A little bit ofhistoryNick Stewart is a creative designer, artist, calligrapher and educator from historic Rochester, on the Thames estuary in Kent. Nick also actively contributes to United Inkdom. As an artist he is very passionate about inks, especially their chromatic properties, breaking down all possible hues and tonal ranges present in any ink he works with. He has tested hundreds and hundreds of inks which allowed him to understand how they are made and what factors are affecting specific properties. There is a hint of alchemy in his work, especially when Nick experiments with bleach to test how the destructive process which results can create something new and exciting.
Nick has been working closely with Britain’s best-known fountain pen ink manufacturer to design his own custom-made inks, and we have already reviewed the first result, the beautiful Randall Blue-Black ink. Recently, he also came up with set of four mixable inks which mimic the CMYK colour model which many of us know better from printers. By blending them together, with specific ratios, the whole range of secondary and tertiary colours can be obtained. The idea was to create inks which generate a wide enough palette of colours that anyone can simply take them for a journey in a rucksack along with an art journal or watercolour paper pad. In principle it works in the same way as the simple watercolour sets you can find in any art shop and blend together using water. Because the majority of inks are made using dyes, the properties and final effects are different from those which pigment-based paints generate and are an interesting alternative to them.
How it looksNick’s set contains four independent 30ml inks. The intended purpose is to blend them together to obtain new colours, but each ink can be used separately as a stand-alone fountain pen ink. The colours available in the set are: Berber Blue (C), Desert Rose (M), Yellow Dune (Y) and Twilight Black (K). These are not ‘pure’ CMYK colours, and each ink has its own unique characteristics. However, when mixed together they still create a full range of secondary and tertiary colours.
How it mixes For drawing, probably the best way to mix and blend inks together would be to use small portable paint trays, as employed by artists for watercolour or acrylic paints. The only problem is to figure out the best way of taking small amounts (or even drops) of each ink from the set bottles and transferring these to the mixing tray. With watercolour and acrylic paints it’s easy enough, since these are often available in small tubes or as solid blocks. Picking the ink directly from the bottle using a brush might not be the best idea; it would be very easy to cross-contaminate (unless you use several brushes). Pouring inks directly from the bottle may be risky, and cause splattery surprises. Plastic pipettes (or little eyedroppers) seem to be ideal for this, although you’ll need to carry a few of them. In future, we think it might be a good idea to make the set available with small eyedroppers mounted directly on the cap.
All four inks mix nicely together, and if necessary they can be easily diluted with water. For watercolour paper it’s helpful to apply thin layer of water as a medium, so the inks will flow better on the paper. Water brushes are also good for blending and washes.
Crucially, how it writes…All four inks are very good quality. They flow well in fountain pens and the overall writing experience is pleasant. We have not noticed any unnecessary bleeding through, ghosting or feathering. As expected, the same observations apply for custom-mixed inks made with this set.
Ink! What is it good for?These are multi-purpose inks. The primary purpose of any fountain pen ink is writing, of course; all four base colours are nice on their own, but why not to create your unique combination of colours simply by experimenting and mixing base inks together as you like? However, the secret trick this set has appears as soon as they are diverted to use in painting and illustration – they blend well and the resulting colours are well-saturated and vivid. These inks are also water-soluble, so can be used for washes too.
VFMThe set is available for £20, which looks like decent value to us. You get four 30ml inks which are high quality in their own right and work very well with fountain pens, brushes and almost any other media you can find. Once you figure out how to mix them to obtain your preferred custom colours, this much ink should last quite a while.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Blending colours is great fun and even if you don’t feel you have bags of artistic skill or unsure about the theory of colour mixing, you should definitely give it a go. Experimenting with colours is fascinating and maybe accidentally (magically) you will create the favourite ink colour you have always been searching for. Who knows? Try it and let the magic happen!
Our overall recommendation If you are illustrating, journalling or drawing when travelling and if you like different mixed-media to create art, then Nick’s ‘CMYK’ set is designed for you. If mixing colours doesn’t immediately sound like your cup of tea, we’d say you’re missing out. Take a leap and try it!
Where to get hold of someThe set of CMYK inks is available directly from Nick Stewart’s website where you can find all the details.
