Why We Can’t Always Judge an Ink by Its Name, or Even Its Picture: A Tale of KWZ Confederation Brown

KWZ Confederation Brown Montblanc Racing Green swabs comparison

Someone asked me to compare KWZ Confederation Brown with Montblanc Racing Green, thinking the two inks might be similar.

As you can see, that’s a firm “no.”

KWZ Confederation Brown is the limited edition ink made for the 2017 Scriptus Pen Show in Toronto. Montblanc Racing Green was a regular Montblanc ink, but it was discontinued years ago and now trades at very high prices because it’s got a certain mystique.

I snapped a comparison shot of the two swabs and texted it to the friend who had asked about it. His reaction? Puzzlement. He said something like, “That’s weird: my Confederation Brown looks more green, and yours looks more brown.”

Was my ink faded or from a different batch than his? Was something wrong with my ink, or his? Because his looks greener than mine, supposedly.

No, not at all.

That’s a very common reaction. Let’s talk about why.

Our perception of a color is influenced by many factors, one of which is how the color we are looking at interacts with other colors. We perceive a color differently based on the colors nearby.

So in the top photo, Confederation Brown looks browner and less green.

But now look at this photo of Confederation Brown.

KWZ Confederation Brown Sheaffer Skrip Red swabs comparison

And this photo.

KWZ Confederation Brown Montblanc Seasons Greetings swabs comparison

In those two photos, Confederation Brown looks not brown, but green, albeit a yellow-brown-green sort of green.

Confederation Brown has not changed. The only change is the surrounding colors. That makes all the difference in one’s perception of the color of Confederation Brown. (Let me add that when you see Confederation Brown in isolation, it looks fairly green.)

It is highly unlikely — nearly impossible, I’d wager — that anyone’s bottle of KWZ Confederation Brown strays significantly from the standard. That’s because KWZ would have made this special edition ink in one batch. Also because KWZ takes pains to ensure KWZ inks are consistent, even from batch to batch. And it’s very recently made, not likely to have changed color in the bottle.

There’s another issue here: ink names.

So much goes into an ink name. Marketing appeal, the sound of the words, how the name translates into different languages and, of course, the need to describe the color. This ink would have been named by the organizers of Scriptus, the Toronto pen show. The Confederation part of the name refers to the creation of the Dominion of Canada. And the Brown part is for the color.

I think with this ink, reasonable people can differ whether it’s more brown, or more green. As I said, when I see Confederation Brown, it looks green to me — although a yellow-brown type of green. But I think either brown or green is perfectly fair. Also, I’m quite certain that if they had named it “Confederation Green,” some buyers would have felt it was too brown to be named green.

The truth is, there are infinite varieties of any color, be it blue, red, green or brown. That’s part of what makes fountain pen inks so interesting.

Here are the inks I have that I find closest to Confederation Brown in feel. One is more of a brown, one is more of a green.

KWZ Confederation Brown swabs comparison

Stipula Verde Muschiato happens to be one of my all-time favorite inks, and I love how golden it looks here. To me, the slightly browner one is is Verde Muschiato (named green) and the greener one is Confederation Brown (named brown). But they are both green-browns or brown-greens.

Here is Confederation Brown with one of my favorite KWZ greens.

KWZ Confederation Brown KWZ Iron Gall Green Gold swabs comparison

Despite me thinking Confederation Brown is pretty green, KWZ Iron Gall Green Gold is greener. Put another way, next to Iron Gall Green Gold, Confederation Brown surely looks brown. (As it does next to Montblanc Racing Green, in the first photo.) Another reason the Brown name makes sense.

In any case, whatever the name, these are all interesting colors, with many dimensions, and a lot to enjoy. Even a mere glimpse of the swabs shows how different these inks look on white versus cream paper. They also will vary depending on the pen used.

That malleability is a feature of many green-brown, or brown-green, inks. It’s one reason those colors are so interesting. And also why these inks tend to fool our eyes the most.

6 thoughts on “Why We Can’t Always Judge an Ink by Its Name, or Even Its Picture: A Tale of KWZ Confederation Brown

  1. Wow, this was a great one for sure. When I first got into pens, ink and paper people would talk about finding the right combination. Changing one variable could effect the color, sheen/shading, feathering and so forth. I sometimes place color samples next to each other in an elementary way, to see how the color looks to another. What you have done is shown an amazing step up to what I have done in the past. Placing the brown ink next to the red, made it look much more green. I learned something from this, and I thank you. Outstanding work!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Great post. Loved it. Color perception! What a minefield! Even today, it’s an active research field…

    Gatzia, D. E., Einsporn, R. L., & Ramsier, R. D. (2017). Enhancing student understanding of color perception: A teaching activity on intersubjective color variations. The American Biology Teacher, 79(4), 321.

    Price, T. D. (2017). Sensory drive, color, and color vision. The American Naturalist, 190(2), 157-170. doi:10.1086/692535

    Schloss, K. B. (2015). Color preferences differ with variations in color perception. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(10), 554-555. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2015.08.009

    Skelton, A. E., Catchpole, G., Abbott, J. T., Bosten, J. M., & Franklin, A. (2017). Biological origins of color categorization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, 114(21), 5545. doi:10.1073/pnas.1612881114

    … aaand, you haven’t even gotten into the question, “Is what I call green, what you call green?”

    Another, one of those areas where my geeky research interests and online purchasing habits tend to crossover 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Awesome! I agree it’s a fascinating area. I know about it mostly from the perspective of art, not the brain-science end, but it’s so cool to see that. I’m sure the economists will hit it next. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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