I’m working on another post on what one Slack user refers to as “emotional support pens,” but put it aside to write this little celebration of inks and swatching.
Have you discovered the joy of swatching ink samples? It’s the perfect combination of creative (because colors) and mindless activity that made it the ideal way to relax one evening during Spring Break. That evening I did something I thought was impossible — I filled up the last cards in my Col-o-ring.
Way back in 2019 (I think — time seems to have lost meaning), I discovered Ana Reinert’s (Well-Appointed Desk) creation, the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book. The original version is made up of 100 2×4 inch cards bound together by an openable ring with heavy cardboard covers on the ends. To hear about the exhaustive process she went through to find the perfect paper, listen to The Pen Addict Podcast Episode 250.
There are a ton of great reviews of this book going back to its creation in 2017 (Examples: Ken Crooker, Kelli – Mountain of Ink, Justin – The Write Experience, Junee Lim – Alt.Haven, and Susan – Pen Addict), so I’m not here to write a belated review except to say this little book works great, I’ve given several to pen-friends as gifts, and I have an order in for a new one plus a package of the Rolodex cards. This post is more a celebration of the inks and the joy of swatch.
In case you don’t use the Col-o-ring, it’s simple. To swatch ink, you pop some cards off the ring, swatch them, and then when they’re dry, put them back on. They can easily be shuffled, taken off for comparison, or just spread out in a lovely colorful wheel. Lots of people use cotton swabs, which I did at first, and then adopted a small watercolor brush. Swatching a single ink can be super quick and easy, but I tend to save up ink and samples so Thursday’s swatching was a roughly two-hour activity and intensely satisfying. My set-up reminded me of spreading out to do calligraphy — the rice in a cup is my way of steadying ink sample vials so I don’t knock them over.
At the same time, I’ve also started cataloging my inks at Fountain Pen Companion, a great site created by Urban Hafner that lets users index and keep track of their inks, pens, and what pens are currently inked with what ink. It can be slow-going, but since most of my inks had already been entered by someone else it was a lot faster than it could have been. The site has different ways to display data — my favorite is the color-banded visualization showing the range of ink colors.
One of my academic fields is digital humanities — it’s always interesting to see data visualized in such striking ways. Like the much-maligned word cloud, I find I always learn things I’m not expecting. For example, I expected the heavy emphasis on pinks, purples, and greens because in these cases I’ve ordered a bunch of samples looking for just the right ink for a new pen – the recently acquired Pelikan M605 White Green…
…the Pelikan M600 White Violet, the M600 White Pink, and, newest of all, to celebrate the cherry blossoms, Onishi Seisakusho x Bungubox Raden Sakura; these all make sense. I’m surprised, however, to see how many blues I have — I don’t think of myself as a blue ink user.
In addition to the ink samples I swatched today, twenty-four swatches on the Col-o-ring represent tiny bottles of Diamine ink from their 2021 Inkvent calendar. These took my number of shimmer inks from zero to — a lot and I may now be hooked For a look at this year’s Inkvent inks and also spectacular examples of what an artist making ink sample cards can do, see Nick Stewart’s Fountain Pen Art site. [Sorry Nick, but swabs on the cards is the best I can do — my sister got my share of artistic ability. I’ll try and improve with my next swatch book.]
Finally, brief takeaways from recent swatching:
- Platinum Carbon Black deserves its reputation for being king of the blacks — it has a color density and consistency I associate with calligraphy ink. It’s also got great flow — I’m glad I bought a bottle and have inked the Pelikan flex Gena made for me with it.
- Robert Oster Caffe Creama is the brown I’ve needed all my life. It’s a medium brown that doesn’t tip into yellow or orange. I definitely need a bottle.
- Bungubox Sweet Love Pink is the pinkest pink that’s ever pinked. I love this ink. Have I mentioned it’s super pink?
- Noodler’s 54th Massacusetts, a blue-black ink from a sample, left a blue residue that required more than a dip and swish in water to get it off the nib. Much as I love thenink’s name and the tribute it’s paying, I’m definitely not putting this stuff in a fountain pen. It may be my sample is contaminated or concentrated or something as there are positive reviews of the ink, but on my italic dip pen the stuff behaved more like paint than fountain pen ink.
- That said, I really like Pelikan Tanzanite and its purple-blue-greyness. I may need a bottle of this.
- This is all pretty impressive given three years ago I had a total of three inks.
So, how do you use ink? Are you a many-color person, or do you stick to one? Do you swatch?