Saturday, May 2, 2009

Fountain Pen Inks: To Shake or Not, and What's With That Smell?

I am by no means an ink specialist, nor do I play one on television. I'm just a girl that likes to use a fountain pen, play with inks, and share my findings.

Pumpkin Nib

It all started with this.

It's a Lamy Safari showing a major amount of nib-creep and crystallization with Diamine's Pumpkin ink. This is an extreme example most likely caused by my priming the converter a little too far, and then letting the pen sit. If I wipe the nib, I can get most of it off, but a line down the top of the nib does re-appear when I write. A future review will be written about this ink, which I happen to absolutely love.


As I sit here at my computer, there are several bottles of ink on my desk waiting to be reviewed and I happen to take notice of sediment developing at the top of one of my 30ml plastic bottles of Diamine. This shot shows the sediment in the bottom of one of the bottles. I believe it's the Pumpkin.

Then I start to wonder, because I've never really noticed sediment in any of my inks before and I wonder if it might have something to do with the plastic bottles as all three of my plastic bottle Diamine inks (Maroon, Poppy Red, and Pumpkin) have sediment in them.


So I grab my glass bottle of Diamine Imperial Purple and low and behold, more sediment. Lots & lots actually, and it happens to look very reddish in color.

Diamine Imperial Purple

I spend a lot of time over on The Fountain Pen Network and I've always read that you aren't supposed to shake yer ink. That sediment is bad, and that it could do horrible nasty things to your pens. That ink is supposed to be made up of particles in suspension...

Maybe this is why some people say that their inks don't look the same as other people's. If I didn't shake this ink, I would think that it would be leaning more towards blue than red.

Image above is after I shook the heck out of the bottle. Sediment gone!

Ink Experiment

Curious if this sediment issue was evident in inks other than Diamine, I decide to conduct an experiment that consists of me turning over several different brands of ink and seeing if there is any sediment in bottom of the bottle.

I checked about 6 bottles of Herbin ink and I found very little to any sediment in any of the bottles. I noticed a little bit in the Eclat de Saphir and Bleu Pervenche.

Checked two bottles of Sailor ink - no sediment at all.

Checked three bottles of Noodlers. Sediment in all three. Red-Black was the worst, Squeteague the least. BP Black had some.

All of my Diamine has sediment - Purple & Pumpkin being the worst and Maroon the least.

Curious & Curiouser.

The lack of sediment in the Sailor inks got me thinking. Those are some of the smoothest flowing inks I own, but open the bottle and take a whiff and the chemical smell will almost knock you over. Perhaps there is an additive to better keep the ink particulates in suspension.

Herbin inks either have just a plain "ink" smell, or they have a nice sweetness about them.

The Diamine inks all smell like seawater with a very slight mustiness. Not unpleasant at all.

The Noodler's Red-Black & Bulletproof Black only had an inky smell, where when I smelled the Squeteague, I got knocked over with a super strong ammonia smell that stayed in my nose for about an hour. (Reminder - don't smell that ink again or put it in the giveaway box.)

So what does this all conclude? I have no idea. These are all highly respected ink companies, and I just can't imagine that they wouldn't thoroughly test their products before putting them to market. Fountain pen inks are water based and unlike India Inks and Calligraphy inks, do not contain shellac that can bind to the inside of a fountain pen and destroy the feed. In theory, FP inks should all be able to be flushed from a pen using plain water. Though I am well aware of certain inks by certain manufactures that have a higher probability of staining than others - but IMHO, staining is different than clogging.

I appologize in advance if this post is leaving you with more questions than answers. It just all got me thinking...

I keep getting e-mails from people if they can use one kind of ink or another in their fountain pen and I don't really know how to answer them. I would think that if it said fountain pen ink on the label, that it should be safe - BUT - it's ultimately your decision on what inks to put in your pens. Do your research, ask questions, and ultimately remember, YMMV. (Your mileage may vary. )


dsmoen said...

I think it's just that some of the dyes settle out for some inks. Squeteague isn't bulletproof (or near-bulletproof), and the bulletproof ingredients in Noodler's seem to make those inks more prone to settling.

I think the admonition about not shaking is mostly to let particles that aren't supposed to be in one's ink into the pen. Clearly, in the case of the above inks, they were intended to be.

Beth T Irwin said...

