Why Is Fountain Pen Ink So Expensive?

The question is, which fountain pen ink are you referring to, and what do you mean by expensive? Many reputable ink manufacturers offer a cheaper range that can be very economical without compromising on quality – especially if you buy the larger bottles. Luxury inks by boutique manufacturers are as far removed from affordable ink as beer is from a twenty-one-year-old whiskey.

Not all fountain pen inks are expensive, but those that are will be imported, luxury goods in beautiful designer bottles made in relatively small quantities. The unique quality of ingredients, the proprietary nature of the recipe, branding, shipping, and customs duty all add to the cost of the ink.

The price of ink depends on where you buy it. If you are in Japan buying ink made in Japan, it is likely to be cheaper than if you purchased it in a country to which it has been exported. Luxury ink is not a necessity but a choice, and since it is a premium product, you pay premium prices. Some inks are more expensive than the pen itself, and manufacturers put a lot of trouble and effort into designing the glass bottles they come in.

Expensive Fountain Pen Inks

Many fountain pen inks are expensive because of the laws of supply and demand. The less there is of it, the more people want it. The more people want it, the higher the price. Others are expensive because they are made with unique ingredients that cost more as they are in short supply.

Fountain pens are no longer widely used, and many people today have never written with one. Unless you seek them out, you won’t always find them because ordinary supply stores tend to sell ballpoints and gel pens these days. This means that the ink market is also much smaller than it used to be as fewer people use fountain pens. Therefore, many fountain pen inks are no longer mass-produced, which increases their cost.

There is also the appeal of the exotic when it comes to fountain pen inks. Using a particular ink is as much a style statement by the user as it is about the price of the ink. Many people these days see fountain pens as an experience, and exclusive or luxury inks are part of it. Depending on which country you live in, an ink might be more or less expensive.

Pilot’s Iroshikuzu Ink is sold in a stylish, oval-shaped glass bottle that appeals to the connoisseur, but they also make a very affordable good quality ink that costs far less. In Japan, Iroshikuzu ink is not considered that expensive, whereas, in the US, it is. Iroshikuzu costs much less in Japan than in other parts of the world because it is made there. Shipping adds considerably to the cost of fountain pen ink.

Caran d’Ache ink is considered expensive in the US, but once again, it is imported. It is made in Geneva, Switzerland, by the same people who make a gorgeous range of fountain pens and is a premium product designed for premium pens. This is In addition to the shipping and other import costs to get it into the US. The Caran d’Ache Chromatics range currently sells on Amazon for just over $31 for a 50 ml bottle which is more than many other brands.

Akkerman inks are made in the Netherlands, and their Dutch Masters range consists of limited edition inks. Unsurprisingly these are expensive in the US. They also make a Standard Collection range which costs less but is still considered pricey by American consumers. Their color range is extensive, and the ink works well in a wide variety of pens, so it is sought after by enthusiasts.

Jacques Herbin, the luxury side of J. Herbin, makes a premium line called Les Encres Essentielles in an array of colors that is expensive. The company has specialized in stationery since the reign of Louis XIV and is located in Paris.  A 50 ml bottle of J. Herbin 1670 Anniversary Ink and the 1798 Anniversary Ink sell for almost US $29 on Amazon. A bottle of 1670 Blue Ocean, however, sells for just over $49.

The rarity of an ink also pushes up the price since it is made in smaller quantities and is not as widely available outside the locale where it is manufactured. The manufacturer cannot exploit economies of scale to buy the ingredients. Even large manufacturers will produce limited edition inks that are only available for a short time because they don’t make a lot.

Parker, for instance, makes its famous Quink that is very reasonably priced, but it also made the Penman range between 1993 and 2000, which many consider the holy grail of ink. A bottle of Parker Penman Ebony ink sells for $85.00 on e-bay, while the Penman Mocha, still in its box, is going for $99.99.

Parker Penman Sapphire is particularly sought after for its deep vibrant blue color and beautiful sheen. Because it has been discontinued,  there are a limited number of bottles in existence, explaining the high price. Parker apparently stopped making the range because it damages pens by staining and clogging them, but this does not deter the fans.

The user’s enjoyment plays a significant role in decisions as to which fountain pen ink to buy. People who just want a better writing instrument purely to write stuff down will not be attracted to luxury fountain pen inks, and there is no reason why they should buy them.

Those who have a more experimental, hobbyist approach to fountain pens write for enjoyment as well as practical reasons. A luxury ink may be a treat for such people and contributes to the pleasure they derive from using a fountain pen.

Affordable Fountain Pen Inks

In the days before ballpoint pens, fountain pens were the only kind of pen that people used. Ink was as common as bread and didn’t cost much more than that because it was a staple of many households and businesses. This is not the case today where fountain pens have been replaced by rollerballs, ballpoint pens, and gel pens.

Back then, everybody used fountain pen ink, and it wasn’t a luxury item as it is today. Nowadays, the vast majority of businesses do not use fountain pens at all, and it is private individuals who choose them as a matter of personal preference.

Reputable manufacturers still offer those affordable inks; it’s just that many people aren’t as aware of them as they were before because fountain pens are no longer ubiquitous. Pelikan sells its 4001 series in one-liter containers that work out to around 5.5 cents per ml. Unless you write screeds every day, you will not get through a liter of ink in a year.

Pilot sells an affordable 350 ml bottle of a good-looking, reliable ink that comes in red, black, or blue-black. It will last for a very long time, depending on the type of nib and paper you use. The US price is around 7.1 cents per ml, and it’s even cheaper in Japan.

Diamine inks are slightly more expensive than Pelikan and Pilot but come in beautifully styled bottles that look good on your desk, so they have some aesthetic value too. Diamine sells a vast range of colors to suit even the pickiest fountain pen user. They are based in the UK, so the inks are cheaper there, but they aren’t considered expensive even in other countries.

Conclusion

Some fountain pen inks are expensive because they are luxury items or rare because they are only made in limited quantities. In other cases, the ink is not sold in its country of origin, so import and export costs have to be factored into the price. The laws of supply and demand apply to inks just like any other market. The greater the demand for the ink, relative to its availability, the pricier it becomes. However, there are still good quality affordable inks available for the user with a purely pragmatic approach to fountain pens.

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