my top five inks of 2017, and some other thoughts - ink between the teeth

Jan 15, 2018

my top five inks of 2017, and some other thoughts

Happy new year, everybody! Okay, seems a bit strange to say this two weeks into the new year, and after I posted last week, but you know how it is. I took a quick break to spend time with my family over my holiday break, and I'm ready to jump into 2018 with a post thinking about the old year—strange, I know. But I own about thirty inks, give or take, which is pretty much too many inks for one person to use in a sensible period of time. You know... they're just so tempting. I figured it's been a while since I really took a look at my collection and thought about my favorites, the inks I want to use every time I fill a pen.

I really only had one criteria while compiling this list: the ink had to be one that I filled at least one pen with, and used until dry. This left out a couple inks I got in December, but who knows—they might show up in the 2018 version of this post. Regardless, I still have a collection of about thirty inks to choose from!

I can't say this is a true top five, and indeed five is a bit arbitrary because otherwise this list would be thirty-ish inks long. The prospect of ranking any ink at #1 is like trying to pick a favorite child. Instead, I thought I’d take the coward’s—or, you might say in a slightly kinder fashion, a true ink enthusiast’s—way out, and give you a unnumbered list of my favorite inks I’ve used this year. And of course, I'm going to give you plenty of anecdotal information and about a thousand extra words you won't need. This is a long-ish read because, as you know, I ramble, so get a drink before you get started...

My Top Five

Diamine Sepia
This was a recent addition to my collection, but one that I rapidly fell in love with. I've always been a sucker for colors in this family, and when Mike at Massdrop gave me the option of choosing this ink, I went for it after looking at some swatches. I wasn't really expecting much, to be honest: the color was nice, but I'd seen much more of Diamine's other golden-browns, like Golden Honey.

Well, just a few short months later, and the ink hasn't left my TWSBI Diamond 540 Amber. Not in the I never reach for it way, but in the I would be punished by a cosmic force if these soulmates weren't kept together way. It's a gorgeously shading ink, especially in the butter line stub italic flex nib fitted on the Diamond 540, with an excellent near-firehose flow. The first time I brought this couple together, I ran out of ink within the week: it's an ink guzzler of a combination. I love writing letters with this pen and ink, and doodling with it, too. At some point I'll probably need to fill the Diamond 540 with something else, but until then, I'm pouring Sepia onto the page.

Pilot Iroshizuku Ina-ho
Surprising no one, Pilot Iroshizuku Ina-ho shows up on this list after the glowing review I slapped on it last year. There's something so fascinating about this color that I don't think any other manufacturer has managed to capture: a dusty grain color, a bit golden, a bit brown. It sticks out like a sore thumb among its yellow and brown peers. I picked up a sample of it after seeing it a bunch of times on other peoples' Instagram feeds, and I'm really happy that I did.

When I went to Taiwan recently—where the prices on Japanese inks are much lower than in the U.S.—I immediately purchased a large bottle of it at my local pen shop. This is not a minor note, I don't think; it's one of the few inks that I've picked up a full bottle of after testing out a sample.1 Ina-ho has great shading, especially in my cohort of broad nibs. It flows well, and any pen refilled with this ink is easy to reach for.

Some people have said that it looks a bit like baby poop. I, a person without a child and blissfully just under the age when one might be expected to do some baby-in-diaper sitting, have no idea if this is true or not. I hope it isn't.

Noodler's Air Corp Blue Black
This ink wriggled its way back into my heart after lying dormant for a while. I always forget that Noodler's inks tend to be saturated beyond reason, which is why they're so great for dilution. You can upend a bottle of Noodler's ink into a bottle of water and get away with it, I'm sure.2

Anyway, this ink was troublesome to use for the longest time. It smudged at a moment’s notice, largely because it never fully dried down—even if I put it in an extra fine nib, even if it was blotted (and it was never really blotted, anyway; there was just so much wet ink on the paper's surface that it would smear)—and it certainly didn't help that my paper of choice is Tomoe River. As a left-handed individual I have a lot of patience for smudging, just as a fact of life, but it was getting fairly ridiculous.

