fountain pen ink boxes

What Are My Forever Inks?

John BosleyFountain Pen Ink 15 Comments

A while back I read a post from UK Fountain Pens where he talked about his list of “forever inks”, which is inspired by a post on Fountain Pen Network asking “if you had to rebuild your ink collection from scratch, what would your initial selections be?”. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this since reading his blog post, so I figured I’d give it a go myself. While he goes through a fairly meticulous process in selecting his inks, mine is going to be a bit more… spontaneous.

My Selection Process

I don’t really have any rhyme or reason to my ink choices and never really pair particular inks to particular pens. If anything, I try and use pen/ink combinations that I’ve never used before to get more data for my ink journal. But I do have inks I prefer, regardless of which pen they’re in. Some I love for writing, while others are favorites for doodling.

For this exercise, I limited the inks I considered to only inks that I have bottles of. I have loads of samples and really enjoy many of them, but figure if I have never bought a bottle of a particular ink, then I can’t really say that I love it enough to re-purchase it. In total, I have over 60 bottles of ink (not counting my vintage inks). This means that my options are limited to these bottles. While I’m sure there are many inks out there that would make this list if I had tried them, I can only speak to what I know.

To start my initial ink selection, I pulled out my ink journal and flipped through the pages. I noted which inks I have used the most and also which ones I remembered enjoying and thought I should use more often. This process created the following list:

PenBBS #276 Chungdu
PenBBS #178 Rose Quartz
Montblanc Corn Poppy Red
Iroshizuku Yama-budo
Sailor Jentle Apricot
Diamine Autumn Oak
KWZ Old Gold
J. Herbin Lie de Thé
Troublemaker Kelp Tea
Sailor Rikyu Cha
Rohrer and Klingner Alt-Goldgrun
Iroshizuku Syo-ro
J. Herbin Bleu Calanque
Taccia Aoguro
J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor
Sailor Studio 123
Sailor Yama-dori
Visconti Blue
Noodler’s Liberty’s Elysium
Platinum Carbon Black
Kaweco Smokey Grey
Jacques Herbin Gris de Houle
Kobe #53 Kitano Pearl Silver
Iroshizuku Murasaki-shikibu

Some colors were fairly similar that didn’t make the cut, so when possible, I went with my gut and picked my favorites. There were also a few that, even though I have used them quite a bit, I don’t think I’d buy again. This process removed the following inks:

Noodler’s Liberty’s Elysium
PenBBS #276 Chungdu
Iroshizuku Murasaki-shikibu

Now that I had a good list, I decided the best way to select my forever inks was to try them all out. I grabbed a bunch of pens, inked them up and started writing. Over the next week or two I paid particular attention to which pens I reached for more often and, when there were similar colors, which I chose the most often.

I made some notes for each ink, which I thought it might be interesting to share here:

  • PenBBS #178 Rose Quartz – I really like the shading and color, but it’s kind of hard to read.
  • Montblanc Corn Poppy Red – Such a good color. It’s not bright red, but still pops off the page.
  • Iroshizuku Yama-budo – The burgundy color of this ink is so rich and vibrant, it’s hard not to like. The gold sheen provides a beautiful accent.
  • Sailor Jentle Apricot – Such a bright color, love the shading
  • Diamine Autumn Oak – Great shading, a more everyday orange than Sailor Apricot
  • KWZ Old Gold – Love the shading but may be too severe for some writing. Great for doodling.
  • J. Herbin Lie de Thé – A solid, rich brown. Not extremely exciting, but a great color nonetheless.
  • Troublemaker Kelp Tea – A good brown-green multichromatic ink with nice shading.
  • Sailor Rikyu Cha – I’m a fan. Is it brown or green? It’s both!
  • Rohrer and Klingner Alt-Goldgrun – Fantastic shading, but the actual color just doesn’t excite me. Still, this ink is an amazing value.
  • Iroshizuku Syo-ro – This might be one of my all-time favorite inks. The color is fantastic, the hint of sheen beautiful and the shading is fantastic. Bonus points for changing colors as it dries!
  • J. Herbin Bleu Calanque – Such a great color of blue with very little shading and the slightest hint of sheen. I love it more than I should.
  • Taccia Aoguro – A very dark blue-black with copper sheen. I like it, but am not sure I love it.
  • J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor – I am never sad to find a pen filled with this ink.
  • Sailor Studio 123 – Such an interesting ink. There are a lot more multichromatic inks out there these days, but this was one of the originals and still one of the best.
  • Sailor Yama-dori – Beautiful teal color with a nice, overall red sheen.
  • Visconti Blue – What I consider to be a “pure” blue with nice red sheen. I don’t know how often I want to use an ink that’s this blue.
  • Platinum Carbon Black – Pretty much the only black I use, great for general writing, addressing envelopes and doodles.
  • Kaweco Smokey Grey – Out of the three grey inks in this list, I’d say this is my least favorite. It’s just a bit too warm compared to the other two.
  • Jacques Herbin Gris de Houle – This is a very nice dark grey that’s wet and shades quite a bit.
  • Kobe #53 Kitano Pearl Silver – I feel like this is my grey ink for life. I just love it.

