Fountain pen inks come in a huge variety of colors. Although not quite as varied as the inks themselves, ink bottles come in many different shapes and sizes. While most people buy a bottle of ink for the ink that’s inside of the bottle, bottle design can also play a part in which ink a fountain pen user ultimately chooses to purchase. Today I want to take a look at a variety of fountain pen ink bottle designs and explore the role that the bottle plays in the world of ink.
Fountain pen ink bottles come in a variety of sizes and volumes. On the small end of things, the size is going to be limited by the fact that a fountain pen nib needs to fit inside of it. Because of this, most bottles hold at least 10ml of ink. The J. Herbin 10ml bottles are some of the smallest ink bottles currently available.
Fountain pen ink color is a big deal, but the way that an ink bottle looks can really sell it. Imagine that the same color of ink was available in two different bottles. One bottle is ordinary and doesn’t stand out in any way, while the other bottle is visually interesting and beautiful. Which bottle do you think you’d choose? Most people will choose the bottle that looks better, even if it costs more yet has the same ink. It’s because of this that there are so many interesting fountain pen ink bottles on the market today.Many different things can influence the overall visual aesthetic of an ink bottle. The shape of the bottle is one of the main ways to differentiate between different brands of ink. Manufacturers want to make a unique bottle that people will want to purchase and at the same time will identify with their brand. While ink bottles are traditionally round, you’ll find a huge variety of shapes including triangle, teardrop, square and more. The amount of glass that’s used in a bottle can also help to set it apart from other inks. Bottles with additional glass on the sides or bottom of the bottle appear to be more luxurious and substantial. They also appear to be larger, even though the actual amount of ink that they hold is probably no different than a smaller ink bottle made with less glass. Still, the visual appeal of some of these bottles can’t be denied. Another part of the visual aesthetic of a bottle is the bottle lid! This essentially takes something that’s functional and turns it into a design element. Bottle lids are typically made of plastic, but some are made of metal. Not only do these look good, but they also weigh significantly more than a plastic lid, again giving the impression of luxury. Even some plastic lids have specific shapes or patterns molded into them, adding to the overall look of the ink bottle.
With so much variety in the size and visual aesthetic of ink bottles, it can be easy to forget that they also need to be functional. Filling a fountain pen, while not difficult, does at least require the entire nib to be submerged in ink. If a portion of the nib is not submerged, the pen may not fully fill. With varying bottle sizes and shapes, some pens may have trouble filling from some bottles.
Fortunately, many ink manufacturers have found a way to make their bottles both attractive and functional. One of the best examples of this are the inks from P.W. Akkerman. The bottle is tall and has a narrow neck, which would make it impossible to fill directly from the bottom of the bottle. What makes this bottle design work is a small glass marble inside of the neck that allows you to fill it with ink and then stop the ink from going back into the bottle with the marble. Once your pen is filled from the ink that’s trapped in the neck of the bottle, you can then tilt the bottle to move the marble and drain the ink back into the bottom.Here are a few other examples of functional bottle design:
- Pilot Iroshizuku: Has a pointed divot in the bottom of the bottle so that your nib can dip below the surface of the ink.
- Waterman: Has facets on the sides of the bottle which allow you to tip the bottle on its side, making filling easier.
- Montblanc: Montblanc’s classic colors come in a “shoe” bottle that has a small reservoir where you fill the pen from, allowing you to use all of the ink in the bottle.
Not all bottles are going to have a design that stands out. Most are simply containers that hold ink. It’s not that they are ugly or poorly designed, they just follow the tried-and-true design that ink bottles have had for centuries. Maybe that’s what makes a well-designed ink bottle really stand out from the crowd. Most people like beautiful things and some ink bottles truly are beautiful. As long as the functional aspect of the bottle isn’t defeated by the actual design of the bottle, most of us would probably prefer an attractive bottle to hold our fountain pen ink.
Yes, you make perfectly sound points. However, I would tend to go for the more attractive bottle only if the prices were the same, thereby taking the cost out of the equation.
Because I live in the UK, the price of Diamine inks is very reasonable; their colour range has everything I want, so I’m not likely to buy ink from the other side of the world at a far greater cost simply for an attractive bottle. One has also to consider import duty and overseas postal charges.
I have more ink and fountain pens than I could use in two lifetimes (we won’t mention razors and blades), so it would take a lot to entice to make another purchase.
Fair enough. Some people may not be swayed by an attractive bottle, but others will be, regardless of if it comes at an increased price for whatever reason.
The only practical bottle I would add to those four at the end is the Lamy T52 bottle. It is highly functional because it has a divot at the bottom like the Iroshizuku bottles, and it has a roll of tissue paper ready to use that can be refilled.I think it looks good as well, in all its simplistic Bauhausness.
