It’s no secret that there are thousands of different colors of ink available to fountain pen users these days. Many of us carefully choose the color of ink we use, passing on one color for another that is slightly different but, to our eyes, perfect. How often do you take the color of the paper you write on into consideration? Sure, one type of paper may look different than another, but does the color of the paper make your ink look any different?
With that question in mind, I went through my paper samples and grabbed a variety of papers that had different colors. Most paper color falls somewhere on the spectrum between white and yellow. Some, like Midori MD, have a slight green tint to them. Next, I chose a variety of inks that I thought might be affected by the paper color and did some writing. The majority were inks with lower saturation, so that the paper color could be seen through them, but some were saturated inks that show sheen.
Does Paper Color Affect Ink Color?
Let’s first take a look at some images and then discuss the findings. One thing I want to say about these images is that I did my best to get the difference in paper color to stand out. In person, they all look different, but in the images they don’t look very different at all. With that being said, I had to darken the images a bit to make the color difference a bit more obvious, so if these images don’t really *pop*, that’s why.Looking closely at the same inks on different papers, the colors do indeed look different, but it’s hard to tell if it is because of the color of the paper showing through the ink or how much of the paper color surrounds the ink. I think that, even if the ink colors don’t look drastically different, this is important to note. The color of paper that you use will definitely affect how you interpret the color of an ink. It’s not going to make an ink unrecognizable, but it can definitely color (sorry, bad pun) your overall impression of the ink color.
Now let’s take a closer look and compare the ink colors side-by-side:
Taking a closer look at particular colors without seeing the paper color, you can tell that they definitely look different. I still think most people would agree that for some of these it’s the same ink. I have to say that I was a little surprised by these closeups. I assumed the blue inks would take on a bit more of a green tone, since yellow and blue make green, but was surprised at how different the Robert Oster Sydney Darling Harbor looks compared to the other two blues. It went from a blue-green ink to an almost completely green ink. I was not very surprised at how little the red and orange inks changed, since adding yellow to red or orange isn’t going to change much. I expected the grey ink to change, but the closeup looks like two completely different inks. If this had been my grey ink review, the two colors would get very different ratings.
The above results are eye-opening, but the paper color isn’t the only thing at play here. Different papers are going to absorb ink differently. An ink may look much darker on one paper than on another, even if the paper color is exactly the same, purely based on how the ink is absorbed into the paper. Your choice of pen will also affect how an ink looks on any given paper. You’ve probably noticed that ink looks different when you use a broad or wet nib compared to using a fine or dry nib.
Going into this blog post, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Common sense would say that the color of the paper will influence how we perceive the color of an ink. When I did the initial writing tests, I found it fairly difficult to actually see any difference between writing samples. It wasn’t until I digitally cut out the samples and put them side-by-side that I could really see the difference. So what does that mean?
Chances are, if you use your favorite ink on any given paper that’s not pure white, you’ll still be able to recognize it. It’s not going to look like a completely different ink and you may not even notice any difference at all. With that being said, the paper color does indeed affect the ink color, especially when using lighter inks.
I am of the opinion that paper color is a personal preference. Some people don’t like cream-colored or bright-white papers simply because they don’t like the way that they look. I have fairly neutral opinions and don’t really care what color of paper I’m writing on. I also think that, when choosing paper, there are many more important features to consider than paper color, but the color of the paper should come into consideration. If you get a notebook with paper that you can’t stand to look at, you’re not going to use it, so be sure that you not only like how the paper you’re purchasing handles ink, but also the color of the paper itself.
For reference, here are the papers that I used, as they appear from Left to Right:
Left – Life Noble, Midori MD, Leuchtturm 1917, Kokuyo Century Edition, Tomoe River 52gsm, Rhodia Dot Pad, Clairefontaine Triomphe – Right
This review has convinced me that Clairefontaine Triomphe is the paper for me. All colours are relative to white for me.
I had a similar situation when I was printing posters and CD covers. Using yellow or towards yellow gave acceptable results but using bright white gave me expected results.
Printing black on yellow paper doesn’t look as black as when on white paper. Still readable, yes, but the contrast is reduced.
As always John, thank you for doing the work and sharing your results
You are welcome, Noel. Thanks so much for always reading!
