I periodically check in on this thread on FPN, which basically asks which inks you’d rebuy if you suddenly lost your collection?
It’s great to read the huge variety of inks that people pick, both in terms of the colour families that they find impossible to live without, and the brands and inks they’re loyal to.
I have bought more than 250 bottles of ink over the years, and sold or disposed of about a hundred.
So it would be a real challenge for me to pick just, say, a dozen and feel true to myself that I hadn’t left a fabulous ink out — especially since you can approach the exercise in so many different ways. Do you pick the most beautiful inks? The best ones for fine nibs, or broad? The most suitable for work? A range to suit any unforeseen need? Argh!
But it’s worth a go, isn’t it?
One way in is to filter down quickly is to look at my brand preferences and my ink style preferences. I’ve totally got over the sheen, shimmer and saturation phase of my ink habit.
Now I appreciate lubrication and wetness, clarity of colour, and shading. I like inks that don’t clog or dry out, that clean out well.
As a result, a few brands dominate my collection. Montblanc, for one: I love the variety of colours and they’re always well behaved. And I’m a sucker for limited editions.
Birmingham for two: although I cleared out a lot of my lesser-used colours, they have an incredible flow.
Sailor (and Maruzen, Bungubox, etc) too, obviously: so many beautiful colours, generally intense and wet.
Of course, there are others even in my shortlist pile…
And now, how to categorise? To be honest, I use blues more than anything. Purples, oranges and greyscale inks sometimes. Browns and greens least of all. There are lots of colour categories I love — yellows, pinks — that are too light or bright for most applications, so I rarely keep more than one or two pens inked with them.
But a list of blues wouldn’t be much fun. So I figured I’d step around the colour wheel of my swatches and try to pick just a couple of inks from each colour category that I couldn’t live without. I ended up with 26, which fit on a page, and I stopped myself there.
Purples and pinks
Lamy Dark Lilac: what can I say about this ink? I like it enough that I syringed a couple of dozen cartridges into a little Nalgene pot so I can use it with piston fillers. It behaves well, the colour is deep and saturated, and I do like the sheen.
Montblanc Beatles Psychedelic Purple: the Beatles tie-in is probably my favourite Montblanc ink. It’s really vibrant, just that solid bit lighter that it doesn’t conflict with the Lamy.
Edelstein Star Ruby and Pilot Bishamonten: these are both very vibrant nearly hot-pink inks, with excellent flow and behaviour and gorgeous golden sheen. They are very similar in colour.
What’s missing? I have a few dustier red-toned purples that I used to use a lot. Herbin Poussiere de lune, Montblanc Lavender Purple, and Birmingham Vaudeville Regalia are all great inks that sit in the same general range and would fill a gap in this list.
True pinks don’t see much use for me. I like to swatch and play with inks like Sailor Sakura-Mori, Graf von Faber-Castell Electric Pink, and Herbin Corail des Tropiques, but they rarely make it to a pen for long.
Reds, oranges, yellows and greens
Montblanc Red Fox: this dull colour goes down like blood, with a loose flow and medium saturation. It shades and halos and looks very different from different pens, on different papers, and in different lights. I used to use several inks in this kind of range, including Diamine Blood Orange and Monteverde Fireopal, but they often suffer from nib crud.
Sailor Irori: I hunted for a true bright red for ages, and Irori fit the bill best for me. It doesn’t dull when it dries, and it has Sailor’s usual great performance. For a less punchy but still bright red, I use Montblanc Chine Red.
Penlux Mo Tangerine: I use this exclusively in my ASC Arco, where it’s wet and saturated but with a surprisingly dark tone, which makes it usable daily.
Sailor Kin-Mokusei: a true orange (as I wrote in my review), this ink is translucent and pops on the page. It also suffers less from nib crud than, for example, Montblanc Lucky Orange.
Montblanc Golden Yellow: let’s be honest, who really uses yellow inks? I got rid of most of mine, but I kept Golden Yellow. It is so warm and inviting, with an almost orange outline.
R&K Alt-Goldgrun: Alt-G is wet and shades well, with enough saturation and muted tone to be usable. I went through lots of brighter pale greens like Iro Chiku-Rin, Diamine Meadow, Akkerman #28, and Herbin Vert Olive before I figured that I had very specific tastes in greens.
I left out Robert Oster Bronze, Sailor Tokiwa-Matsu, Pilot Hoteison, Troublemaker Hanging Rice, and Edelstein Olivine and Adventurine. Eek.
I kinda wish I had included Montblanc Emerald, Montblanc Pierced Sky, Edelstein Aquamarine and other green-blue inks — but as you’ll see, I picked Bungubox June Bride to serve that niche.
