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Black Ink Reviews (updated 09/20/2001)
The search for the perfect black ink!
from the fountain pen of Rick Womer
Getting a new pen a couple of years ago started me looking for The Perfect Black Ink. I've collected black because I like it, and because my employer requires it. Collecting inks is also a lot cheaper than collecting pens! Recently, Ken Lopez joined this endeavor by shipping me five bottles of hard-to-find brands of black ink.

The collection stands at 16 brands, and I haven't found The Perfect One yet. Actually, there are different Perfect Ones for different pens, papers, and moods. The intensities, tones, flows, and lubricating properties all vary widely between brands, and they interact differently with different pens and papers. So, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

There are several excellent black inks that I find myself using frequently: Aurora, Conway Stewart, DuPont, Lamy, Namiki, Pelikan/Cross, and Platinum. A few other inks are good, but have characteristics that I don't care for, including Herbin, Parker Quink, Shaeffer Skrip, and Waterman. Then there are a few really crummy ones whose manufacturers need to start over, including Montegrappa, Mont Blanc, Osmiroid, and (surprisingly) Private Reserve.

With those ritual caveats and disclaimers, herewith my impressions of sixteen black inks:

Aurora: The most intensely black, with a neutral color. Copious flow, so that it almost feels as though one is leaving a ridge of ink on the paper. Moderate spreading, but no feathering. Works wonderfully in my driest pen, and I haven't dared put it in my wettest! Excellent water resistance (some ink washes off, but dark, clearly legible writing is left behind). The tall, thin bottle with its narrow opening may be good for traveling, but unless you're steady enough to join the Bomb Squad you'll have ink all over your pen and fingers every time you refill. Also available in proprietary cartridges, which also fit Parker pens.

Conway Stewart Aromatherapy Black: I have no idea why "Aromatherapy" is on the bottle, because I can detect no odor at all. Maybe it's supposed to be a neutral base for aromatic additives. That's fine, because this is great ink as it is: an intense neutral black color with excellent flow, even in my most finicky pen (just shy of Aurora in both characteristics). The water resistance is almost as good as Aurora's, too. It outperforms Aurora in having no spreading (so my e's look like e's), and no feathering or soaking through. Another similarity to Aurora is that it dries slowly. The surface tension of this ink seems high, so that it sometimes "hangs up" in the top of a convertor and causes skipping, but I have had no problems in my piston-fill Pelikans. The small, squat bottle is going to be a pain once the ink is one-third gone, and those with Pelikan M1000s might have trouble immersing the nib even with a full bottle.

DuPont: Nice intense neutral black color and very good flow, both similar to Pelikan's. It has the best water resistance of the whole bunch, leaving a distinct black line behind. It smells like those "tempra" paints we used in elementary school. Elegant-looking squat bottle could use a filling aid.

Herbin: This stuff doesn't merely flow, it pours from the nib! The lubrication is excellent, so that the nib glides across almost any paper. In my "driest" pen (a Pelikan 400, surprisingly) the flow is moderate. The ink has a considerable tendency to spread, on a par with Quink or Skrip, and it shares Skrip's tendency to feather and soak through on cheap paper. It is a moderately intense, neutral black color. Excellent water resistance. Small, squat bottle will make it hard to fill a pen with a large nib once the ink is more than a third gone. Overall, very similar to Skrip and a lot more expensive. I am told that this is a new formulation with a new label, and that the old version was better.

Lamy: Well-saturated, as intensely black as Aurora or Pelikan, and neutral in tone. The flow is good, but not quite as generous as Pelikan's, and not nearly as heavy as Aurora's or Waterman's. No spreading or feathering. Fair water resistance, leaving fuzzy greenish writing behind. The bottle is outstanding: The glass part is shaped like a mushroom, with the stem permitting the filling of large-nibbed pens even when the ink is running low. A plastic housing surrounds the "stem" of the mushroom to keep the bottle from tipping, and it houses a roll of plastic-backed absorbent paper for wiping the end of the pen and the nib. Neat!

Mont Blanc: Moderately black, with a "warm" (slightly reddish or brownish) tone. Sparse flow and poor lubrication. Little spreading. No water resistance at all, so that it disappears without a trace when wetted. On some papers, it fades to a brown over several months or a few years. Great bottle, third behind Lamy and Skrip in intelligent and useful design. Pity the ink inside is so bad. Also available in international cartridges.

Montegrappa: Intensity is on the weak side of moderate, and the tint is olive-green. Sparse flow, poor lubrication, and only slightly better water resistance than Mont Blanc. In fact, this ink is just like Mont Blanc, with a sickly green tinge. I have heard that this is a new formulation, and that the old recipe was much better, which is a shame.

Omas: Only fair saturation, just a notch more intense than Waterman. Rather sparse flow-well less than Pelikan/Cross, but better than MontBlanc. The color is neutral, and water resistance is good. No spreading or feathering. Striking octagonal bottle carries over the shape of Omas pens, but offers nothing clever to help filling.

Osmiroid: Weak brownish color. Poor flow. Little spreading. Poor water resistance. Cheap, and you get what you pay for. In bottles or international cartridges.

Namiki: Excellent flow, on a par with Pelikan, though it spreads slightly more than Pelikan, and has a greater tendency to soak through. It has a neutral black color that is similar to Quink in intensity but is more neutral in tone. Very good water resistance. The oblate, round bottle is a thing of beauty, and a clever internal plastic well makes filling easy as the ink level descends.

Parker Quink: Moderately black, with a "cool" (blue-grey) tint. Moderate flow. Moderate spreading. Good water resistance. I'm tempted to try mixing it with Aurora, as they are both acidic according to Greg Clark's book. Also available in proprietary cartridges, which (I think) also fit Aurora pens.

Pelikan/Cross: Intensely black, almost as intense as Conway Stewart and Aurora. Very good flow. Little spreading. Good water resistance (lots of ink washes off but legible black characters are left behind). This has become my standard ink, for its combination of properties rather than any one trait. Also available in short international cartridges (Pelikan label) and proprietary Cross cartridges (which only fit Cross pens).

Platinum: Slightly deeper black than Namiki, but not as deep as Pelikan; nice neutral tone. Very good flow, with good lubrication. Spreads slightly on the page but has little tendency to soak through. Very good water resistance. Comes in a 30 ml bottle with a tiny little opening, but at least the bottle isn't tall and thin like Aurora.

Private Reserve Velvet Black: Moderate intensity, with a marked "warm" (reddish-brownish) tone. Flow is fair, as is lubrication. This stuff reminds me of Mont Blanc, though its flow and lubrication are slightly better and water resistance is much better. The wide-mouth bottle is easy to use, but if your pen has a large nib it will be hard to fill after the ink is half gone (if PR and Aurora would just get their bottle designers together...). PR generally has intensely colored inks, so this wimpish stuff surprised me.

Shaeffer Skrip: Moderately black, with a neutral tone. Good flow, but severe spreading-it feathers whenever slight defects are encountered in good paper, and bleeds right through many lesser papers. The spreading and feathering are a problem even with a "dry" pen. Excellent water resistance. Comes in a very intelligent bottle with a small well along the rim. This ink would be a winner if not for the spreading and bleeding. Also available in proprietary cartridges which only fit Shaeffer pens.

Waterman: Weak, blue-grey color; only appealing if the resulting variation in intensity as the pen speeds up and slows down appeals to you. Excellent flow, almost as luxuriant as Aurora, with little spreading. Very good water resistance. This ink feels so good it would be my first choice if only it were more intensely black. Also available in long international cartridges.

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