Fountain pen inks come in an incredible array of colors. Diamine offers one hundred and ten different colors, and Noodlers also provides over a hundred colors, so why would you want to mix your own? Well, perhaps you want to create your own unique and personalized hue, or maybe you just want to experiment with the inks you already have to create something new.
You can mix fountain pen inks, but there are risks to be aware of. You should never mix fountain pen inks of different brands or different categories within the same brand. Precipitates or gels can form as chemicals in the ink interact that can clog a pen’s delicate feed system or even corrode some of the parts.
Mixing inks to create different colors comes with certain risks because different manufacturers use proprietary ink recipes and guard them jealously. You won’t get a breakdown of the ingredients on the label of an ink bottle. Even inks made by the same manufacturer don’t necessarily all use the same recipe.
What Can Happen If You Mix Fountain Pen Inks?
Generally speaking, mixing two or more incompatible inks can lead to the formation of a sludge or tiny particles called precipitates that will clog a fountain pen’s insides and could potentially trash it. You should therefore not use your most valuable fountain pen to try out your ink mixtures.
Not all inks have the same pH, which means that some may be slightly acidic, others could be neutral, and others could be a bit alkaline. Scientists measure pH on a scale from zero to fourteen, with a pH of seven being neutral. Seven is the pH of distilled water. If a liquid has a pH of less than seven, it is acidic. If it has a pH of more than seven, it is alkaline.
Alkaline substances are also called bases. Bleach, a base, has a pH of around 11, which means it is alkaline, while the pH of white vinegar is about 2.4 and is a weak acid. Bases taste bitter while acids taste sour – not that you should put your ink to the taste test!
Not all of the ink colors made by the same manufacturer have the same pH. It varies, depending on the color of the ink. For example, most Faber-Castell inks are acidic, with only one, their Carbon Black, being alkaline. Some Rohrer and Klingner inks such as Salix, Magenta, Scabiosa, and Leipziger Schwarz are distinctly acidic with a pH of less than three. At the same time, their Verdigris, Blau Mare, and Blau Permanent all have a pH above seven.
Pilot Inks all have a pH of more than seven, with a number of them going as high as nine or more, making them reasonably alkaline. Depending on their hue, Montblanc inks range from a pH of three to six, which makes them all fairly acidic. Noodlers inks are proudly pH neutral, but some other brands are too. Most Sailor inks tend to be on the alkaline side, while many Pelikan inks are somewhat acidic.
As one observer put it, some inks have the same pH as bleach, while others go down to acid rain levels. Acids and bases can be highly corrosive to the different materials from which fountain pens are made. Some piston fillers use aluminum, brass, bronze, or steel components. If a seal fails, ink can seep out and make contact with these components and corrode the mechanism.
Many inks made with old-fashioned ink recipes can be pretty acidic, and this can be especially damaging to vintage pens. If you inadvertently decrease their pH levels even further in the mixing process, they can discolor or even destroy the pen.
What is so important about an ink’s pH level? In chemistry, an acid and a base (alkaline), when mixed together, react to produce a salt. The salt can form a precipitate if it is insoluble. Anything in fountain pen ink that is insoluble is bad because it builds up as residue inside the pen and clogs the feed. If something is insoluble, it generally won’t dissolve in water, so washing out these residues can be difficult.
Mixing different inks can also produce a precipitation reaction which is different from an acid-base reaction. This occurs when two different solutions that contain a soluble salt are combined to form an insoluble salt that precipitates out of the solution. If an insoluble salt solution dries in a fountain pen, it can also be difficult to remove because it coats the inside surfaces.
One experimenter found that mixing KWZ Iron Gall Ink with Sailor Ink caused the formation of precipitates as the different chemicals interacted. Some fountain pen users say it is not worth the risk to mix fountain pen inks, while others seem to combine them with gleeful abandon.
Many people say that there are so many colors available that it is not worth mixing inks yourself. Of course, you can always use the ink mix in a dip pen which writes similar to a fountain pen but has no reservoir and no feed to block. People have found that just adding tap water to some inks causes the formation of precipitates.
If You Are Going To Mix Fountain Pen Inks
You might think that if all Noodler’s inks are pH neutral, you can safely mix them together. You would be wrong. Noodler’s makes inks in different categories, and you should only mix inks in the same category. The founder of Noodler’s, Nathan Tardiff, says you shouldn’t mix a Noodler’s Baystate ink with anything but another Baystate.
Noodler’s Baystate inks have a different formula to other fountain pen inks and are designed to have richer, more vibrant colors. Baystate blue is gorgeous. However, they are known to stain everything they touch, so using them in valuable pens should be avoided. People in the fountain pen community say you either love Baystate ink or you hate it.
If you mix Noodler’s inks from different categories, a chemical reaction will cause precipitates to form that will clog the pen. Also, you should never mix different brands of ink because of the variations in their chemical content. This is why when changing between inks, experts and pen manufacturers recommend that you should always flush the pen out with water first.
When mixing, it is best to use a syringe and a small vial of the inks to be combined. Measure the number of parts of the colors that you add and start small. For example, use one part black to four parts red so that you know in what proportions to mix your larger batch. First, combine small quantities in a shallow, transparent petri dish.
You can swirl the mixture around and shine a light from the bottom up to detect any particulates or gels. One experimenter mixed Noodler’s Georgia Peach and Noodler’s Year Of the Golden Pig and got a gel. Gels and fountain pens do not go well together!
Another user mixed two Sailor inks, Grenade and Epinard, together and found a precipitate. Combining the Pilot Iroshizuku inks, Ama-Iro and Fuyu-gaki also yielded residue, as did a mixture of Montblanc’s Corn Poppy Red and Sailor’s Grenade.
