Dried ink and other debris can build up in a fountain pen, so it is essential to clean it regularly as part of routine maintenance. To do so, you will need to empty the pen of ink. You may also want to empty the pen if you need to change colors. It is not a good idea to empty fountain pen ink back into the bottle as a general rule.
If your pen was recently cleaned properly, it is relatively safe to put the ink back in the bottle. If you’ve been using the pen for a while, it is better to expel the ink into the sink. Ink inside the pen dries out and forms residues that will contaminate the fresh ink when forced out of the feed.
Cleaning is necessary to keep your pen in the best working condition and maintain its lifespan. If you want to clean your pen after you have used it for a while, don’t put the remaining ink back into the bottle. Instead, eject it while holding the pen over the sink under gently running water from the cold tap. You can also empty the pen onto a piece of blotting paper.
Don’t Mix Fountain Pen Inks
You should never mix different types of fountain pen ink. If you have to empty your fountain pen back into the bottle for some reason, it should at least be the same bottle from which you drew the ink in the first place. Even if you are changing ink brands but not colors, they are not all the same, and the inks can have very different ingredients.
When changing between two different colors, you should always flush your pen out with water before refilling the pen. You don’t want to mix different inks either inside the pen or inside the bottle. Ideally, you should thoroughly clean the pen before swapping it to a different ink.
Each ink has a different formula, and by mixing them, you can cause precipitates in the ink mixture, which can clog up your pen. Acidity, or ph levels, differ between inks. Montblanc inks, for example, are slightly acidic, whereas Sailor inks are more alkaline. This means their chemistry is different, and they won’t mix well.
Some people have found that even mixing two of the same brands of ink causes precipitates. This could be because the ink is manufactured in batches that differ slightly in their chemical composition.
If you need to change between different colored inks frequently, it is preferable to use one fountain pen for one color and a different pen for another. Many people do just that. It is not worth the risk of fooling around with mixes of various inks. You might end up having to throw your pen in the trash.
The feed system in a fountain pen can easily become blocked, and no amount of flushing will help.
Ink manufacturers make so many colors to choose from that it is not worth trying to make up your own by mixing inks.
There are two basic ink types for fountain pens – dye-based inks and pigment-based inks. The minute particles used in dyes are water-soluble, so there is not much risk of them clogging up your pen. Pigment-based inks, on the other hand, contain much larger particles that do not dissolve in water. They work by embedding the pigment particles in the paper.
These inks pose a much higher clogging risk than dye-based ones, and you have to clean the pen thoroughly more often. If pigment-based inks dry out inside the pen, you may struggle to get it clean again, and it may not work correctly. Platinum’s Carbon Black is an example of pigment-based ink.
Inks that shimmer contain minuscule glitter particles that need to be rinsed regularly from your fountain pen to keep it in good working order. They should be treated the same as pigment-based inks because particle deposits can form inside the pen and block the feed.
Cleaning Your Pen
Since you don’t want different inks mixing in your fountain pen, you need to clean it out every time you swap inks. You must ensure that the ink delivery system is completely clear of ink. Fill a glass from the cold water tap and soak the lower half of the pen in it. When the water gets dirty, empty the glass and refill it.
If you are using a converter or a piston-filled pen, suck the water into the ink reservoir and then expel it. Repeat this several times until you can no longer see ink in the water.
You can buy liquids designed to flush fountain pens that will help to clean the feed. After you have rinsed the pen out with water as much as you can, dry it and swirl it in the ink flush. You can also draw the flush up into the pen and then eject it until there is no ink visible in the liquid. After you’ve done this, hold the pen under running water again for a few minutes to remove the ink flush. Never use hot water.
If you don’t wash the ink flush out of the pen properly, it will increase the flow rate of the ink too much, and your writing will come out extremely wet. There is no point in cleaning out your pen thoroughly, only to fill it with ink full of the same particles that you just washed out of it.
Steer Clear of Bad Ink
If you use ink with particles or sludge at the bottom of the bottle, this can clog up the pen’s feed and the nib. You should always check the ink in the bottle by turning it upside down. If it looks like the liquid forms a thicker layer at the bottom than at the top, you should throw this ink away. It is contaminated with particulate matter, or the dye within it is too heavy to be completely dissolved.
Some fountain pen inks can go off. If you open a bottle and the ink gives off a foul odor, do not use it. Most fountain pen inks rarely expire and can last decades if stored correctly (out of the light and tightly sealed). However, if you empty your fountain pen back into the bottle, the ink will become tainted, and this may affect its shelf-life.
You should also never use India ink in a fountain pen. India ink is a thick black ink that was once widely used for printing and writing. Nowadays, it is primarily used for outlining and drawing. It consists of fine particles of soot called lampblack combined with water. Gelatin or shellac is usually added to make it more durable when dry.
India ink is deadly to fountain pens as the shellac gums them up so thoroughly that you have to throw the pen away. Once it has got into the nib and feed system, there is no cleaning it out. An ink that is meant for dip pens and calligraphy should not be used in a fountain pen.
With fountain pens, it is better to use dye-based inks than pigmented inks.
You should always purchase inks made by a reputable manufacturer and be aware that your pen may prefer some inks over others. While ink can become infected with mold and go off, this is rare. Over time inks can undergo color changes due to changes in their chemical composition. If the ink seems oily or slimy, don’t use it.
As a general rule, you should not empty fountain pen ink back into the bottle. If you know your pen is totally clean and you empty the pen into the same bottle the ink was drawn from, it isn’t the end of the world. In any other circumstances, you run the risk of contaminating the fresh ink with particulates that will spoil the ink in the bottle and ultimately clog up your pen.