Okay, first, a confession. I’ve gone off fountain pens.
After a ridiculously pen-centric 2018, it all became a bit too much, and Real Life got in the way. I don’t want to dwell on the various ways everything got more complicated, but suffice to say, I decided to wind down my pen activities.
This was also right after I putatively joined United Inkdom and promptly failed to take part in any of the group reviews or, indeed, writing anything at all. Sorry about that.
I still own a bunch of fountain pens, but I only have a few inked up, and most of my inks are in storage boxes. I haven’t bought any new pens or inks for a while, and I unsubscribed from all the blogs, newsletters, Facebook groups et al.
(My camera, my dip pen, my Q-tips and other paraphernalia are also in storage right now, so best you’re getting are some iPhone shots, I’m afraid… Oh, and I think I left my good handwriting in the car, too.)
One of the last activities I did before this mental spring-clean was to vote in the Fountain Pen UK Facebook group’s ink surveys for an exclusive FPUK ink, and write screeds about the various options sampled.
So, when I found out on the grapevine that Diamine had released not one but two FPUK inks, I did feel a little obligated to quickly nip out of retirement and order them. About an hour after placing the order with Pure Pens, I received their email newsletter about their1 exclusive(?) 15th Anniversary ink by Diamine – “Alexandrite”. And, of course, just as with FPUK, they released two versions: a non-shimmer and a shimmer.
Fortunately, I caught the order on time and asked Pure Pens to amend my order, adding in 30ml of the non-shimmer… I won’t bother with the shimmer ink as I don’t share my seven-year-old daughter’s glitter obsession.
True to form, the package arrived Next Business Day.
Diamine x Niche Pens Alexandrite
I’m not sure if this is an exclusive or a UK exclusive to Niche / Pure Pens, but I imagine so. That’d be par for the course with Diamine’s myriad exclusives to various retailers. It’s definitely not branded as a Pure Pens Celtic or English collection ink, although I do think it could probably fit in there.
Being a Red-Sheening Blue it’s a rare treat.2
More accurately, it’s a red-sheening-teal. It’s a nice blue-teal too. It has the crimson red sheen of Pure Pens Saltire, Krishna Moonview, Diamine Skull & Roses, and Organics Studio Nitrogen (among hundreds of others that share this dye chemistry), and sheens fairly strongly on Rhodia. It’s not as “metallic” as Nitrogen, Moonview, Walden and all those, but certainly more than the light hint of crimson sheen in Pure Pens’ own inks.
The base colour, however, is gorgeous. It’s not a million miles from Pure Pens Celtic Sea (although maybe a little tealier?), and appears close to Sailor Jentle Yama-dori, although I must admit I only ever had about 0.25ml of that ink so I’m no expert. As Red-Sheening-Blues have never really been my thing, I don’t have a lot to compare it to.
As it’s evidently outside the sRGB gamut, the photos don’t really represent it well – and to be fair, the photographer did absolutely nothing to try to capture it accurately. It’s got that real parrotty vibe to it; like you made a smoothie out of a mermaid, a butterfly and a tonne of copper salts. It’s like a slightly-bluer Herbin Emeraude de Chivor with the glitter filtered out.
If I was still down the rabbit hole, I’d be ordering the 80ml bottle of this stuff and using it a lot, I reckon.
Diamine Monboddo’s Hat
With an included card with art from Nick Stewart and words by FPUK’s Bernando Gomes, this one’s clearly named after United Inkdom ringleader and curator of purples, Scribble Monboddo.
Now for another confession… while purple is one of my favourite colours, I’ve never really liked purple ink. It’s just hasn’t hit the spot for me. Don’t tell Scribs.
Monboddo’s Hat seems close to Diamine Imperial Purple and Waterman Tender Purple, but a bit plummier, maybe. It sheens gold/yellow fairly well.
