When reviewing fountain pen inks I noted several times how unfortunate it is that there is no standardized testing done for the durability of dyes and pigments used in making of fountain pen inks across the industry against UV exposure, or lightfastness (read more about lightfastness on Wikipedia). This would help assure the correct selection of inks for any particular purpose, such as lightfast ink for artwork and documents, or fugitive ink for everyday journal writings. That said, I completely understand why that would be an unrealistic expectation. The market is too small as are the volumes of ink produced. The demand for having such system in place simply isn’t there. Due to the nature of how fountain pens function, it is also difficult to achieve. There is a selection of permanent inks out there for artists that are very permanent but not suitable for fountain pens. And that is the largest obstacle when making fountain pen inks. How to make the ink flow properly through fountain pens while improving its durability (read more on Wikipedia). And so it is most probable that the vast majority of inks would show very little durability against UV exposure. Fountain pens are not the “official” writing instrument today as they were previously and the ballpoint inks are indeed tested for permanence. They have much different composition as the delivery system radically differs. They, however, don’t provide as much writing pleasure.

For these reasons I decided to take on the task of testing a variety of fountain pen inks for UV durability upon myself. In this first post I am going to talk about my methodology and show what inks I decided to test. Finally, I want to preface this whole project by saying that I don’t have professional scientific background. These tests are rudimentary in the sense that there is no special equipment and professional supervision. I am simply an enthusiasts who enjoys using fountain pen inks and is interested greatly in the archival capabilities of fountain pen ink. At the same time, as an artist, I do have experience with paints and methodology of testing paints in improvised conditions, as I’ve done so in the past with watercolor paints. To me as an artist, permanence is of paramount interest. And although I don’t combine fountain pen ink with paint in my final artwork, I do use it extensively in my sketchbooks. I also produce finished portrait drawings for the Julia Kay’s Portrait Party. Thus far I’ve been relying mainly on Noodler’s Black, Noodler’s Heart of Darkness or other similar inks that claim to offer UV resistance without actually providing any rating system. I do not propose to create such system but I will draw conclusions from the results of these tests as they include all the main ink groups such Iron Gall, Pigment, Permanent Dye, etc.

Materials, Preparation, Methodology

Since fountain pen friendly paper differs quite a bit from a regular absorbent paper I decided to do a double proofing, meaning I am going to test the same groups of inks both on a copy paper as well as a good fountain pen friendly paper.

As seen on the images below, the copy paper I selected for my testing is an HP COPY. It is an 80g paper. I also have the generally more preferred HP LASER paper but since I do duplicate testing, I opted for the slightly lower quality alternative.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
HP Copy 80g Paper
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
HP Copy 80g Paper
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
HP Copy 80g Paper – Archival

That being said, the paper is archival (above) as seen on the packaging, thus shouldn’t affect the testing.

The second sample paper I selected is, of course, Rhodia. This is a #19 Dotpad (A4+). The paper is high grade vellum (of course this a modern “paper vellum” imitation of the genuine vellum) which behaves differently from the regular absorbent papers. The main difference is in the level of absorbency. Vellum paper doesn’t absorb ink as readily, thus more substantial amount of dye stays on the surface as opposed to being absorbed into the paper fibers. (Read more about vellum on Wikipedia.)

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Rhodia 80g Dotpad #19
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Rhodia 80g Dotpad #19
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Glass dip pen and Poster dip nib

To standardize my testing, I use J. Herbin glass dip pen, which is wetter than most fountain pens but allows me to work rapidly without elaborate cleaning of the utensil after each sample.

The other nib used is a “Poster” nib, which is a very wide italic folded nib made of brass. The one I’m using is 15mm wide and very wet. This allows me to put on the page a good concentrated sample of the tested ink. In paint terminology we would call it a “masstone”. This should provide enough dye concentration and assure the testing is relatively objective as the dye is not spread too thinly on the surface.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Just a very small number of bottles used for this test
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Ink sampled similarly on both types of paper

The testing sheets contain the month of the testing, paper type and color group. I write the name of the ink with the glass pen and provide a “control” swatch (above) that is going to be later compared against a “treatment” swatch (below). The “treatment” samples are separated from the page. The “control” slips are stored in a dark place to be used as reference after sufficient exposure time has passed.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Pencil notes on a “treatment” slip

Pencil is used to mark the “treatment” slips as pencil is fairly durable against sun exposure. In case the samples completely deteriorate I need to be able to locate and assign the correct slips and samples to the control ones.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
“Treatment” slips removed to be later exposed to sunlight

On the image above are the slips sorted and “treatment” is separated from “control”. “Control” is going to be stored away of sunlight, while “treatment” samples are going to be taped on to the window in my south-facing room. The window gets around 3-4 hours of direct sunlight per day. This equals to 90 – 120 hours per month on average. I decided to omit calculating the monthly average with the possible cloudy days for simplification.

I also considered using a device such as Blue Wool Scale, which could be beneficial in estimating the correct exposure time necessary to give the tests proper context, but I decided against it in the end. My intent is to keep the samples in my window for the next 8 – 10 months, which should provide well more than 800 hours of direct sunlight, which is sufficient in effectively proving the level of dye durability for artistic purposes.

Tested Inks

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project

In total, I am testing 56 inks, divided according to several parameters. Following are the test sheets photographed for future reference but also to simply document the variety of inks tested.

Although I have wider ink selection that tested here, for time and space constraints, I only selected those that make a good representation of any particular color group.

