I’m not really an ink collector yet I have managed to amass a few. Part of this was due to trying to find the ‘right’ inks for me before I discovered that in the UK The Writing Desk sold samples (Pure/Niche/Pelikan Pens also do so). It may also sound odd that this area of our hobby is not my scene to those who know me from pen clubs as I actually do enjoy swabbing inks and presently have three Coloring card decks on the go covering around 200 tests.

It was actually a recent Stephen Brown video that made me think about this creating this post. He made me realise that I tend to go back to the same inks time and time again and so I looked at which I regularly chose for the key primary colours and then what others were in my favourites list to make a top 10. I then added a few honourable mentions.

For each of then inks I used the following paper:

  • Midori – this does show sheen, not as well as Tomoe River, but then I do not have any of the latter.
  • Pelikan Hub 2018 gift – known to not be fountain pen friendly (the 2019 paper is great stuff) but it will allow the inks to spread and is also a decent white.
  • Oxford Optik – used just for writing samples and very fountain pen friendly paper. Reasonably good for showing shading, but bad for any sheen. A cheap readily available paper in the UK and the same as it’s sister brand Black’n’Red.

All the writing and swabs were done using a J. Herbin glass dip pen. All photos (aside from this one just below) were taken using three panel lights sets to 5600k, which is bright white.

All the sampling was done while standing at my kitchen table.

Black Ink – Lamy Black
While Parker Quink black was my staple at school, when I started using fountain pens at work and bought a couple of new Parkers I started to suffer from ink problems. Partly as a result of ink evaporation due to the caps not sealing properly, but there were also flow problems and some crystallisation going on. This included with a brand new bottle. I swapped to Lamy black as it was cheap and many of the problems went away. Since then I have tried a reasonable number of alternate blacks but none of them have made me feel I need to swap. Sure Aurora Black is truly very dark and consistent and would be the choice for many, however for me the Lamy ink is still one of the darker ones (though swabbing can still show grey hints). Additionally it has a slight golden sheen that I rather enjoy (despite not being a sheen person) though this has not come out on the tests I did for this article.

Blue Ink – Pelikan 4001 Royal Blue
This may be a cheap ink for a brand that pushes a luxury range, however it is extremely well behaved with some hints of shading. Additionally I have no worries about putting this ink in any pen regardless of age and condition, making it very versatile and that is why it has become my default blue.

Red Ink – Graf von Faber Castell India Red
I’ve always had problems getting a decent red ink. With a roller ball or gel pen you get a consistent bright fire engine red, though with no shading or character, but still it is red, not a pink nor orange. And this is where most fountain pen red inks fail for me as they are not true reds but rather mainly very dark pinks or very dark concentrated oranges. Problem is with dryer pens or certain types of paper you do not get a red line. There are a few that avoid this trap, but I find they tend to be weak in saturation and so might as well be a pink. A few years back Graf von Faber Castell introduced this new ink and I saw some interesting tests of it. I took a punt and do not regret it, though this was a risk as I’ve probably bought more samples of red than any other colour and up to this point still failed to find something I was truly happy with. It is a dark red, with almost a black outline to the edge of the writing. On the swabbing there is a little paleness, but not that you would notice in every day use. Only recently I discovered this ink is water resistant and I wonder if that’s partly what helps make it be so ‘red’.
One side note on GvFC inks. Cost wise they may look to be on the expensive side until you see just how much you get. Each bottle contains a massive 75ml of ink making it considerably cheaper than most of it’s rivals in the luxury sector.

Green Ink – OMAS Green
Another colour I’ve struggled with and a chosen ink I got by accident. Up to the arrival of this one I was using J. Herbin Lierre Sauvage (Wild Sage) but it never quite sat right with me. I bought an OMAS Ogiva Alba on eBay (with a 14k EF nib) and the previous owner included this part used bottle. I tried it and bingo! just what I’d been searching for.
I’m hoping ScriBo green is the same ink for when I finish the bottle, though it will be a while before I need to worry about that.

Turquoise – Lamy Turquoise
I am far from being alone in being a fan of this Lamy ink. I have tried many turquoise inks and still think this is amongst the best and certainly the best value for money. I think the reason it (and Lamy Black) may be ignored or overlooked by people is because their blue is nothing special and it would be hard to be nice about their green and red.

Orange – Pilot Iroshizuku Yu-Yake
One of the few high end luxury inks on this list. I’ve always enjoyed using Yu-Yake with it’s summery warmth. It brings a smile to my face. I prefer it to the ever popular Sailor Apricot and Mokusei, though the differences are marginal.

Brown – Akkerman/Diamine SBRe Brown
Normally an over hyped product leaves nothing but disappointment, yet this limited edition ink (think mine was 2nd or 3rd run of it) lives up to all the fuss. It is warm, slightly golden and shades nicely. P.W. Akkerman do have it back in stock, though it does become very expensive once you add postage. One for a group bulk order if you can’t make it to the shop in Den Hague.

My final three inks in this top ten either do not fall under a base colour category else duplicate one of the above.

Kyo-Iro Soft Snow of Ohara
I know a lot of people find this ink to be on the dry side but it has become the stalwart in my high end pens, especially my Nakayas. At first I was a little uncertain about the ink but then it rapidly grew on me. This dusty purple with grey hints in many respects fills the role of the traditional blue-black I tend to dislike. It works well both as an ink for business and formal use as well as for pleasure.

Diamine Earl Grey
I much prefer Lady Grey as my afternoon tea (this is actually true) but earl grey does have it’s place, oh and should only ever be drunk black. As to the ink, it is an interesting grey with a purple tint which, as with the Kyo-Iro ink on this list, works well for formal work. It makes an interesting alternative to black and has been the only ink used in my original ‘modern’ Onoto.

Lamy Turmaline
The Lamy ink of the year for 2020 and a star for me. I have bought so many bottles and samples of teal and turquoise inks in the past to find the right one for this to arrive and fill the requirement of both. I’m hoping that a year or two down the line Lamy repeat what they did with Star Ruby and re-release it as part of their Crystal range of inks. I do have a second bottle so have no worries for a long time.

Honourable Mentions
It was hard to cut the list down to just the ten inks so here are a few extras that I feel deserve a mention.

Franklin Christoph Sweet Maroon
This one almost went in as my red choice, though it is suitably named. Just a very nice ink that I’ve got others hooked on.

J. Herbin 1670 Émeraude de Chivor (Emerald of Chivor)
This was not my first glitter ink, but it is the one that has stayed permanently in the pen I use for greeting cards. A superb colour I would love to match with a none glitter ink and which was partly behind my pursuit of teal inks. Despite being from the earlier days of glitter ink I have never had a problem with this blocking feeds.

Diamine Cornflower
From Diamine’s flower collection, I was originally given a sample of this ink by a friend I used to swap with. It is a highly saturated blue ink with some nice shading. Certainly one for making a bold statement when regular blues just aren’t quite strong enough.

J. Herbin Poussière de Lune (Moon Dust)
My first burgundy in modern times and the main ink I used for a few years. I can hear readers thinking that there are burgundy and other wine related inks out there and none look like this, well forget those. Pour some of this in a glass and a Burgundy, Côte de Bourgogne or pinot noir in another and compare. The colouration is very similar. Spill both on some paper and again they look the same, let them dry and … – this is what a burgundy wine really looks like, not the maroon abominations that the manufacturers use the label for.

And now the writing samples for all of the inks together.

I was running out of ink on some of these, hence some faded parts.