Diamine Scribble Purple
I left the FPUK group before the final resolution of which of the ten samples would win so I don’t know what the thing about two inks was, or even which of the samples won. (UPDATE: turns out I voted for 765 Scribble Purple, and secondly 768X Monboddo’s Hat, so my choices won.) Regardless, they are a bit different. Scribble Purple is a tad darker, bluer than Monboddo’s Hat, but is still in that “Imperial” range, rather than being a lilac or an indigo. It’s closer to Pure Pens Flower of Scotland than Diamine Imperial Purple. It seems to sheen more than Monboddo’s Hat too.
A dry ink
One thing to note is the dryness of Monboddo’s Hat. The whole “wet vs. dry” ink thing is a bit of a tough one, and I’ve never really got a grip on it. It’s really about the ink’s viscosity, surface tension and propensity to flow. Counterintuitively, an ink tends to be made drier by adding water – as a very polar liquid3 water has a high surface tension, which makes it less likely to “wet” other things… that’s why water beads up on a windscreen, and why you add a detergent to make it actually wash dishes and windows. So, a wetter ink is made by adding a surfactant – a tiny, tiny amount. As ink usually contains a surfactant, adding water makes it less effective and effectively drier.
Anyway, that’s the
science hand-waving. Inks made by the traditional manufacturers like Waterman, Montblanc, Parker, Pelikan and so forth tend to be drier, and their pens optimised for that. Third-party inks and other pens often tend to be wetter. Diamine inks do tend to be moderately wet, but still well-behaved.
I’m certainly no expert on this, but I think a drier ink with an optimised pen will give fewer headaches, and that’s why one might tend to pair a premium pen with an ink made by the same company. If, however, you want to play with different inks and pens, and the pens might not be made to as exacting tolerances and adjustments, wetter ink makes for easier flow, but consequently, more mess.
The bottle of Montblanc Oyster Grey I recently bought is a dry ink, and as a result it does not flow well in some of my pens, and especially ones with ebonite components. I suspect this is because ebonite wets well (compared to plastic feeds, even with etched mechanical and chemical surface energy modification4) and the ink won’t let go. While a wetter ink will certainly soak onto the ebonite, it also pours off it easily.
What this comes down to:
- A wet ink will flow more than a drier ink.
- A “wet pen” (a pen that’ll tend to run wet) allows more ink through than a “dry pen”
- A wet ink in a wet pen will lay down more ink, leaving a darker line, but as a result is more likely to make a mess.
- A dry ink in a dry pen won’t write well. It’ll railroad, starve, and so on.
- A wet ink in a dry pen, or a dry ink in a wet pen will lay down less ink but might be a happy medium.
- A flex nib, needing a variable and immediate ink flow, can perform better with wetter ink; however, a drier ink, having stronger surface tension, may maintain flow between separated tines during a strong flex.
That last point is what always confuses me about wet vs. dry. It seems to be a balancing act. There’s some confusion around, with some people recommending adding water to make an ink wetter. There are also other factors involved. And, the actual difference between wet and dry ink is very slight; as a fountain pen is basically a “controlled leak”, a very small percentage of surfactant added can make an ink so wet it’s unusable and it’ll just pour out of the pen.
Most non-enthusiast users will not properly comprehend the difference between a wet or dry ink or pen, but they probably will get annoyed by a pen that leaks5 and a pen that won’t run a continuous line, and just not know why.
There’s also the matter of the paper. An absorbent paper will pull ink from the pen and into the paper by capillary action – which is why some ink will bloom on some paper. A more glossy or surfaced paper (especially Tomoe River) on the other hand, will keep the ink on the surface. As a result, a drier ink will perform better on cheaper, grottier paper. So, a well-balanced dry pen and ink combination will perform better on a wider range of paper stock.
Ink sheen (which all three of these inks are quite rich in) will tend to show up stronger on less-absorbent paper. Sheen is the phenomenon of excess ink crystallising on the surface of the paper rather than soaking in. It’s dependent on:
- The quality of the paper; especially the property of limiting the absorption (adsorption?) of ink
- The wetness of the ink and pen; so more ink is laid down on the paper
- The saturation of dye in the ink; as only a concentrated dye will crystallise well. Sheen monsters like Organics Studio Nitrogen and Walden do so by having an abnormally high quantity of dye.
