It is ridiculously easy to make your own pen cleaner. It’s also really inexpensive. In fact, it’s so inexpensive that you could make up a whole bunch and share it with your local pen friends. Leave it on their doorstep in a pen equivalent of ding-dong-dash.
In our current era of working-from-home (or in some cases, maybe not really having a full-time job at all, like me) this is something that you can do while loading and unloading the dishwasher, washing machine, fixing lunch or doing household cleaning. This is a chore you’ll actually want to do because it means you can refill your pens with new ink!
The materials needed to make pen cleaner/pen flush can be acquired on your next trip to the grocery store. Just grab a bottle of
a bottle of household ammonia (usually 5% solution, non-sudsing)
a bottle of plain dishwashing liquid (the kind without any lotion or moisturizers in it. In the US, I recommend Dawn or Joy)
a bottle or distilled water (no impurities, chlorine or hard water deposits)
Using a measuring cup, measure out 9 parts water (say 9oz or 90ml, etc) then top with 1 part ammonia (1oz or 10ml). Add a couple drops of dish liquid… one, two, three, maybe four if you’re feeling generous.
Then pour all of it into a storage jar. Make another batch if this only fills your jar a little bit. You have TONS of ammonia and water and dish soap. Pour it in too.
If you have more jars, make a batch for a friend or to keep at work — whenever you go back into the office. Repeat as needed. That did not cost anywhere near the $10+ that most people charge for pen flush. Now, you can go spend that $10 on paper or ink or something else way more fun.
Label it “pen flush” or “pen cleaner” so no one tries to drink it or pour it out.
To use, either decant a small amount into a dish or ultrasonic cleaner and drop dirty pen parts in or just flush pens in the jar until the liquid is completely black and then make a fresh batch.
Be sure to rinse your pens in clear fresh water several times after using pen flush to be sure you’ve removed any residue of soap and ammonia before storing or refilling.
Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway for our little Schneider Voice Fountain Pen. I know it wasn’t as enticing as some of our higher priced pens but sometimes it’s nice to have a little budget pen in our reviews to give us some perspective and have something we can just toss around.
Congrats to Liz! We had fireworks going off for weeks prior to the 4th of July and for several days afterwards. I think people were literally “blowing off” steam.
Back at the end of May, I posted Lines and Grinds Part 1 over at Inkpothesis covering the basics of nib selection– my take on a guide to choosing a nib.
Once you get a handle on choosing nibs, there’s a giant rabbit hole waiting for you on the other side: customization. I’ll make the same disclaimer here as I did in the part one. Nibs are very person-specific. Knowledge about nibs can be chock-full of research but a large majority will be experience and personal opinion. That’s just as true with customization as it is with choosing a nib, so read the rest of this guide through that lens.
Speaking of lived experience, I owe nearly everything I know about nibs to Dan over at The Nibsmith. When the pen show circuit is in full swing, you can find me behind the Nibsmith table at many shows. Through those shows, I’ve gotten a behind the scenes view into lots of different people getting their nibs worked on, and naturally accumulated a decent collection of various grinds. All of the nibs in this post were ground by Dan.
Italics, Architects, and Needlepoint Nuances: Navigating Nib Customization
Let’s start with this. You could stick with normal, out-of-the-box nibs on every pen you ever buy for the rest of your fountain pen life and live happily ever after. But when you’re ready, prepare yourself, because this, my friends, is where things get really fun.
Beyond the width of the nib, the physical size, and the material (all covered in Part 1)– the shape of the nib can also be altered. Nothing produces larger differences in your actual writing than this type of customization.
Some companies offer certain nib shapes like factory stubs and italics, but let’s save those for the outliers section. In my opinion, the best way to experience different nib shapes is to hand over your pen to a nibmeister and let them work their magic.
An oversimplification: When you start thinking about sending your pen off to get a specialty grind or sitting down at a show to get nib work done you should be focusing on the result you want on the paper.
