Inks, Glorious Inks!


     Inks are obviously one of the most crucial parts of a calligrapher’s tool kit. It would be fantastic if one ink would work for every situation, but that is clearly not the case. Thus, understanding the differences between types of inks will help you make the best choices when purchasing.

The first thing to consider is the type of calligraphy you will be writing. While most inks can be adapted to fit a variety of styles, some are designed with specific hands in mind. For example, iron gall ink was designed for pointed pen styles. McCaffery’s and Old World are ideal for the fine lines that pointed pen enthusiasts covet, but they are not as suitable for broad edge styles. Usually, though, there will be a few inks that will work for your current project, and your job will be to pick the best one.


As stated, iron gall is an excellent choice for pointed pen. It has a thinner consistency and is based on old age formulas. Both McCaffery’s and Old World are home made. They will not produce opaque black (in fact, they often look a bit more gray), and they are acidic. Sometimes, in very old manuscripts, you will find holes created by the ink. However, their stellar performance far outweighs any negatives.

We most commonly are asked to help customers match inks to bridal party colors. In the absence of PMA numbers, this is almost impossible to do by phone. However, there are several ink lines with a wide range of colors. FW Acrylics and Golden High Flow are two of the best choices. The advantages to the acylics is that they DSC_0632-2will adhere to just about anything and are permanent  and waterproof once dried. They are often heavily pigmented and opaque, though there are transparent options. Golden High Flow clearly identifies its transparent colors. Ziller has a great acrylic ink line as well. Though it does not offer as wide of a variety of colors, the colors mix together well. It is the favorite ink of several customers. Calli ink by Daler Rowney is also an acrylic option.

bombayAnother permanent option with a wide variety of color is Dr. Martin’s Bombay-an India ink line. It, too, is heavily pigmented and waterproof when dry.

SpectraliteIf sparkle is needed, the Dr. Martin’s Iridescents and Spectralite lines are wonderful. Lumiere Halo products(actually acrylic paints that can be thinned down) also have a wonderful sparkle with a gold halo effect.  For any of the acrylics, it may be necessary to thin them down for use through smaller broad edge nibs or pointed pen nibs. This is easily done with distilled water.

Sometimes the exact color you need is not available in an ink. In that case, a popular choice is gouache. Gouache is highly pigmented paint, consisting of pigment and a binder and other additives. The size of the pigment in gouache is larger than normal watercolor, and it is much more opaque. It comes in a tube and is mixed with water to achieve the
correct consistency for lettering. Further, it can be easily mixed to create hard to find yhst-141105795965626_2351_3607948colors. Once at the correct consistency, gouache will flow smoothly and create eye-catching colors. The downside is that it is not waterproof. Both Winsor and Newton and M. Graham offer excellent choices in gouache.



DSC_0730     Fountain pen ink is also available and can be used beyond the fountain pens themselves. Some calligraphers use it with their dip pens, folded pens, etc. It is not as consistent across a wide variety of papers, but it does offer a thinner consistency and fun colors. It is water soluble to allow for easy flow through a fountain pen.


DSC_0628-1    Other inks with a thinner consistency are drawing inks. Dr. Martin’s Tech ink is a waterproof, transparent ink. Winsor and Newton drawing inks are not waterproof, but rather are made from water soluble dyes. Again, these inks are great when a thinner consistency is needed.



DSC_0637-2     Yet another thinner consistency ink that is quite popular is walnut ink. Walnut ink is a lovely brown that is transparent, yet still offers a rich color. The hue can be altered by adding more water, and it can even be used as a wash, much like a watercolor. Tro-Col powder can be added to it to add a shimmer. It can be purchased already mixed into an ink or as crystals that allow the user to mix ink.

A consistent choice for all type of calligraphy is sumi ink. Sumi DSC_0727ink is derived from carbon soot or vegetable soot. It delivers a rich black color that is quite beautiful and provides a wonderful choice for pointed pen and broad edge calligraphy. Moon Palace, Yasutomo Sumi (also known as KF Sumi and KY sumi), and Kuretake Sumi are DSC_0716all waterproof when dry. Best Bottle Sumi is not waterproof. Sumi inks can have a strong, earthy odor to them, and Kuretake seems to have the lowest odor of all options. (Be sure to continue following the blog for an upcoming article comparing the various sumi inks!) There are two color options in the sumi line-vermillion (which is bright orange) and white. The vermillion can be mixed with the black sumi ink for a lovely sepia. The white sumi has a chalky effect. (See a sample here:


DSC_0627-1DSC_0626-1     Finally, Winsor and Newton offers inks simply name calligraphy inks. The Winsor and Newton blue topped colors are thinner and are good for not only dip pens, but technical and fountain pens as well. The red topped bottles are thicker and better for dip pens. While all are lightfast, they are not waterproof.

Changing papers can change an ink’s performance, and an understanding of the different types of inks can be particularly helpful in that situation. Sometimes it can be a simple as changing from a water soluble ink to an acrylic. While this article provides a general overview, remember you can always call us if you need help troubleshooting!

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