Is Fountain Pen Ink Vegan?

Fountain pen ink contains dyes, water, surfactants to break the surface tension, pH modifiers, and biocides. For an ink to be considered vegan-friendly, it must not contain any animal by-products or derivatives, and these must not be used in the manufacturing process either.  The cartridge, or bottle, the lid, the label, and the ink itself must be free of animal-derived ingredients and any association with animals. 

It’s not possible to say for sure that all fountain pen ink is vegan as ink manufacturers are not obliged to declare the ingredients. Recipes are trade secrets. From what we know about modern ink ingredients, animal-derived products are unlikely as they are usually unsuitable for fountain pen feeds.

Animal-based ingredients typically found in other types of ink are likely to clog up fountain pens. Gelatin, glycerine, and shellac are substances that harden as they dry and therefore deadly to pens. The inks are predominantly dye-based, and the dyes are manufactured from coal-tar. Pigment-based inks contain particles that can form deposits inside pens and block them.

What Makes A Product Vegan?

For an ink to be vegan, it must not be associated with animals or animal derivatives in any way. This means that the ink contents must not contain any ingredients made from animals, their secretions, or their waste. The processes used to derive the ink components must also not involve animal products in any shape or form.

Animal products that are often found in other types of inks are:

  • Shellac – from beetles used to dry the ink faster
  • Bone char – from charred animal bones used as a pigment
  • Glycerin – from animal fat
  • Gelatin- from animal hooves
  • Carmine – an intense red pigment derived from the blood of cochineal insects
  • Sepia – a dark brown pigment derived from cuttlefish

Modern fountain pen inks don’t contain these products because they clog up their ink feeds. They are used in drawing inks, tattoo inks, and other types of ink. Pigments, which are particulate matter, are not standard in fountain pen ink because they form deposits inside the pen’s delicate tubes and block the flow.

A further vegan requirement is that the ink manufacturer must not do product testing on animals or commission animal testing, and neither should the suppliers of the raw ingredients. None of the companies associated with the manufacturer, such as a sister or parent company or business partners, may test products on animals either.  

Since there is no conceivable reason why a fountain pen ink would be tested on an animal, most fountain pen inks are likely to satisfy this requirement. Some manufacturers like Pilot and Faber-Castell positively state that they don’t do animal tests. PETA lists companies that don’t test their products on animals, but unfortunately, this list does not go down to the product level or the ingredient level.

In simple terms, modern ink consists of a dye with a binding agent. It combines tannic, Gallic, and hydrochloric acids, water, and iron salts such as phenol. Manufacturers may add other substances to relax surface tension and make the ink flow better. They all have their different formulas.

Are Aniline Dyes Vegan?

From the mid-19th-century, fountain pen inks were made of aniline dyes using an oil-based solvent. They could also include tannins and gum Arabic from plants and soot. Modern fountain pen inks still use aniline dyes. Aniline dyes were the first to be produced synthetically. An entire dye manufacturing industry sprang up around them after they were first discovered.

Aniline is contained in some plants, but the dye is derived mainly from coal-tar. It is essentially a coal-tar distillation product. Aniline dyes are organic, which means that molds can grow on them. To prevent this, modern ink manufacturers add biocides because mold growing in a fountain pen is hard to get rid of and makes the pen unusable.

Coal tar is a fossil-based product that consists of ancient dead animals, so some vegans might have a problem with this. However, these animals died millions of years ago and were not intentionally killed to make aniline dye.

Are Gall Inks Vegan?

Iron gall ink, or oak gall ink, is an ancient ink made from iron salts and tannic acids derived from plants. It was the standard ink used for fourteen hundred years and is still made today. Iron gall ink was made from iron sulfate, tannins (gallic acid), water, and a gum binder.

However, the original recipe was too corrosive for fountain pens, and manufacturers had to change it. The iron particles in traditional iron gall ink also caused fountain pens to clog up and become unusable.

Oak gall ink used to be made from protuberances on oak trees called galls formed where a gall wasp laid its eggs. Gallic acid is the other main ingredient in iron gall ink and comes from these galls. In the ordinary course of events, the gall wasp hatches out of the gall and flies away. It is not clear whether wasps or their eggs were killed when the galls were ground up to make this type of ink centuries ago, but it’s likely.

While iron gall ink is still made today, you would have to seek it out if you wanted to use it. Many people with fountain pens have never heard of it, and the vast majority of modern fountain pen inks are not iron gall inks. It is not as friendly to fountain pens as other modern inks and can still damage the pen.

Vegan-Friendly Fountain Pen Inks

Fountain open ink differs in its composition depending on the manufacturer’s recipe, which is usually proprietary. Some inks used for drawing contain shellac, which is a resin secreted by the female lac bug. However, fountain pens cannot use these inks because the shellac clogs them up. Shellac is not an ingredient in fountain pen inks.

True sepia-colored inks would not be vegan because they come from cuttlefish. Modern chemical processes have obviated the need to use animal pigments in fountain pen ink, so most sepia inks don’t contain cuttlefish, squid, or octopus derivatives. The use of cuttlefish ink declined sharply with the advent of fountain pens because it contains particles that clog their capillaries. Any sepia fountain pen ink that still has cuttlefish ink is likely to be much more expensive than ordinary ink.

Graf Von Faber-Castell inks and Blackstone inks are known to be vegan-friendly. Anderillium inks contain no plastics or animal products in their inks or packaging. Windsor and Newton’s calligraphy inks can be used with a fountain pen or dip pen and contain no animal-derived ingredients. All of Pilot’s products are free of animal ingredients and are not tested on animals either.

Montegrappa’s inks do not contain ingredients of animal origin such as carmine, beeswax, shellac, or animal-derived glycerin. Animal products such as isinglass and gelatin are not used in the processing of the ink either. Kaweco ink also doesn’t contain animal derivatives.

If you want to make sure that a particular ink is vegan before you buy it, contact the manufacturer or consult its website for the required information

Veganism comes down to personal choice, and there are no hard and fast rules about what is vegan and what isn’t. Phenol used in fountain pen ink comes from petroleum and other fossil products. Ethylene glycol, another common ingredient, also comes from fossilized sources such as dinosaurs. Some vegans may classify these as animal by-products while others won’t. 

Many people are happy to use a product that contains ingredients that did not involve the intentional killing, injuring, or harming of an animal or any form of animal cruelty. Since government agencies do not regulate fountain pen inks, there is no obligation on a company to provide a list of ingredients. Also, many manufacturers regard ink recipes as proprietary information and so are unlikely to publish them.

Conclusion

Most modern fountain pen inks are unlikely to contain animal derivatives. They are made from synthetic ingredients and dyes and are therefore vegan-friendly. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool vegan, you should avoid real sepia ink, but you’re unlikely to find it unless you are deliberately looking for it. You can also stick to inks made by manufacturers that do not test their products on animals, such as Faber-Castell and Pilot.

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