Even more simply: the primary purpose of a nib grind is to impact the look of your handwriting on the page.
For the sake of comparison, throughout this guide I will compare my writing with different nib grinds to the TWSBI M Nib. As you can see below, an un-touched nib is rounded on the end- and that tipping portion is where nib grinding will change the shape of the nib itself, and subsequently the shape of your writing.
Before we jump head-first into nib grinding, let’s discuss two basic things that you can ask a nibmeister to do to a nib that don’t necessarily change the shape of the nib.
Tune & Smooth
If you have a nib that isn’t writing as smoothly as you want it to, or just doesn’t feel right— first, you should stop and consider the variables. Clean the pen. If that doesn’t work, change the ink. If that doesn’t work, change you paper. And if none of that works, it may be time to consider sending the nib off for some love.
In my opinion, tuning or smoothing a nib might honestly be the best $25 you can spend transforming a pen from a “just-ok” or problematic pen into one of your favorite writers. I’ve spoken before about how having some of my vintage finds tuned turned them into a permanent part of my daily carry. If you’re on the fence, it is definitely worth trying at least once.
Disclaimer: You will often hear that tuning and smoothing is something you can learn to do on your own. I agree. However, I wouldn’t recommend trying it on any pen you really care about unless you’ve practiced and perfected your technique on several other pens you’re willing to throw away. I’ll level with you. I can only speak to my personal experience, but I have attempted smoothing my own pens on multiple occasions, but the result has never been as good as when I get it tuned by an actual nibmeister.
When you ask for a nib to be tuned, my advice is to give as much information as you can about what specifically about the writing experience you would like to change. In general, there are three things I consider asking about:
I want the pen to feel smoother on the page,
I want to pen to write a little wetter, or
I want the pen to write I little drier
Anything beyond that requires more significant grinding and customizing.
If you choose the wrong nib initially (and your choice was aimed too broad) another thing you can consider is getting the nib width reduced. In addition to taking a broad to a medium or a medium to a fine- you can also get nibs finer than typically available in standard line nibs. Some call this UEF, or ultra-extra fine, or even needlepoint. The point here is if you’ve tried an EF nib and it’s still not fine enough for your taste, consider sending one off and asking for a reduced width. Another instance where reducing the width of a nib is helpful is when you want to purchase a pen from a brand that is known to have thicker than usual nibs (eg. Pelikan), and you would like your EF to be a little more EF and a little less M. (Note: From what I understand, reducing the width of a nib is a time- consuming and labor intensive process. But, its not meant to change the shape of your writing or the nib- so that’s why I pulled it out separately from the nib grinds below.)
With those two options covered, that brings us to maybe my favorite of all rabbit holes in the fountain pen hobby.
Nib Grind Rabbit Hole Level One: The Stub
The first thing you can do to a nib is change the tipping of the pen from the typical round or rounded shape to a square or square-ish shape. This shape creates line variation by making your downstrokes thicker than your side strokes as you write. The amount of variation is largely dependent on the original size of the nib. Broader nibs produce broader stubs, and more line variation than finer nibs.
Nib Grind Rabbit Hole Level Two: The Italic
In my mind, an italic is a square nib without the training wheels. Stub nibs are square nibs that have intentionally rounded edges to make the writing experience smoother, but the rounded edges also make your lines in your handwriting less crisp.
On the other hand, italics are fully squared off nibs without (or mostly without) the rounded edges. Less rounded edges give you a writing experience that is usually a little less smooth and lines that are significantly more crisp and square. There are several types of italic nibs with various amounts of rounding (eg. cursive italic), so it’s worth asking about specifics when you’re getting work done, but I will just leave it at that for now.
Nib Grind Rabbit Hole Level Three: The Architect
Here’s where things get really fun. An architect grind is squared in the reverse direction of a stub or italic nib. This shape creates line variation by making your side stokes thicker than your downstrokes. Again, the amount of variation you see with an architect is largely dependent on the original size of the nib.
