For such a small venture, KWZ is prolific. Konrad first sold ink in 2013, and didn’t form the company until 2015. It’s now early 2017, and a total of 62 inks are available in the regular KWZ Ink lineup. In fact, it seems like new inks are being added all the time. When I got the idea for this piece, KWZ had “only” 59 inks on their roster. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are 65 available by the time I click “publish.”
But Konrad and Agnieszka do it all themselves, from ink creation to ink bottling. When I asked about their process, they analogized it to cooking. Of course, when cooking up a new ink, the first thing you you need is a recipe. Konrad comes up with that himself, then he works on it until he’s satisfied.
A new KWZ ink begins with an idea for an exact color or shade. Konrad said that as he’s become more experienced, turning that initial idea into a physical ink, via the chemical recipe, has gotten easier. “Now I don’t need to make as many experiments to reach the desired color or properties,” he said. “The best example is Honey — I made a perfect theoretical match for the color, and I didn’t need to modify the first formula.” He’s talking there about KWZ Honey, another of my favorites.
Actually, Konrad did make one small modification to Honey: in response to customer requests, he changed its scent. Honey and all subsequent KWZ inks now have a different, presumably nicer, smell. I don’t pay attention to ink smell, but someone had just told me about Honey’s scent, so when Konrad told me that was now in all KWZ inks, I dutifully uncapped a brand new KWZ Chicago Blue. And, yum — vanilla cupcakes. Now that’s a commitment to customer satisfaction.
After coming up with a possible new ink recipe, the next step is testing to see if the ink works well in fountain pens. Both Konrad and Agnieszka test all prospective inks. Konrad pointed out that testing is actually enjoyable, because they load samples into various pens and use the potential inks in everyday writing.
When an ink is almost ready to be added to the lineup, Konrad adjusts the final formulation for lubrication and flow, also considering feathering and other characteristics. “When we are satisfied with the ink ourselves, we can forward it and offer to someone else.”
When it comes to ink manufacturing, Konrad does it himself in his lab. “He selects the ingredients, mixes them and processes them,” Agnieszka said. “Normally in a factory these operations are automated. But with us, even the bottling is done manually, and the labels are handwritten with the actual ink that is in the bottle, so it reflects the true color and the handmade nature of the ink.”
When they are making a batch of ink that’s not a new color, but instead another run of an existing ink, Konrad and Agnieszka ensure its consistency and accuracy. “It is important to us that subsequent batches of each ink don’t differ between themselves in the color or the flow,” Agnieszka said. “We both make tests, separately, for higher reliability. Finally the last test is label writing with the use of a fresh ink.”
Maintaining this careful and hands-on process is one reason they keep KWZ Ink smaller. Another is to allow for more creativity and experimentation. Konrad seems to practically bubble over with ideas for new and interesting inks. As he said when he set up his website, “Production of inks on a large scale is not my goal, but instead we will focus on creating inks a little less common, something which cannot be found elsewhere.”
They want to keep their entire lineup available, so they aren’t going to discontinue an ink that may be slower selling. Still, I asked what their most popular colors are. Overall, the most popular are Honey, from the regular, dye-based line, and Iron Gall Turquoise in the iron gall line. Also very popular are some of their more complex and unusual colors — the KWZ originals like Brown-Pink and Grey Plum. And Vanness told me to add Grapefruit to the list of top sellers.
Talking about ink sales brought up a related topic — special edition inks made for pen shows.
Because I think so highly of KWZ Ink, we chose them to make our exclusive 2017 Chicago Pen Show ink — KWZ Chicago Blue. In addition, KWZ have made exclusive inks for the Scriptus show in Toronto and for Pen Show Poland. I’ve tried Northern Twilight, which was the 2016 Scriptus ink, and I really like it. I also adore Chicago Blue. But both are limited-number, exclusive inks, not regular edition inks. Once sold out, that’s it.
Because so many people are interested in those, I asked KWZ if they would ever consider bringing a pen show exclusive ink into the regular lineup. The answer was a regretful “no.” Konrad believes that wouldn’t be fair to the show organizers, who commissioned the ink, nor to anyone who bought the ink as a special memento of a particular pen show. It’s a matter of principle for him.
On the other hand, Konrad said that the interest in Northern Twilight made them aware “that there are many fans of dark, complex, saturated inks with some sheen and shading.” So Konrad revealed that he’s working on “some totally new inks,” to be part of their regular lineup, but with those same characteristics.
Actually, Chicago Blue is like that, too. So I think these new inks are going to be terrific. Add in the water-resistant inks Konrad is cooking up, and the rest of 2017 and beyond looks very exciting for KWZ.
So that’s a little about KWZ Ink, a very special ink maker. As well as Konrad and Agnieszka, its wonderful owners, who combine awesome talent and serious dedication, while remaining the nicest, kindest people you’ll ever encounter.