Finding joy in black ink

Since I found myself getting into fountain pens, I’ve never really used black inks.

Grey inks, sure: a good grey can be as expressive as any other colour, ranging from a clean crisp silver to the colour of 2B pencil, and with an infinity of tints, from almost lavender purple, to murky fog-brown. But the point of black is to be a void; to be as, well, inky black as can be. If a black shades to a weak near-grey, I can’t help but consider it a failure.

Black inks by definition can’t delight with a novel colour or sophisticated shading. Even sheen detracts from the purpose of a true black. Without those qualities, I wanted more from black inks than they could give. Like a blind man who leans on his hearing, I wanted black inks to give me the perfect page-feel in lieu of colour: wet, lubricated, drying to crisp outlines.

So many of them let me down, even Aurora Black and Noodler’s Black, which are famed for their wetness and saturation. I went so far as to use Sailor Kiwa-Guro, a pigmented black, which I enjoy but to me it’s neither wet enough nor light-swallowing enough. Like a pencil shading, its line is too silvery reflective to call black.

I fell in love with a few near-blacks along the way. Bungubox’s Ink of Witch springs to mind. Technically, it’s a purple, but to all intents and purposes it’s a black. Not only is it deep and dark, with a gorgeous sheen, it writes like an oil-slick. It remains a favourite to this day.

Iroshizuku Take-Sumi caught my eye after a forum thread filled with people talking about its special ‘something’. Indeed, its flow is unique, even if it’s not the darkest black around. It tames a feedbacky nib, and writes with elegance and grace.

But I finally hit the jackpot when I invested in a bottle of Ryuno Black ink by Kuretake, ordered from Vanness, and now sadly out of stock. It’s scented like Sumi ink, comes in a beautiful grenade-shaped cut-glass bottle, and it writes like magic. It leaves a black hole on the page, and it is simply so smooth.

I went years without a proper black in my rotation, but since getting Ryuno I have been using it often. I still don’t marvel at the colour on the page as I would a beautiful turquoise or purple, but its depth and more importantly its page-feel are exceptionally hard to match.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’ve made my peace with black ink.


Edit: I’ve managed to source seven new bottles from Japan, at significant cost! I’m happy to sell five of them if anyone in the UK is interested. Including shipping and customs they cost me £40 per bottle. I’ll sell at cost plus £4 per bottle to cover shipping on.

18 thoughts on “Finding joy in black ink

  1. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Platinum’s Carbon Black ink — it’s my all-time favorite drawing ink, and pretty black (as black inks go). I’m not familiar with the Ryuno ink, so I’m not sure how the two compare. Thanks, as always, for the great post! Susan

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Anthony – I have that exact Ryuno black ink (also from Vanness; if I remember correctly they were they only outlet which stocked it outside Japan?). I guess you weren’t at the pen meet to which I brought it (some time ago, now, maybe a year)?

    I must admit I bought it for the gorgeous cut-glass bottle and haven’t used the ink yet, so it was great to see your review and know the ink is also worth having! Jackie


  3. Have you tried Nurebairo by Kyo No Oto? It’s the only true black ink I own, but I love the deep darkness of it. It’s permanently in my EF Pilot Kakuno 🙂


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  6. Thank you for this. I am trying to find a dark black ink with good flow that behaves well in a temperamental EF nib. I want to stay away from dry and pigmented inks. (Noodler’s Old Manhattan Black is great, but not the right thing for this particular pen.)

    I have Aurora and have heard all the raves … but don’t love the color; it doesn’t seem dark enough. Glad to read your similar take. I may now have to track down Ryuno and try Take-sumi. I hadn’t thought I’d find so much variation in black inks! What’s your take on Herbin Perle Noir?


  7. I love discussions of black ink. For printed books, industry practice is to use a slightly lighter shade of black printing ink. This is because too much contrast is fatiguing for the eyes when reading. Of course that does not speak to the pleasure of using a very black ink when writing.


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  9. I’ve actually been trying to find “my” black inks. I’ve had Noodler’s and Auroras and some of the most popular blacks and I always ended up giving them away because I never really enjoyed them. I really think that black inks can be like any other colour inks – some of them are a real bummer to use and some bring joy just by writing with them. I’ve found Sailor Kiwa-guro to be okay whenever I need a permanent black for work (but I am considering trying out the platinum carbon black down the line). But besides that I ordered some samples from Vanness:
    Kyo-no-oto Nureba-iro (looks blue black on swatch, haven’t put in pen yet)

    Kobe Fragrance of Sumi – it’s wet and black, but with the slightest bit of blue that throws me off.

    Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi – this one is interesting, like you said. It’s not the blackest black, but it just FEELS nice to write with.

    Colorverse Black Hole – a much much darker purple black than my Private Reserve Ebony Purple, looks black for all intents and purposes. I think the way you described the Bungbox ink of witch, as an “oil slick”, really matches this.

    Having read your piece though… I REALLY need to get myself a Kuretake Ryuno. Maybe off Rakuten or something.. wish there were samples available. Thanks for continuing to write. I really love your pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great review Anthony ! For the first time since I got into fountain pens I have taken an interest in black inks after reading this. Now I have got to me some Take-Sumi and Ryuno Black!
    Could you please tell me if Ryuno Black is permanent/water resistant? I can’t seem to find much information about it.


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