I stated my opinion of the Noodler’s Ink brand fairly clearly in my previous two reviews. If you’ve read those, then you can simply skip the following paragraph, otherwise enjoy the entire review.
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.
While their Black is considered to be the black not only in their own line up, but also across brands, the ink for today, Heart of Darkness, can in my experience easily contest the title.
A list of properties and my experience with using the ink extensively can be found at the end of this post.
The sample of the ink on the card shows that Heart of Darkness is indeed a true black of dark tonal value. Noodler’s Heart of Darkness and Noodler’s Black are understandably often compared. Opinions differ, but I find Heart of Darkness to be a little bit lighter than Black. Not by a large margin though. It is barely noticeable. I find it to a large extent depends on the paper used. Some papers render HOD darker than Black and vice versa. The reason for this, I think, is that HOD absorbs much more readily into the paper fibers than Black does. Therefore depending on the ability of the paper to withstand the ink penetration, the tone varies. I also observed that the ink is a little more “watery” than Black. Consequently, it is more feathery and bleedy. There’s no sheen or shading to the ink.
Bottle Design and Functionality
Similarly to Noodler’s Black, HOD comes in two bottles, either 3 oz or 4.5 oz with an integrated 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 for an easy fill. 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 or cc fillers from the 4.5 oz bottle may not be the best idea. It may not even be possible with some pens. I use these 4.5 oz bottles for filling my eyedropper filled pens I use for drawing and really appreciate the included eyedropper.
The price to value ratio for this ink is amazing if you’re in the US where the company is operating. You can get the ink in the 4.5 oz bottle just for $19, making for an incredible $0.14 per ml! (The 3 oz bottles actually retain the same value per ml.) 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 be purchased from the UK’s retailer Pure Pens (no affiliation), but their prices obviously include their own import costs, though are still fair. With the conversion rates I can get it for $0.20 per ml or so, which is still not a bad deal. But once UK leaves EU I’m no longer going to be able to get it there as well and I hope Mr. Tardif will think about setting up an EU distributor.
For the sake of context, here goes a list of few other inks and their price per ml.
- 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 I mentioned in my recent review of Noodler’s Ink Rome Burning, the labels on their inks are also pretty special. Unlike the regular Noodler’s label on the Black ink, Heart of Darkness features a pretty amazing depiction and symbolism of the novella by the same name, Heart of Darkness, written by Joseph Campbell in 1899. It is not the easiest read and so if you’d like a more accessible version of the story, you could watch the 1979 film Apocalypse Now directed by Francis Ford Coppola. And although it’s an altogether different animal, it is an interesting interpretation of the story with good casting and pretty nice sets. And it’s pretty dark for a 70’s movie.
Using the Ink
Noodler’s Heart of Darkness is a very versatile ink. It is certainly not one of the best behaved blacks out there but then again it is permanent and it is pretty concentrated. It is not as thick as Noodler’s Black. It penetrates the paper fibers more freely and can lead to certain level of bleed or feathering. I am not concerned though and use the ink on any type of paper, from high quality coated papers and sketchbook paper to regular office paper. Using it on very cheap super absorbent paper when you’re filling forms, etc. may be problematic, and so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for that purpose. Overall though, Heart of Darkness is a pretty great everyday black.
On the images above you can see me use the ink in my sketchbook with Hero 9018 fountain pen with a Fude nib. The pen is fun and it’s very wet. The ink is pretty wet too and so this may seem a deadly combo but actually it didn’t cause any crazy behavior and so I am confident that if you’re looking for an everyday black ink for drawing or writing, you would be very satisfied with the performance of HOD.
The ink is also very permanent, as permanent as the Black. According to Noodler’s properties chart the ink is Bulletproof, Eternal, forgery resistant as well as water resistant.
List of Properties and Behavior
I find that many Noodler’s inks are too concentrated. This means that the ink contains high ratio of dye/pigment to vehicle (vehicle being water in fountain pen inks). On one hand this is a generous practice, because the inks are then very strong and don’t feel watery. The color pops more. But too high a concentration can actually be too much of a good thing. Of course, it depends on the specific formula as well as the dye, but generally speaking inks with high dye load can cause long drying times and the infamous dry smear.
I’m thrilled to report that Noodler’s Heart of Darkness is not too concentrated for its own good, unlike Noodler’s Black which exhibits severe case of dry smear. I find De Atramentis Archive Ink similarly prone to smearing.
HOD is a good ink for mild dilution. I have not experimented with it extensively but you can dilute the ink slightly and still get a fairly dark black.
Hue and Tonal Value
Noodler’s Heart of Darkness is a very neutral black. Unlike Noodler’s Black which leans towards brown.
Overall Flow Properties and Behavior
The ink flows really nicely, the wetness and lubrication are good and I never had any issues with its performance. It doesn’t feel as smooth as Noodler’s Black but it is still an excellent ink that I enjoy very much.
Water Resistance and Permanence
Noodler’s Heart of Darkness goes not only beyond water resistance but also beyond permanence. They have their own classification, which as I mentioned in previous reviews, may pose a problem with objectivity since fountain pen inks are not tested by ASTM like artist paint. However, Noodler’s is pretty transparent with their explanation of the terms and there is really no reason to doubt them. HOD is labeled not only as a “bulletproof” but also “eternal”, “forgery proof” and “water proof” ink. 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.”
“‘Eternal Ink‘ is a marketing term that dates back almost to the early post-Civil War era, a reference to both ink and pen durability back then among several manufacturers…it almost always means the same as ‘bulletproof’ in the Noodler’s Ink line today. Some inks resist bleaching less than others and may be described as ‘Eternal’ more so than ‘Bulletproof’ on some labels (one may resist until all print is gone and the pulp of the paper itself dissolves away, another might last a few hours and change color – but not to the point of the paper dissolving, etc…) – but as is notable on one of the most durable Noodler’s Inks – BOTH terms are used upon the standard black label. In fighting the tools of the forger using a security document (one that has features such as water marks and numerical security lines) – both terms are equally powerful.”
For more information about the properties of Noodler’s inks please visit this page.
Drying Times and Dry Smear
Heart of Darkness does much better than Noodler’s Black in terms of drying times. As I mentioned, there is no dry smear and the ink is more aggressive as far as paper fiber penetration goes. This does cause a slightly worse overall behavior but I find it a very worthy trade-off.
The ink doesn’t sheen at all. Shading is virtually non-existent since it is a black ink.
The ink is not as high maintenance as Noodler’s Black. However, as it is a black permanent ink, there is going to be much higher level of maintenance required than there is with a regular ink, but in my experience it isn’t any different from other dye based permanent inks.
Some Comparable Inks
There are some comparable inks out there among which I can list the following:
- Noodler’s Ink Black: A staple. An excellent ink with one terrible downside – it never quite dries!
- 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.
- 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.
- Platinum Carbon Ink Black: A pigment based ink that is very permanent. Review coming soon.
- 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.