What Are The Best Fountain Pen Inks For Bullet Journaling?

John Bosley Fountain Pen Ink 20 Comments

Bullet journaling is an extremely effective way for many people to organize their schedules, thoughts, ideas and memories. It’s also a wonderful way to use your fountain pens and a great notebook! One thing that I have found, though, is that you’ll need to be a little careful with the inks you choose to use if you do use your fountain pens. In this article, I want to discuss fountain pen inks and which are the best for bullet journaling.

One thing to note is that I started bullet journaling earlier this year, so I don’t necessarily consider myself a bujo (bullet journal) expert. I do feel like I have a pretty good idea of what makes a good ink for bullet journaling. Still, each person is going to be a little different in the pens and notebooks that they use, so consider this a general guide instead of a rigid set of rules.

“You definitely want to have fun using your fountain pens, but not at the cost of daily frustration”

Let’s Think About Ink

One of the joys of writing with a fountain pen is that there are so many fun inks to use. And surely, one of the joys of bullet journaling is being able to use your fountain pens on a regular basis. Unfortunately, some of the most popular fountain pen inks don’t always work the best for bullet journaling. Why is that?

Smearing

Bullet journaling not only involves writing things down in a linear fashion (imagine using a planner and working week-by-week throughout the year), but it also involves constantly referencing older entries. This is where things start to get tricky. If you use a very saturated ink, you might end up with smeared entries.

fountain pen ink smear bullet journal

You can see some places in my Index where ink has smeared after it had already dried.

Why would entries get smeared, you ask? Many inks today are very saturated. This means that when the ink dries, there is typically excess dye on the surface of your page. Even when the ink is dry, that dye can still be smeared. While your writing should still be readable, it sure won’t look very nice.

So which inks are more prone to smearing? Inks with high amounts of sheen are the most notorious. The higher the sheen, the more likely the ink is to smear once it dries. Other inks to watch out for are inks that have very dark, saturated colors, even if they don’t typically sheen.

Ghosting and Bleed-Through

I’d be willing to bet money that the great majority of people who bullet journal use both sides of each page. Because of this, you want to use inks that don’t bleed through or show up very dark on the back side of your paper. Of course, some of this can be minimized by your notebook choice, but the ink that you use will also affect it.

fountain pen ink bleed through in bullet journal

A heavy application of ink on the back of this page caused some serious bleed through.

fountain pen ink bullet journal ghosting

This combination of ghosting and bleed through is very annoying.

In general, lighter inks have less of a chance of bleeding or ghosting than darker inks do. Again, a big part of this is how saturated the ink is. Another part of it is simply that a darker ink has a higher chance of being seen on the other side of a piece of paper, even if it doesn’t bleed all the way through.

Dry Times

As I mentioned earlier, bullet journals are not linear things. You may be writing in one part and then need to flip back to reference or write in another part. You may also just need to quickly write something and then close it up again. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure you use inks that don’t take an extremely long time to dry. While dry time is usually something that you think about in relation to paper, the ink that you use has a part to play as well.

wet fountain pen ink in bullet journal

These spots came from wet ink on the facing page when I closed my bullet journal before the ink had dried.

In my experience, inks that are not highly saturated tend to dry faster than inks that are very saturated. Of course, there are always exceptions. For example, J. Herbin Lie de Thé, which is not what I would consider a highly saturated ink, takes longer to dry than Iroshizuku Yama-budo, which is a very saturated ink. I have also found that I use Yama-budo a lot in my bullet journal, partly because I like the color but also because I know it dries in a reasonable amount of time.

My suggestion is to get to know the inks in your collection and note which ones have faster dry times. If you’re experiencing issues in your bullet journal with constantly waiting for inks to dry, these are the inks you should make an effort to use more regularly. Of course, you shouldn’t limit yourself to only these inks, but you should be aware when using inks with longer dry times that you may end up waiting for them to dry more than you’d like.

Ink Recommendations

As you might have guessed by now, if you want to use fountain pens for bullet journaling, some of the best ink choices are going to be those that are lower in saturation and sheen and have faster dry times. Here are a few recommendations if you’re not sure where to start:

  • Iroshizuku Syo-Ro – This is one of my favorite inks of all-time and it has never failed me in my bullet journal. Not only is it a beautiful color, but it also has a bit of sheen and shading! It’s easy to read, behaves well with a wide range of papers and the sheen doesn’t smear. I don’t think you’ll be sorry giving this ink a try.
  • Kaweco Smokey Grey – I discovered this ink when I did my grey ink comparison and have been using it regularly ever since. It is easy to read, has nice shading and good dry times.
  • Diamine Autumn Oak – Despite the name, I tend to use this ink throughout the year. It has fantastic shading and fast dry times. The color is also stunning!
  • Sailor Studio 123 – This ink falls under the category of the new style of multi-chromatic inks, or in other words, it’s magical. Not only does it look incredible, but it also has very fast dry times. I love using this ink and it truly makes me happy any time that I write with it!

Regardless of which inks you decide to use in your bullet journal, you’ll want to be mindful of their properties with the paper and pens that you’re using. Some combinations may work just fine with fast dry times and no smearing, while other combinations may be miserable to use together. You definitely want to have fun using your fountain pens, but not at the cost of daily frustration, so hopefully you can find a nice balance between enjoyment and usability.

Comments 20

  1. Can you read minds? Your ink suggestions for Bullet Journaling is exactly what I was looking for? Thank you so much🎄🎅🏻🤶🏻🌟

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  2. I know it’s a bit old fashioned (but hey, we’re talking about a 19th Century device here) but I bought a simple rocking ink blotter on eBay for very little. When I use a particularly wet ink, I reach for the blotter… no problem.

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      Great idea, Edward! I have a rocker blotter as well and use it quite often. Unfortunately, it’s just not very portable and many people take their bullet journals everywhere with them. Still, for use at home it’s a great idea with wet inks.

  3. I keep a blotter in my bullet journal. It makes a good bookmark, and it is about the size of one page. I have trained myself to use it always, and so I never have any problems. It has become a habit. By the way, soy-ro is my favorite ink, too!! Experimenting with the inks is half the fun of bullet journalling. Thanks for this post, I was wondering why some inks still smear after they dry.

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  4. This is a great essay! As a historian, I’m a big advocate of permanent inks. Perhaps you could do another review along these lines, but for permanent inks?

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  5. I would add Diamine Indigo für an interesting blue grey with shading and Pelikan Edelstein Aquamarine. they are definitly my favourite at the moment next to Syo-Ro and grey super thin pigmentliner… Nice post!

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  6. Dry times are 100% my biggest pain point when it comes to bullet journaling (and journaling in general). I always want to turn the page sooner.

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      I know! Sometimes I just grab my blotter and speed things up so I can turn the page. Either that or walk away to do something else while the ink dries and forget all about it for the next few hours.

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  7. It’s interesting you used Lie de Thé specifically as an example because that’s the main ink I use for journaling because of its fast dry time. I also love Very de Gris, also by Herbin. I use a Twsbi fine nib so that affects the time as well.
    The brand with the slowest dry time, I’ve found, is Noodler’s. Something about their formulas just seem to take forever to dry.

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      Interesting, Natalie. Maybe our different experience in dry times comes down to the paper or pens that we use? I’d agree with Noodler’s inks. Every one that I’ve used has significant dry times.

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