Fountain Pen Inks: Buyer Beware

9:52 AM

I have a renewed interest in fountain pens. Maybe I should just go ahead and confess to having a new (old) obsession with fountain pens as I've purchased a number of them over the years and very much enjoy writing with them. However, I'd never used them in my artwork as the inks tend to be impermanent.

With my renewed interest, I've discovered there are actually some really nice inks on the market that are permanent and well as those that simply make the claim, but do not deliver.

On a recent trip to the art store, I discovered a bottle of Pen & Ink Brand Fountain Pen Ink. "Woohoo!!" I thought.

Ink Samples in the background
as well as my Esterbrook Fountain Pen
I brought it home and the testing began. I tested it on several papers all with dismal results. This ink is not waterproof. You cannot wash over it with watercolors and expect to get clean colors. It bleeds like a fiend:
The sample above is a test strip completed over 36 hours,
starting on the right side with a wash of water almost
immediately after the ink was laid down -
Click to enlarge

Starting on the right, I hit the ink with water immediately. I repeated the process at 60 second intervals, then 7, 10, and 15 minutes apart. Then I waited 36 hours and the ink still bled. I had the same results on different papers. 

I reread the statement on the bottle:

In case you can't read it, it says "Ideal for sketching, dry ink does not bleed when used with a wash." Well then, I guess the question then becomes "How long do I have to wait for the ink to dry?" 

If after 36 hours, I'm still getting a bleed, I'm not going to be using this ink to sketch with UNLESS I want tonal grays and have no intentions of putting down a watercolor wash.

On the good side of things, the ink does appear to be lightfast and permanent as there has been no fading in my samples so far. Still, if you're looking for a permanent ink, I suggest you avoid this one. 

If someone else has had radically different results, I'd love to hear from you!

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17 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Thanks for the info! Sad you got skunked!

  2. Thanks for the info. I'm looking at the ink you mentioned yesterday. It's going for $18. I don't know what you paid for the one you just got but if it's anywhere close I think I'd return it.

    I tried for one of the pens you reviewed and missed the winning bid. I'm trying again today. I hate bidding on stuff but would love to try the pen.

  3. Yep, I tried that too...bought their sketch pen at the same time, UNimpressed.

    Also, J. Herbin inks as advertised int he DS catalog are supposed to be waterproof. NOT. I told DS they need to change the text, but they haven't so far. Lovely inks, but definitely not waterproof.

  4. This is how we learn, Pam!

    Timaree, the carbon black is worth $18, but this stuff was going for around $7—that should have been my first clue. It will make some good tonal grays.

    Kate, glad to hear I was wise not to buy the PEN too! I'm hoping that if enough people raise their concerns about obviously flawed advertising that maybe advertisers will stop doing stuff like that! (I can dream!)

  5. Perhaps this will help? It has some interesting info although I can't guarantee the accuracy. I have a lamy joy calligraphy fountain pen that I use for calligraphy and I love it. I've ordered some noodlers bulletproof black in to try.

  6. Hey, Glenda, thanks for the link! It's not so much that the ink is not waterproof that irritates me as what it says on the bottle! The advertiser is making a very false claim.

  7. Hi Laure,
    We have so much in common! I am always looking for cool drawing pens. It was one of the last things I did in Paris before catching the plane home. I had 2 hours to go to the BHV a huge department store with a whole floor dedicated to art supplies. The pen counter was huge but so were the price tags. If only it were possible to try them all out before buying!

  8. Laure: By chance I stumbled on your blog and my eye caught the image of the Pen & Ink bottle. I recently bought one to try with my Rotling Art Pen. I didn't know what to expect. I've been following Nina Johansson's blog and wanted to buy some Platinum Carbon Black Ink which she claims is the best. I couldn't find any, so I gave the Pen & Ink a try ... and it worked out fine for me. Check some of my recent flower sketches ( After reading your comments, I examined my sketches very closely and could see no bleeding. I applied my watercolour wash within a few hours of finishing the ink sketch. Maybe I was just lucky and got a good batch.

  9. Thanks for the info, Michael, perhaps I did get a bad batch. It seems pretty outrageous that the company would make that kind of claim on the bottle and then the ink would not set up after 36 hours.

    As for the Platinum I've seen it on eBay, and I think has it too!

    Tried to leave a comment over at your blog, but Blogger is not playing nicely tonight. Or at least, I think that's what's going on!

  10. It makes a huge difference what kind of paper you're using, and what the humidity and temperatures are like. I know lots of people who use Noodler's Bulletproof inks with no problems, but they do NOT like me.

  11. Regarding the paper I used for Pen & Ink, it was simple drawing paper produced by De Serres - probably around 50 lbs. I'll have to try this ink out on cotton paper to see if there is any difference. My suspicion is that it should be OK but you never know.

  12. Michael, I'm not so sure. When I tested out the ink, I used it on two watercolor papers and Stonehenge. One of the watercolor papers was Arches, the other Canson Limited Edition. I also scribbled on some copy paper initially to get the pen going.

    Unfortunately, my results were the same on all papers. As Kate mentions above, humidity and temperatures play a role in this too. Since I'm in FL, I deal with humidity ALL the time, even when it's low. It may also be that I just got into a bad batch of ink.

  13. I look forward to you results though. Perhaps there is a redeeming quality to this ink after all!

  14. Hi Laure: I tried out the ink on cotton watercolour paper last night and it worked out fine. I've put the sketch on my blog with a description of the problem ( The ink takes a few moments to completely dry but as you can see from my sketch, none of my lines bled. The humidity in this region can be fairly high because of all the rivers and lakes surrounding us. Last night was fairly windy and I would guess that the humidity was relatively low at 40%.
    Its interesting to read some of the comments on this ink at Amazon ( Generally, they seem to think its waterproof but not dark enough. I agree that it could be a little blacker.
    Since the manufacturer of this ink is in China, it would be very difficult to contact them for more information. I guess in the long run, it might be wiser to stick with a well-know brand like Platinum Carbon Black.

  15. Once again, I am amazed, Michael. It also looks like you have some heavy lines on your drawing as well. Once again, I was not able to leave a comment on the post on your blog.

    Considering your mention of humidity in your area, I am wondering if perhaps I just got a bad batch. I will test it out again over the weekend and see if my results are any different.

    However, I do believe I will be staying with the Carbon Black as it does work well for me. Thanks for your comments and for testing this out.

  16. I recently returned some Speedball India Ink that claimed to be waterproof but wasn't. I tried it on heavy mixed media paper, sketchbook paper, and even watercolor paper. After 2 days, it still smeared when washed over lightly. I was so disappointed, since I wanted it specifically for using with a watercolor wash.

  17. Hi, toadinaboat! Try Platinum Carbon Black. You can use in fountain pens (clean often) and it's waterproof in just about 15 seconds after you put it on the page.

    Good luck!


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