Oh boy, the blues. I left out loads here that are in continuous use (for example, Montblanc Lapis Lazuli in my Scribo, Bungubox 4B in my Martele). I didn’t include any of my bright turquoises (Montblanc UNICEF, Herbin Bleu Pervenche) and I still have a huge list.
Bungubox June Bride: put this against other blues, and it looks green. Put it against greens and it looks true blue. This ink is bright, fun and like all Bungubox inks, deliciously lubricated and free-flowing.
Robert Oster Fire & Ice: the hot ink from a couple of years ago, I find it’s not as much of a sheen monster as its reputation led me to expect. It flows well and has a great colour. A little less green than June Bride.
Pure Pens Celtic Sea: permanently in my Aurora Nettuno. Like all the Pure Pens inks, it’s a fabulous performer. A little less green than Fire & Ice!
Edelstein Topaz: a real long-term favourite. Really bright, but noticeably darker than say Ama-Iro. A candidate for desert-island ink for sure.
Montblanc Greek Blue: I just love this ink — it’s like nothing else. It looks like a normal blue ink, perhaps a bit like Topaz, when it goes down wet. Then it dries powder blue. It’s also quite wet and behaves nicely.
Birmingham Truss Blue: This is a ‘true blue’, almost like a grown-up school blue. Like all Birmingham inks it behaves just perfectly, lubricating and taming nibs. I have it in my Namiki Urushi 20 and I never think about changing it.
KWZ Azure #5: I have used more than half a bottle of this ink, and that says a lot for me. In use this ink is magical. It is so smooth, and the colour is deep and rich. It also smells great.
Birmingham Celestial Blue: I have to say, I really struggled picking a blue-black. Bungubox 4B sheens too much. Maruzen Eternal Blue is awesomely wet but again sheens too much. Tsuki-Yo was an option, but I have several green-leaning blues here, and for that reason I also discounted Yama Dori and Noodler’s Air Corps. I have a few blue-blacks from Birmingham, including Boiler Steam, but Celestial Blue is a very solid performer and ended up with the pick.
Kobe #51 Kano-Cho Midnight: One blue-black that was easy to pick was #51. I have two bottles of this stuff, and I always have it in at least one pen. It is dark, luxurious, oily, and yet still behaves perfectly.
Troublemaker Abalone: of the three complex Troublemakers I have (the others being Milky Ocean and Petrichor), I like Abalone’s colour the best. There is something magical about chameleon inks like this.
Blacks and greys (and a brown)
Sailor Studio 123: well, of course I would include 123. I don’t always have it in a pen, but its balance of grey and purple is so hard to pin down, it’s captivating.
Kobe #53 Hitano Pearl Silver: given the number of grey inks I own, I’m always surprised at how little I use them. Birmingham Independence Grey gets a lot of use. Herbin Gris Nuage is pretty, as is Iro Fuyu-Syogun. Kiri-Same is warm and soft. Montblanc has Web Grey and Exploration Grey. The list goes on. But I picked Kobe #53 because to me it hits just the right level: not too cold, not too warm, not unusably light, not so dark it looks like a weak black. And of course it performs like a Sailor.
Bungubox Ink of Witch: Undeniably a top-five ink. It’s really a purple, but it behaves like a black. Feels like velvet, sheens prettily.
Iroshizuku Take-Sumi: I covered this before. There’s something great about the way Take-Sumi feels on the page. It looks almost blue next to Ink of Witch, but it is dark enough for my needs.
Kuretake Ryuno Black: And, ah, here it comes. It smells like soap. It is pigmented to within an inch of its life. The king of black inks.
Akkerman SBRE Brown: So, uh, brown inks. I have a few: KWZ Newky Brown. Maruzen Athena Sepia. Robert Oster Caffe Crema. Edelstein Smoky Quartz. Montblanc Single Malt. I don’t use them a lot… for some reason, I don’t get on with browns. But SBRE is probably the one I use and like most.
The pain of indecision
The more I run through this article the more gaps I see. Definitely need to add a proper turquoise, maybe Ama-Iro or Pervenche. The unclassifiable ‘taupe’ Swan Illusion is absent. I’d add a second, darker grey — Jeff Goldblum, perhaps? One of the powdery purples, probably Poussiere de Lune. A green, maybe Aventurine or Hoteison.
And that would take me up to 31. Which sounds like a lot, but, hell, it’s less than a third of my current collection. So it feels somewhat ruthless!
And if I had to pick a top ten from these?
- Montblanc Psychedelic Purple
- Sailor Irori
- Bungubox June Bride
- Pure Pens Celtic Sea
- Montblanc Homer
- Edelstein Topaz
- Kobe #51 Kano-Cho
- Sailor Studio 123
- Bungubox Ink of Witch
- Kuretake Ryuno Black
Ouch, that was hard. What would your top ten be?