It’s was a long year — and I’ve been writing a lot: journal entries, lists, letters, ideas, and lots of business and marketing notes for when I can get my photography business going full swing again. But in the weeks before the holidays hit, I felt like I’d fallen into a bit of a rut ink-wise — tending to refill pens over and over again with the same well-loved colors I’d been using most of the year — ones that were starting to get a bit tired. I needed to freshen up my palette a bit.
I work in the visual arts, and color can have a lot of meanings to me. I like ink that writes well, one that’s smooth and feels good coming out of a pen, but even the tiniest change in tone or how it sheens and shades can have a world of meaning for me and change how I relate to an ink.
Take these reviews with a grain of salt, as I’m going to get a little wordy about how these inks and colors make me feel (and how fun they are to write with) – not just about the technical stuff.
(All inks in this review were purchased by me for my own collection. This post contains no sponsored content, affiliate links, or items provided for review by vendors/manufacturers)
I’m a little picky about purple. I feel like over some time I went out of my way to try several brands/colors and never really found one that stuck. It seemed like all of the inks I tried fell into a realm of distinct near-purpleness without ever actually approaching what I would consider purple. There were plenty of bluish blurples and a whole host of washed-out grey purples, mauves, and near burgundies that weren’t getting the job done for me.
It came down to three finalists for me in this category: Pilot Iroshizuku Murasaki-Shikibu, Herbin Encre Violette, and Montblanc Psychedelic Purple.
The Herbin is my wife’s favorite ink, and as such, she has laid claim to its sole use in our house to the point of hoarding multiple bottles of it in secret caches. As someone who is not generally a fan of scented inks, I will say that this is a rare example of one I enjoy, simply because Erin writes me wonderful smelling love letters in it. It also smells exactly like the Choward’s Violet Flavored Gum that I used to chew when I was a kid and that we jokingly refer to as “funeral flower” gum around my house. This ink always feels a little out of control when I’m writing with it for long stretches.
The Iroshizuku Murasaki-Shikibu was a close second, but there is a heaviness to how this ink dried that took away from the color’s purity and impact. Heavier lines would dry very dark, almost black, and while that sort of shading may appeal to me in some other colors, it was sucking some of the life out of what was otherwise a gorgeous rich purple. It felt like a solemn and elegant purple, well dressed but a little TOO haughty for the occasion.
The Montblanc, on the other hand, is looser and more energetic. An eye-grabbing purple with a bit of gold sheen that is hard to take your eyes off. I read it described once (on the UK Fountain Pen Blog) as “Joker Suit” Purple – which is possibly the most appropriate description one could give to this color (plus – I’m a sucker for comic book analogies). It’s bright, it’s loud, and its mood seems to vacillate back and forth between comical and threatening. I would never consider this an office-appropriate ink, and that’s precisely why I like it (and I revel in using it at work anyway, since I’m the boss and no one can tell me not to, damnit!). I’ve got a few bottles of this stashed away for myself.
As an aside, it’s also Montblanc’s Beatles tribute limited edition ink if you care about that sort of thing. I’ve always been more of a Bowie fan myself (And can some company please get on doing a series of inks based around all of Bowie’s various personas yet?)
As the skies have gotten grayer, I’ve resigned myself to another Buffalo winter of the dim sun barely punching through heavy clouds before setting at 4:45 PM. But I’ve been grateful for those occasional days when the grey and wet get pushed aside for a few glorious days and replaced with powdery white snow and cutting blue skies that make you not mind the cold so much. Kon-Peki reminds me of these days. It reminds me of those fleeting winter days that exist in our best memories.
This ink makes me feel happy right now. It’s a cold, bold, and bright blue with a pink sheen that perks up my journal. It also happens to be one of the nicest feeling inks I write with.
Let me also talk about the bottle for a second — I think the first time I saw one of the Iroshizuku bottles was a key moment in sparking my love of ink and pens. It just looked so damn pretty sitting on the shelf I saw it on that I was compelled to adopt it and take it home with me. It was the first ink I fell in love with, a total classic, but one that I haven’t been using much lately — but that’s going to change.
Ink producers are always giving green inks some natural or floral name — evoking a plant, or a park, or a season — Golden Ivy, Meadow, Holly, Sequoia, Olivine, etc.
Sometimes I don’t want to write with a plant, or the lushness of spring, or the scent of a gentle summer meadow – sometimes I want to write with a bright, in your face, almost caustic color. Something that pulls your eye and demands attention, like the brilliant green plastic hot dogs this ink is named after (for those who haven’t experienced the Birmingham Inks — they are all named after people/places/things associated with Pittsburgh, PA). Our words aren’t always subtle, and sometimes you need an ink that conveys the same message. While I haven’t had the pleasure of trying the entire Birmingham Pen Co. ink line, I can say that this has quickly become my favorite. I’ve had flow issues with a tiny sampling of their darker inks in the past, but their brighter inks like Green Weenie are lovely to write with.
