Ink swatches: more fun than filing has any right to be

If you spend any time at all on Instagram following pen-lovers, you’ll see photos of swatches. People have elaborate systems, and there are even products specifically dedicated to creating swatches — like the Col-o-ring, and “Currently Inked” notebooks.

There’s a very good reason for creating swatches. Simply, ink in bottles doesn’t look anything like ink on paper. And when you’ve got 50+ inks, it can be tricky to remember what any individual ink actually looks like. A book of swatches serves as a kind of index reference, which is really helpful when you’re comparing inks or choosing which one to put in a pen.

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Yep, I’ve got a Currently Inked book too! I need all the organisational help I can get.

I believe a good swatch system has only two basic attributes:

  • Extendability and reorderability. If you’re likely to buy or sell any inks in the future, you want to be able to move your swatches around to keep like with like, just like reordering books on a shelf.
  • Good paper. You want the ink to look at its best, showing off any desirable properties like shading and sheen.

Everything else — pre-printed sections, what have you — is gravy. You can go nuts including swatches of how the ink performs in different pens, its water-resistance, and so on, but I just wanted to get a patch of ink on paper.


I keep this one on the front because it’s SO DAMNED CHEERFUL

On a whim I picked some simple Campus-branded word cards from Kokuyo. I liked that they were big enough to get a decent swatch, and the simple keyring-style system keeps the cards together.


This was about $2. Good value.

I really liked the paper. Even when I laid the ink on thick, there was no bleedthrough of any kind. Unfortunately, there seems to be some batch variability. I used up the first ring that I bought, and ordered some more. The second one did show some speckling on the reverse side.


Damn you, bleedthrough.

For me, the process of creating the swatches was wonderfully enjoyable. I really loved the experience of going through my inks, looking at long-forgotten colours, and using it as an opportunity to draw with my daughter (I gave her the used cotton buds to play with — inky fingers ensued!).

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Even adults need to make a mess sometimes.

I set myself up a little production line: pile of cotton buds, kitchen roll, glass pen, water for rinsing, and of course the ink and paper. I kept it simple: I wrote the name of the ink with a glass nibbed pen, then swabbed with a cotton bud, as heavy as I could, but leaving room for shading. Then laid them out to dry.


Swatches are a great way to compare inks.

Almost as fun is the conundrum of how to organise the big pile of cards left over into a beautiful and logical rainbow.

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The trouble with the rainbow is that it doesn’t include brown, grey, pink or black.

In the end I made a separate ring for the grey-black spectrum. And the colour spectrum I ran from yellow round to pink.


Black never goes out of fashion.

What about the results? The paper is no Tomoe River (funnily enough, I took the opportunity to make a second set of swatches on A4 sheets of Tomoe at the same time), but it shows shading pretty well.


Cheeky Diamine Claret poking through the back there.


I still feel guilty for my ambivalent review of Aonibi.

Sheen comes through, too.


This one I wrote with a pen, not the glass nib. Damned inconsistencies.


Sailor inks can always be relied on to sheen.

Some inks — noticeably Herbin ones — feather, but not much else does.


You can’t see it in this shot, but all the Herbin inks (glittery or not) feathered.

I’ve got about 50 cards left over to cover my future needs, too. All in all, I’m really proud of my swatches — I sometimes get them out just to have a look through. Sad, maybe. But they make me smile.


This is the finished article. Quite proud of myself!


7 thoughts on “Ink swatches: more fun than filing has any right to be

  1. I admire the fact that yours are so neatly done. It’s a very therapeutic activity and good fun too! The only thing I added to mine was a number on each card, which matched up to spreadsheet. I mainly use it to stop myself buying the same ink twice. If an ink only features occasionally in my rotation, there’s a good chance that I’ll forget I have it between fills.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was really surprised actually at how much I enjoyed doing it… I was quite saddened when I realised I’d done every bottle!

    The number is a good idea. I’m not quite at the point yet of forgetting I have an ink, but I’m sure that’ll happen sooner or later…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, a labour of love — and colour! Now that you are done with that the next task could be to make swatches on little stickers that you can attach to the caps of your bottles. Another fun thing to do is filling your pens in rainbow style: Start with any colour and after emptying pass on to the next similar colour according to your swatch spiral. This could bring you through all your colours, althoug it might take a year or two … 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. this is very helpful! I just picked up a couple of these Campus word cards – the bigger size – to finally get all my inks organized! thank you for sharing this.


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