Again, there’s a subtlety there too… a drier ink’s higher surface tension and viscosity will tend to pool on the surface more than a wetter ink that’ll soak in. That aspect may be more significant for sheen than the added quantity of ink that the wetter combination will lay down. I honestly have no idea which is more significant in this case. Maybe a wetter pen (laying down more ink) with a drier ink (that’ll absorb less) on better paper will sheen the best.
So, back to the matter at hand. Monboddo’s Hat is described in the included note as a drier ink: “The ink is recommended for fountain pens which naturally run wet.”… ie. it’ll compensate for a “wetter pen”.
Scribble Purple is more like a usual Diamine ink, and flows well in the relatively wet pens in which I tried it, but it does leave a dark line that verges on black. Alexandrite is typical for Diamine too, but being a lighter colour won’t look quite as dark.
When it comes to sheen, Scribble Purple does sheen more than Monboddo’s Hat, and Alexandrite even more so. None are on the scale of the problematic sheen monsters – so saturated their dyes will crystallise inside the bottle, and crumble off the edge to ruin your carpet at the slightest addition of moisture – so Diamine have done their usual exemplary job of giving a good amount of sheen without being excessive.
I’m glad the FPUK inks were made, but with my cessation of inky-fingers and ruined clothing/carpets, the results aren’t actually that interesting to me. They are, however, excellent value for what they are, and I’d happily recommend either for someone who wants some good purple ink at a reasonable price. I think I prefer Scribble Purple, but to be honest, it’s not different enough from the other purples I already have, and don’t use. Since I bought 80ml of each, I’m not going to be running out of it in a hurry.
And, one thing about the two inks. To be honest, most people aren’t going to notice. They’re not fountain pen nerds, though. Even so, these two inks are similar – they obviously share the same dyes. Chances are, the customers for these inks will break down into three groups:
- Those members of FPUK that buy both diligently. That’s probably the target.
- Those members of FPUK that adamantly buy only one, and bitch about how they never voted for the other.
- Normal people that just wanted some purple ink.
(oh, and 4. Ex-members of FPUK like me that feel a bit bad that they didn’t stick around for the ink they pledged to buy back when the idea was mooted)
Forgetting that these are special edition inks for a closed user group, I don’t think there’s much justification for releasing a pair of inks this similar at the same time to the same market. However, that’s not really the point, is it?
[In fact, the title of this blog post is probably inaccurate. Yes, they’re exclusive to Diamine, in the same way that the Big Mac is exclusive to McDonald’s. The FPUK inks are more “special editions”, or perhaps “commissioned by”; the Alexandrite, again… who knows what best to call it.]
The real winner for me was the Alexandrite. I haven’t had a really good play with it, but it seems much like other Diamine exclusives to be a really good, saturated, dazzling ink, without the bad behaviour of things like O.S. Walden and Nitrogen – otherwise known as The Destroyer of Carpets. Diamine knows how to sheen, but they’re smart enough keep it at 10 rather than 11, and deliver a reasonable, practical ink.
“Pure Pens” is a trading name of “Niche Pens”. The difference being that one of them is dressed as an aquatic bird. I’ve been meaning to ask Ross what that’s all about. ↩
Yeah, that’s sarcasm, if you hadn’t noticed. At least it’s not a Robert Oster RSB. ↩
I stopped studying physics and chemistry when I was a teenager back in the last century, when sulfur was still spelled “sulphur”, so take all this with a pinch of sodium chloride. ↩
There’s that A-level in Chemistry again. ↩
That is, a pen that leaks because it’s a wet-flowing pen with an unsuitably wet ink, as opposed to a pen that leaks because it’s broken or has loose parts. ↩