A little bit ofhistoryRandall Reeves, who generally doesn’t bother much with his last name, is a buccaneering fellow who likes a nautical challenge and half, and not content with mere global circumnavigation has created a new problem to solve; getting around the Americas, and then around Antarctica, in a figure of eight pattern. North-west passage, roaring forties, Bermuda Triangle and all. It’s a lot of effort just to see both polar bears and penguins on the same voyage, but it’s hard not admire the chutzpah. As it happens, our friend Nick Stewart, calligrapher extraordinaire, is distantly related and decided to dedicate to Randall the best sort of tribute he could imagine – an ink, of course!
How it looksDiamine are capable of making really interesting inks when asked nicely, and Nick clearly knew what he wanted to achieve in collaborating with them to mix up something a bit special. The result is as changeable as the sea itself; lots of blues of varying depth, with a red sheen at sunset and/or shiny paper – which is where the maritime analogies break down a bit, but you get the gist. We were favourably impressed, to say the least!
How it writesThis is quite saturated stuff and may present one or two challenges when it comes to rinsing out demonstrators after use, but the flow is much like any other Diamine – which is to say not the absolute wettest one can get (that’s KWZ), but fine for almost all fountain pens.
Ink! What is it good for?You could probably take it to work if you wanted, or save it for your private journal. But this is made for art, calligraphy and big messy doodles. Have fun with it – it’s what it’s for.
VFMPretty good considering that it’s a limited edition, and early buyers get a piece of art created with the ink itself as a sweetener.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…There, are, to be fair, new blue-with-red-sheen inks coming on to the market all the time. It’s a tintenzeitgeist sort of thing. But few of the alternatives come with the imprimatur of an actual proper calligrapher and a link to round-several-continents yachtsman, if that’s what really, erm, floats your boat.
Our overall recommendationSome bias has to be admitted here. Nick is a regular contributor to United Inkdom and, naturally, we like what he does. But this honestly looks like a limited edition worth grabbing while it lasts, if multi-tonal marine inks are your bag.
Where to get hold of someThe only way is to ask Nick Stewart nicely, right here. You might even get one of these nice artworks to boot – all created with the same ink, of course.
A little bit ofhistoryThe tribes living at the edges of the old Empire (the Roman one) may or may not have ever referred to themselves as the Keltoi, but the name rather stuck nevertheless. Successive waves of invasion and colonisation (by Romans, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans) pushed these Gaelic and Brythonic language groups to the north and to the west, in the areas we know today as Ireland, the western isles of Scotland, much of Wales and Cornwall – and since Pure Pens is based in one of those areas (just about), it was a natural inspiration for naming their new ink collection. We couldn’t wait to get our pens loaded…How it looks Cadwaladr is a rich red, with plenty of character.Celtic Sea is a pleasing blue, with lots of maritime presence.
Somewhere between mustard yellow and light brown, Pendine Sands takes the shading trophy.
Porthcurno summons up the water of a Cornish bay, if you’re lucky with the weather.
Llanberis Slate is a civilised grey with the teeniest hint of purple.
Saltire Blue is the shade of the Scottish flag, of course.
From the second wave of these inks, Glens of Antrim is a light bright green.
There needed to be a teal in there somewhere, and Cwm Idwal gives a good dark turquoise.
Flower of Scotland, finally, contributes the essential purple.
Crucially, how it writes…It does the job well, with no dryness issues reported – and we put it in an awful lot of different pens, between us.
Ink! What is it good for?These are fun inks, and fun is probably what they’re best for. But Saltire and Llanberis could probably be sneaked into the office if you’re feeling naughty, and maybe even Flower of Scotland too.
VFM£6.99 for 60ml – no complaints there.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Take a look at the ranges from Beaufort Inks and Mabie Todd, which have a not wildly dissimilar provenance, shall we say.
Our overall recommendationThis is a good range of inks from a serious niche fountain pen retailer, at a decent price, and most tastes are catered for somewhere in the range. What’s not to like?
A little bit ofhistoryMabie Todd is one of the great British fountain pen brands of the early twentieth century, and there are plenty of vintage models still around in the hands of penthusiasts. Now the brand is back – almost. The logo and trading rights came first, inevitably, but equally normally it’s going to take a while to actually make pens, and a worthwhile fund-raising strategy is required in the meantime. Selling bespoke ink is a great way to do it.
How it looksThey are all new inks, made here in Britain, but they have a real retro look about them. They’re not over-saturated, but that makes for more pronounced shading. Startling Purple resembles Montblanc Laveneder Purple a little, Mallard Green is an effective ‘tastefully murky’ number, and Kingfisher Blue grows on one rather.
