Knowing Your Ink: Tips on Finding the Best Fountain Pen Ink

Knowing Your Ink: Tips on Finding the Best Fountain Pen Ink

Fountain pens have become increasingly popular in recent years. And it’s no surprise because fountain pens and ink are fun to write with. They are available in a wide variety of price points, colors, and options too. Best of all, they are excellent for more expressive writing (different thicknesses, unique colors, etc.) compared to other types of pens.

Unlike ballpoint or rollerball pens, fountain pens and fountain pen ink require some extra care and skill. And knowing all the important things about pens and inks can help you avoid all the hassles.

So let’s learn about one of the essential knowledge bases of fountain pens – the fountain pen ink.

Inks in Cartridges and Bottles

The first thing you have to decide is whether you want to use ink cartridges or bottled ink. Some pens can only use one or the other, which makes the decision a lot simpler.

Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, and the one that’s best for you will depend on your preferences.


Cartridges such as the Dryden Designs Assorted Colors Ink Cartridges are simple and easy to use. You pop one in to the pen and just remove it and replace it when the ink is all used up. This is especially convenient if you’re using your pen on the road.

Many pens use a standard cartridge design called—appropriately enough—”standard international” style. Pens that use these standard international cartridges give you access to a far larger selection of colors than other cartridge-filled pens.

The biggest downside to using cartridges is that they just don’t come in nearly as many colors as bottled ink. Even if your pen uses standard international cartridges, you have less than a tenth as many choices as bottled ink users do.

Cartridges also don’t give you nearly as much ink for your money as bottled inks do. They’ll cost you more in the long run if you do a lot of writing. But of course, you can refill your cartridges too from your ink bottles.

If these downsides don’t sound like a problem to you, however, the cartridges are a fantastically convenient way to fill your pen.

Bottled Inks

Bottled inks are ideal for intermediate users and intrepid beginners who don’t want to limit their choice of colors. They come in an order of magnitude more colors than cartridges, and they include specialized options like waterproof and fraud-resistant inks—something you’re not likely to find among cartridges.

A bottle of ink will generally cost more than a pack of ink cartridges, but even the most expensive luxury inks will save you money in the long run if you use it all.

The main downsides to bottled ink are:

  • they are a bit more complicated to fill your pen
  • bottles are a pain to travel with if you want to take your pen on vacation or a business trip.

Considerations When Buying Fountain Pen Inks:

Here are the things to consider when choosing a new fountain pen ink. Some of these factors are difficult to quantify and can vary depending on the specific pen and paper you use the ink with.

If you like a particular ink but aren’t sure if it really suits your needs, take a look at what people who’ve used it before have to say.


Take some time to just look through the color swatches of different inks until you find one that you really like.


There are a few inks that are truly waterproof, but even they can smear if they aren’t used in the right conditions. If you need your writing or drawings to be 100% impervious to water, you may be better off using a technical drawing pen.

On the other hand, if you just want to make sure your notes stay legible if they get a little wet, there are plenty of inks for you to choose from. Many fountain pen inks are at least moderately water resistant. This means that they will smear if they get wet. But most of what you wrote will still be legible enough for you to reconstruct it on a fresh sheet.

Paper Quality

While this isn’t really an ink characteristic, paper quality has a huge impact on your choice of ink. If you will be writing on your own paper and are willing to get good fountain pen friendly paper or notebooks, you can use just about any ink you want without any problems.

On the other hand, if you’ll be writing on random printouts and other paper that you don’t get to choose, you’ll want to stick to an especially well-behaved ink to minimize problems like feathering and bleed-through.


Fountain pen inks are made with water and colorants. These colorants come in several different types, each of which has its own unique characteristics to consider when choosing an ink.

1. Dye-Based Inks

Dye-based inks are by far the most common and the type we are most likely to recommend to a beginner. They come in the widest variety of colors and usually provide the most vibrant colors.

Dye-based inks are also low-maintenance. You should still clean your pens regularly, but failing to do so won’t do any harm to your pen. Dyes are inherently water-soluble, so even if they do dry out and clog your pen, you can almost always clean it with just water.