Platinum’s Mix Free Inks are compatible with each other and are intended for those who wish to find that rare and perfect shade. There are nine basic colors, namely –
- Aurora Blue
- Cyclamen Pink
- Earth Brown,
- Flame Red
- Leaf Green
- Silky Purple
- Sunny Yellow
- Smoke Black.
These can be blended to produce your own desired hue or recreate a favorite that another brand has since discontinued.
People who have used these inks say that they work well together and flow just as easily, if not better, than other Platinum inks with no feathering and bleeding. However, you mix them with other brands at your own risk. Sailor and Pilot Inks, in particular, don’t mix with Platinum Mix Free Inks as their chemical compositions clash.
For years, the printing industry has used the classic four shades of cyan, magenta, yellow and black to produce a large variety of hues. The acronym used for this is CYMK, with the “K” meaning “Key” The Key is usually black. Platinum’s Mix Free inks contain these basic colors and a few more besides. However, you can also buy other brands in these colors and see what you can produce by mixing them.
One enthusiast used Noodler’s Navajo Turquoise for Cyan, Noodler’s Shah’s Rose for Magenta, Noolder’s Yellow, and Bulletproof Black for “K”. To make pastel shades, she used Noodler’s White Whale. If you want to create a bunch of mixtures simultaneously, using an ice cube tray with a cover is a good idea.
Once you have your perfect ink mixture, don’t put it into your pen right away. Leave it to sit for several days to see if any precipitates form. When mixing inks, don’t just pour the contents of one ink bottle into the other. Mix the different inks in a small vial. Apart from particulates clogging your pen, some mixtures may stain it permanently.
Choose inks that are pH neutral for your mixing experiments wherever possible, but bear in mind that other chemicals in the ink such as surfactants, humectants, anti-foaming agents, and biocides could interact. Some inks can lose their color entirely if their pH is altered.
Don’t add alcohol to your ink. Many vintage pens are made from celluloid, ebonite, or natural plastics that dissolve in alcohol. Many perfumes contain alcohol, so if you want to add a scent to the ink, you do so at your own risk. The vast majority of standard fountain pen inks use water-soluble, aniline dyes for color – don’t add other dyes.
Different Ink Properties
Iron Gall inks are formulated differently and can spontaneously form a sludge if misused or contaminated. It is an ancient type of ink that is insoluble in water when it dries and has a dark, intense color. KWZ makes modern Iron Gall inks that differ from other Iron-Gall inks in that they do not contain any suspended solids. However, even KWZ states that Iron-Gall inks require more care from fountain pen users than standard inks.
The chemical reactions that cause Iron-Gall ink to darken on paper can occur inside the pen. These inks can also react with other types of ink to form precipitates that are difficult to clean out. Even diluting the ink with tap water is a problem because the water contains trace elements that react with the ingredients and have a negative impact on the stability of the ink.
This type of ink should never be allowed to dry out in a fountain pen because it leaves behind sediments that are hard to remove. It is necessary to flush the pen out more regularly when using this ink. Mixing iron gall inks with each other or with other types of ink is not advised. The same is true of other waterproof inks.
Iron-Gall is usually a blue-black ink that is made from iron salts and tannic acid.
The majority of fountain pen inks are dye-based. They are not the same as India ink, calligraphy ink, dip pen ink, Sumi ink, or acrylic-based inks. Don’t mix with any of these if you value your fountain pen. The chemicals in dye-based inks are water-soluble and unlikely to clog a fountain pen. If they do dry out inside it, they can easily be flushed out with water.
Pigment-based ink colorants are not water-soluble because they remain in suspension as particles. While you do get some pigmented inks for fountain pens, they are always riskier to use than dye-based inks, and flushing your pen out regularly is a must. When mixing inks, you should never mix pigmented inks together or with dye-based ink.
Bulletproof ink is dye-based but is more permanent than other fountain pen inks. It binds with the cellulose in the paper to become waterproof. However, it may not be a good idea to mix bulletproof ink with other ink types because it still has a different chemical formulation.
Shimmering inks for fountain pens are infused with glitter, so when you use it, your writing glitters on the paper. Since glitter is a particulate, it settles at the bottom of the ink bottle, and you need to shake it before filling your pen with it. These particles can also settle in the workings of the pen and can clog it up if you don’t regularly rinse it out.
If you mix two shimmering inks together, you may get too much glitter in the mix, which wouldn’t bode well for your pen. Some inks have a beautiful sheen when dry that has nothing to do with glitter.
You can also buy scented inks for that letter to someone special, but it’s not advisable to mix these with other inks either. It is better to use inks with very similar chemical compositions when mixing them, but this is difficult because the manufacturers don’t tell you what chemicals make up the ink. This is why it’s a good idea to only mix inks of the same brand and type.
Always scrutinize your ink mix for deposits, clots or solids, or semi-solids before using it in a fountain pen. It doesn’t take huge particles to clog it. Different inks also dry at different rates, depending on their viscosity and various chemicals they contain. Some people mix Noodler’s standard inks with no problems, but it is always best to establish for yourself how the different colors react.
It is advisable to use a converter with the pen in which you are going to use your ink mixture. Converters are cheap and easy to replace if something goes wrong.
Many fountain pen enthusiasts have experimented with mixing inks and derive great pleasure from doing so. If you want to have a go yourself, you may wish to try using Platinum’s mixable inks to start with. They come in a kit with some useful tools. Otherwise, mix inks of the same brand and type, and always make sure there are no sediments before filling your pen.