As far as lookers not pictured above go, the Graf von Faber-Castell bottles are very stately. Both Pilot’s 60mL and 70mL bottles have always looked odd to me, but it somehow makes them attractive. I thought Diamine’s bottles looked better with the streaks instead of the dimples, personally. The worst bottle in existence is of course Jacques Herbin’s D bottle, you can barely fill a syringe from that one.
Very true, Rick. The Lamy bottles are great and have a very unique design. I’ll also agree with the horrible design of the J. Herbin bottles. Wide and shallow is not a good design.
I always fill from sample vials, so the filling function of the bottle doesn’t really matter for me; the bottle only comes out to refill the vial.
I do like a pretty bottle, but have to really like the ink to justify the costs that are usually associated with that attractiveness.
If there was an ink I liked that had two bottle versions – plain and fancy – I might buy the fancy version once, and then buy the plain version next time. (To refill the fancy bottle.)
That’s not a bad idea, Marsha. It would definitely make filling easier and more consistent.
Great idea about reinking pens from sample vials vs. reinking from the bottle: that would save a lot of headache and avoid the risk of spilling an entire bottle. I also think your idea of buying a fancy bottle once and then subsequent inks in a standard bottle makes a lot of sense, if the standard bottle was less costly.
Although colour and properties are my prime criteria for buying a particular ink, I do admit that I enjoy some ink bottles as beautiful objects in themselves and get a great deal of pleasure in creating a sort of stationery still life on my desk, choosing a bottle to complement the pen and notebook combination I’m using. I don’t leave it out for long as I want to protect the ink, but it can be a very pleasing mini-display.
For me, it’s not just the shape of the bottle but the whole package including how it’s labelled that can make a particular ink appealing, and yes, I do sometimes pay far more for an ink colour because of that – but that’s what makes this hobby fun, everyone has a different take on what brings them joy. It was great so see an article on ink bottles themselves rather than as an adjunct to an ink review.
Glad you enjoyed the article! The overall packaging definitely comes into play. I feel like many people miss out on that aspect if they don’t have a physical location to interact with inks and only purchase inks online.
The empty Herbin bottles are great for holding standard ink sample vials. Plus, it has a pen rest.
There you go! Use your method to fill from a vial, which empties the bottle that’s hard to fill from. Then use that bottle to hold the vial. Perfect!
Diamine thirty ml plastic bottles are not the most stable bottles so I transfer the ink into the small jars that cafes serve the jam for scones. These are far more stable, you just have to be mindful that not all jam jars are big enough to take the full thirty ml.
I’ve experienced that in the past as well, Martin. Tall and narrow bottles can be very tricky to fill from, especially with slightly unstable hands.
John, you neglected that “tippy” spill hazard factor in your discussion of functional aspects, and overlooked the functionality of heavy glass bottoms and sides, ascribing that to aesthetics only. I am hyper-aware of the spill potential when filling. Because I am an Herbin, Monteverde and Diamine fan, I use their 30ml bottles, to accommodate a wide selection of colors. It would take me a long time to use up 50 or 60 ml of one ink. I make a little wooden stand which receives the smaller bottles, with drilled holes, so sample bottles, and ten or 30 ml bottles can all be inserted for stability while handling/filling. The Iroshizuku and Montblanc bottles design and mass, with thick glass on bottom, have definite functional advantages.
Hi Ed, that’s a good point, although I personally don’t feel that most ink bottles are at risk of tipping over during filling. I can definitely understand being careful with narrow plastic bottles like those from Robert Oster, Troublemaker, and Diamine. Still, a heavier base will definitely help to keep bottles upright, so it is a plus from a design standpoint.
I looked longingly at the Akkerman bottles, so I do empathise with your points, yet in the end couldn’t justify the purchase to myself (the coat of shipping to Australia made it even more cost prohibitive). However I did succumb to buying a Tools to Live by version of similar design…
I’d also add that one of my prized possessions is a TWSBI bottle (purchased empty) into which I dumped my favorite ink, J Herbin Poussiere de Lune. I still have the empty D line bottle and use it for securing an ink sample vial while refilling.
They are beautiful bottles, aren’t they Elaine. The Tools to Live By bottles are also great looking!
I don’t have a TWSBI ink bottle, but they also look great. I really like the version with the aluminum cap!
You have neglected to mention the grandfather of great design: the Sheaffer Skrip bottle with the built in ink well or reservoir. The design was improved over the years so that the botttle was widened and the well deepened.
I don’t think this design was ever improved upon, and bottles, new and used are still available on E-bay.
Very true, David. I did think about including vintage ink bottles in the discussion, but ultimately decided to go with inks that can be easily purchased today. With that being said, it is truly a great bottle design!