“If you had to rebuild your ink collection from scratch, what would your initial selections be?”

I have to admit, before I ever even made my list, there were three inks I knew would make it. These were J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor, Iroshizuku Yama-budo and Platinum Carbon Black. Emerald of Chivor is such a beautiful color of teal and the red sheen accents it perfectly. Even though I’m not a big fan of shimmer, I don’t mind it one bit in this ink. Yama-budo is another ink that I love the color/sheen combination of. The ink color is such a rich burgundy that the accents of gold sheen really make it look beautiful. Carbon Black can certainly test the ink-handling capabilities of some papers, but it doesn’t budge when water is applied, making it my first choice for anything that needs to remain permanent.

In some cases, I felt like I had to decide between two similar colors. For example, I had a really hard time deciding if I’d rather repurchase a bottle of Sailor Apricot or Diamine Autumn Oak, as if I could only have one orange ink, but then realized that I could have both! There’s no reason to limit myself to only one bottle of each color. The purpose of this exercise was to figure out which you would repurchase, not choose your Top X inks, and I realized that I would want to get both!

When I inked up these inks, I did it in groups. I want to quickly run through each group and make my final decisions.

Sailor Jentle Apricot, Diamine Autumn Oak, KWZ Old Gold

I don’t normally go in for bright, bold inks, but Sailor Apricot sure does make me happy. The color is nice, but I think it’s the combination of shading and glossiness that it has that I really enjoy. Autumn Oak is a much more subdued orange/brown ink, at least compared to Apricot, that is much more suitable for daily use. It still has fantastic shading and really nice color variation. I do love KWZ Old Gold and it’s a favorite of mine for doodling, but surprisingly, when I had other inks to choose from, I didn’t reach for it as often as the others.
Keep: Sailor Jentle Apricot, Diamine Autumn Oak

fountain pen inks Sailor Jentle Apricot Diamine Autumn Oak KWZ Old Gold

From L-R: Sailor Jentle Apricot, Diamine Autumn Oak, KWZ Old Gold

PenBBS #178 Rose Quartz, Montblanc Corn Poppy Red, Iroshizuku Yama-budo

When I first used a sample of PenBBS Rose Quartz at a pen meet-up, I knew I had to get a bottle of it. I’ve used it quite a bit and think that it is a fantastic color, but honestly don’t use it very regularly as it can be a difficult color to read. Corn Poppy Red, on the other hand, is a wonderful red ink. I used to prefer intense, bold red inks, but have grown to love the slightly darker color of Corn Poppy Red for regular use compared to something brighter. Yama-budo is one of those inks that I am always filling a pen with and never get tired of it. For me, it’s a must-have.
Keep: Montblanc Corn Poppy Red, Iroshizuku Yama-budo

fountain pen inks PenBBS #178 Rose Quartz Montblanc Corn Poppy Red Iroshizuku Yama-budo

From L-R: PenBBS #178 Rose Quartz, Montblanc Corn Poppy Red, Iroshizuku Yama-budo

J. Herbin Lie de Thé, Troublemaker Kelp Tea, Sailor Rikyu-cha, Rohrer and Klingner Alt-Goldgrun, Iroshizuku Syo-ro

I’ve always had a soft-spot for brown inks. When I first started using fountain pens brown seemed like the most “old-fashioned” color of ink I could use. Over the years I’ve had quite a few brown inks, but never use them as much as other colors. I think Lie de Thé is the same. I enjoy it, but not as much as some of the more complex green-browns like Kelp Tea and Rikyu-cha. These are both such fun inks that can look so different depending on the paper or pen you use them with. They also have great chromatography. Alt-Goldgrun is one of those inks that I want to love, but just never want to use. I like the funky dark green color and the price can’t be beat, but I find myself getting bored of it after I fill a pen with it. Syo-ro is an ink that I never get bored of. I feel like I could always have a pen filled with it and not get tired of the color, shading and hint of sheen that it has.
Keep: Troublemaker Kelp Tea, Sailor Rikyu-cha, Iroshizuku Syo-ro

fountain pen ink bottles

From L-R: J. Herbin Lie de Thé, Troublemaker Kelp Tea, Sailor Rikyu-cha, Rohrer and Klingner Alt-Goldgrun, Iroshizuku Syo-ro