Some additional notes about architect nibs are needed. Grinding an architect is meant to be specific to the angle that you hold your pen in relation to the page. If someone who holds their pen at a very high angle gets an architect grind, and someone who holds their pen at a very low angle tries to use it- the second person will not get a great idea of what an architect grind is meant to be. Every architect grind has a “sweet spot,” and if you use enough of them you can start to immediately identify where that sweet spot is. There is one specific spot on the nib that produces significant line variation while still feeling smooth on the page. If it’s ground correctly, you should easily hit that sweet spot at your normal writing angle.
Because writing angle is so important, many nibmeisters, including Dan, ask for photos of your writing angle to be sent in when you submit a nib to get an architect grind. Or if you’re in person at a show, expect them to want to see you write before they begin.
Very fine architects are very fun and produce a unique look on the page, but they are definitely more finicky and specific to the individual that had the nib work done. Broad architects are a little more forgiving and smooth, and a pretty good starting point if you’ve never had one ground. One of my favorite grinds of all time is an architect on a Broad Sailor nib (which is a Japanese broad so keep that in mind).
Even more fun for throwing ink down on the page is taking a speciality nib like a Sailor Zoom nib or a Platinum Coarse Nib and getting an architect grind. Due to the amount of tipping on these specialty nibs, they are particularly well suited for the architect grind because they can produce some very wide side strokes and extreme line variation. Maybe not an every day writing pen for everyone (although I use them as such), but highly recommended if you’re looking for something fun that really shows off ink.
Nib Grind Rabbit Hole Level Four: The Naginata-Togi
And finally, probably one of the coolest looking grinds you can get on a pen, the togi. I’ve made Dan grind two of these suckers for me over the last year– one from a Sailor Zoom Nib, and one from a Platinum Coarse Nib. They are two of my favorite nibs in all of my collection. This very well may be my “deserted-island” nib grind.
Just like the architect, broader and speciality nibs with the largest amount of tipping are the best candidates for the naganata-togi grind if you want the greatest amount of line variation. The thing that separates the togi nib from other nib grinds is that the width of your writing (both horizontal and vertical lines) changes with the angle of your pen to the page. When you hold the pen at a lower angle, you get broader lines, and when you hold the pen at a higher angle, you get thinner lines. The amount of variation you get can from this type of nib is unlike any other type of nib modification.
Since both of my togi nibs started life as very broad speciality nibs, the line the nib produces at a “normal” angle for me is decently broad. But if I want to sneak in some tiny writing, I just change the angle. In a way, it’s like having multiple nib sizes within one pen. The Sailor Zoom nib has a similar effect with writing angle, but the togi adds a crispness and character to the writing that the Zoom’s ultra rounded nib can’t match.
There are definitely other crazy things that you can ask to be done to a nib, but the above options are by far the most common and definitely a really good starting point for most types of grinds people ask for for their pens.
If you have any questions about Part 1 or 2 leave your comments below, because a bonus round Part 3: Outliers and Q & A is coming at you soon.
DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were purchased with my own funds with the exception of a few of the grinds which were completed in exchange for pen show labor. 🙂 Please see the About page for more details.
Ink is a passion of mine, a passion that rose to a ridiculous level a long time ago. It started out with a small selection of four or five ink samples and has grown into a collection of nearly 2000 ink samples, bottles, vials, swatches… While I completely understand I cannot use up all of this ink, it has become an obsession with color, shading, sheen, sparkle, ink properties, and un-obtainability.
However, one ink line is noticeably missing from this collection. KWZ inks. The reason behind this has always been the smell.
Ink preservatives lend a distinct smell to ink – just open up a bottle of Sailor ink and sniff. To combat this smell, KWZ adds something or other to the ink that partially masks it and has a pleasant vanilla-like perfume.
It just happens that I have unfortunate memories associated with the smell of vanilla. Many years ago there was a terrible incident with a large amount of vanilla-scented oil being spilled on carpet. I had to smell that for months. I shudder at the thought of those months.