Vintage

Vintage inks, the two Quinks I own were marketed “Permanent”.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Vintage – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Vintage – HP Copy

Pigment

Pigmented inks that should be in theory much more durable than dye based permanent inks.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Pigment – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Pigment – HP Copy

Iron Gall

Iron gall was the ink of choice for centuries. Today’s iron gall inks, however, are just milder alternatives to the original, since they would be way too strong to be used in fountain pens.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Iron Gall – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Iron Gall – HP Copy

Permanent Dye

Dye based inks that are claimed to have permanent properties. As you can see on this first sample, the inks I use here are made by Noodler’s Ink. I also had a bottle of De Atramentis Document Black, which too was a dye based permanent ink but I have since used up the bottle, thus had to exclude it from the testing group.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Permanent Dye – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Permanent Dye – HP Copy
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Permanent Dye, Partially or Fully – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
The infamous Noodler’s Ink Baystate Blue close-up
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Permanent Dye, Partially or Fully – HP Copy

The following sheet includes two permanent inks by Montblanc. The comparison of these against Noodler’s interests me greatly and should provide some context as to the overall durability of dye based inks for fountain pens claimed to be permanent.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Permanent Dye 2, Partially or Fully – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Permanent Dye 2, Partially or Fully – HP Copy

Dye – Red

A selection of red dye based inks that are not marketed as permanent.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Red – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Red – HP Copy

Dye – Violet

A batch of non-permanent dye based inks in the violet color family.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Violet – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Private Reserve Tanzanite sheen close-up
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Violet – HP Copy

Dye – Blue Black

Blue Black inks follow.

Dye / Blue Black - Rhodia
Dye / Blue Black – Rhodia
Dye / Blue Black - HP Copy
Dye / Blue Black – HP Copy

Dye – Blue

Blue inks that are considered “conventional”.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Blue – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Blue – HP Copy

Dye – Turquoise

A selection of inks from the “Turquoise” color family of green-blues and one green-blue.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Turquoise – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Turquoise – HP Copy

Dye – Green

Green inks sampled below should provide enough variety to test how green dyes generally hold up against UV light.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Green – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Green – HP Copy

Dye – Brown

A selection of brown inks that are not marketed as permanent. Dye based.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Brown – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Brown – HP Copy

Dye – Gray & Black

Finally, a selection of black non-permanent inks along with one gray ink.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Gray & Black – Rhodia
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Dye / Gray & Black – HP Copy

Exposure

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project

As I mentioned above, the “treatment” slips are going to be exposed to direct sunlight for 3-4 hours per day. This will make in 8 months total of 720 – 960 hours. However, I will be monitoring the state of the samples and may shorten or prolong the time after careful evaluation. To determine whether tested inks are suitable to use for artistic purposes it is necessary to push the sun exposure for 800+ hours.

The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Sun/UV Exposure
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Sun/UV Exposure
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Sun/UV Exposure
The Great Fountain Pen Ink UV Test Project
Sun/UV Exposure

On the images above you can see the sample sheets installed. I positioned them so the exposure is maximized. Unfortunately there’s another apartment building next to mine which is protruding and it blocks the evening sun. It would allow for additional 1-2 hours daily but since I can’t do anything about it I am required to keep the samples in the windows longer.

And that’s all for Phase 1 of this project. I will keep you updated about to the progress and may post some images as some time passes and the samples fade. After the 8 months, however, I will post another post with the results. While I do this primarily for myself, I decided to share my experience with you because I recognize that many people, mainly in the art community, would appreciate knowing how durable their ink is as the use of fountain pens is becoming more and more popular. And while the resistance of an ink to water is easily determined, UV exposure is quite a different story and there may not be necessarily much correlation between the two.

And so my hope is that you shall benefit from my testing as much as I will. Please let me know your thoughts down below. Please consider sharing it with your friends on your favorite social sites, pin the images on your Pinterest wall and subscribe to my newsletter to receive updates as new posts are released. You can also find me on FountainPenNetwork.com under the name EbonitePen.

-Daniel

11 Comments

  1. Rudolf January 8, 2019 at 11:21

    Thank you for taking on this project!

    Reply
  2. lisa August 3, 2018 at 22:07

    Um, when are we going to see the results?

    Reply
    1. Daniel Novotny August 5, 2018 at 22:40

      When indeed?

      There are already three updates on the site.

      -Daniel

      Reply
      1. David January 9, 2019 at 22:17

        I must be very stupid, since I can’t find them.

        Reply
    1. Daniel Novotny March 29, 2018 at 17:52

      Thank you for the link. Interesting indeed. I’ve not seen that thread before.

      Reply
  3. melvin August 18, 2017 at 23:46

    thank you for undertaking such a project! as a fellow fountain pen artist i am very interested in your results.

    Reply
    1. Daniel Novotny August 19, 2017 at 00:18

      Seems to me absolutely necessary to make sure that the tools we use are the best tools. I would hate to switch to something like permanent markers but closing our eyes to the problem of durability in our inks won’t do any of us any favors long term. We shall see how they fare in due time. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  4. J.P. Keslensky August 18, 2017 at 20:54

    Daniel,
    An interesting and hopefully informative project. The results will be both useful and fascinating.

    Reply
    1. Daniel Novotny August 18, 2017 at 21:10

      I’m trying to ascertain how things stand across brands, an overview of the durability of used dyes and pigments. This is not a scientific research. The reason why I undertook the project is to draw from the results very practical conclusions and recommendations. I am an artist and as such my interest in lightfastness is very practical as well as mandatory.

      Reply

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