For 3,000 years, writing inks have been applied with brushes, reeds, bird feathers, or metal nibs; but the arrival of fountain pens in the 19th and 20th centuries necessitated the development of new inks.
Pigments (such as carbon soot) and binders (such as shellac) used in much older inks would inhibit the capillary action taking place in fountain pens. As Sam Fiorella of Pendemonium explained at one of her pen show seminars: “Fountain pen ink is dye based, not pigment based. Drawing inks, Japanese sumi, and calligraphy inks would gum up the pen. And, fountain pen ink is water based, not oil based like printing ink.”
A legendary ink formulation called iron gall dominated European writing for well over 1,400 years, and we will cover it in detail in a future issue. Its unique chemistry makes it indelible, but the products of its reaction with oxygen tend to clog fountain pens. Further, the corrosiveness of such ink formulations spelled trouble for long-term storage in fountain pen reservoirs. Highly durable, the traditional inks were (and are) great for dip pens and brushes but not ideal for fountain pens; they are finicky eaters, and one downside is that what the fountain pen likes is also less durable.
So what does modern fountain pen ink consist of? Are you ready for a little chemistry?
First there’s the “vehicle”: water, polymeric resins, compounds that react with the cellu