Noodler’s Ink is notorious for making inks that represent beliefs and opinions, political or otherwise, of Noodler’s Ink founder Nathan Tardif. That’s why there’s a lot of controversy around the brand. Some love it, some tolerate it and then there are those who straight out boycott it. Be it as it may, it cannot be omitted that the brand is also known for their passion to offer products of exceptional value. Both their inks and pens are very affordable for the value they offer. As if that was not enough, Noodler’s Ink experiments and innovates, pushes the boundaries of what an ink, or a pen, can be. Nathan Tardif brought us the first affordable piston filler in a modern pen. He brought us the first steel flex nib. He brought us the eternal inks that cannot be removed even with a laser. Or he reverse-engineered and recreated vintage inks from a bygone era, ones that we would otherwise never be able to see, let alone use.
Their ink line is very extensive. The ink variety is exceptional, not only in color, but also in behavior. I appreciate that Nathan Tardif operates more like a craftsman, a person, not a faceless business. Regardless of anyone’s own political views, it cannot be denied that what he does is nothing short of exceptional. He brings variety, fun and spirit into the fountain pen world. If you’re interested in learning more about Noodler’s Ink you can visit their website or YouTube channel.
The ink for today is most likely the black ink for majority of fountain pen users. Many artists also consider it a staple and use it extensively on a daily basis for creating their artwork. I also used the ink for a number of years in my drawing pens. Noodler’s Black is labeled as “bulletproof” by their own classification.
So, without further ado, let’s look at how the ink actually looks and performs. A concise list of properties and my experience with using the ink extensively over the course of several years can be found at the end of this post.
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.
On the card you can see that Noodler’s Ink Black is a slightly warm black hue, but one that is perceived as a true black. It is very concentrated and fairly opaque. The tonal value of the ink is not absolutely dark but it is a definite deep black nonetheless. It doesn’t exhibit any sheen and very minimal shading and that only with a very special pen and paper combination.
Bottle Design and Functionality
The ink comes in two bottles, either 3 oz or 4.5 oz with an eyedropper. In milliliters this translates into 88 ml and 133 ml, respectively. The bottles are made of glass and are very plain. The 3 oz standard bottle is very practical because it is quite tall and has a wide opening that allows fill any pen easily. Pen can be filled from it easily until the ink level drops really significantly. The 4.5 oz bottle, on the other hand, has a very narrow opening and the cap features a glass eyedropper. This bottle is designated for the users of eyedropper filled pens. Therefore filling piston fillers from the 4.5 oz bottle may not be the best idea. I use these 4.5 oz bottles for filling my eyedropper filled pens and really appreciate the included eyedropper.
Noodler’s policy of providing “the best bang for your buck”, so to speak, is very obvious in this ink as well. The bottle comes literally full to the brim. So full, in fact, that you have to take care when handling the bottle for the first time. If the bottle is just slightly tilted while you’re removing the cap, a spill is almost guaranteed. I’m always surprised when I hear people criticize this practice. I never had any issues with spilling ink due to how full the bottle was, on the contrary, I appreciate this business practice very much.
The price to value ratio is amazing if you’re in the US where the company is operating. You can get the ink for $12.50. I’m in the EU, so importing the ink can get pretty pricey, not only because of the recently increased shipping rates but because of the import tax, which currently adds 20% to the price of the product. It can also by purchased from the UK’s retailer Pure Pens (no affiliation), but their prices obviously include their own import costs, though are still fair. So for a non-US or non-UK fan of Noodler’s Ink there is no easy solution for acquiring their inks. This currently is the main drawback and actually a reason why I stopped buying their ink.
As I mentioned in my recent review of Noodler’s Ink Rome Burning, the labels on their inks are also pretty special. This time around though, there is a fairly regular Noodler’s label on the bottle. It states that the ink is “always pH neutral”, that it is a “water based ink” and of course, it is “Made in USA”. It features a picture of a catfish, which I think has a symbolic meaning for the founder of the brand.
Using the Ink
As I mentioned, my experience with using the ink is quite extensive. It is a good and reliable ink. I’ve used it in modern pens with plastic feeds but also in my gushing Ebonite pens with adjusted Ebonite feeds. The ink feels great on the paper, it is a balanced ink that performs well in both dry and wet pens. It is not overly gushy but it flows very freely and assures that the writing experience is smooth.
Using the ink in my Winsor & Newton sketchbook, which contains a heavyweight 170 g acid free paper, is a pleasure. The paper is much more rough than a smooth coated fountain pen friendly paper, but still the experience is great due to the ink’s properties. Similarly, using it on those high quality papers is a joy as well. The ink even handles office paper very well. It is extremely well behaved as it hardly ever bleeds through anything while being free flowing.
It is not, however, a perfect ink. It really does well in so many aspects that it could be easily considered as the ultimate black ink. Despite all the praise and the fact that it’s a water based ink, as opposed to pigmented inks which are more prone to this phenomenon in my experience, the ink suffers from the infamous dry smear. I find that Noodler’s inks are often too concentrated for their own good. This is the case with the Black as well. What dry smear means is that the ink basically never dries. In part it absorbs into the paper fibers but the remaining ink sits on the surface of the paper. When the water evaporates the dye component can be smeared with a finger or even in some cases imprinted on the next page. I really loved this ink, using it was a joy and the value was very good. However, the fact that I had to deal with dry smear on my drawings, my sketchbook and my writing was simply too much to handle.