How it flowsThe wetness/flow is similar to most Diamine inks, which may or may not be a coincidence (nudge, wink). For most pens, that’s just fine.
Crucially, how it writes…Well enough in standard fountain pens, although one or two shades may be a little on the dry side if you’re using a flex nib or need the feed to gush enthusiastically. Ant even found ways to turn it into ersatz stained glass…
Ink! What is it good for? Appropriately enough, it’s probably just the thing for resurrecting that much-loved old classic you’ve had at the back of the pen drawer – whether or not it’s a vintage Mabie Todd.
VFM£6 for 30ml is not the cheapest ticket – a bit more than twice price of standard Diamine, as it happens – but this is a legitimate fund-raising effort, and even at this price it’s far from extortionate. It also comes in a proper glass bottle with rather splendid retro packaging. In a nutshell, not bad at all.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…The Beaufort Inks range (recently reviewed here) or the new Pure Pens inks (meta-review also on the way soon) could be worth a look.
Our overall recommendationIf you have a vintage pen which needs filling, several of these are worth a look. We all had our favourite birds, but the starling, mallard and kingfisher seem to be consensus front-runners, or front-flyers at least.
A little bit ofhistoryFilling a fountain pen used to be difficult for folk Down Under. Sending a glass bottle full of rather heavy water half-way around the globe was an expensive business, and there were few local alternatives. Then Aussie dye-makers Toucan realised that one of their hues worked well enough in a fountain pen, and that was a start. Before too long the specialist ink-wrangler Robert Oster followed suit (almost certainly more about him to follow on this site soon), and then up popped a third Antipodean pen-filler: Blackstone. We found ourselves drawn to the blues.
How it looksThe two blues offer a lighter and a darker option, and both are charmers. There’s decent shading on offer, and quite a bit of sheen if you lay it on thickly. In short, if you like blues you’ll like these.
Crucially, how it writes…Like standard fountain pen ink, really. Adequate flow, good saturation, reasonable drying times and no problems to report. All very encouraging.Ink! What is it good for? It’s multi-purpose ink, this; it would be perfectly nice for writing a diary with, but you could probably get away with taking it to the office too. The plastic bottle is also hardy enough for travelling with, if you want to avoid glassware on the move.
VFMTolerable. £6.95 for 30ml is thrice the price of the same amount of Diamine, but this has come all way from the other side of the planet. It’s certainly not going to break the bank.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Then Blackstone’s new set of scented inks might be worth a look instead. Or there’s Robert Oster’s range, of course.
Our overall recommendationWell worth a try if you’re after something a bit different withoutblowing the ink budgetall in one go.
Where to get hold of oneThe best bet in this hemisphere is straight from Bureau Direct.
A little bit of history Some time during the Caledonian Orogeny, around 490–390 million years ago, the Great Glen Fault formed. Wind forward a few aeons and the trench this left cuts a swathe across Scotland, including the very well-known Loch Ness and, just to the south, the rather tautologous Loch Lochy, near which is the home of Beaufort Ink. Despite the name, Beaufort Ink have made their way in the world selling nibs and pen-turning parts rather than ink – until now. Now they’re making up for lost time, and then some!
How it looks As an ensemble, this is a set of inks which immediately conjure up visual memories of the Highlands – which the creator insists is entirely accidental, but we’re not complaining! They deserve a brief review one by one, and they shall jolly well have it too.
Peacock This is where the whole range started, as the Beaufort supremo is a confirmed teal-head. A deep, rich and very dark turquoise, this is somewhat reminiscent of Sheaffer’s long-lamented Peacock Blue – and has won plenty of fans in the United Inkdom ranks.
Zodiac Blue nicely echoes the blue of Arctic waters, as viewed from a Zodiac boat. It’s a long way from boring old ‘school’ blue, that’s for sure.
Blue Black is not often a label which gets people excited; usually, that’s the ink you use at work and then set aside in favour of something more exciting as soon as you get home. Somehow, though, this recipe manages to capture the dark blue of a loch without being dull.
Obsidian is a refined grey-black with a spot of sheen too – not a jet-black ink, but a nicely saturated sort of black nevertheless.
Scots Pine is an earthy, dark green which could be as valuable to artists as to writers. Not so many testers found this one their favourite, but it’s certainly distinctive.
