Part of why I don’t hear much about Caran d’Ache might be that I live in the US. There are very few pen stores here, so most of us don’t get many chances to browse and discover unknown pens or inks.
And there is no lack of inks. A lot of us have old reliable standards. For me that’s Waterman. And sometimes you find a new brand that knocks your socks off; for me, that’s KWZ.
With Caran d’Ache, a huge issue is price. Caran d’Ache ink is expensive. A 50 ml bottle of a Caran d’Ache Chromatics ink goes from $32 to $45 at my usual US sellers. I can find a bottle for less in Europe, without VAT, and sometimes I can find it here on sale. But the Caran d’Ache price is in the upper echelon, to say the least.
That high price means a lot of people don’t even consider Caran d’Ache inks. Which is understandable. That price will make even someone who likes the ink pause. When I buy a bottle of Caran d’Ache, I consider it a treat.
But price can’t be the only reason.
There are other ink brands in Caran d’Ache’s price range which seem to sell well, and to gain internet buzz. Three or four years ago, the hot inks were Pilot Iroshizuku inks. In the last year or two, highly touted inks have been the Japan-only inks made by Sailor, like Bung Box inks. And those are expensive, too.
It’s possible that in the fountain pen world Caran d’Ache lacks the cachet of a brand like Montblanc. When you think of Caran d’Ache, you probably think of pencils and artists materials. Caran d’Ache has neither the extensive portfolio of fountain pens that Montblanc offers, nor Montblanc’s long history in fountain pens.
That kind of prestige can make it easier to accept a very high price.
I mention Montblanc because the Caran d’Ache inks I’ve used remind me of Montblanc inks — in behavior, look and quality. Also of Kaweco inks. I think the inks from those three brands have a lot in common, and as I’ve said before, there are other brands, too. These are all good inks in my experience.
When you buy a current Caran d’Ache ink, you get a terrific bottle. The Caran d’Ache Chromatics bottle is heavy and attractive, and its design is as useful as I’ve ever seen in an ink bottle, with a tilting base and a very wide mouth that makes filling a pen very easy. Also there’s the excellent hexagon shape.
And people do sometimes buy ink for the bottle: Akkerman ink is an example.
But while Akkerman got a lot of buzz just for the ink bottle, Caran d’Ache didn’t.
Now, Akkerman was hard to obtain, especially when it first came out. Like Bung Box. Are inks that are harder to find more buzzworthy? Do they attract more eyeballs online? Do they have an added mystique? I suspect there’s something in that.
Perhaps another part of the lack of buzz for Caran d’Ache may be the style of ink. Caran d’Ache makes inks that generally are in standard colors, are not highly saturated, and do not advertise special qualities like permanence. And I suspect that inks that are the opposite are initially more popular.
Noodler’s inks would be a great example of a brand with inks that tend to be highly saturated and offer innovative colors or features. Noodler’s attracts a lot of online attention, even fervent fandom.
But if Noodler’s might have helped start a trend, a lot of brands have joined in. That includes Diamine, De Atramentis and even Montblanc in its permanent line. Even Lamy, now: the only Lamy ink that I’ve seen attract internet excitement is the highly saturated, sheening Dark Lilac. Then there are the shimmer inks sold by Diamine and J. Herbin.
The popularity and buzz around these inks makes sense. Something new and different, something darker or brighter, is always going to attract notice. Something with special qualities will generate more discussion and interest. It does for me, too.
Caran d’Ache inks have quieter virtues. The ones I have tried are exceedingly nice to use in a pen, lovely on the page and seem very high quality. They also have been easy to clean out of my pens. I don’t worry about putting a Caran d’Ache ink in an expensive or delicate pen.
The standard colors aren’t super exciting, perhaps. Take Idyllic Blue, Caran d’Ache’s standard blue ink. It’s a gorgeous pure blue. But is it $20 better than Waterman Serenity Blue? Or even $20 different?
Objectively, probably not. But subjectively, I love using it. I prefer using Idyllic Blue to Serenity Blue.
That’s not economically rational. I know that. In fact, after giving in to temptation and buying Idyllic Blue, I now avert my eyes from Caran d’Ache Cosmic Black. Out of fear that I might really like that one, too.
Is it worth $20 more to have an ink you really like, instead of an ink you just like?
That’s an issue I wrestle with. I even feel a little guilty about having bought Idyllic Blue. However, a funny thing happened yesterday. In the middle of writing this post, and thinking about this very issue, I took the dog for a walk. And I found a $20 bill on the sidewalk.
Now I can’t say for sure that this was a message from the universe. But the timing was pretty amazing.
I can say for sure that I’ll be walking the dog along that same route for the next few days.
But getting back to ink, let’s look at green ink. Caran d’Ache has a very nice medium green called Vibrant Green. Vibrant Green is probably the most attractive “regular” green ink I have ever used. If I didn’t already own Kaweco’s excellent Palm Green, I’d want this one.
So we’ve got some Caran d’Ache inks in standard colors that are excellent examples of a standard color. I think excellence, or quality, is a good reason to talk about an ink, and even buy it. But some other Caran d’Ache inks are just a little out of the ordinary, perhaps even a little wilder or brighter than you’d expect.
First for me is Delicate Green, which is a fun, bright, springy light green. I have a thing for light green ink, and Caran d’Ache Delicate Green is my absolute favorite. I think it’s better than Chiku-rin, better than Diamine Meadow, better than Vert Pré. I could use it all the time.
Then there’s Electric Orange, which is my second favorite orange ink ever. My favorite orange ink ever is its predecessor, the now discontinued Caran d’Ache Saffron. I will miss Saffron when I finish my bottle. But I don’t mind, because there’s Electric Orange which is also really great.
Along the same lines is Divine Pink, which is a completely satisfying replacement for Caran d’Ache Sunset. Which probably was my favorite pink ink ever.
And there’s Infra Red, which I sampled once and just had to have. This is a special red. I tried to make do with Diamine Poppy, but I couldn’t.
That’s the heart of it, for me. I have a lot of blue, light green, red and pink inks. But the Caran d’Ache versions are so excellent that I still ended up buying each of them. Despite the price. And I probably wouldn’t use an orange ink more than once a year if it weren’t for Caran d’Ache orange inks.
I think these are special inks.
I know people who feel that way about some of the other colors, too, especially the old Caribbean Sea. In fact, when Caran d’Ache discontinued the Colors of the Earth series of ink, people scrambled to pick up their favorites.
In that spirit, I sort of want to encourage people to try some currently available inks that they might really like. I am not the person to buy the new Caran d’Ache Hypnotic Turquoise or Ultra Violet, but you might be.
Now, I’m not trying to convince anyone they “have to” try Caran d’Ache inks. Inks are a matter of personal taste. Nor am I saying that these are the greatest inks in the world, birthed at the very moment when the unicorn saw a rainbow. Or that using them is the only mark of fountain pen taste and discernment. I know some people do talk about their favorite inks that way. But, please. Eye roll.
One, it’s all just ink. Two, sometimes it pays to be cautious about trends. Let’s talk about trendy joggers (the pants, not the runners). Two years hence, I promise you, your joggers will be in the back of your closet.
So let’s look past the lack of hype. Sometimes lack of hype is a good thing. Like normal pants.
Caran d’Ache inks are worth trying because they are excellent. It’s nice to have some things that are just really good. It’s not that I don’t use my shimmer inks, or enjoy them, because I do. But most of the time I use regular inks. And of those, I prefer to use good inks.
From a “good ink” standpoint, Caran d’Ache ink is good ink — really good ink. In a really good bottle.