It seems that the world of fountain pens has been taken over by sheen. Read any ink review or browse any online fountain pen community and you’ll frequently see sheen mentioned. So what is sheen in fountain pen ink? What does it look like and how does it happen? Do you have to have a special pen, ink or paper? Read on to discover the basics of fountain pen ink sheen.
What is sheen in fountain pen ink?
The most basic description of sheen is that it’s a color that is present in dried fountain pen ink that’s not part of the “intended” color. I put intended in quotes because many ink manufacturers are actually trying to get high amounts of sheen in their inks due to its popularity, but by “intended” I mean that a blue ink might have red sheen. Since you don’t normally expect blue ink to appear red, it’s not really the intended color.
Sheen is typically only visible on dried ink. When you look at a dry ink sample from an angle with bright light, you might see some sheen. It typically looks metallic, so the bright light helps it to shine on the paper. In some cases it can be easy to miss, so be sure to look at your paper from different angles in different light and see if you catch a bit of sheen in your writing.
While there is no direct correlation to the ink color and the sheen color, you’ll often see blue ink with red sheen and purple/red inks with gold sheen. Of course, you’ll see lots of other different color combinations out there as well, so you can’t use this as a rule of thumb.
How do you get an ink to sheen?
Any time you write with a fountain pen, there are three main factors to consider… your pen, ink and paper. To get sheen, you need an ink that sheens, paper that allows ink to dry slowly and a pen that writes fairly wet so you get a bit of ink pooling while you write. I’ll discuss each in a bit of detail so you can see that getting an ink to sheen isn’t always as easy as just putting pen to paper.
Fountain pen ink and sheen
Let’s start with the ink. There are some inks that simply do not have any sheen, so if you want a fountain pen ink with sheen, you’ll have to choose the correct one. If you’re wondering if a particular ink has any sheen, you should be able to figure it out with a quick search online. Once you’ve found an ink that you like, it’s time to move on to the next piece of the puzzle.
Paper and sheen
The paper you use is arguably the most important part of the sheen equation. If you have an ink that is known to sheen but use it on a low-quality or highly-absorbent paper, you will not see any sheen. Why is this? Some papers soak up ink quickly. This is what can cause feathering, but it will also prevent sheen. In order for sheen to occur, the ink has to dry slowly. Because the ink dries slowly on papers that cause ink to sheen, you’ll want to be careful not to smudge your writing and give it plenty of time to dry. If you do ink splats, they might even take more than 15 minutes to fully dry!
Fountain pens and sheen
The final thing to consider is the pen you use to write with. You’ll notice that a lot of sheen examples are merely splats of ink on paper. This is not just because it looks neat… it’s also the easiest way to show sheen! A big, wet splat of ink is a lot more ink than a pen will ever put on a piece of paper. To get sheen out of an ink while writing with it, you’ll need a pen that lays down a wet line of ink. This doesn’t necessarily mean a big, broad nib, as a fine nib can coax some sheen out of inks as well, but it has to be a wet writer.
Putting it all together
Now that you know how to get an ink to sheen, let’s look at a few different examples. We know that you can’t get sheen out of an ink that doesn’t have any, so let’s only look at inks that are known to sheen. If I use the same ink in the same pen, but on different papers, look at the results:
You can see that there is obvious sheen on one writing sample and none on the other. Since the ink and pen were exactly the same, this is entirely due to the paper I used.
Now let’s take a look at the same ink on the same paper but with different pens:
Again, since different nibs were used, the amount of sheen you can see is different. You’ll have to trust me that it’s even more pronounced in person (sheen is tough to photograph!).
What are the best inks and papers for sheen?
While new inks are coming out all of the time that are “sheen monsters”, there are definitely some that belong in the Sheen Hall Of Fame. For example, Organics Studio Nitrogen is famous for how easily it sheens. It’s actually hard to tell what the real color of the ink is. If you want almost guaranteed sheen, this might be a good ink to start with. J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor 1670 is also a great ink with lots of sheen (used in these examples). Of course, inks that sheen are in no short supply, so I highly suggest doing a bit of research to figure out which ones you like the look of. If you want to experiment without committing to an entire bottle of ink, you can buy ink samples of some of your favorites from your preferred online pen retailer to see which you like best.
As for paper, the current hands-down favorite is a Japanese paper called Tomoe River (used in some of these photos). If your ink won’t sheen on this paper, chances are it won’t sheen at all. I’ve had mixed luck with most other papers. Some papers will show sheen with a splat, but not with writing. Others will not show any sheen at all. If you want guaranteed sheen, get some Tomoe River.
Now that you know what fountain pen ink sheen is, have fun experimenting with different ink/pen/paper combinations. When in doubt about a particular ink, try out a big wet drop on some good paper. Be patient, let it dry completely and then take a look. You might just be surprised by what you discover!
If sheen interests you and you’d like to learn more about the science behind it, a great place to start would be this article on thin-film interference. A very simple summary is that when light is reflected from a thin film (ink on paper), the light waves that are reflected from the top of the ink layer interfere with the light waves that are reflected from the bottom of the ink layer. This interference causes us to see different wavelengths of light, thus creating sheen that is a different color than the original ink.
Some Of My Favorite Sheening Inks
|J. Herbin||Emerald Of Chivor|
|J. Herbin||Rogue Hematite|
Hi, my name is John. I’m a Colorado-born professional photographer who recently moved back to Denver after spending 3 years in San Francisco. I’ve been using and collecting fountain pens for over 20 years. I got my first one in college when I got bored taking notes with ballpoints and pencils. Since then I’ve bought and sold hundreds of pens, but have consistency in my love of Esterbrooks.