Roasted Red convincingly summons-up the hue of roasted red peppers with a sprinkling of paprika. A sophisticated shade to complete the collection.
Crucially, how it writes…Smoothly! The formulation was selected for good flow as well as reliable saturation, and it shows.
Ink! What is it good for?Most of these inks could actually be sneaked into the office without too much risk, but they also look just the thing for getting a vintage pen back into action.
VFM At £8.35 for 45ml, this is twice the farthings-per-millilitres that standard Diamine would cost, but that’s still not stratospherically expensive – and arguably good value because it works well and you’ll actually want to write with it enough to get to the end of the bottle.If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Beaufort have indicated that other colours may join the collection if there’s sufficient demand. Unsubtle hints about the urgent need for Purple Heather have already been lodged. The case for Made In Scotland From Girders Orange, meanwhile, awaits a longer label as well as copyright permission!
Where to get hold of some Straight from Beaufort Ink.This meta-review references:
A little bit ofhistoryDiamine were the first manufacturer to produce a range of affordable shimmering inks following J. Herbin’s innovation of introducing tiny sparkling particles to their inks. They launched with a range of 10 different colours, added another 12 later (reviewed here), and the new ones take that up to an impressive 32 colours.
How it looksDiamine are well-versed in shimmering inks by now. They could do this in their sleep. However, they’ve not rested on their laurels here. Rather than just adding more sparkle to more ink, they’ve upped their game. What makes these new inks stand out is not only their strong, saturated colours, but the sheen many of them display. This adds a new dimension to the inks. The sparkle itself is subtle yet visible.
The blues and greens The new range features four blue and green inks.
Arctic Blue is a bright, cool blue with a frosty silver shimmer. It also has a pinkish-red sheen.
Spearmint Diva is a bluish-green with silver shimmer. It’s similar to Tropical Glow from the same range, though the latter is more of a greenish-blue. It’s good to see that Diamine have those of us who love a good teal covered! However, Spearmint Diva also has a bit of a red sheen on some papers.
Golden Ivy is a traditional deep green with, again, a reddish sheen, set off with gold shimmer. This would make a lovely Christmas ink.
Cobalt Jazz is a saturated cobalt blue with a red sheen and gold shimmer. This is a gorgeous colour that looks pretty spectacular.
The reds There are three new red inks in the range.
First off, there’s Electric Pink. This is no cute Barbie pink. This is take-no-prisoners pink: it’s rich and saturated, with silver sparkle.
Citrus Iceis a warm, saturated orange with a contrasting cool silver sparkle.
Firefly is an orange-toned red with gold sparkle. Another festive ink.
The purples The three new additions at the purple end of the spectrum are a real treat.
Arabian Nights is a deep purple-black with silver shimmer. It’s probably the most usable of the inks for everyday writing. The shimmer is subtle and the dark ink is readable and utilitarian while retaining a lot of character.
Frosted Orchid is a slightly lighter purple ink with red tones and silver sparkle. This will be popular.
The last of the new inks is Wine Divine. This is a lovely addition to Diamine’s already well-stocked wine cellar (with Merlot, Syrah, and Claret). The ink is a rich burgundy with gold shimmer.
Crucially, how it writes…Diamine have been on the go for over 150 years. The quality of their ink is sound, and these are no exceptions. They flow well and benefit from a wider nib to show off both sheen and shimmer.
Ink! What is it good for?These are unusual inks, and the sparkle makes it unlikely you’ll want to use these for business documents. They’re great for cards and letters, especially with Christmas fast approaching. As usual with shimmering inks, be sure to give the bottle a gentle shake before filling a pen. Similarly, gently agitate a pen that’s had the ink in it a while to mix up the settled shimmer particles. There’s also a caveat: any ink with particles like this has the potential to clog up a pen, so use this ink in pens that you can disassemble relatively easily to clean out properly.
VFMAlthough more expensive than Diamine’s standard inks, the Shimmertastic range is an affordable way to get some seriously interesting inks. In the UK, a 50ml bottle retails for around £9-10.If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…J. Herbin make a variety of premium shimmering inks. De Atramentis also offer a new line of shimmering inks, with each ink available with gold, silver, or copper shimmer. Robert Oster are soon to launch their own sparkles, too.