Dilution is a real possibility with Noodler’s Black. I have experimented extensively with it and the ink allows 30, perhaps even 40 % dilution without loosing too much of its properties. But with it comes a loss of tonal value, so if you’d like it to stay a distinct black, 10 – 20 % water to 80 % ink would be a good ratio. Of course, I tested the ink afterwards for dry smear and found that it still exhibited some. Therefore I think that the dye component itself or some of the additives are smear prone and it is not a problem we as users can fix.
Since the disappointment with Noodler’s Black smearing all over the place, I have set out to try a number of black inks in order to find an ink that would be of good value and won’t smear. Among others, I found a very good alternative, which despite having a very different character, is still an excellent choice. The ink is Noodler’s Heart of Darkness. And that’s the ink I’m going to review on my blog next.
List of Properties and Behavior
Following are listed my subjective findings and conclusions observed during the time I used the ink.
Concentration and Chroma
The ink is, in fact, too concentrated. Noodler’s Inks are often too concentrated for their own good. I appreciate the aim of creating a vibrant inks full of joy, but when it conflicts with performance, I’m not a fan. The ink smears heavily when used in a wetter pen, even on a very absorbent office paper. Using it on Rhodia, for example, is borderline unusable. This seems to be independent of the amount of time that passes from application.
Since the ink is so concentrated, dilution is a real possibility with Noodler’s Black. I have experimented extensively with it and the ink allows 30, perhaps even 40 % dilution without loosing too much of its properties. But with it comes a loss of tonal value, so if you’d like it to stay a distinct black, 10 – 20 % water to 80 % ink would be a good ratio. Of course, I tested the ink afterwards for dry smear and found that it still exhibited some. Therefore I think that the dye component itself or some of the additives are smear prone and it is not a problem we as users can fix.
It is a black ink and so it is of very low chroma.
*The concentration parameter describes what is usually referred to in fountain pen community as “saturation”. However, the term I like using for describing the ratio of pigment/dye to vehicle is pigment load, or concentration. The parameter describing pureness, or “brightness” of the ink color is called chroma.
Hue and Tonal Value
In a wet pen, Noodler’s Black is a very dark, deep black. It can, however, exhibit some shading, which means the tonal value shifts from near absolute black to a slightly lighter grey, especially when used in a drier writer.
The hue is distinctly black but I find it to be on the warm side.
Overall Flow Properties and Behavior
The ink flows really nicely, the wetness and lubrication are good and I never had any issues with the performance. The ink is not aggressive. It doesn’t bleed through or feather and I found it very easy to use on any type of paper imaginable.
Water Resistance and Permanence
Noodler’s Black is labeled as “bulletproof” by their own classification. The following definition was taken directly from their website:
“‘Bulletproof’ refers to any Noodler’s Ink that resists all the known tools of a forger, UV light, UV light wands, bleaches, alcohols, solvents, petrochemicals, oven cleaners, carpet cleaners, carpet stain lifters, and of course…they are also waterproof once permitted to dry upon cellulose paper. Some inks are more bulletproof than others – generally in descending order (most bulletproof with the most testing – to less bulletproof): blacks, blues, yellows, invisible (“blue ghost” and “White Whale”), greens, browns, purples, reds….all are equally bulletproof with one exception: the resistance to strong industrial bleaches to the point where the paper structure itself decomposes. Reds are prone to more fading when exposed to strong bleaches (sometimes fading to a yellow) than the other colors.”
Drying Times and Dry Smear
Drying times are not that good. It dries slowly. In wet pens on coated paper it takes a good few minutes for the ink to dry. Of course, it still won’t dry completely since it suffers from severe case of dry smear.
The ink doesn’t sheen at all. Shading is virtually non-existent since it is a black ink but some tonal shift may be observable in very dry vs. wet pens.
The smell of Noodler’s Black is one of the pleasant ones. It is clearly of chemical nature but it is fairly pleasant to me.
The ink is fairly high maintenance, certainly because it’s so concentrated, as well as due to the permanent properties of the dye. Proper and regular pen hygiene is required to keep pens clean. It can also stain nibs if used extensively without occasional flushing.
Some Comparable Inks
There are some comparable inks out there among which I can list the following:
- Noodler’s Ink Heart of Darkness: A good alternative for Noodler’s Black in case the dry smear bothers you. The ink doesn’t behave as well as the Black but for me personally, the dry smear is such deciding factor that since I got HOD I abandoned Black completely.
- Noodler’s Ink X-Feather: A very thick ink that is fountain pen friendly but at the same time can be used with dip pens. Dip pen inks require different viscosity and this ink is formulated to accommodate them.
- Platinum Carbon Ink Black: A pigment based ink that is very permanent. Review coming soon.
- De Atramentis Archive Ink: Not a bad ink. It is pigment based. Suffers from a slight dry smear. For more info please read my review.
- J. Herbin Perle Noire: A very good ink from one of my favorite ink manufacturers. Very reliable and somewhat water resistant ink that is supposed to be lightfast according to the manufacturer. It is also non-toxic.