This property is also why most dye-based inks are not waterproof.

2. Pigment-Based Inks

Pigment-based inks offer greatly improved permanence at the expense of reduced color variety and higher maintenance requirements. Unlike dyes, insoluble particles that become embedded in the surface of the paper and are waterproof once dry.

Because pigments are not water-soluble, it is essential to clean your pen regularly and not let any pigment-based inks dry out inside your fountain pen.

Aesthetically, pigment inks are not available in as many colors as dye-based inks. They also tend to be less vibrant than dye-based inks, often developing a somewhat flat or chalky finish when they dry.

3. Iron-Gall Inks

Iron gall inks are highly waterproof and could be readily made from common natural materials. They also have the captivating property of darkening as they dry, creating a really cool shading effect.

However, these old iron-gall inks can be incredibly corrosive, destroying the pens and paper they were used with. But modern iron-gall inks are much gentler and safe to use in fountain pens. They come in a variety of colors, but the color usually comes from dyes that aren’t waterproof. So if your writing gets wet, the ink will turn dark gray as only the oxidized iron particles are left behind on the page.

4. Shimmer Inks

In recent years, manufacturers have started producing more and more glitter-infused “shimmering” inks. They’re incredibly cool and safe to use in pretty much any pen. However, they should be cleaned out regularly like pigment-based inks. This is to ensure that the glitter particles don’t build up in your pen over time.

The glitter effect is most noticeable when you use shimmer inks in a pen with a broad, wet nib. With a very dry or fine nib, the glitter particles will still make it onto the page. However, they will be too spread out to create a noticeable shimmer.

5. Scented Inks

Some fountain pen inks have added scents to stimulate your senses as you write. The scent generally fades after a day or two, so it’s best to deliver any letters you write with them in person.


Flow—or “wetness”—refers to how quickly an ink flows through a pen. The wetter an ink is, the more quickly it flows and the more ink is put onto the paper as you write. In general, wet inks feel smoother than dry inks, but dry inks are less likely to feather or bleed through average-quality paper.

Some people prefer wet inks, and others prefer dry inks. Pens can also be wet or dry, so it’s often helpful to choose an ink that compliments the wetness of your pen.


Saturation refers to how much colorant is in an ink. Highly saturated inks are dark and vibrant, whereas less-saturated inks are paler and more transparent.

The visual aspect of saturation can be easily seen in color swatches or writing samples, but saturation can also affect an ink’s performance.

In general, highly saturated inks take longer to dry and are more prone to smearing after they dry. Highly saturated inks can also cause dye residue to build up in your pen’s nib and feed over time. This is usually just a cosmetic issue. Any performance issues caused by clogging can be easily fixed by flushing out your pen with water.


Shading is where ink appears darker in some areas and lighter in others. As you write, ink tends to pool at the beginning and end of letters, as well as loops where two lines intersect. The effect is a unique gradation of color intensity from letter to letter.

Your pen and paper also play a big role in shading. Smoother paper promotes more shading since the ink has more time to pool into high-concentration and low-concentration areas as it dries. Pens with average wetness also promote shading. If a pen is too wet or too dry, there will either be too much or not enough ink for it to pool up in places as it dries.

Shading is a fascinating and unique element of fountain pen inks, but not everyone enjoys it. For some people, too much shading is distracting--or just doesn’t look good.


Sheen is when an ink appears to have a metallic finish distinct from its normal color. If you’ve ever written with a ballpoint pen and noticed that it seemed to have an almost metallic shine when viewed at an angle, that’s also sheen.

Sheen is caused by dye or pigment crystals forming on the surface of the paper instead of absorbing into its fibers. As with shading, pen and paper are a huge factor in whether or not you experience sheen. Not all inks are prone to sheening. Even the ones that do sheen will only do so if it isn’t fully absorbed into the paper. So naturally, less-absorbent papers and wetter pens are better if you want to get as much sheen as possible.

Final Words

With so many inks to choose from, it’s often practically impossible to narrow down the options to The One Perfect Ink. And that’s fine. In fact, choosing the right ink can be fun. Think of it as exploration.