It flows nicely in the fine nib Lamy Studio I keep it in. It remains readable at all levels of saturation while staying firmly in the green spectrum (unlike some other bright greens that push way past that point, like Robert Oster Sublime – a lovely color but too yellow and too pale in most pens to be practical as an everyday writing ink). It also has a nice subtle touch of shading that gives it a little character and liveliness.
Despite popular belief, Astorquiza Rot is not red ink. It may be marketed as one, the name may imply it, as “rot” is red in German, and in large, supersaturated swabs, it may appear to be red or burgundy. But it’s different on the page; it’s a little lighter and a little more varied – something different and more complex than the simple dark red that most people would perceive this to be. But those of us who live in post-industrial cities know what color this is. Those of us who grew up in once-vibrant steel and manufacturing towns along the Great Lakes or any other region where heavy industry was once king and has had to make room for new kinds of innovation – we recognize this for what color it is.
Astorquiza Rot is the color of rust.
When this ink dries on the page, it has a unique mix of red, brown, and orange tones that are all too familiar. If you go heavy enough with your flow, it even has a touch of black/brown sheen. If this ink were music, It would be a Tom Waits song — playing piano in a long-abandoned rail yard of some forgotten steel town.
Don’t let my description throw you off. It is gorgeous, subtle, and fabulous. It’s just that this color triggers a strong sense-memory for me — one that I find charming as someone who lives in the Rust Belt. I’ve made a career out of documenting people who are trying to revitalize once heavily industrialized cities through their artistic, culinary, and entrepreneurial efforts. So this color is appropriate and useful to me. When I write about my photographic subjects lately, this is the color I use. It feels industrious; it feels like a town shaking off its past and getting ready for something new.
If Astorquiza Rot is a Tom Waits’ song, then Scribo Rosso Melograno is a Nick Cave track – Old Testament Nick Cave. It’s hard to define this red because it occupies so much of its spectrum all at once. It’s red, but it’s neither solely a dark nor bright red while somehow being both at the same time – both arterial and venous in how it shades (which it does in abundance). Rosso Melograno is as far from a dull old grading red as a true red can be without crossing the border into realms of orange, burgundy, or pink; this is a dramatic color. With a lot of gravity to it, this color would be a good candidate to write a deep dark secret with.
I also love this ink because of the bottle. It’s a beautiful colossal piece of cubed glass that looks incredible – equally imposing on a desk or wielded in self-defense.
Much like Kon-Peki this ink has a tactile quality to how it writes that I adore. While some inks are merely nice to write with, this one is genuinely pleasurable. I look forward to getting to sit down and make lists and production notes with this ink – so much in fact that it’s one of the few inks I currently have loaded in more than one pen (right now its occupying my Parker Sonnet as well as a Platinum #3776 Century)
Honorable mentions, you ask? Sure, why not.
I’ve dabbled quite a bit with Papier Plume Bayou Nightfall – it reminds me of Scribo Grigio but with a touch more green undertone to it. It would be more of a grey-teal if you had to ask me to describe it in purely color terms. I want to write a southern gothic horror novel with this ink someday. If I have to write something in a very subdued color for whatever reason, and I don’t feel like using black, this has become my go-to. I do wish it was a touch wetter, but putting it in pens with a strong flow or even adding a drop of Vanness White Lightening to it in the past has gotten it writing beautifully for me.
Herbin Lierre Sauvage is what I refer to as my “business green.” It feels grown-up and professional but still gets me away from the basic blacks and blue/blacks I’m not overly fond of. I usually have a green Moonman M800 loaded with this that puts down a nice heavy line of rich green. I haven’t been using too much of it as winter has started to get into full swing, but I’m sure I’ll start to miss those lush vernal tones at some point and will bring this back into the rotation long before spring arrives.
I’ve had my Pilot Custom 823 loaded with Sailor Tokiwa-Matsu since I got it. It’s one of the few inks the I find suits the translucent amber color of this pen (the 823 screams out for something like this or Robert Oster Melon Tea). It flows nicely onto most paper, and I love that mix of dark green/brown and copper sheen that quickly shows from the Medium nib on this Pilot. I like that it is far more complicated than most of the other green/brown inks out there that fall flat to me. I was long resistant to this mix of tones, but I have loved them since I found this particular pen/ink combo.