A Beginner’s Guide to Fountain Pen Inks: What Inks to Buy? What Inks to Avoid? To Clean or Not to Clean? The Ten Rules.


Waterman Serenity Blue ink

Are you a fountain pen beginner interested in knowing some basics about fountain pen inks? This post is for you.

A very knowledgable pen professional told me fountain pen beginners have trouble finding solid information on the internet. He’s right. Forums are random. Yes, there are pearls; but you only recognize those with knowledge and experience. Forum posts too often feature someone who took up pens two weeks ago confidently instructing someone who began two days ago. The loudest, most authoritative-sounding voices often belong to absolute blowhards. What about reviews and star ratings on online retailer websites? Context-free at best, suspect at worst, thus useless. Videos are plentiful, and those can be helpful, but many of the most popular are from retailers. Now, I love retailers — just ask my credit card company. But retailer videos are marketing tools. Retailers are always diplomatic.

So here is something a little less random, and a lot less diplomatic, for beginners to fountain pens and inks.

(click Page 2 below to continue)

21 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Fountain Pen Inks: What Inks to Buy? What Inks to Avoid? To Clean or Not to Clean? The Ten Rules.

  1. Fantastic. Nodding vigorously in agreement especially at the introduction and reasons for it. The problem of patchy online advice is very real and I think as they’ve become more popular over the past few years the dodgy advice seems to have multiplied faster than the good stuff. And like Debi, I learned things from this, even though in my case it’s over 25 years of using FPs! Of which, a good 4-5 in contact with the pen corner of the internet.

    I’ll add another benefit of standard blue, it’s niche but if you need it, it’s super handy: it’s erasable using a cheap little specialty tool called an ink eradicator pen. Possible applications:
    – tidying up meeting or class notes so they are easier to review,
    – correcting your planner when plans change (btw your planner is a great place to use your fountain pens if you’re just starting out)
    – nicer looking social correspondence (still often handwritten) without having to rewrite the whole thing and waste a piece of expensive stationery.

    It’s niche enough that I definitely wouldn’t think it necessary to spend time looking for it specifically. But IME it’s often sold in the same places you’d pick up your Standard Blue – even if you might have to ask for it (or search, in an online store). If so, I say go for it ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic! I wish I had come across an article like this back when I first started playing around with fountain pens. I may or may not have had some frustrating (and sometimes baffling) experiences with inks like Organics Studio’s Nitrogen and some of the Diamine Shimmertastics, which are wonderfully fun inks, but there is something to be said about the Basic Two.
    I’ve taken to trying most of my pens now with Aurora Black, but will be buying some Shaffer Skrip or Waterman blue. The Basic Two are now part of my new pen routine, and they’ve come to be the first piece of advice I give to beginners once I draw them in to the dark side ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜
    Expertly written, excellent advice. Thank you ever so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚ I tend to be a person who likes to โ€œskip to the fun part,โ€ myself, but I was lucky enough to start fountain pens as a kid, when they were more common. So everyone started with basic blue or black, just like picking up a Bic stick. Now, itโ€™s so nice to have such amazing variety and choice, but itโ€™s also easy to skip the basics and never learn about the old dependable tools. Only to find yourself frustrated that nothing works dependably. Because you donโ€™t have the old dependables. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed. Which is kinda what I put in a thread on reddit discussion this particular blog post. Think of how many new users would have a more positive first experience if they hadn’t, right off the bat, clogged their pen with Organic Studios “Nitrogen”. You can lead a horse to Waterman inks, but…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Laura- very good advice for beginners, as well as for folks like me who have been using fountain pens since 5th Grade in school in India years back. Say about 30 years back. Personally I use only Waterman’s Serenity Blue ink for my writing, though, I have a couple of shades of Diamine Blues and a couple of Akermann’s Blue shades of ink. And like you said, cleaning a flushing out your pens on a regular basis ( I clean and flush out my pens every couple of fills, even though I am using the same inks), is essential advice. Thank you for mentioning that. This has ensured that not a single one of my pens have needed the help of a pen repair person ever since I have been in the USA since the early 1990s.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. โ€œUsing these inks is boring in the same way that driving your car without swerving off the road is boring.โ€ Great writing. Much better than we readers of fountain pen related blogs deserve. Great article, through and through, Laura. Though, as an artist, Iโ€™ll lie and die by Platinum Carbon Black.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love your article. Wish I’d had it to read when I first started out. I can remember ruining a few (luckily inexpensive) pens with too aggressive tuning, when I probably just needed to change inks, or align the tines. Live and learn. But I learned a few things today reading your article even after four years experience with fountain pens. I’ll be buying some Waterman blue ink and cleaning out my pens a little more frequently. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good post, wish I had ran across something like this when I started out. Now, I got my own hard knocks and experiences instead. Not bad, but if I had just wanted to pick up a pen and write (which was the main goal back in the day) this had saved me some time. Now I just browsed through a few sections, but I almost ventured into the India ink with a Mont Blanc pen. That could have ended badly ๐Ÿ˜‰. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So, yes, great question, thank you. I think the 4001 inks are excellent inks. I use the turquoise, blue black and black heavily, and have found them perfectly safe (along with Royal Blue). Pelikan 4001 Brilliant Black is one of my go-to inks. I also agree it’s on the lower-maintenance side.

