested the ink on a wide variety of paper - from crappy Moleskine to high-end Tomoe River. On every small band 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 an M-nib Lamy Safari

  • The name of the paper used, written with a B-nib Lamy Safari

  • A small text sample, written with the M-nib Safari

  • Source of the quote, with a Pelikan M200 with M cursive italic nib

  • Drying times of the ink on the paper (with the M-nib Safari)

Urahairo looks great on all my test papers, with no visible feathering. With the lower-quality papers there is just a touch of bleed-through present. Drying times were mostly in the 5 second range with the Lamy Safari M-nib. This delicate ink looks at its best on off-white or cream paper. In my opinion it loses some of its softness on pure white paper.





I've also added a few photos to give another view on the ink. In the scanner samples above, the shading contrast in the written text is a bit exaggerated, making it look too harsh. The photos below show a more realistic view of the ink's shading properties.



Writing with different nib sizes

The picture below shows the effect of nib sizes on the writing. Kyo-no-oto urahairo is a bit too unsaturated for extra-fine nibs, and works best with M nibs and above. With broader nibs (or wetter pens) it loses its dryness and becomes much nicer to write with. Also, the ink's elegant shading needs the broader/wetter nibs to come to the front.


Related inks

To compare this grey-green-blue urahairo with related inks, I use my nine-grid format with the currently reviewed ink at the center. This format shows the name of related inks, a saturation sample, a 1-2-3 swab and a water resistance test - all in a very compact format. This kyo-no-oto ink is different from my other muted greens - I have no other ink that comes anywhere close.


Inkxperiment – autumn

With every review, I try to create an inkxperiment using only the ink I'm working on. Such a one-colour drawing is a great way to show off the saturation-range nuances that are present in the ink. These inkxperiments are the favourite part of my reviews: always great fun and a good way to stretch my creativity and drawing skills. Inspiration for this particular inkxperiment comes from the autumn season in this part of the world: the wind blowing through the trees, leaves tumbling to the ground forming a thick carpet at the tree's feet.


I started with a piece of HP photo paper and a leaf I picked up outside. I used the leaf to block out the paper, and painted in the background using a piece of carpet anti-slip material. The provides the checkered background for the inkxperiment. I next painted in the tree, and added some texture to the leaf. The resulting picture shows what can be achieved with urahairo in a more artistic context.



TAG kyo-no-oto urahairo is a wonderful ink - a beautiful grey-green-blue with a unique colour that is both soft and elegant. The ink works best with broader/wetter nibs - it's a bit too dry and unsaturated for EF/F nibs. This is one ink that you really need to use with off-white or cream paper - makes it look so much better. Not an ink for everyone, but if you enjoy toned-down, pastel-like colours, urahairo delivers! I personally like it a lot.

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


Back-side of writing samples on different paper types





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FABULOUS review! Thank you so much for posting it. I love your artwork and your quotes. They showcase the ink so well. ^_^

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I am out of superlatives to express how this ink and the review makes me feel..... and maybe it's better this way....

How to describe subtle, soft ever- glowing bliss?


Thanks :)

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Fantastic review as usual. This time a really soft, warm ink. Not sure if it'd do for "normal" writing but for sketches and greetings (like cards for the upcoming festivities), this might be an all-time winner. The best comparative colour I thought of before I hit your own image was the Streetcar Green. Better than Banknote Green.

Life is too short to drink bad wine (Goethe)

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