Well, the story is I got tired of another ink smudging. Just for fun, I dipped my pen into a cup of water, and tried writing with it. My writing was less saturated, sure, but it also dried much, much faster. Like, not overnight faster. I immediately escalated and dumped about 5ml of water into the bottle.3 Then I went dilution crazy and, in an act of vengeance (and boredom), I diluted every ink that caused me problems. And lo and behold, my problems were now drying in seconds rather than hours. I'm still planning on adding another 5ml or so to this bottle to try and bring the dry time down to around the 30 second mark. It's not perfect: Air Corp Blue Black continues to bleed slightly, but it's definitely far better than it used to be.

Air Corp Blue Black is a really interesting ink, not only because of its historical background, but also because of the color. It's ostensibly a blue-black, but it's not like any other blue-black I've seen; it has a bit of green to it, a color I'd be inclined to call evergreen-black. It’s a wet ink and plays well with my pens (although I do keep it away from my pricier pens). It doesn't really shade, but it does "halo," and I think it's a cool effect.

Sailor Jentle Rikyu-cha
Rikyu-cha is another recent-to-me ink that immediately jumped into my favorites, a sample transformed into a bottle. I hadn't heard about it in a good long while, usually because Sailor's ink lines are indecipherable at best, but I was walking around Wonder Pens and figured I might as well grab a sample. I'm super glad that I did, because now I know that it's a great ink. I've always had such a soft spot for these not-forest-green greens, and Rikyu-cha fits perfect in that slot.

There's something particularly magical about the way it shifts from green to this near-indescribable golden-brown-green. I've been fooled into thinking that the ink is sheen, just because it has this really interesting reflective quality to it when it's held to the light. The most similar ink out there is Pen & Message's Cigar, which is also made by Sailor, but there's nothing as accessible as Sailor Jentle's line in the U.S. I don't have anything extra to say about it, because the ink kind of talks all on its own.

Noodler's Antietam / Diamine Ancient Copper
I'm going to group these two inks together, because this is my blog post and I get to do what I want, but also because they're very similar. They're both orange-browns—Antietam a bit more orange, Ancient Copper a bit more brown—that take a decade and a half to dry without dilution. But I'm in love with the color, and they play well with being mixed with water to cut down on the dry time. I had a pen filled with one of these inks for something like six months straight, which was quite the accomplishment—it's only been within the past month that I finally cleaned the last drop of orange-brown so I could test out some new inks.4

Antietam and Ancient Copper are both wet, flowing very readily. If you use broad nibs with wet flow, you might want to dilute too, but with drier pens and extra-fine nibs you might just be fine using these inks as-is. Your mileage may vary, of course, but you get plenty of wiggle room.

Other thoughts

So what does my ink collection look like, you might ask. Good question! Like I said before, it's been a long time since I looked at my ink collection in a reasonable manner. I've picked up inks without thinking about what I already have, which means I have a few that are similar to others. That's my own fault, and I want to try to be better in the coming years about 1. using my inks before I buy new ones, and 2. having variance.

This section is gonna take a look at my collection and my obvious preferences in the hopes that I can be a little better in these regards! I include everything I own as of writing this post, except for ink samples I declined to purchase full bottles of. I used Goulet's Swab Shop ink groupings here, and used my best judgement for inks that don't appear on their list. Here's what I have:
And here it is in table form (italicized inks are those that were sent to me):
Red Pink Orange Yellow Green
Diamine Oxblood J. Herbin Rouille d'Ancre Faber-Castell Burned Orange J. Herbin Ambre de Birmanie J. Herbin Vert Empire
Diamine Poppy Red


Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Goldgrün




Sailor Jentle Tokiwa-matsu
Turquoise Blue Purple Brown Gray
De Atramentis Pigeon Blue Noodler's Air-Corp Blue-Black Diamine Tyrian Purple Diamine Ancient Copper J. Herbin Stormy Grey
Diamine Marine Pilot Iroshizuku Ajisai Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo Diamine Sepia Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun
Diamine Teal Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Bordeaux Noodler's Antietam Pilot Iroshizuku Kiri-same
J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor

Noodler's Kiowa Pecan
J. Herbin Vert Réséda

Pilot Iroshizuku Ina-ho
Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-ro

Sailor Jentle Rikyu-cha
Sailor Jentle Yama-dori

Robert Oster Signature Motor Oil
As you can see, I'm a big fan of turquoises and browns. My range in both is quite broad, however: Diamine Teal and J. Herbin Vert Réséda and Sailor Jentle Yama-dori are vastly different turquoises, so it's not really fair to compare them.

