This week we’re going to take a look at Maruzen Athena Renga. For those who may not be familiar, Maruzen is a bookstore in Tokyo that has its own line of pens and inks. Fude Fan has a nice writeup of Maruzen’s 150-year history if you’re interested. I acquired this ink when I lived in San Francisco. A member of the Pen Posse went to Japan and brought back a bunch of inks to sell, so I grabbed this one since it looked interesting. While you may not have easy access to Maruzen inks, they are still available and can be purchased on eBay if you don’t have a trip to Japan planned in the near future.
Maruzen Athena Renga
To start, let’s take a look at the ink itself. It is a reddish-brown ink that resembles bricks. If you look up the Japanese word “renga”, you’ll find that one meaning is “linked poem”, but another is “brick”, so the color checks out. When I used Google Translate on the ink box, the characters came up with the word “brick”, so for the color of this ink I’ll go with brick red instead of linked-poem red. It is fairly close to Diamine Terracotta, but Renga is a bit more red and Terracotta is a bit more orange.
When water is applied to this ink, it doesn’t really separate out into different colors. It mainly becomes more red and pink. It is not waterproof, but a good amount of red stays behind on the paper after it gets wet.
One of my favorite things about this ink is how much it shades. Even with fairly uniform applications, it still has a great variety of light and dark bits. This ink has a decent dry times. It doesn’t dry extremely fast, but it doesn’t make writing in a journal arduous. With heavier applications, it shows some green-brown sheen. Even when dry, it will smudge a bit thanks to the sheen. Even with lighter applications that don’t show sheen, it still tends to smudge a bit when dry.
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:
Pelikan M205 – F nib
This ink looks fantastic in the Pelikan M205’s fine nib. It shows some shading, flows very well and has great control. It’s a fairly wet ink and it didn’t feel at all scratchy.
Jinhao 599 – F nib
This is my first time using a Jinhao 599 and I really enjoy this ink in it. I can tell the fine nib isn’t nearly as good as the Pelikan (and wouldn’t expect it from a pen that costs about $1). Still, this ink felt great to write with. It showed some shading and gave me a great writing experience.
Parker 51 Demi (vintage) – M nib
This pen has a fantastic wet medium nib on it and I think it’s my sweet spot for an ink like this. It makes the ink look nice and dark while still showing some shading and having good writing control.
Pilot Custom (vintage) – M nib
Here’s another wet medium nib, but this nib may be a little too wet for me, at least with this ink. I felt like I didn’t have as much control when writing with this nib as I did with the Parker 51. Since it’s a wetter nib, it also made the ink look darker and showed more sheen. I really like the way that this ink looks with this nib, though, so it may be a good combination for a bit larger writing. I definitely enjoyed using it to doodle.
Waterman Skywriter (vintage) – flex B nib
This pen has a heavy flow and is a very wet writer. I found this combo a little tough to use, as the ink flowed out of the pen a little too heavy for my taste. When I tried to flex with it for shorter bursts, I’d get a gush of ink. Granted, there may be some issues with the pen itself, as it did start to run dry at one point while I was writing and I had to prime the nib again by pushing a bit of ink to the nib with the lever filler.
This is a wet ink and on cheap paper it did bleed and feather when used with the wetter nibs. On fountain-pen-friendly paper, I didn’t have any issues, even with wet nibs. Unfortunately, I cleaned my pens and forgot to do any of the paper photos with each pen that I usually do first, so this week we’ll be a little short on sample photos.
Cleaning The Ink Out Of Pens
Since this is basically a red ink, it tends to linger inside of pens. I did find it came out of the pens that I could disassemble fairly easily (the Pelikan, Jinhao and Pilot). The Parker and Waterman, however, had reddish water flushing out of them for quite a while. I wouldn’t recommend using it in pens that can’t at least be partially disassembled for cleaning.
I think it’s quite surprising how different this ink looks when used in a drier nib than when used in a wetter nib. While it’s the same color, the change in how light or dark the ink looks is pretty incredible. Thankfully, I like it both ways! This isn’t always the case, so I think it helps that I really like the overall color of this ink. The red-brown color appeals to me. I may prefer it to a regular brown and definitely prefer it to a regular red ink. Still, this is a very wet ink that definitely needs to be used in the right pen. Once you figure out a few combinations that work, I think you’ll find this to be a fantastic ink that is a lot of fun to write with. If you can’t find this ink and want one that has a similar color, I’d recommend Diamine Terracotta.