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TAG Kyoto - kyo-no-oto ginkaisyoku


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TAG Kyoto – kyo-no-oto – ginkaisyoku



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 online info, the manufacturing process of these 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 ginkaisyoku, a limited edition subtle blue-grey verdigris-type ink with a silvery-blue shimmer. Yes… this is another ink with glitter, which seems to become increasingly popular with ink makers. If you don’t care about that, just don’t shake the bottle and the glimmer particles won’t bother you.


The ink’s name reflects the colour of thin clouds, as referred to in the waka poem that Genji composed, mourning the passing of Fujitsubo: “Being overwhelmed with grief, I’m wondering whether the colour of the thin cloud over the ridges, which is covered by the rays of the setting sun, copied the colour of the sleeves of my mourning dress” (from the 19th chapter of the Tale of Genji). The blue-grey wispy colour of this kyo-no-oto ink is stunningly beautiful, and I was totally in love with it from the moment I laid eyes on it.

Unfortunately – as we shall see – that relation quickly turned into a love-hate affair. The ink looks stunning, but has so many technical issues that it’s painful to use with many paper-pen-nib combinations. This is the first kyo-no-oto ink that I found frustrating – I love its appearance, I hate writing with it.

The ink writes really dry, unsaturated and with very harsh shading in my usual Safari test pens – not pleasant at all. I had to use much wetter pens for this review to get an acceptable writing experience from this blue-grey ginkaisyoku. Be aware that it takes serious effort to find the right pen for this ink – in my case, I finally found a great match with my Pelikan M205 Demonstrator with a gold Pelikan M cursive-italic nib. With this particular combination, the ink can express itself in all its beauty.



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 a strip of 52 gsm Tomoe River paper with ink. This gives you a good idea of what the ink is capable of in terms of colour range. As you can see, ginkaisyoku has a really wide colour span. The ink moves from a wispy blue-grey to a much darker verdigris-type colour. The contrast between light & dark parts is fairly extreme. This translates to very harsh shading with many pen/nib combinations. You need a really wet pen that writes a very saturated line in order to tame that shading and get a more balanced appearance.



The ink’s chromatography shows a wonderful complexity with different hues of grey, blue and even a bit of yellow in the mix. These all combine to create a verdigris-style colour – a blue-grey with hints of green in the undertones. Just lovely. The bottom part of the chromatography indicates that the dyes easily detach from the paper – this is 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 Pelikan M205 Demonstrator with M ci nib
  • A small text sample, written with a Pelikan M405 Silver White with F-nib
  • Source of the quote, with a B-nib Lamy Safari
  • Drying times of the ink on the paper (with the M-nib Safari)

I used wetter pens for these writing samples. With my normal Lamy Safari test pens, the ink just feels ugly … scratchy writing, too light in appearance, extremely harsh shading.  Even with wet pens, ginkaisyoku remains a heavy shader – so much so that scans of the writing samples just didn’t work. With the scanner, the contrast was blown out of proportion, as you can see below.



I therefore use photos to show you the looks of this TAG Kyoto ink on the different paper types. Ginkaisyoku works best on the more absorbent papers without a hard surface. The hard-surface paper tends to result in harsher shading with this ink. Also, not a good ink for use on creamy paper. The yellowish character of the paper will shine through the wispy blue, resulting in a green tinge that detracts from its blue-grey beauty. Ginkaisyoku looks at its best on pure white paper. 

There is no visible feathering with this ink – it behaves well in this respect even on crappy paper. But with the lower-quality paper you do get quite some see-through and bleed-through. Drying times are mostly around the 5-10 second mark with the Lamy Safari M-nib.






Writing with different nib sizes
The picture below shows the effect of nib sizes on the writing. Kyo-no-oto ginkaisyoku does not work well with my dry-writing Lamy Safari test pens… scratchy writing, extremely harsh shading… not pleasant at all. The writing experience improves significantly when using wetter pens and broader nibs. Increased saturation of the ink gives two benefits: the ink writes much more smoothly (lubrication improves), and the contrast range becomes less extreme, resulting in much more tolerable shading. Mind you… ginkaisyoku remains a strong-shading ink, even with wet pens.



Related inks
To compare this grey-blue ginkaisyoku 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 looks like no other in my collection, which is cool. It reminds me a bit of a faded version of J. Herbin Vert de Gris. A really nice colour!



Inkxperiment – mountain cabin
For my ink reviews, I always add a drawing using only the ink I’m working on. This inkxperiment is a great way to illustrate all the colour-range nuances that are present in the ink. The broad contrast range of ginkaisyoku makes it an excellent drawing ink, that can cover a very wide tonal range. And that verdigris-type faded-looking colour is simply beautiful. 