J. Herbin Bleu Calanque, Taccia Aoguro, Visconti Blue, Sailor Studio 123, Sailor Yama-dori

Let me start by mentioning the inks I realized I don’t like as much as the others. Aoguro is a blue-black that’s too black and Visconti Blue is a blue that’s too blue. I know it sounds weird, but I didn’t find either as exciting as the other inks I had inked up at the same time. Bleu Calanque is a beautiful turquoise blue that appeals to me so much more than Visconti Blue. The first time I tried it I knew it was a keeper. Yama-dori is a classic teal ink that occasionally leans towards blue-black and one that I would almost always rather use than Aoguro. The odd ink in this grouping is Sailor 123. I knew it wouldn’t really fit into any particular color group, so just decided to ink it up with these other inks. I don’t think it mattered where I inked it up, as I think it’s such a fun ink to use. It’s going to be different from any other ink I’m using at any given time.
Keep: J. Herbin Bleu Calanque, Sailor Studio 123, Sailor Yama-dori

fountain pen ink sailor 123

From L-R: Sailor Yama-dori, Visconti Blue, J. Herbin Bleu Calanque, Taccia Aoguro, Sailor Studio 123

Kaweco Smokey Grey, Jacques Herbin Gris de Houle, Kobe #53 Kitano Pearl Silver

I really like all three of these grey inks, but found myself using the Kobe #53 the most often. I just love the light, neutral color and shading that it has. The Gris de Houle is another favorite of mine, but it is significantly darker than the Kobe #53, so in very wet or fine pens I don’t find it as interesting. The Kaweco Smokey Grey is a great color, but when I had the other two grey inks to choose from in addition to it, I always found myself choosing one of the others.
Keep: Kobe #53 Kitano Pearl Silver

fountain pen inks Kobe #53 Kitano Pearl Silver Jacques Herbin Gris de Houle Kaweco Smokey Grey

From L-R: Kobe #53 Kitano Pearl Silver, Jacques Herbin Gris de Houle, Kaweco Smokey Grey

J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor, Platinum Carbon Black

To be honest, I didn’t even ink these up. I have used Emerald of Chivor so much that I know I love it and it might be the first bottle I would replace. I always have a pen inked up with Carbon Black, so there was no need to ink up another pen with it. I use it regularly for addressing envelopes and doodling.
Keep: J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor, Platinum Carbon Black

fountain pen ink platinum carbon black

From L-R: Platinum Carbon Black, J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor

My Final Selections

So after much writing, doodling, analyzing and pondering, here are the inks that made my list of “forever inks”:

  • Sailor Jentle Apricot
  • Diamine Autumn Oak
  • Montblanc Corn Poppy Red
  • Iroshizuku Yama-budo
  • Troublemaker Kelp Tea
  • Sailor Rikyu-cha
  • Iroshizuku Syo-ro
  • J. Herbin Bleu Calanque
  • Sailor Studio 123
  • Sailor Yama-dori
  • Kobe #53 Kitano Pearl Silver
  • J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor
  • Platinum Carbon Black

Again, I want to reiterate that these are simply inks that I currently own bottles of and would replace if I somehow lost my ink collection. I am sure that there are other amazing inks out there that would easily make my list if I had tried them or had a bottle of them, but you can’t replace something you don’t have, right? It is also somewhat random, as I didn’t really use any particular criteria in choosing the inks other than those that I have used frequently or remembered enjoying, and also enjoyed when I filled them for this article. If I were to re-do this again next year my list may look completely different.

Still, I find this color selection to be pretty interesting. I have no purple inks (unless you count Yama-budo as purple), but three green inks (or four if you count Syo-ro). I have multiple inks that show up as more than one color most of the time (Autumn Oak, Kelp Tea, Rikyu-cha, Sailor 123). I have a decent mix of sheening inks and shading inks.

In general, this list is a bunch of inks that I love to use! Just seeing them all grouped together makes me want to go ink up some more pens with them and do some writing and doodling. How do you feel about it? Any inks on this list that you absolutely love or hate? Which inks do you love that you think I should try out? Please let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for new inks.

Comments 15

  1. A different take on a writer’s “forever ink” is not what you’d always replace, but what will you always have in a pen. For me, there is only one: I will always have Diamine Blue Velvet in one of my good pens. There are other colors I love and that I don’t want to be without, but they may or may not be in one of my pens at any given point in time. Blue Velvet is the exception; I will always have a pen writing with this ink.

