The past couple of months I’ve been trying out a variety of fountain pen inks, both waterproof and water-soluble, with a plan to select a black, a brown and a blue ink with each of those properties. The trials didn’t take long because in most cases, I knew fairly quickly if I didn’t like an ink or had other reasons not to use it, so I moved on to the next sample before using up the supply in the pen. Here are my final answers (at least for now):
(If you’re wondering why some of the ink names on my color sample card look like they were scrawled by a kindergartener, it’s because I used an old dip pen with a horribly scratchy nib. I need to replace that.)
Platinum Pigmented Sepia
Sailor Sei-Boku Blue Black
Private Reserve Ultra Black (fast dry)
Diamine Chocolate Brown
A couple of close contenders in the brown and blue categories that didn't make the final cut: Caran d’Ache Grand Canyon and Diamine Eclipse.
Some comments and explanations:
Yes, I’ve selected two water-soluble blacks instead of one. I really like the complex wash that Private Reserve Velvet Black makes. But I also like the bold, true black of Private Reserve Ultra Black (and its fast-dry quality, though minor, is a bonus to this leftie). So despite my rule about choosing only one water-soluble black, I chose two (flexibility is a virtue).
Although Sailor Sei-Boku Blue Black is my waterproof blue of choice, I’m still undecided as to whether to invest in a bottle of this expensive ink. All of the waterproof blues I tried were more assertive when used with watercolors compared to black or brown, which are neutral. (If I were looking for a waterproof blue writing ink, this would definitely be my choice – it’s smooth, “wet,” and a lovely color. But choosing writing inks would be a whole different test!) I’m not sure I would use blue with watercolors much, but I’m still using the sample and keeping this option open.
You’ll note that Diamine Grey – neither black, brown nor blue – is on the list. Evoking flannel, winter skies and the soft underbellies of small birds and animals, it’s a calm, elegant, versatile color that some sketches simply call for.
OK, so I set out to choose six inks, ended up with eight (possibly seven, if I eliminate the Sailor Sei-Boku), and I’m happy. I haven’t met a sketch yet that couldn’t be tackled by something in this solid set of inks, and it's not too many to carry.
Edited 12/10/13: See how many of these inks I'm still using in December 2013 – and which have dropped off the list.