This is why I stick to Herbin inks in my pens that cost the equivalent of a mortgage payment. I'd be willing to risk sediment and blockage in a cheap pen I could easily replace. But a hand crafted work of art that must be sent out of the country for months on end or cost me the equivalent of several cheap pens for repairs? No!

Herbin have never yet clogged a pen or stained one. So my cream resin Visconti Romanica Vermeil drinks nothing but Herbin. No stains and no feed problems.

arpitk said...

My experience with Diamine inks (the ones with all that sediment) hasn't been all that great. Even though the grapevine says they are specially suited for vintage pens, I found that if the nib was exposed to air for even a few seconds, the ink would dry off and only after vigourous shaking would start writing on paper again. I had this problem with all my vintage pens using Diamine inks. After sending a few pens to the repair shop, I realised that the problem was with the ink not the pen. Changed the ink and almost all pens started working beautifully again. Sediments may hold the clue to what may be wrong with Diamine inks - maybe they clog the feed or something.

The Missive Maven said...

I've read, on the beloved FPN, that inks SHOULD be shaken, that it can't hurt. I certainly always shake my Noodler's, and I've gotten in the habit of shaking any and all inks before I refill. Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

I had used vintage inks without any worry or fear for many years long before there was Noodler's. Regardless of ink manufacturer the following kept my pens running well:

1. it is good to rinse your pen regularly - despite what some people claim, rinsing a pen clears it of the dust that moves upon it from the paper as well as from concentrates that can form due to the exposure of the wet pen surfaces to air (any ink bottle can dry surprisingly fast if one leaves the cap off...and when the water is gone all inks will leave behind sediments)

2. a good rinse would be 50 parts tap water and 49 parts household ammonia with 1 part liquid dish soap (a good sized drop per pint would be fine).

3. I rinse my pens very well whenever changing inks - especially if the inks have different pH levels. I tend to also rinse my pens every other filling or so - as needed (if writing often and using up ink at a rapid rate - less rinsing is needed).

I hope this information helps. Noodler's tries to enable the fountain pen to be competitive with all other writing instruments for durability - and to expand the dominance of the fountain pen in color selection over all other writing instruments (afterall, a ball point only has the color of its cartridge!).

Anonymous said...

Different inks smell differently because they ARE different. There are different dye families which have different properties including smell. Some companies opt to only make a single dye family and no others because ink is an accessory to their product - not the product itself. Other companies make ink, not the ink IS their product and thus it is not "just an afterthought accessory in some nice packaging that must be subservient to the pen". That is why the selection is greater with the ink companies - they offer far greater choice to the user of ink because they have a wider selection that includes not just one single dye family...but MANY. Every vintage ink except carmines has eventually exhibited sediments (carmines like Shah's Rose you can hold up to a light bulb and you'll see what I mean - even 1890s carmines can still be found today without sediments!). Some inks respond to shaking with increased shading - others respond to it by re-establishing their structure in the water lattice, and still others do nothing. Shaking Shah's Rose or Nikita will never change it - but shaking "The Color of the King" after being in a hot room for 4 years or so will make it a darker color (heat can cause some inks to form what appear to be sediments by distilling...evaporating/condensing them in the bottle over and over again - this is most pronounced in certain vintage 1940s-50s inks that can not be reconstituted made by a company that once upon a time was based in New York...they can be seen at many pen shows as "half and half" - half clear and half dark). In addition, it is possible to destroy an ink if one forgets to remove a different ink from a pen and expels an acid or metallic salt based ink into a bottle of a very different ink while refilling - it can cause the ink to react as if to a catalyst. Thus, it is very important to remember - rinse the pen before refilling with a different ink.

If you buy a pen to use as a pen (what a concept!), then you should feel free to use any ink that pleases you. The pen is a writing tool, and the fountain pen is the most versatile of all writing tools with the greatest possibilities of different colors, utilities, and shading...when the user feels free enough to utilize the designs greatest capabilities.

If you buy a pen as a museum piece - it should be locked up and if ever filled...filled only with water. You should also remove any rubber sac from such a museum piece pen - or the gases the sac releases will discolor your museum piece.

I don't own any museum piece pens and won't own a pen if I believe it is too weak and fragile to ever USE as a pen!

Just my $0.02 - posted here by request for your additional information. ;-)

John said...