One thing to note is that I don’t know that Clairefontaine Triomphe is the whitest of the whites out there, it was just the whitest paper that I grabbed. Still, it’s probably one of the whitest/brightest papers out there that is fountain pen friendly.
Hi John. I too am a Colorado native. I returned a few years ago, after retiring from a decades-long career in higher education. I’ve had a love for fountain pens since I was in high school. I went to Catholic school and fountain pens were mandated for everything from notes home to math homework. Anyway, there weren’t too many expectations for no bleed, no feathering paper in those days. Today, as you point out, paper can make the content more appealing to the writer and the reader. I have vanilla colored Tomoe for letters because it seems warmer. I use Clairefontaine for notes and more formal exchanges. Keep up the good work. Maybe I’ll see you at the Colorado Pen Show in October, if we’re allowed to socialize in convention halls by then.
I hope you’re enjoying being back in Colorado, Carla! I suppose that there weren’t many fancy papers available in the past like there are today. Warm papers are quite nice and welcoming, but a bright white can make quite an impression. If the CO pen show happens this fall, you can be sure that I’ll be there. Hope our paths cross!
Very detailed. It is difficult to accurately capture this. I tend to enjoy white paper over others. How the ink is absorbed greatly effects the color. Then we all see differently, add in the light source and infinite variations occur.
Exactly, Chris. There are so many variables, it’s hard to pin it down to just paper color.
Every time I change inks in my pens I do a line on about 6 different papers. Clairfountaine, Apica, Rhodia, Red and Black, Tomoe River in 52 and 68 gsm. I keep these sheets in one folder so I always have a reference with each color and each pen. Then it’s easy to see and compare.
My results, all subjective, are as follows. Top three – Tomoe River, Clairfountaine, then Red and Black with Tomoe River giving the brightest and best ink characteristics.
Rhodia, while smooth, doesn’t look as good and often mutes the color and any possible sheen. Apica, while nice, doesn’t compare with my top three.
I keep Rhodia and Apica on my desk for quick notes, but for more serious writing it’s Tomoe River. Even the feel of Tomoe River sets it apart from the others.
Not being a small notebook fan, I buy loose sheets in A4 or a pad. Sheet paper not in a notebook helps me write better and take my time.
If you’ll do ink swatches on each of your papers that will help you as well. Good papers aren’t cheap, so
to avoid buying too much, It helped to narrow my papers down to Tomoe River, and use up the other papers before buying more.
Paper buying can be as obsessive as ink buying. There comes a time when you need to decide on a few inks and papers and get on with the work.
Thanks for the interesting post.
Sounds like you’ve got quite a system, Sg! I agree that knowing which papers you prefer is just as important as knowing which pens and inks you prefer. I like the idea of keeping different ink swatches on different papers. I may have to try that, at least with my favorite inks. Happy writing!
Thank you for yet another important, though new, perspective on inks and paper. I appreciate reading your fresh perceptions.
You are most welcome, John. Thanks for reading!
John, thanks for the interesting post! When looking at the individual pages, I agree that the ink samples look very much alike. I wonder if our eyes/brains compensate by adjusting for the paper color in each setting? You eliminated that when you cropped the digital images and then we can see more color differences, but in context perhaps our brain tells us that these ink colors are the same/very similar. Just a thought.
I think that seeing the surrounding paper color and our brains compensating for it has a lot to do with them looking similar. Our brains tend to do something similar with light color (color temperature). Incandescent lights tend to have a very yellow/orange color and shade has a very blue color, but we never really notice it in person since our brains compensate for it. Cameras don’t always compensate correctly, which is why some photos can look very orange or blue.
OMG I love your website and how you do throughout tests!
I do wish you tested the rhodia 90gsm ivory tho, on the internet it looks SUPER YELLOW and I wonder if it’ll ruin the inks.
Same with lechtrum, it’s way less yellow than rhodia 90gsm but i’m very curious 🙂
Thank you Amelia! I do have a pad of the Rhodia 90gsm paper, I just haven’t gotten around to writing up a review for it yet. It is really quite yellow. If you’ve ever used Life Noble paper, I’d say it has a similar color. It doesn’t necessarily ruin the color of the ink, but it definitely changes it. Whether that’s a change that you prefer or not will really depend on in the individual.