Our overall recommendationThese are great, fun inks with some unusual and interesting properties, available at a good price. Where to get hold of someThe usual suspectshave these inks in stock (or soon will!). You can also purchase from Diamine directly.
A little bit ofhistoryThe ancient Romans did all sorts of rum things in barrels; polluting wine with lead to sweeten it, fermenting the pungent rotted-fish sauce garum, and brewing-up the hard-wearing ink atramentum. German ink-makers De Atramentis continue this tradition in their name and some of their production methods (albeit hopefully without the aroma of decomposing marine life), and recently they have got on the sparkly ink bandwagon. Everybody’s doing it these days, it seems – J.Herbin, Diamine and Robert Oster too. So we set out to find out what De Atramentis is bringing to the party…
How it looksThe base inks are seven colours, plus black. What makes the collection stand out is the availability of these inks in three different pearlescent finishes; gold, silver and, uniquely, copper. There’s a higher volume of sparkly particles than are typically found in pearlescent inks so how it looks is shiny – very, very, shiny!Crucially, how it writes…Much like standard fountain open ink, and De Atramentis certainly make plenty of that. There can be the occasional hold-up due to the high proportion of particulates (the sparkly bits), which eventually silt-up the feed and stem the flow, but this is easily rectified with a thorough clean. With this in mind it’s advisable to stick to fountain pens which can be completely dismantled for a quick scrub, but these inks are otherwise suitable for use with most of the nibbage you own.
Ink! What is it good for?It’s very shiny indeed, but those sparkicles can brush off once the ink is dry – so it’s probably not one for the office, but anything from journalling to labelling presents would be good ways to put it to work.
VFMNot bad at all; Pure Pens sell some of these at £10.50 a bottle, which is only a little more than comparable inks from Diamine, and about half the price that J.Herbin charge for a sparkly.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Then De Atramentis do face some pretty stiff competition from Diamine. No-one else has quite the range of shimmer choices that De Atramentis does, though, and their copper option appears to be otherwise unheard of in the pearlescent market.
Our overall recommendationIf masses of glitter appeals, or the unusual copper finish does it for you, give this a go. If you prefer a slightly more nuanced range of base colours beneath your glitter, check out the newly-expanded Diamine Shimmer range (which we’ll also cover again here soon).
Where to get hold of somePure Pens sell a partial range of these, or you can buy the full collection direct from source if you don’t mind covering a bit more postage.
A little bit ofhistoryFor anyone who’s just survived the British summer, it can be hard to believe that wasps do anything useful at all; the big ones ruin picnics and the tiny ones kill bees. But as it happens, some of those very small wasps inadvertently serve a human purpose by making nests on the surface of the sturdy oak tree – because those ‘iron galls’ in turn provide the source material for a permanent ink formula recipe used since Pliny the Elder. Pliny Senior unfortunately failed to describe the formula in sufficient detail before the eruption of Vesuvius did for him, but patient scribes have been perfecting it ever since. When it works well, it can preserve documents for millennia. When it goes wrong and the ink gets too acidic, it can eat the writing surface – and it has form for eating fountain pens too, so it’s a brave manufacturer who ventures into this market. But Diamine, KWZ and Rohrer and Klingner have found ways to make the recipe safe, and now Platinum have come along with no less than six shades of iron gall ink to get creative with. The United Inkdom team set out to put it to the test – said team including a chemist, a calligrapher and two historians, so there was no fear of punches being pulled.
How it looksThis changes in the first minute that it spends on the paper – it goes on quite bright, especially the Citrus and Cassis varieties, then quickly darkens as it oxidises. None of the shades darken all the way to black, so the naming convention (Lavender Black, Forest Black, etc.) is a little misleading, but the transformation from light to dark is impressive – and rather fascinating to watch.
How it smellsNow let’s be honest, not all specialist inks are terribly pleasant to the nose . This one requires a chemical reaction to work, which you can actually see in front of your eyes, as the video below demonstrates – and as this ink is not pigment-based, it’s not technically watching paint dry. But despite all that exciting stuff going on, there’s nothing malodorous to report. Phew.
Crucially, how it writes…Perfectly well! It’s perhaps just a touch drier than some ‘standard’ fountain pen inks, but a decent fountain pen can handle it with ease. Given that this is still a permanent ink and even the new, gentler, formula has some acidity to it, a fountain pen which doesn’t dry out too easily is a wise choice (one of Platinum’s own #3776 models is a good place to start), and of course it’s worth giving it a good flush out after a few days with iron gall ink in there. But you can pop it into the barrel of your ‘serious nibbage’ without too much fear of damage.
