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Treb's Brown Ink Guide
The definitive guide to brown inks!
from the fountain pen of Treb

A couple of words about my guide to the brown ink family are appropriate. My primary motivation was to determine which color is most appropriate for the task at hand.

As usual, YMMV. A brand that looks wonderful from one pen won't necessarily look as nice in another pen. And (as we all know) some pens are just plain picky. One brand that flows like the Nile from one pen may flow like molasses in another. Naturally my comments are based on my experience and are not the be-all or end-all of the topic!

My baseline brown ink is Sheaffer Brown. Possibly the "sturdiest" of the browns, it is neither red nor yellow.

I've made a somewhat arbitrary division of brown inks and sepia inks. Webster's New 20th Century Unabridged defines sepia as a dark, red brown. I include three inks in this category of dark, red brown: Higgins Sepia Calligraphy, Omas Seppia, and Pelikan 4001 Brilliant Brown. It is debatable as to whether the Pelikan really dark enough to be counted as sepia ink, but -- to my eye -- it is too red not be counted as sepia.


Conway Stewart Brown: a rich, milk chocolate brown with a suggestion of auburn. I have not used it enough to comment on its flow, but it appears to be excellent ink.

Higgins Sepia Calligraphy: The least red of the sepia family, it tends toward middle brown with medium auburn highlights. This is the "softest" looking color of the sepias. Over a period of time (years) it becomes a bit darker. It is sold in a nasty plastic bottle; it's best to transfer it to a decent bottle.

J. Herbin Café des Iles: A light brown with subtle reddish tones. The color reminds me of a camelhair coat that's been washed with a new red towel. I used to despise this color but it has grown on me. It is definitely great ink; I have only ever seen a single pen that doesn't care for J. Herbin ink.

J. Herbin Tabac: A light, pastel brown with no obviously discernable blonde or auburn tones. I'm still making up my mind what to think about this color; perhaps it will grow on me like Café des Iles.

Montblanc Brown: The color of the tan tops of a horseman's hunting boots. Suggestive of some half-remembered bright, cheap chocolate candy. It was sold in 100 ml. plastic bottles! ! I despised this ink when it was available (but used it every day, go figure). Discontinued.

Omas Seppia: A cordovan brown with deep, dark highlights. This is the deepest brown of the sepia family; it is certainly the most assertive of the sepia inks. It flows magnificently in my Omas but doesn't fare as well in some other pens.

Parker Penman Mocha: This is the darkest brown I have seen. I think of it as "Burnt Crispy Umber," "Used Motor Oil Brown," or perhaps "Dusty Old Bear Brown." Can be mistaken for poor-quality black ink (handy in government offices). It looks terrific on calligraphic parchment!
There is nothing I can say about Parker Penman ink that hasn't been already been said a hundred times. I husband my small supply and use it in pens with wet, wide nibs to bring out its best. Discontinued.

Pelikan 4001 Brilliant Brown: More of a sepia tone than a brown tone. Its reddish overtones make Brilliant Brown the brightest in the sepia family, although it does have some suggestion of blonde highlights. It is so reddish that one of my friends uses it to grade papers! It has stellar flow.

Private Reserve Copper Burst: A golden brown that really does look copper. It has a pronounced blonde hue, with pale, medium-brown highlights. Like its siblings from Private Reserve, Copper Burst flows beautifully.

Rubinato Sepia: A very light brown, quite similar to Café des Iles, but with blonde tones in place of the J. Herbin auburn tones.

Rotring Brilliant Brown: I expected another Pelikan-like brown because if its name. But it is really a true chocolate brown.

Sheaffer Brown: An earthy brown with no hints of red or yellow. It's a very easy ink to underrate, which is a shame as it is a first-rate performer.

Waltraud Bethge Papiere Pralinébraune: As nearly as I can tell, this is J. Herbin Tabac, available in a bottle.

Waterman Havana Brown: A mahogany brown. Its color is similar to a Brazil nut shell, or walnut wood stain. It has very dark highlights.


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