fountain pen ink colors

What Are Typical Sheen And Ink Color Combinations?

John Bosley Fountain Pen Ink 8 Comments

There is something fascinating about an ink with beautiful sheen. Maybe it’s how a colorful metallic sheen can enhance how handwriting looks, or maybe it’s just that it feels a little magical to write with a blue ink and have it appear red when viewed from a certain angle. Have you ever noticed that certain ink colors tend to have the same color of sheen? That’s what I want to explore in this article. Let’s take a look at the typical ink and sheen color combinations you can expect to find in your fountain pen inks.

What Is Sheen?

Before we start talking about sheen and ink color combinations, we should probably have a quick refresher on what exactly sheen is. For a detailed conversation, check out my article that extensively covers sheen:

What Is Sheen In Fountain Pen Ink?

To summarize that post, sheen is a color that appears with ink that is different from the original color of the ink. So for example, writing with blue ink will typically produce a red sheen. Sheen appears shiny and can look almost metallic. It can be seen not only on paper, but also on ink bottles and even the feeds of fountain pens. It’s important to know that not all fountain pen inks show sheen, and even inks that sheen won’t show any on paper that absorbs ink very quickly, so don’t be surprised if you’ve never seen it before or can’t get a particular ink to sheen. It’s just not possible with all inks.

robert oster fire and ice sheen

Robert Oster Fire and Ice shows very nice red sheen.

What Are The Typical Ink And Sheen Color Combinations?

As you may have already guessed, certain colors of ink usually have a specific color of sheen. Why is that? Sheen is produced by light refracting through excess dye on a surface (paper, an ink bottle, the feed of a pen). From what I’ve read, sheen is caused by the crystalline structure of the dried dye. Now I’m definitely no expert on dyes and their crystalline structures, but I’m guessing that most blue dyes, when dry, produce a similar-sized crystal, which is why most blue inks have the same color of sheen, regardless of the ink manufacturer. The same goes for red, green, purple and any other dyes used in fountain pen inks.

So what are the different color combinations of ink and sheen you’re likely to find? Since I’ve already mentioned blue/red, let’s start there. Most blue inks have some shade of red sheen. In lighter blues and teals, it can appear almost pink and in some shades of blue inks, it can look like copper. Here are a few examples:

fountain pen ink Iroshizuku Syo Ro

Iroshizuku Syo-ro

fountain pen ink diamine november rain

Diamine November Rain

fountain pen ink Jacques herbin bleu austral

Jacques Herbin Bleu Austral

fountain pen ink visconti blue

Visconti Blue

Most of us probably learned at a pretty early age that combining yellow and blue creates green, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that green ink (assuming that green ink has blue dye in it) also typically has red sheen.

fountain pen ink Monteverde california teal

Monteverde California Teal

fountain pen ink robert oster spearmint

Robert Oster Spearmint

fountain pen ink sailor epinard

Sailor Epinard

fountain pen ink taccia sabimidori

Taccia Sabimidori

Another color combination that you’re likely to see often is red ink with green or gold sheen. This applies to most shades of red, including pink, orange and purple inks. You may even see that some purple inks have a dark gold sheen that’s almost a copper color.

fountain pen ink cross violet

Cross Violet

fountain pen ink kobe 41

Kobe #41

fountain pen ink krishna jungle volcano

Krishna Jungle Volcano

fountain pen ink PenBBS 276

PenBBS #276

There are some colors of ink that have more of what I consider to be a gloss or varnish, essentially dark and shiny spots that are the same color as the original ink, but it is typically referred to as a sheen. This is usually found in brown, orange and yellow inks.

fountain pen ink jacques herbin terre dombre

Jacques Terre d’Ombre has a light gloss to it.

fountain pen ink KWZ Old Gold

KWZ Old Gold has a heavy gloss when dry

fountain pen ink sailor apricot

Sailor Apricot has what some people refer to as a white sheen, but it’s really just a gloss that reflects light.

Finally, we come to black inks. Black inks can be incredibly complex and made up of many different dyes. I do an ink chromatography sample on all of my inks and have found that black inks can contain blue, red and many other colors of dye. Because of this, black inks can show no sheen or a variety of sheen colors. Regardless, it is typically very subtle and only usually shows up in swabs and not regular writing.

Multichromatic Inks

So we know that sheen is an additional color that appears with ink. You may have seen a variety of inks lately that have multiple colors when dry. Some of the more popular manufacturers that make inks with this property are Sailor Ink Studio and Troublemaker Inks, and it seems that more and more are coming out on a regular basis. The thing is, these inks are typically low in saturation and do not have sheen. These inks have multichromatic properties, meaning that they show multiple colors, none of which are actually sheen.

fountain pen ink sailor ink studio 123

Sailor Ink Studio 123 is a very popular multichromatic ink

fountain pen ink troublemaker abalone

Troublemaker Abalone is a multichromatic ink that even shows a tiny bit of sheen in this splat.


Some inks have small bits of shiny material (essentially glitter) added to them that creates a different-colored effect. This is not sheen. Instead, this is called shimmer. Shimmer can be any color and does not depend on the color of the ink. If you can see shiny sediment at the bottom of your ink bottle, it is a shimmer ink.

using shimmer ink in fountain pens settled shimmer

The bottom of the bottle shows how much shimmer has settled out of the ink.

J Herbin Emerald of Chivor fountain pen ink

J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor not only has red sheen, but also gold shimmer.

fountain pen ink shimmer robert oster black n blue

Robert Oster Shake n Shimmy Black n Blue ink has blue shimmer

fountain pen ink j herbin gold shimmer

This drop of J. Herbin Stormy Grey has a lot of shimmer in it.


Finally, I want to mention shading. Many inks show shading, which is where one part of the ink appears lighter than the the rest of the ink. The different parts of shading inks have the same color, similar to the light and dark sheen on brown inks, but it doesn’t appear shiny. Shading inks can also show sheen, but the sheen correlates to the color combinations already mentioned above and have nothing to do with the light/dark portions of the ink.

get better fountain pen ink shading diamine autumn oak

You can see that these letters have darker and lighter parts. That is shading. Ink: Diamine Autumn Oak

Berlin Notebook Blue No 1 Fountain Pen Ink leuchtturm

This ink shows shading without sheen on some papers

Berlin Notebook Blue No 1 Fountain Pen Ink tomoe river

On other paper that shows more sheen, the dark areas of the shading appear as sheen

Comments 8

  1. What eye candy! Thoroughly enjoyed this article, thank you for putting this together. It would be great to see all the different chromatography tests together too!

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      Thanks Elaine! Glad you enjoyed it. It was fun to put together. I didn’t actually compare chromatography samples to sheen samples, but now I’m interested to see what kind of correlation there is!

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  2. What is the name of the blue/gold ink that is located in the 4th column and 2nd row of your lineup of swatches at the beginning of this article?

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