Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink swatch

Ink of the Week: Jacques Herbin Gris de houle

John Bosley Fountain Pen Ink 4 Comments

This week we’re going to take a look at Jacques Herbin Gris de houle. I purchased this ink on a trip to Paris, so it has a good deal of sentimental value for me. It came as part of a 5-pack of 15ml ink bottles. At the time, these were very difficult to find for sale outside of Europe. Fortunately, they are now available worldwide. I’m coming into this with a few questions of my own that I have always wondered but never taken the time to answer, so hopefully we can all learn something today!

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink bottle pack

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle

To start, let’s take a look at the ink itself. It is a dark grey ink with slight hints of red undertones. Overall it’s a fairly neutral grey color that reminds me a lot of writing with a pencil. It’s a wet ink that shows little to no shading, even with longer pen strokes. For most writing it probably won’t shade at all.

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink doodles

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink shading
I find these tall, narrow bottles to be very scary to fill from. The opening is big enough for any pen to fit into, but there is no base to stabilize the bottle while filling. If you think filling from sample vials is nerve wracking, you’ll hate these bottles. Fortunately, the ink is available in regular 50ml bottles, so you don’t have to use these tall 15ml bottles. If you do purchase the 5-ink variety pack (which has some great colors in it), you can always find a way to stabilize the bottle when filling. I usually just build a little square out of whatever I have on my desk and put the bottle in the middle.

It has a neutral chromatography that doesn’t show extra colors when exposed to water. It is also not a waterproof ink, although it is not strongly affected by water and is still readable if your writing were to get wet.

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink chromatography
Despite how wet this ink is, it has average dry times. While it’s not a quick-drying ink, it doesn’t take forever. It also is pretty stable once on paper. On my sample page, I didn’t put down a sheet to protect the ink while I moved my hand around to doodle and I didn’t end up with any smearing.

If you’re curious as to how it compares to other grey inks, be sure to check out my Great Grey Ink Comparison.

The questions I have:
  • What’s the difference between J. Herbin (or just Herbin) and Jacques Herbin inks? It looks like Jacques Herbin is the name used for the premium line of inks, including the 1680 and 1798 inks, whereas J. Herbin (or just Herbin) encompases the inks most of us are familiar with in the 30ml bottles. This particular ink falls under the Jacques Herbin Essentielles line of inks. I will say I’m still a little confused, as there are images of their regular Herbin inks that say Jacques Herbin on them.
  • Jacques Herbin Bleu Calanque bottle
  • What does Gris de houle mean? The literal translation is “swell grey”. From the Jacques Herbin site, “Gris de Houle is a dark, deep and dense grey evoking the strong wave surges of a storm.”

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink swell grey

The Pens I Used

Each week I choose five different pens to fill with the ink I’m testing. My goal is to get a variety of nib sizes and styles, as well as a mix of modern and vintage pens. Here are the pens I chose this week and some writing samples from each:

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink fountain pens used
Parker 51 (vintage) – F nib

Writing with this combination really made me feel like I was using a pencil. The F nib on this pen is fairly wet, so writing came out dark and with little shading. This ink would be great for regular use in pens with fine nibs.

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink fine writing sample
Namiki Vanishing Point – M nib

This pen has the driest nib out of all of the pens I’m using this week. Since the ink is so wet, this dry nib also shows the most shading. It’s still not a lot of shading, though. I’m thinking this isn’t a very shady ink, which is a little surprising to me.

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink medium writing
Leonardo Officina – M nib

In the past, when I’ve used this pen it felt dry to me. With this wet ink it’s perfect. I actually really enjoyed using this pen/ink combo. I was surprised to find myself reaching for this pen more often than any of the others.

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink medium sample
Waterman 92 (vintage) – M flex nib

This pen writes really wet but doesn’t have a really big nib. It may even verge on a fine nib versus a medium nib. It gave no shading, but did make the ink look a lot darker than the other fine and medium pens did. I enjoyed using it, especially when I could bust out some flex.

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink waterman 92
Pelikan 800 – custom grind B nib

Nope. This nib is way too wet to use with this ink. It was even difficult for me to doodle with. Writing was not fun, due to the combination of large nib size and wet ink. When I look at a paragraph of text written with this combination, it just seems dark and overwhelming. I wouldn’t use this combination again.

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink pelikan m800


I tried this ink out on a variety of papers and it seemed to behave well on all of them except for cheap copy paper. Since it’s such a wet ink, the flex pen feathered and bled, but the rest of the pens, including the wet Pelikan, did surprisingly well! On other papers that are actually fountain pen friendly, I saw no feathering or bleedthrough.

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink g lalo
Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink midori md
Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink leuchtturm

Cleaning The Ink Out Of Pens

This ink washed right out of my pens. It is not highly saturated, so it was very easy to clean. I think Herbin inks have a reputation for being fairly easy to clean out of pens, but may be wrong. I wouldn’t hesitate to use this in any pen that I own.


I’ve used quite a few grey fountain pen inks and am not sure how I feel about Jacques Herbin Gris de houle. I really like the color and how dark it is. I like how wet it is, especially in dry nibs. I like the neutral grey color and how it kind of feels like writing with a pencil. Still, when I compare it to other grey inks that I’ve used, I wish it shaded more. I personally like shading more than no shading, but sometimes it is nice to have an ink that just doesn’t shade, as excessive shading can be really hard to read. If I’m going to reach for a grey ink, it’s rarely going to be this one, but it might be perfect for you. If you want a grey ink that is wet, dark, neutral, and doesn’t shade, Jacques Herbin Gris de houle is perfect for you.

Jacques Herbin Gris de houle ink doodles

Comments 4

  1. John,

    Thanks for an interesting article. I would like to like gray ink more. I write to friends who have vision issues as do I. We seem to do better with more contrast, eg, blue or black on white or cream paper.

    I also enjoyed looking at your gray test page. I think that I could find a gray that would work for me.


    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Joy. There are plenty of grey inks that are dark enough they should provide good contrast for reading. This would be a great one for that, especially since it has so little shading, but there are plenty of others that should work as well. Hope you can find one that works for you!

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