beechwood pastel painting



Choosing the right ink properties for pen work.

Ink and bottleInk comes to us in various types, with different qualities from numerous manufacturers. When you are faced with them all in an art shop or pictures at an online shop, choosing the right ink can be very daunting, especially for those taking their first steps into pen work, drawing or calligraphy. Most inks will work in either situation, but the type of ink can make the difference between, a happy result and one that ends up in the bin!

I have spent many years working with countless different types and qualities of ink, I've reviewed a very large volume of inks and I hope the information that follows, gained from my experience and knowledge, helps with your ink selection.

 Ink has properties; these properties often affect the resultant finish to the work. If we look at these properties and know what they mean to us and our work, it will help in choosing the ink.

Waterproof and spread on damp paper

Whether an ink is waterproof or not makes a difference to the type of pen you can use; how you clean your pen and if the surface of your work is to be wetted.
Most pens and nibs will work successfully with non-waterproof ink, it's easy to clean the pen and mostly used for letter writing, calligraphy and some finished drawing work that will be protected by glass. Pelikan 4001 and Transparent type inks would fall into this category.

Waterproof ink on the other hand it not recommended for fountain pens and most technical pens, but dip pens, quill, brush and Ruling pens are ideal.
Zest-it® Dip Pen Nib Cleaner 125mlThe ink is waterproof when dry therefore perfect for 'pen and wash' or where the surface is to re-wetted, cleaning is not always as simple as washing the nib under the tap, as ink allowed to dry on the nib can be quite difficult to remove.
Drawing Ink A, Indian ink and Pigmented Ink would fall into this category.

These inks can also be difficult to clean from nibs if allowed to dry on them, we do have a Zest-it product called Dip Pen Nib Cleaner,
which as its name implies, cleans dried-on ink from dip pen nibs! Some dip pen nib work can be found in the pen and ink gallery

 Lightfast-ness also referred to as Permanence (durability).

The pigment or dye that the ink is made from, usually has a tested lightfast quality, this indicates if it will fade or not when in daylight conditions. Lightfast-ness tends to be expressed as excellent; very good; good etc., or on a scale 0 to 8 which is from poor to excellent.
Permanence is usually expressed as permanent; semi-permanent etc. Ink with a poor lightfast/permanence quality will fade/loose its colour quickly over time. It's also best not to keep ink work in sunlight or very brightbluewool scale daylight conditions. Tested against a Blue Wool Scale.

Dye based inks, mainly for fountain pens, are not usually as lightfast as pigment inks. Pigmented inks are usually lightfast and not for use with fountain pens.

Permanence can also be used in a different context - as in 'permanent marker' (immovability) in this instance it refers to the fact that the ink is permanent when dry and will not rub off when applied, this is not it's lightfast-ness, because this ink may fade quickly over time. You will need to read the write up on the ink to establish the makers meaning of permanence.

 pH (acidity/alkalinity)

For your ink work to have archival qualities, you need - as near as possible, pH neutral ink. ph scale
The range classed as pH neutral for ink is, up to 8.0 - 8.5 and down to 6.0 -5.5 where Ph neutral is 7.00. Most inks today are made within this range, but some inks made from historical formulas are very acidic and can 'over time' eat/burn through the paper and leave holes where the writing once was! It pays to check.

 Ink Flow.tree brush painted with ink

Ink needs to flow from the nib or instrument. There are no hard and fast rules about the flow of the ink, but as a general guide - transparent ink flows faster from the nib then opaque ink.
Many inks need stirring because over time the pigment settles to the bottom of the bottle, these are often slower flowing inks.
Stirring is the preferred method, as shaking the bottle can produce copious bubbles which makes the ink difficult to work with.
Dried ink on the nib or reservoir of dip pen nibs will slow the flow; you may also need to wipe the nib often when using faster drying inks.

Use of the Ink

Having decided what you are using the ink for - pen and wash, drawing, writing or calligraphy.
You then need to decide if it is to be waterproof or non-waterproof.
If non-waterproof then most pens will work with the ink.
If it is to be waterproof then pens other than a fountain pen would be the choice, although some technical pens cannot be used for waterproof ink.
It's best to check the makers instructions.

 When loading dip pens, a more accurate way than dipping into the bottle, is to load the ink via a dropper or paint brush into the reservoir. If it doesn't have a reservoir then you may feel the need to dip the pen and wipe off the excess, but you can still load it with a paint brush.

Having loaded the reservoir, test that the ink is flowing from the nib on a spare piece of paper, the same as the type you are using for your project, the ink needs to flow giving clean, crisp lines.

pan dip pen nib and ink

If you have trouble getting the ink to flow try some of the following; some people wiggle the nib from side to side; you can put a drop of ink onto paper and draw the nib through it; my preferred method is to have a damp piece of kitchen towel and draw the nib gently across it, this works nine times out of ten and doesn't strain the nib tines.

Ink has many applications and is well worth the time invested in appreciating it's properties and potential.
I hope this small introduction gives those new to ink a start in the right direction.

Copyright © 2006 Jacqui Blackman
updated 2016

Back to Pen and Ink

Home - About Me - - Blending Coloured Pencils - Dip Pens -Galleries - Gouache - Gallery of Flowers - Ink Properties - Links - News - One-Stroke Brushes - Painting Techniques - Pen and Ink - Testimonials

Galleries - Watercolour - Pastel - Gouache - Acrylic - Oil - Pen and Ink - Tole - Pencil - Dragons



Copyright © 1999 Jacqui Blackman
All Artwork © Jacqui Blackman
uk flag