Most people buy a bottle of ink for what’s inside. But, as with wines and spirits, the bottle plays an important role in selling the ink — establishing its brand, quality and heritage. But, unlike with wines and spirits, the experience of actually using an ink bottle to fill a pen can make or break the experience.
On my shelves I have perhaps a dozen different bottle designs, and like most pen addicts I’ve developed strong opinions about which ones I love and loathe.
Love #1: Akkerman
I know I’m not alone in this. Given that many believe Akkerman inks to be rebadged Diamine inks, and that Akkerman is much, much more expensive than Diamine, it’s fair to say that at least part of the reason for buying the stuff is to get hold of the unique bottle design. It ticks all the boxes: generous capacity, stable base, wide neck to suit all pens… and introduces a novel way of enabling a full fill even when the bottle is running low, using a marble as a stopper. It’s genius. The only downside? The height. Not so great for small shelves or boxes.
Love #2: Montblanc shoe
This is a bottle designed with care and executed with grace. Solid, heavyweight ribbed glass to give a sense of presence. Beautifully machined cap for the prestige feel. Clear, readable labelling with colour-coding. Completely untippable. Straight sides for neat stacking. Low height to fit in drawers and shelves. Tilted neck for ergonomics, wide for all pens. And that bump in the bottom means that you can tip ink into the short end to make filling easier when running low.
Love #3: Pilot 70ml
This is a new addition to my flock. Its almost spherical design is unlike anything else I’ve got, and the main reason I like it — the bottle gives a touch of class to what’s really quite a cheap ink. One other neat touch: the plastic filling aid included inside the bottle. It’s better than the one that Sailor includes.
The mad scientists: Noodler’s, KWZ, R&K
These are the guys you don’t notice. The bottles that sit in rows on your shelves doing nothing flashy. Some, like R&K, almost make a virtue of their plainness, with their lab-ingredient metal screwcap. By contrast both Noodler’s and KWZ seem almost like knock-offs from a backstreet meth lab, with their amateur labels. But here the focus is on what’s inside. R&K is comically cheap, and inks like Alt-Goldgrun are fabulous performers. KWZ has rocked up with dozens of interesting colours that have equally interesting smells. And Noodler’s is probably most like that meth lab in reality: depending on who you ask, some of its ink eats pens, batch control is non-existent, and the inks have crazy names and origin stories like the latest street drug. For all that, I love Manhattan Blue.
Shout out to the miniatures: Iroshizuku and Herbin
I deliberately left Diamine’s little square plastic 30ml bottles off this list, even though I quite like them. Any bottle made of plastic to me doesn’t count (sorry Blackstone). But I appreciate the care in these two. Despite the small size (10ml for Herbin, 15ml for Iro), both have neat labelling and workably large necks; the Iro has a bit more flair, but frankly the Herbin is just bloody cute.
Hate #1: Herbin 1667
What a shitty bottle. The fake wax seal on the side gets in the way when you’re trying to line up your inks. The fake wax around the metal cap flakes off. The neck is painfully small (the same size as on the 10ml bottle above — I can forgive it there, but not on a 50ml). There’s nothing to help you fill the bottle when the level gets low — not that you’ll ever finish a bottle when half of your pens won’t fit in the neck. It’s all too fiddly for a bottle that you have to shake vigorously before filling. Can you tell that I’ve gone off shimmery inks?
Hate #2: Seitz Kreuznach
OK, I actually love this bottle. Who can resist ordering an ink called ‘Cognac’ that actually looks like a little hip-flask bottle of booze? I’m six beers away from accidentally taking a swig of the stuff. Also, it’s cheap and they give you 100ml of ink for the price. I can’t beat them up too much, especially since I quite like the ink. But look at it: the bottle is as long as many pens. There is no way you’re getting more than a couple of fills out of this beast before you have to decant the ink to something else first, or start using a very long syringe.
Obligatory mention: Iroshizuku
I have five of these beauties. They’ve got a lot going for them: distinctive design, weight and presence, and a little indent in the bottom to help you fill when levels are low. Yeah, and the neck is decently sized and the sheer weight of glass means they’re pretty stable bottles. I don’t know whether it’s just over-familiarity, or resisting cliché or what, but these bottles just don’t light my fire so much any more.
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed many common brands are missing from this list. The squat round Sailor bottle with its troublesome filler but pleasantly broad neck; the equally squat 80ml Diamine (whichever style). The clever Waterman bottles that you can lay on their sides, or the crazy Caran d’Ache Chromatics bottles that won’t do anything but lay on their sides. The Bauhaus Lamy bottles with their colour-coded caps and integrated blotting paper. The dull little Kaweco bottles with their bright paper seals. And of course all the brands that I don’t own bottles of (yet): Sheaffer, Visconti, Oster, Blackstone, Faber-Castell, Franklin-Christoph and so on. I hope you’ll forgive me for trying to keep this list selective!