De Atramentis is a German based brand that has slowly but surely become a staple in the fountain pen world. They have pretty extensive line of inks, from regular, through permanent, all the way to scented and themed inks. There’s really something for everyone in their line-up. I’ve tried three of their inks so far and enjoyed using all of them. But while I don’t dispute the fact that they are very good inks, they certainly have a steep price point. Let’s take a look if they’re really that exclusive and worth the premium price.
If this review alone doesn’t satisfy you, there’s an older review from 2015 which you can find on this link. It is my older format with more extensive writing samples, etc.
A list of properties and my experience with using the ink extensively can be found at the end of this article.
The ink cards I use are made by “maruman” and are actually called Word Cards. They use watercolor paper but unfortunately they don’t specify the content of cotton nor the weight of the paper. Nor they state whether the paper is acid free or not. It is, however, good for visual demonstration of the characteristics of the ink. Unfortunately, I believe the Word Cards are no longer made but there are other methods of making these samples, and so I don’t see it as a tremendous loss. Cutting one’s own cards from the best quality watercolor paper may be far better option, even if not as convenient.
De Atramentis Archive ink is a pigment based ink as opposed to regular dye based inks. The ink doesn’t exhibit much of any special properties, such as sheen or shading. It is a black ink after all and few blacks produce anything spectacular, simply because of the black color. DA Archive ink is indeed a black ink but it’s not a pitch-black dark as you might expect. It goes down a true deep black but dries to a lighter value of say 90%. There is no real tonal variation in the line itself as there is with, say, Parker Quink (which is my all-time favorite black, by the way – review coming soon!).
Bottle Design and Functionality
De Atramentis uses one type of bottle for all their inks. Its volume is 35ml. While the bottle is fairly practical, it’s nothing to write home about. Very simple design and good functionality. It is wide at the base which helps prevent accidental spillage. That being said, the design is not very inspiring. The same goes for the label, which really is nothing special.
Value is a real concern when using ink for drawing, because a single bottle usually lasts only a couple of months, at best. The following is a price comparison of some inks currently on the market that I have used:
- De Atramentis Archive (and Document) Ink, pigment based, waterproof & lightfast, 35 ml, €16,50 per bottle, €0.47 per ml
- Platinum Carbon Black, pigment based, waterproof & lightfast, 60 ml, €19 per bottle, €0.32 per ml
- Sailor Nano Kiwa-Guro (or Sei-Boku), pigment based, waterproof & lightfast, 50 ml, €22 per bottle, €0.44 per ml
- Noodler’s Ink Black, dye based, waterproof & lightfast, 133 ml, $18 per bottle, $0.14 per ml
- Noodler’s Ink Heart of Darkness, dye based, waterproof & lightfast, 133 ml, $19 per bottle, $0.14 per ml
- KWZI Iron-Gall series, iron gall base, waterproof & lightfast, 60 ml, €12,90 per bottle, €0.22 per ml
- J. Herbin Perle Noire (or Cacao du Brésil, etc.), dye based, partially waterproof & lightfast, 30 ml, €6,95 per bottle, €0,23 per ml
As you can see, De Atramentis is not a budget ink. It is true that the manufacturer does not market it as such. But from an artist point of view, drawing with a permanent ink from De Atramentis is not sustainable in the long run. It is the most expensive option from all of the above, exceeding even imported Japanese ink from Sailor. And the Nano inks are expensive! And so I cannot but conclude that the ink is not a very good value. Had there been an option of larger bottles at a more economical price I would gladly change my opinion but as it is, it’s simply too expensive.
But let’s now look at the characteristics of the ink to see if there’s anything special that would in fact grant the premium price.
Using the Ink
As I mentioned, De Atramentis Archive Ink is a pigment based ink. The difference between pigment and dye based inks is in the way the ink bounds with paper. While the dye is designed to penetrate the surface of the paper, chemically reacting with the fibers to establish permanence by “staining” the paper, pigmented ink contains pigment particles that sit on the surface of the paper as a paint would, bounding to the paper physically, coating the surface. The latter method is considered the more permanent of the two.
Using the ink is a pleasant experience. I have used it in several pens but on the images above, you can see that I use it in my Hero 9018 with a fude nib. That is really a fun combination for drawing as it offers a good line variation and the wide nib can be utilized simply by changing an angle of the nib to the paper. The pen also has a great flow, though as is often the case with modern pens, can exhibit ink starvation.
The sketchbook I use is a Winsor & Newton sketchbook with a heavyweight 170 g acid free paper. It is fairly absorbent and tough, but not overly so. It is a pleasant paper for fountain pens actually. It doesn’t take washes too well but I don’t usually work that way in my sketchbook anyway. The ink performs on the paper very well. I like the line quality. It is not the deepest black but I really don’t mind as I like some character in my ink. The paper, being slightly absorbent, does take the ink well and the ink doesn’t sit on the surface so much that there is a lot of smearing going on, wet or dry.