As always, this colour type makes me think of snowy landscapes. So the subject for this drawing was easy to find… a winter scene with a man and his dog walking through a snow-covered landscape to the mountain cabin, where the warmth of the burning wood in the fireplace is waiting for them.



The concept for this drawing started with a quick outline sketch in my journal. I then used an A5 piece of 300 gsm rough watercolour paper, on which I drew a background with water diluted ginkaisyoku. Using paper cut-outs, I drew in the mountains with cotton pads. I then used my Pelikan fountain pen to draw in the mountain cabin, and the man and his dog. Finally, I used a brush with pure ginkaisyoku to paint in the treeline. I finished the drawing by adding some accents to the treeline using my fountain pen. The resulting drawing shows quite well the broad colour range you can extract from this single ink – really impressive. Kyo-no-oto ginkaisyoku truly is a great ink for more artistic purposes.



TAG Kyoto kyo-no-oto ginkaisyoku is a great-looking ink: the blue-grey colour with its green undertones is stunning! I simply love it. As such, it pains me that the ink behaves so badly with many paper-pen-nib combinations. You really have to hunt for that one combination that works, and that results in a glorious look on the page. Mostly though, you will rip out your hair in despair 😉 But use this ink for drawing, and all these negative thoughts disappear… ginkaisyoku can produce truly beautiful variations in colour. 

Overall – I have a love/hate relationship with this ink. I totally love the colour and its application in drawings, but cannot recommend this one for normal writing. 

Technical test results on Rhodia N° 16 notepad paper, written with Pelikan M405 F-nib



Back-side of writing samples on different paper types






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Thanks for the review, @namrehsnoom! :)  I agree that this ink looks best on a very white page, where the colors seem to be more distinct.  And the comparison makes Aonibi look downright vibrant! :lol:  As always, I love your drawing - the addition of the dog perfects it. :D


If "Extreme Shading" were a sport, this ink would be one of the top-rated players, if not the top-rated. I'm not sure, but that might actually be too much shading even for me...

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Oh happy Saturday :)


Thank you @namrehsnoom - what a treat! 


I utterly love the colour of this ink, both with and without its shimmer and I was lucky enough to pick up a bottle from the first run at a much more sensible price than it seems to be now.


I also had problems with finding the right pen for it, but it's found a happy place in both an opus 88 and TWSBI Go with 1.1 stubbed nibs, where the shading really comes into its own.  I did try it with a bit of wettener, but as is sometimes the case with the Kyoto inks, it altered the colour, not significantly, but enough for me not to want to do it again.


That's a great Inkxperiment too - what a way to show off the range of colour. It's a really lovely ink to paint with as well.

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This is a steel blue grey that I really like. The quote and pun on Semikolon cracked me up. :) Brilliant that one.


As always, I love your artwork and how you share your techniques. Using cotton pads is a great idea for making mountains. I really like the shimmer in the trees; makes them look sparkly and icy. Very well done!

"O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever." Psalm 118:29

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Superb color. Might be worthwhile finding the right pen for it ... and I already have one in mind.


Fingers crossed, though, that Poezie E198 苋语, which is shipping to me now, will be close enough that I won't have to put ginkaisyoku on the want list:



Also may be close to the old Waterman ink, Bleu Nuit. (?)


Wonderful review, all around. Thanks^2!

Script nib for writing screenplays. • Fine nib for my best writing. • Extra fine for my *very* best writing. • Medium for requesting a séance. • Bold for adventure stories. • Manifold for many various types of writing. • Coarse for indignant letters. • Oblique for making a point in a roundabout way. • Italic when I'm inclined. • Stub for when I intend to leave a manuscript unfinis

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@namrehsnoomthank you for an excellent review of a difficult ink. I love how you went out of your way to find the perfect pen/ ink/ paper combination. :thumbup:

I love the inkexperiment, though I would have preferred something less reminiscent of what I am seeing out of my window now (snow) :)

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its a beautiful color and thanks for showing it but misbehaving and toublesome inks are a deal-breaker for me. From a color perspecitive it reminds me of Sailor Manyo Haha..at least on my computer screen. 

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Thanks for this review; it looks like a colour halfway betwen Hisoku and Aonibi. I've learned to have patience with them, let them "get used" to their pen; although Aonibi would just not start in a medium Carène, and made the nib cling on to paper. Once the combination works, zero problems.

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."


B. Russell

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