Ink! What is it good for?As Nick capably demonstrates, it’s great for calligraphy. Since it’s an iron gall ink it should be acceptable if you’re signing a marriage register, and as it’s permanent it should do for addressing the wedding invitations too (the ink is partially washable, but even if it gets rained on the text will still be legible). Lavender Black, which seems to be the consensus pick of the bunch, could be good for one’s secret diary (you have one of those, right?). Or you could just have fun with them, like we did!VFMThese are not cheap inks, it has to be admitted; £22 will buy you a fairly respectable fountain pen these days, after all. But some of Platinum’s ‘Classic’ colours are really easy on the eye – and if you are using this for a special event, it’s not going to be that big a dent in the stationery budget.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…If you just need an iron gall ink and aren’t too concerned by the traditional blue-grey shade, then standard registrar’s ink will inevitably be quite a bit less expensive, and there’s plenty of that about (try Diamine). There are also other coloured iron gall inks available, usually at a lower price, from KWZ and Rohrer & Klingner. Alternatively, if you’re a Platinum fan and just need something permanent, some of their pigment-based inks aren’t bad and their carbon ink is amongst the blackest of the black.Our overall recommendationWe think these are pretty impressive inks, and conjure up a wider and more interesting palette than iron gall formulae can usually manage. If you have a sensible use for a permanent ink and fancy something a bit different, a 60ml bottle will do the job well. Given the significant cost our tip is to pick one or two which really take your fancy rather than going straight for the whole set.Where to get hold of someWe got ours direct from Cult Pens, and that’s a good place to start – they are the official Platinum dealers for the UK, and as it happens it’s where many of us have acquired our #3776s from too.
A little bit ofhistoryAs a still fairly new ink brand, KWZ has received a lot of attention in the last two years as it took the fountain pen world by storm. KWZ is operated by a lovely couple of professionally-trained chemists from Poland, Konrad Żurawski and his wife Agnieszka. That enigmatic name, KWZ, is simply Konrad’s initials. Konrad’s journey with ink manufacturing started as a hobby few years ago and quickly became his and his wife’s passion. Being a synthetic chemist specialising in polymers and organic chemistry, Konrad decided to experiment (which is not unusual for chemists) with formulae and reactions to create his own unique inks from scratch. Initially, he was mainly interested in making permanent iron gall (‘IG’) inks, which due to specific chemical reactions occurring over time have fascinating properties and behaviour, but he soon extended his laboratory’s range to ‘standard’ dye-based inks too. After many trials and tests Konrad came up with several inks which he and his wife decided to take to the Polish market first, then further afield. Agnieszka tells us that on the first outing to the Polish Pen Show, they were literally cutting-out KWZ Ink bottle labels while they were still on the train. During next few months KWZ inks started to get rave reviews on various fountain pen websites, blogs and social media channels, and with anticipation and demand growing quickly, the KWZ brand was formally registered in 2015. The range grew fast, even as Konrad and Agnieszka continued their scientific careers, and at the time of writing they have created an impressive range of 62 unique colours including 41 standard dye-based inks and 21 iron gall inks.
How it looksand How it writesKonrad is a fountain pen user as a well as a chemist, so understands how physical properties like surface tension, appropriate viscosity, flow, etc. are important for a satisfying writing experience. There is nothing worse than beautiful ink which is completely unusable, and when the flow or capillary action is limited one can struggle to write even on the best-quality paper. Konrad goes to great lengths in selecting, testing and applying ingredients and in this respect the KWZ brand has raised the bar for ink manufacturing more widely.The United Inkdom reviewers all found that aside from the impressively broad colour palette the crucial difference for KWZ ink is its flow properties. Of course writing experience depends on many things like paper, pen, nib, how the feed keeps up with the ink and also one’s writing style itself. People who have very a light touch need ink which flows well to keep up, otherwise pen will skip – but interestingly, heavy-handed writers also require a ‘wet’ ink in order to produce thicker and uniform line. This is especially true for those who use semi-flexible or flexible nibs; pens like Noodler’s Ahab or Konrad (fittingly) tend to tramline/railroad massively if a dry ink is selected. In this respect we found that KWZ inks are some of the best available; the flow is excellent, and in even the most gushing of flex-nib feeds it can keep up. We found the writing experience very pleasant with all types of pens all we tried the ink in, including those with particularly fine nibs as well as broad and flexible ones. On good-quality paper KWZ inks behave very well, tending not to feather and bleed through. This may not be the case with cheap absorbent alternatives such as photocopy/printer paper, but of course all fountain pen inks struggle on those surfaces. Because KWZ inks are highly saturated some ‘ghosting’ may occur especially on very thin paper, such as that made by Tomoe River. We found that many inks from KWZ we tested gave a decent amount gradual shading, but in some cases shading is very impressive, although in general KWZ inks do not exhibit a sheen. They are fairly wet inks, so drying time is not the strongest feature, but once they do dry completely there is not smudging.