      I don’t recommend the 4001 inks to beginners as part of the Basic Two because they are drier than the inks I do recommend. That means they can, in some pens, lead to hard starts or make the writing experience feel “scratchy,” which isn’t as enjoyable a writing experience for many, and can even lead people to (wrongly) think their pen has a problem. When those folks switch to Waterman Serenity Blue, or Aurora Blue, etc., the difference can feel like magic.

      I think beginners are best served by an ink that is reliable, easy to clean, has good flow and has proved practically flawless in a variety of pens. That’s a very high hurdle. I also urge folks try other inks, too, including the excellent 4001 ones that we both like. If you love the 4001 inks, don’t change a thing — it works for you. (And me!) ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. Great post. The only thing Iโ€™d quibble with is that your starter ink should be boring. Yes, you need a couple of super-reliable inks to be good benchmarks, but they can be vibrant without sacrificing practicality. Part of the fun of fountain pens is the range of colours compared with ballpoints and it would be a shame to not allow newbies that – they mightnโ€™t get hooked otherwise!

    (Kon Peki would be my vote, fwiw)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. I appreciate hearing from you, and respect your point of view, and I like Kon-peki, too. But I hope you won’t mind if we agree to disagree. ๐Ÿ™‚

      First, I use the word “boring” because other people online use the word boring. ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t really buy into that. But let’s stipulate that, strictly speaking, standard inks are boring. Then it’s boring in the same sense that not driving your car into a ditch is boring, or wearing clothes to the office is boring. One can still reject the premise that excitement is the sole standard by which every single thing should be judged. ๐Ÿ™‚ The standard inks are low-maintenance, reliable, safe and easy to clean. That’s why they are good for beginners, and others. I use them, and I don’t know a single experienced pen person who doesn’t use at least one of them.

      I must also point out that my non-pen friends would think all ink is boring. And I can’t really disagree with that, either. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      And, yes, well said: part of the fun of fountain pens is the range of ink colors. I mentioned that, specifically, I thought, but absolutely agree, and it can’t be said enough: beginners should use other inks, too. Kon-peki is a good choice. But I’m just saying, alongside the Basic Two, not instead of them. ๐Ÿ™‚

      The thing about “hooking people,” well, I’m not a retailer or an evangelist, so I get a kick out of that idea, but I’m not quite as sure about the morality. ๐Ÿ™‚ No seriously, the people I’ve met who have given up fountain pens after initial enthusiasm have usually done so because they’ve spent a lot of money and tried a flurry of new pens and fancy inks, but didn’t really have satisfactory results. So they got frustrated and went back to rollerballs and such. Reliability and simplicity won’t necessarily drive people away.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.