    A circle looks at a square and sees a badly made circle.
    – Jeff VanderMeer

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      That’s an interesting take on this question! I don’t think I have a particular ink that I always have inked up, other than maybe the Platinum Carbon Black for archival or waterproof writing needs. I have not yet tried Diamine Blue Velvet, but have heard good things about it. I’ll have to give it a shot!

  2. This is such a fun post – I had never thought about my ink collection in quite that way before. Just looking through my list of ink bottles (without testing like you did for this post), I would say that my list would include BunguBox L’amant (pretty similar to Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo), De Atramentis Archive (or Document) Black (my preference over Platinum Carbon Black), Diamine Steel Blue (really more teal to my eye), Nemosine Alpha Centauri (although I don’t think this is being made any longer, so I will have to find a replacement – possibly Diamine Amazing Amethyst), Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku, Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-Ro, Robert Oster Blue Water Ice, Robert Oster Fire & Ice, Taccia Cha (my favorite brown ink by far), and Waterman Inspired Blue (because I prefer Waterman inks for my vintage pens).

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      Glad you enjoyed it, Cheryl. Sounds like a pretty good list you’ve got there. When I purchased my bottle of Taccia Aoguro, I almost got Cha instead as it really caught my eye. Maybe I need to pick up a sample of it and see if it can be the brown I’ve always wanted!

  3. You might want to stock up on Sailor Apricot – I think they posted on Instagram that it would be discontinued.

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  4. I love this post and have been thinking about it for days! It’s always fun to learn about other’s must-have inks and to consider what would make the cut on one’s own list. For me, so far, my “forever” inks include Noodler’s Blue Black, Noodler’s Zhivago, Monteverde California Teal, Monteverde Ocean Noir, and Kaweco Ruby Red. For most magical, I’d add Organics Studio Walden Pond. I have loads of Diamine and other brands, but nothing that really leaps to mind, not even any of the shimmering inks I bought during my shimmering ink phase. I’d actually have to take a look at my swatch cards to come up with something else. Although I’m more of a green and teal ink fan, my first choice would be the Monteverde Ocean Noir. I’m convinced that it makes any fountain pen perform like a star.

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      Sounds like a good list, Janis! I’ve used a few of those, but haven’t tried Monteverde Ocean Noir. I’ll pick up a sample the next chance I get. It looks like a wonderful blue!

  5. I really like this approach to breaking down inks. I agree wholeheartedly that Sailor Rikyu-cha deserves a place for its beautiful chameleon-like green-brown hue. It also has an often-overlooked feature: there is a blue component with some water resistance, which means that notes will still remain somewhat legible even if splashed with water. For me, Pilot Blue Black is also indispensable — an ink I can trust with any pen and nearly any paper, with shading and a touch of intriguing sheen. Plus, it has an un-advertised but high degree of water resistance (it’s not immune like the pigment inks, but you can fully soak a page in water and it stays readable).

    Have you tried Akkerman #22 Hopjesbruin (which may be a re-branded Diamine Sepia)? I find it scratches a nice itch in between the darker Lie De The and the oranges. Similarly includes some slight water resistance (good enough for me to use in adding marginalia to my notes).

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      I have found that interesting blue water resistant color in Rikyu-cha and really appreciate it. I have a few cartridges of Pilot Blue Black and always hear great things about it, but have not used it enough to fall in love with it. I know what I’m loading up next!

      I have never tried the Akkerman #22. It looks somewhat similar in color to Diamine Autumn Oak, but the added bit of water resistance would be nice to have.

      Thanks for your comments!

  6. This was such an interesting and inspiring post! I love Platinum Carbon Black, Jane Davenport Violet Syrup, Kobe Kitano Pearl Silver, Robert Oster Cherry Blossom, Sketchink Frida, and Lexington Green Meanie.

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  7. I hope you like them! If you find yourself among the Pilot Blue Black fans, a lot of us order the bottles direct from Japan via eBay/Amazon, and they have a really inexpensive 350 mL “coke bottle.” It’s a real shame that they generally stopped distributing the bottles in the US.

    I need to give Sailor Yama Dori a shot after this strong recommendation — there’s room for a solid teal/turquoise in my ink selections.

  8. Such a fun post, love your analytical approach to determining the inks you’d select to restart your collection. Inks are so interesting in that they have different personalities and interact with our fav papers or drawing tools in ways often difficult to describe. The Iroshizuku Yama-budo would be on my list as well!

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