I've been trying to cut down on the inks that I have, which has been an uphill battle. I've personally paid for almost all of my inks, so I don't dislike any of them, but there are certainly inks that I don't reach for as much. I've decided to fill up sample vials and send them out to some friends, and also start focusing on using inks that I don't want to keep in my collection.

In that vein, I've decided the inks I want to move out:
  • Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo, Ajisai, Fuyu-syogun, and Tsuki-yo. Most of these are inks that I enjoy using, but they don't really get used as often as I'd like, especially since I've pinpointed the Iroshizuku inks I love. 
  • Noodler's Antietam. I know I say Diamine Ancient Copper and Antietam are very similar, but I prefer Ancient Copper's slightly browner tone, so Antietam will have to go. If I actually manage to empty one of these bottles it'll be a cause for celebration, though.
  • J. Herbin Vert Réséda. Diamine Marine is close enough (far more blue, but close enough) and comes in a bigger, cheaper bottle.
  • De Atramentis Pigeon Blue. Love this color but with so many other turquoise-y colors in the rotation this gets put on the bottom of the list a lot. It's time to help it find a better home, I think.
The inks I thought about moving, but have decided to keep:
  • J. Herbin Rouille D'ancre. It's a bit dry, but there's nothing out there like Rouille D'ancre. I went ahead and bought a 30ml bottle of it too, so it's in my collection for keeps.
  • Diamine Tyrian Purple. I don't use purples very much, but I'm hoping to dive into this ink more in the coming year. I'd kept it in my Stipula Splash for a long time, and I think it deserves a broad nib.
  • Noodler's Kiowa Pecan. It melted one feed. Hopefully not a second.
  • Faber-Castell Burned Orange and Diamine Poppy Red: Though I've had both of these for several months, I simply haven't had enough time to play with these inks, so I don't think it's fair to move them out immediately.
My hopes are that, by this time next year, my collection will look something like this:
Red Pink Orange Yellow Green
Diamine Oxblood J. Herbin Rouille D'ancre Faber-Castell Burned Orange J. Herbin Ambre de Birmanie J. Herbin Vert Empire
Diamine Poppy Red


Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Goldgrün




Sailor Jentle Tokiwa-matsu
Turquoise Blue Purple Brown Gray
Diamine Marine Noodler's Air-Corp Blue-Black Diamine Tyrian Purple Diamine Ancient Copper J. Herbin Stormy Grey
J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Bordeaux Diamine Sepia Pilot Iroshizuku Kiri-same
Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-ro
Noodler's Kiowa Pecan
Sailor Jentle Yama-dori

Pilot Iroshizuku Ina-ho



Sailor Jentle Rikyu-cha



Robert Oster Signature Motor Oil
Twenty-five inks is reasonable, right...?

And that's it! Those are my top five inks, and the inks I have on my little ink shelf, and a ton of extra words. I have lots of inks to try out in the new year, and lots of ink reviews to write up for you: I hope you stick along for the ride!

1 Okay, this is a bit of a skewed statement. I've purchased samples of, like, twenty inks, and bought the bottle for two or three of them. Usually I just spring for the bottle because I'm prone to decisions like that when it’s more early morning than late night and I'm already making bad choices. Regardless, it's a low batting percentage.
2 Who out there has been brave enough to go for a 1:1 ratio? If you have stared into the devil’s eyes and laughed like this, please tell me the results, and then teach me the secrets to immortality while you're at it.
3 If it helps, I specifically got water from filtered pitcher. What do you think I am, some kind of animal?
4 There are very few inks that I constantly keep filled. Diamine Sepia, for example, but only with my TWSBI Diamond 540 Amber, which might as well be the moment when all the planets align for me. Diamine Teal and Marine were it for a while, as well as Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Goldgrün. I'm trying to spread my ink use out though, so it might be a while before those inks make it back into the rotation.

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