Reviewing calligraphy inks.

Carrying on from reviewing nibs from the last blog, this post will be all about another essential tool for!

We'll discuss different types of ink from do it yourself to ready made. We'll also discuss the various effects and finishes of different inks. Lastly I'll review a small selection of inks, looking at ease of use, finish and price. Hopefully this post will tell you about the basics of calligraphy ink and give you some ideas if you're looking to expand your own ink collection.

We're not going to discuss other mediums such as gouache, watercolour, chalk etc just yet, but look out for a future blog about other mediums.

Back to ink which is my favourite calligraphy tool, just because there are so many different colours and variables out there including sparkly, metallic, matte, glossy, pearlescent inks. You can also make ink out of items around your home and garden such as coffee,tea and berries, so it doesn't need to be expensive. There is so much scope for experimentation and discovering new ways to make and use ink, it never gets boring!

Most inks are ready made however there are some ink products that come in a pre made form such as ink crystals or powder that you will need to combine with ingredient to make at home. I'll briefly go through how to make up a couple of those pre made forms, starting with walnut ink:

-Walnut ink rarely arrives ready made, it usually comes in the format of lots of tiny crystals (sometimes in walnut husks), all you need to do is get an empty bottle or container for your ink to be held in, add a teaspoon of the crystals into the bottle then pour just boiled water into the bottle and mix, you can add more crystals if you prefer a darker colour.

-Pearl Ex will arrive in powder form and you'll need gum arabic (I recommend Winsor &Newton), gum arabic is found in craft shops or you can buy it from Amazon. Pearl Ex is slightly trickier to make up than walnut ink, this recipe by Joi Hunt of Bien Fait Calligraphy is a great guide:

It also depends on preference, as Joi says you can add more gum arabic to make your Pearl Ex thicker to give a lovely raised, embossed effect. Experiment with the ingredients until you get the consistency you want.

Let's look at a small selection of my favourite inks just to keep it simple for now, I'll elaborate on other mediums later in another post.

Lets look at our ink selection for today:

I've the photo extra large so you can get a good ink at the different effects each ink displays.

Starting from the top:

Higgins Eternal Black:

If you're looking for a black ink this or sumi ink is a good place to start. Eternal Black has a medium thickness consistency, it holds well on the nib and writes well. As long as you tap off any excess ink before writing it doesn't blob. After the ink has dried it has a slightly matte finish. It may just be me but whenever I use this ink I find it goes everywhere and it's not the easiest to wash off. Overall though it's a good black ink.

Price: £6.50 (source: Blots Pen and Ink Supplies).

Walnut ink:

As you need so few walnut crystals to make up a bottle, Walnut ink is the perfect everyday ink and it's inexpensive because it lasts forever!. It's very easy to make up and use. It's a thin consistency but it doesn't leak or blob everywhere. It doesn't last as long on the nib as well as thicker inks do. The finish is flat but it wouldn't look right if walnut ink was shiny. Very easy to wash off skin and clothes.

Price: £5.77 for 250g (source: Amazon UK).

Dr Martin's Hydrus - Cobalt Blue and Sap Green.

Dr Martin's are a popular ink brand and make all sorts of wonderful different inks. The Hydrus range was made to mimic the watercolour look. The colour is beautifully vivid. The consistency is medium thickness. I have found the Sap Green colour stains my nibs and is almost impossible to remove. When writing the ink has a lovely 'wet' look to it and the finish is glossy. This ink is great for bright, colourful work and is well worth the price.

Price: £4.90 (source: Scribblers UK)

Most Dr Martin inks come in a small narrow neck bottle which means that once you've used up some ink and the level dips, you won't be able to fit the nib and tip of the nib holder in the bottle and therefore will get little to no ink on the nib. To fix this you can either use a small brush, dip it in the ink and brush the ink onto the nib or you can decant the ink into another bottle.

Pearl Ex - Solar Gold, Red Russet and Grey Lavender.

Ahh I love Pearl Ex so prepare for some waffling here! I've highlighted the key points if you want to skim over the rest. As mentioned before Pearl Ex comes as coloured pigment in a plastic tub (you can also buy smaller sizes in tiny glass pots). Use Joi Hunt's recipe when you're starting out but after a while once you know what consistency you like you'll be able to bung it all in. I generally use approximately 3-4 parts Pearl Ex powder, 1-2 parts Gum Arabic and 1 part water as I like my consistency thick to get that lovely, raised embossed look. You'll find that as you're adding more Pearl Ex you get a lot sparkly and more pigmented look when you are making it a thick consistency. A thinner consistency can be good though when you're first using Pearl Ex, when you're using nibs that don't work with Pearl Ex very well, when you're doing delicate work such as writing event stationery or if the paper medium is tricky. Although some Pearl Ex colours just separate and won't mix - there is a list on Joi Hunt's Pearl Ex blog link above (Nb, I am mentioning Joi Hunt's name a lot, that's because she is the Pearl Ex Queen and what she doesn't know about Pearl Ex isn't worth knowing) - I haven't had any problems with the colours of this review. Because Pearl Ex is made of powder if you don't stir it every five minutes or so it will clump and cling to the sides of the bottle, you'll need the end of a teaspoon to scrape it off and mix it up again but it will be as good as new. So, ease of use - Pearl Ex is a little high maintenance, the finish is sparkly and has a raised look. Pearl Ex appears a little pricey however a .75oz tub lasts a long time so you get value for money.

Price: £8.54 plus p+p for .75oz

Dr Martins Iridescent - Pink and Purple.

When you receive this ink you'll notice the top half has a shimmery, iridescent layer whereas the bottom half is pure ink. If you want a standard ink that vibrant leave the bottle as it is, if you want a iridescent ink as seen on the picture you'll need to give the bottle a good shake. So if you want the iridescent ink, a little work is involved but it is worth as it gives a lovely shimmery finish that you just don't get with other inks.

Price: $6.60 + postage from Paper and Ink Arts in the USA.

Metallic colours can be found in the UK on Amazon UK or Quill London.

Dr Martins Bombay India Ink - Aqua.

I only have Aqua in this range but I find it to be highly pigmented which gives great colour as you can see. Once this ink dries on your nib you're going to have difficulty getting it off and in terms of use it does have a tendency to blob at times (as you can see in the above photo!). Otherwise it's a perfectly good ink and gives a matte finish.

Price: £3.80 (source: Blots Pen and Ink Supplies).

J Herbin - Bouquet D'Antan.

This one is a bit of a wild card in this review. I bought it from Melodies Graphiques in Paris because I loved the colour, once I got it home I discovered it didn't work with pointed pen calligraphy too well, I suspect it's more suited to fountain pens and broad pen calligraphy such as italic. Initially it was incredibly watery but after adding lots of gum arabic it's now useable although it does blob if I'm not careful. The finish looks very watercolour like.

Price: £6.95 (source: Bureau Direct UK)

So there we are, ink review and blog post complete, it's been as thorough as always but I hope it's helped you or you've enjoyed finding out about these brilliant inks.

Thanks for reading


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