On other kinds of paper, ones that you might use on a daily basis, such as Rhodia, Clairfontaine, or even office paper, the ink behaves well. It is necessary to say, however, that the ink is not without its problems. It does not bleed or feather on better paper. It really behaves rather well. Even of office paper (with drier nibs) the ink exhibits little in terms of misbehavior. The ink, however, suffers from the infamous dry smear. When using a coated paper, the ink is prone to smearing even after letting it dry for substantial amount of time. Even on an absorben paper this may become a problem when using a wet nib. It really is a shame, because dry smear is a real deal breaker for me.
It has to be noted that since the ink is pigment based, it is going to require a higher maintenance. Not only that the cleaning process is not one of the easiest, it also can be “dangerous” when proper pen hygiene is not maintained. It is prone to clogging because of the small pigment particles and if you’re not using your pen very regularly, cleaning your pen immediately is the safer option. I only left my pen unused for a 3-5 days and the flow was very restricted. This was in my adjusted Lamy Vista, which says something. The feed on the pen can handle practically anything. That said, it’s still a fountain pen ink, and so it won’t destroy a feed easily.
List of Properties and Behavior
Following are listed my subjective findings and conclusions observed during the time I used the ink.
Concentration and Chroma
Concentration is a term describing the ratio of pigment/dye to vehicle, which is called pigment load, or concentration. The pureness, or “brightness” of a color is called chroma.
DA Archive ink is quite concentrated. As I mentioned, the ink is pigment based, and so the particles, for the most part, sit on the surface of the paper. This produces a side effect of the ink smearing after it is supposed to be dry. I think, however, that the ink could be successfully diluted, which would minimize the problem of smearing as well. I have not tried diluting it, and so I cannot guarantee this to be a solution. But I would like to hear from you in case you tried diluting it.
Chroma is irrelevant with a black ink.
Hue and Value
DA Archive ink is a neutral black. It is indeed a black ink but it’s not a pitch-black dark as you might expect from some other black inks.
Overall Flow Properties and Behavior
The ink flows really nicely, the wetness and lubrication are good and I never had any issues with performance. The ink is not aggressive. It doesn’t bleed through or feather and I found it very easy to use on most papers, though you have to be conscious about your pen wetness when using the ink on lesser quality papers.
Water Resistance and Permanence
The ink is absolutely water resistant.
As to permanence, being labeled “Archive” ink should guarantee permanence. However, since there is no ASTM standard testing for fountain pen inks as there is with paints, we cannot be sure, unless manufacturers are willing to publish their in-house test results.
Drying Times and Dry Smear
Drying times are very good. The ink dries quickly.
I regret to say that the infamous dry smear is present in the ink. It is very pronounced and on a coated paper I consider this ink unusable when using wetter pens. Whatever you put down smears.
The ink doesn’t sheen at all. It is a black after all, and so it’s relatively flat.
Interesting fact is a wet-to-dry value shift. The ink goes down a true deep black but dries to a lighter value of say 90%. There is no real tonal variation in the line itself after it’s dried as there is with, say, Parker Quink (which is my all-time favorite black, by the way – review coming soon!).
The ink has a peculiar smell to it. I like it actually, it is a cross between Sailor and Parker inks. Very pleasant, though I realize that it’s the chemical agents used for stabilizing the ink.
It has to be noted that since the ink is pigment based, it is going to require a higher maintenance. Not only that the cleaning process is not one of the easiest, it also can be “dangerous” when proper pen hygiene is not maintained. It is prone to clogging because of the small pigment particles and if you’re not using your pen very regularly, cleaning your pen immediately is the safer option. That said, it’s still a fountain pen ink, and so it won’t destroy a feed easily.
Some Comparable Inks
There are some comparable inks out there among which I can list the following:
- Platinum Carbon Ink Black: another pigment based ink. Permanent ink. Review coming soon.
- J. Herbin Perle Noire: superbly flowing ink, one of the wettest blacks. This is a dark black that is only partially water resistant.
- Noodler’s Ink Heart of Darkness: an excellent value ink, Heart of Darkness is an ink that can be considered a true workhorse and is probably the best permanent black ink for any artist. No dry smear present in the ink! Review coming soon.
- Noodler’s Ink Black: A staple. The black ink. Permanent, bulletproof, waterproof. Smears though!
- Noodler’s Ink X-Feather: A thick permanent fountain pen ink that can be used with dip pens. Smears extremely.