One thing to consider is the term "saturated" with respect to inks. In physico-chemical terms, this means that a solution holds the maximum quantity of dissolved materials for the specific local temperature and pressure conditions of the solution. Generally speaking, if the temperature is increased, the amount of dissolved material increases, but if the temperature decreases, the amount of potential dissolved material also decreases.

What does this mean in the real world ? Simply put, a saturated solution that is cooled will then precipitate out solids which generally fall to the bottom of the container. If this happens, and the local temperature increases, the precipitate may well just sit on the bottom of the container until the container is agitated. There are a complex set of conditions for the precipitate to just re-dissolve that are beyond the scope of a blog comment (and probably boring to readers as well !).

If the precipitate gets into a pen, it might possibly (temporarily) clog the pen, but it's very likely to simply dissolve in clear clean water used to flush the pen.

Chemical precipitation is another matter. This could occur with contamination of the ink with another material where a chemical reaction occurs resulting in a non-soluble precipitate. Another mechanism is "cooking" the ink with chemical breakdown of a component of the ink. "Old" ink can also chemically break down resulting in precipitates. All are bad mojo for fountain pens, and the reason that most prudent FP owners flush pens very carefully when switching ink types and colours.

The (relatively) short version on all of this is that if a person has relatively new ink that hasn't been long-cooked in the sun / roasted in a hot car for weeks or mixed with an incompatible material, shaking the bottle to re-dissolve precipitates is likely a perfectly OK process.

Anonymous said...

Very good article. For the first time I have noticed a sediment in one of my J Herbin inks, but the ink itself doesn't have any unpleasant smell. I guess it's still okay to use?

- Sailor Kenshin

Biffybeans said...

Sailor -

I can't answer your question because I don't know what is in the bottom of your bottle. It could be contaminate like mold, or undissolved pigment particulate as you see in the images above. I will say one thing.... If I knew it wasn't there before, I'd probably toss the bottle.

Joe Rogers said...

Possibly get a geeky science friend to run some samples through a centrefuge?

JohnM said...

It's interesting that you mention that Noodler's Bulletproof Black needs to be shaken. My bottle was bought about six months ago but I haven't used it for perhaps four months. Anyway, I filled a pen with it that had previously only ever contained black Sheaffer Skrip, having carefully flushed it out with water and allowed it to dry first.

I didn't shake the Bulletproof Black bottle because I never have shaken bottles of ink - normal fountain pen ink is, after all, a solution of dyes in water, not a suspension of pigments. That is, incidentally, the difference between a dye and a pigment - a dye is soluble in the chosen liquid (in the case of fountain pen ink, the chosen liquid is water) whereas a pigment is not. True, there are some pigment-based fountain pen inks on the market (such as Sailor's Kiwaguro) but they are made using modern processes that ensure the pigment particles are so tiny they remain in suspension both in the bottle and in the pen.

Anyway, I filled the pen and wiped it with a soft cloth and started writing with it, expecting the Bulletproof Black to write with a dense line as I remembered it doing when I bought it. Instead, though the pen laid down the ink quite wetly, it produced a very insipid grey line, paler than Lexington Gray, for example, and much paler than the black Skrip that it has replaced.

I've since flushed that fill of ink away and refilled the pen from the same bottle after giving it a good shake and the ink is now writing as dark as it ever did, so from now on I'll shake it before refilling, though it troubles me that I have to. Perhaps I'll revert to the black Skrip as it was never any trouble, it was nice and black - just not waterproof.

Inks that are considered safe and well behaved, such as Waterman Florida Blue, are often criticised as not being very intensely coloured, while those inks that are very colourful can often cause problems. I think Anonymous makes a good point in that the more intensely coloured inks contain much more dye dissolved in their water. If some of that water evaporates and then the temperature drops the concentration may just become too strong for all the dye to remain in solution. I think that is probably what is happening with your Diamine Pumpkin. A bottle of Waterman Florida Blue, having less dissolved dye, would have to lose much more water by evaporation before it becomes so concentrated that a sediment forms.

Puru said...

I noticed the same in Diamine ancient copper and Diamine rustic brown inks. I hated it, it makes nib look disgusting. i sold both the bottles in Ebay for a huge discount. i am wondering , should i stop buying diamine inks.

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