Let’s have a look at some of the particular colours we tested. Obviously we have not tried all the inks KWZ offers, but we picked a few which are good representatives of this broad and diverse palette.
This is one of the KWZ inks that Mateusz and Laura enjoyed the most. A beautiful combination of red-purple with hint of bright light blue makes this ink quite unique. If you like aubergine, plum or beetroot like colours, this KWZ ink will please you. When it dries on the paper it looks less vibrant and flattened, but with this subtle gradual shading Brown Pink is a ‘must have’ in any ink collection – and its popularity already reflects this.
Compared to Brown Pink, Grey Plum is darker and more purple. The blend of purple, dark grey and bright blue gives a very interesting and pleasing result. With wet juicy nibs it looks almost black.
Honey is probably one of the most popular KWZ inks and for a while it was not easy to obtain it, because it kept selling out. Honey is a warm looking golden-brown ink, which gained its popularity because of the lovely shading it produces. This is particularly pronounced on smooth, good-quality paper, where the greatest colour gradation happens. Daniel, Ruth and Mateusz love it, but interestingly Laura doesn’t believe the hype.
This is a nice warm-looking brown which also gives nice shading. Daniel was very impressed with how KWZ Cappuccino looks next to blue inks.
El Dorado is an another example of a great shading ink. The colour varies between darker yellow and orange. This may be a good alternative to Noodler’s Apache Sunset, and Scribble describes it as a nice blend of caramel and honey.
This is very interesting ink. Out of the bottle it looks like a warm orange, but being an iron gall ink it undergoes drastic metamorphosis and quickly becomes a darker brown…pure magic.
If you like military, camouflage colours similar to Diamine Safari, than Green Gold may be for you. This is a wonderful blend of earthy, almost olive green with yellow.
This is a blue/green or green/blue ink which verges upon teal. Daniel thinks that this is one of this inks you should ‘just get’. Of course, if you are not into fountain pen inks, go and get a bottle of Absinthe instead!
Green #3 and Foggy Green
Green#3 may be easily classified as a ‘standard’ green which according to Gillian give some nice shading too.
Foggy Green is rather difficult to describe; a murky, faded dark green with a significant amount of grey. It could be best to use this only in drier pens as it otherwise comes out very dark. This may be an interesting option for those who do not like flashy inks which stand out from the paper.
If you like deep cerulean blue/turquoise inks which remind one of blue lagoons, Azure#3 is absolutely a must. Ruth loves slightly darker brother Azure #4 too.
This is a gorgeous deep blue which offers some pretty shading. This may be a perfect day-to-day ink. Both Laura and Scribble were delighted how this well-lubricated ink performs with picky Sailor pens.
Turquoise (standard and IG)
Love magic? Iron Gall Turquoise will help you to trick people. This fresh deep turquoise blue ink dries to a wonderfully dark teal. This is definitely one for Daniel to try; he hasn’t yet, but he would love it…for sure.
However, if you are not so adventurous then the beautiful standard turquoise is a safer option. Moreover, it has been proven that it is happy in flexible nibs, and
Gummiberry juice gives the ability to bounce at unusual heights. Like the idea? Us too! This is wild and crazy name for such a pretty purple ink. Ruth definitely loves it – no surprises there. John loves it too. The big surprise is that Laura, who is generally is that not much into ‘girly’ colours enjoyed it too. It works very well with Scribble’s Pilot Custom 742 FA. John was also very pleased by flawless performance of his Sailor EF pen.
