My story is kind of the nerd version of a polar-expedition-gone-wrong. We encounter harsher-than-expected elements; miscalculation borne of overconfidence; danger to expedition members (or pens) caused by a foolhardy leader (pen owner). I generally try to behave more like Amundsen than Scott, but in this case, I was Scott. Luckily the crew survived. The lesson is to take more care, and never take the unknown lightly.
The fault is mine. I kept Vibrant Pink inked up much longer than normal. Too long. When my Vibrant Pink Al-Star arrived in late February, I popped in a cartridge of the ink (the cartridge version does not have sparkles, though the bottled version does).
My pen has an extra-fine nib, so it’s stingy with ink flow, and, though I adore a bright pink ink, I don’t actually use bright pink ink all that much. So the ink in the cartridge lasted. I kept that pen inked up from February 23 until September 2. That’s 191 days — just over six months.
Unfortunately, Lamy Vibrant Pink ink turned out to be a higher-maintenance ink. I gave a torture test to an ink that was not able to pass a torture test.
There were no indications of problems along the way. The ink wrote well. I saw no stains. I experienced nothing unusual. As I used up the ink, and the ink level in the cartridge dropped, then if I left the pen unused for more than a few days, the ink would need a little time to start flowing — I’d have to scribble a bit, or leave the pen horizontal for a minute. But that’s normal, especially for a Lamy Al-Star, Safari or Vista.
Vibrant Pink flows well. And it’s an ink of average or even low saturation. I was probably fooled by that, because in my experience those features usually go hand in hand with an ink being easier-to-clean. As does the name “Lamy.” But correlation is not causation.
It wasn’t until I started flushing Vibrant Pink ink out of the Al-Star that I realized that this ink wasn’t going to clean out quickly. No matter how many times I flushed the section with water, or put the section to soak in a glass of water, more pink dye kept coming out. It was like a clown car of pink.
Now, that’s not necessarily an indicator of trouble — especially in a pen like an Al-Star with a feed that really holds onto ink. I’m used to that — the Parker 75 and Parker 51 are similar, and also require more time. Needing more time isn’t a big deal by itself.
But this was different. For one thing, I saw a ring of dried pink ink around the rim at the outer edge of the feed unit, where it fits into the section shell. You can see that area here: the matte black circle of the feed unit, inside the shiny plastic section collar.
That edge of that matte black circle looked like it was wearing pink nail polish.
But even that wasn’t a reason to panic. Normally a little dried ink isn’t as bad as it looks: something like that usually comes off with some gentle scrubbing with a wet paper towel or toothbrush.
Except not this time. I gently scrubbed with a soft toothbrush both the rim of the feed and the part of the feed that extends from the section. The toothbrush bristles turned pink every time I brushed the protruding part of the feed. But the rim of dried pink ink withstood the toothbrush. Then I noticed a little dried pink ink inside the Al-Star’s transparent smoke gray section.
I probably should have taken some photos here, but I was more occupied with solving the problem I’d created.
So I pulled out my little ultrasonic cleaner, and did some “high-maintenance ink cleaning.” I ran the section through a few long cycles in the ultrasonic cleaner, then scrubbed again with the toothbrush. Pink dye kept coming out of the feed, but dried ink remained on that ring. I did another cycle in the ultrasonic cleaner, and then left the section to soak in a glass of water overnight. I woke to a glass of bright pink water: ink was still coming out of the inside of the section. But dried pink ink remained around the rim.
On Day 2, I ran the section through three more long cycles in the ultrasonic cleaner, with more brushing and more flushing with water, and more soaking. Finally I got it clean enough — no more pink dye in the section, and the rim of dried ink was mostly gone.
Here’s the section and feed now. If you look closely, you can still see small traces of pink ink stain between the feed insert and the section collar. (The more prominent pink at the base of the section’s outer edge is just a reflection of the pink pen body.)
It’s mostly clean.
I see a little dried pink stain. But you wouldn’t unless you were looking for it.
The pen works, though. I inked it up with a cartridge of Lamy Blue, and it’s writing perfectly. The stains don’t hurt anything that matters in this pen.
Even if the section had been permanently damaged, I could have just swapped in a replacement section from another Al-Star section. It’s a good pen to use for a questionable ink, as well as just being a good pen.
I haven’t written off the ink either. I’ve got another cartridge of the Vibrant Pink in a Lamy Safari with broad nib right now. I wanted to confirm that, yes, it writes and flows perfectly, and that, yes, it is a lower-saturation ink. All that’s true. I have no clue what causes this ink to be so high-maintenance. Maybe whatever makes it “vibrant.” But this time I’ll only keep it inked up for a week, or less. I fully expect that after such a brief time in the pen, it will clean out just fine.
A couple of points:
1. This was my fault — I shouldn’t have assumed I could leave the pen inked up with Lamy Vibrant Pink this long, just because it was a Lamy ink, and pink, and I had no problems in use.
2. The problems could only come from the ink. It was a brand new pen, so this wasn’t caused by a bad reaction with a previous ink. Lamy tests new pens in the factory with a little Lamy Blue, but that’s a very mild ink, and I flush the traces from new pens. Nor was it caused by any leakage or mishandling; I store the pens nib upward, and I checked: no ink leaked into the cap.
3. This wasn’t a tragedy. A cartridge-converter pen with an easily-replaced section, or an easily replaced steel nib and feed, is exactly the sort of pen you want to use with a higher-maintenance ink. There’s only a little staining now; the pen seems functionally fine, at least so far.
4. This problem doesn’t occur with lower-maintenance inks kept in a pen for six months. I keep pens inked that long regularly, refilling as needed — including Safaris and Al-Stars. Even after a very long time in a pen, a lower-maintenance ink cleans out with just flushing and soaking, doesn’t dry out in the pen, and doesn’t stain.
5. Lamy Vibrant Pink is a higher-maintenance ink. The dye is persistent. The ink can dry inside a pen. It can be hard to remove. It may stain. Lamy Vibrant Pink probably should be used for shorter time periods, and/or used in pens that can be easily cleaned.
So what are the lessons? Obviously, that last point: that Lamy Vibrant Pink is a higher-maintenance ink, so be careful. Also, more broadly, this whole episode speaks to something I’ve been thinking about recently: what’s important is how an ink behaves, not what it is.
I have been using pigment inks a lot lately, and finding some low-maintenance ones. I’ve also been thinking about how we don’t know really whether Platinum Blue-Black is dye, pigment or iron gall. At least, I don’t know. But what struck me most, when faced with that question, was that I don’t think it matters. Whatever the category of ink you can name, there are both low-maintenance and high-maintenance inks in that category. Platinum Blue-Black is low-maintenance. That’s enough for me to know.
We all tend to focus on what an ink is: what it’s made of and what brand it is. There’s some good reason for that: these can be useful shortcuts in complex decision-making. But sometimes shortcuts are bad: they can lead us into trouble, even derail us.
One might expect Platinum Blue-Black, if it’s pigment or iron gall, to be higher-maintenance. But it’s not. One might expect Lamy Vibrant Pink, a dye ink from Lamy, a maker of generally anodyne inks, to be lower-maintenance. But it’s not.
What’s important isn’t what an ink is made of, or what brand it is, but how it behaves.