There’s an iron gall version of this in development, too:
Thief’s Red and Flame Red
Many of us love red and red orange inks – the more disturbing the better! Be careful if you decide to work in the office or anywhere public these two. Thief’s Red is more red-towards-pink:
…while Flame Red is definitely red/orange:
KWZ Grapefruit is a bold and vibrant orange with light touch of pink – we thought it a very appropriate name.
Last but not least is the rich and saturated Maroon, which even gives a hint of sheen, uncommon among KWZ inks. This is a very pretty colour indeed.
How it smells Well, in general KWZ inks have very a distinctive and recognisable scent which for some is reminiscent of vanilla, whereas for other it reminds them of thyme. The smell will eventually disappear (at least form the paper). The characteristic aroma of a KWZ ink comes from the antifungal/anti-mould agent which KWZ uses in the formulation. In contrast to the phenols used as a preservative by some manufacturers, the anti-fungal chemical used in KWZ inks is not toxic. This is great news, but not all of us have been enamoured of the pungent smell, especially during longer writing sessions. Despite problems with staining TWSBI pens (especially the ECO model) as reported by Daniel, it is generally relatively easy to clean pens from KWZ inks, but at the same time is also very difficult to eliminate the smell. Agnieszka and Konrad are certainly aware of this issue and they are continuously working on better, more satisfying formulation. We have been told recently, that since September 2016 all KWZ inks have different component which gives rather sweet and less irritating ‘chemical’ scent compared to as it was before.
Our observation regarding the KWZ ‘perfume’ is in line what we have seen reported and discussed by other users elsewhere; responses are sharply divided between those actually quite like this this smell and those who can barely stand it all. It is worth mentioning that the KWZ inks we were testing came from both ‘old’ and ‘new’ batches respectively, so it is not surprising that our experiences are different. Interestingly, within our team of reviewers Ruth found this smell pleasant, whereas Laura and Gillian have completely opposite experiences, and while Scribble can handle it, his other half will only let him use it outdoors. Daniel was able to compare side-by-side the aroma of old and new batches of Honey, and reports that the new formula does not have characteristic ‘KWZ smell’ anymore, which in his opinion is disappointing because he enjoys it (that shows how olfactory perception can vary from person to person). Our assessment is that as soon as Konrad and Agnieszka standardise the new ‘neutral’ formula, KWZ will become a solid brand for the wider market – but until then, writers may be well-advised to try a sample before committing to a full bottle.
Regarding problems related to the TWSBI ECO line, where several issues with permanent staining were reported, we have been told that the KWZ team has investigated this and have already switched an ingredient which was unfortunately reacting with the polymer used in these pens.
Ink! What is it good for? This really is a very subjective matter. Because the colour range KWZ offers is so broad, picking the right colour for your needs should not be too difficult. All those who likes classic colours for office/businesses will be satisfied as well as those who are adventurous enough to use more exotic colours. Again, the only concern is that characteristic smell, which is not to everyone’s taste and may not be appreciated by all around you. Apart from that, this is ink fit for just about any every-day fountain pen purpose.
VFMKWZ inks are not the cheapest. In the UK you may get a 60ml bottle of KWZ Ink for around £12-13, depending which retailer you pick. This is almost double what you will spent on 80 ml bottle of standard Diamine ink, so it is not easy to justify on colour grounds alone, but for users of flex nibs or drier feeds the flow properties may make the investment worth it.
Our overall recommendation Our reviewers all agreed that KWZ Inks are very interesting and even have potential to be market leaders in the future. KWZ inks are generally wet and well lubricating. All the inks we tested flow nicely and gave us a good writing experience, even with pens which normally tend to run dry – and that viscosity helps to maintain a fast flow which is particularly noticeable with more demanding flexible or semi-flexible nibs. Colours are saturated and many exhibit great shading (e.g. Honey). However, if you are sensitive to the rather powerful pong of the current KWZ ink formula, getting cheaper Diamine ink or investing slightly more for Robert Oster’s Signature inks may be a wise alternative.
Where to get hold of someKWZ inks are not yet as widely available as some other popular brands. However, several specialist online retailers do stock them, and in the UK a wide selection of colours (including Iron Gall inks) is available exclusively from Pure Pens and Bureau Direct.
Thanks to Pure Pens, Bureau Direct and KWZ Ink themselves for providing inks to several of our bloggers previously – and big thanks to Pure Pens for furnishing even more of us with samples specifically for this meta-review exercise.