While I love the colors offered by KWZ, I’ve never been able to get over that scent. But I was very pleasantly surprised when I opened up the newest offering from KWZ, Discovery Green, a Dromgoole’s Exclusive color. The vanilla scent in this ink was barely noticeable! Instead, the smell was quite neutral.
I do enjoy sheening inks, but those that cover up the color of the underlying ink are a bit too much. I was expecting a super sheening ink with Discovery Green but was again surprised to find a slightly subdued sheen that looks almost matte metallic and is only obvious at certain angles.
See? Here’s the same card in the same light at two different angles:
The sheen on this ink is beautiful, but not as overwhelming as many I have seen.
I was able to get a good comparison of the underlying color by keeping the Col-o-ring cards at a certain angle – Lamy Crystal Peridot is very close although Discovery Green has a touch more green. Very similar in writing to Robert Oster Peppermint but with more sheen.
I found Discovery Green to be dry in writing, an experience that is common to most highly sheening inks. In the photo below, you can see there was a bit of smearing in the “n” in Green, but I had not yet given the ink time to dry. I did not have a problem with smearing once it was dry.
Dry time was longer with this ink – also common with sheening inks on Tomoe River paper – the ink was dry in 30 to 35 seconds in normal writing but much longer in pools or swatches.
As I said, Discovery Green is a dry ink. I had no problems with it when I first inked up my pen. There were also no problems after letting the pen sit for a week without writing. However, the next week (2 weeks in the pen), I had a difficult time getting the pen to start – I had to wet the nib in a cup of water and also prime the feed before the pen was happy. I would say if you are going to write a pen dry, the experience will be wonderful.
I do love the color of Discovery Green. According to the Dromgoole’s site, “The name comes from the beloved Discovery Green park in downtown Houston, which is filled with interesting sculptures, fun play areas, and grassy hillocks. Perfect for a picnic or throwing a frisbee with your friends. Take a leisurely stroll with all of us at Dromgoole’s through KWZ’s Discovery Green”
I loved the changes in shading between a dark teal and a medium forest green. I also enjoy the more livable level of sheen.
I now have a rule though. Don’t color in block letters with a fine nib.
DISCLAIMER: The ink in this review was provided free of charge by Dromgoole’s for the purposes of this review. All other items in this review were purchased by me. Except for the Col-o-ring which was provided to me by a wonderful person who pays me to write blogs by keeping me supplied with Col-o-rings. Please see the About page for more details.
How did I not know about Ink Gin? How was this not the official alcohol of every pen show? I mean, first there’s the name. Then it’s a lovely shade of violet in the bottle. Then, when mixed with tonic, it turns PINK! I mean seriously! I love a good botanical gin to begin with but one that turns pink and is called Ink Gin? Why can’t we get this in the US? I need a bottle of this gin NOW!!!! Like I needed another reason to trek to Australia.
I purchased five of the six iPaper Taiwan Series inks available last year at the San Francisco Pen Show. I don’t know much about iPaper inks other than that they are from Taiwan and that they have a small shop there. I wanted to write a preview or review of these inks at the time but it seemed unfair because it was almost impossible to get these inks.
A couple weeks ago though, I noticed that Shigure Inks was listing them in what can only be called their “catalog” of inks. In the short time that Shigure Inks has been online, they have accumulated 24 different ink brands. I think Vanness Pen Shop holds the record with 44 brands but if anyone knows of another shop with more brands, let me know.
The packaging I had for these inks only had the ink colors listed in Chinese so I had to wing the names a bit. The translation was a little slapdash. I used Google Translate which gave me the more scientific sounding flower names. By the time the inks appeared on Shigure Inks, the names of the colors were a bit more simplified so the photos show the colors listed with both names. I will refer to these colors by the names listed on Shigure’s site for simplicity’s sake.
I was able to get a sample of the one color I did not get in the bottle so I can show all six colors.
While a company like Waterman or Parker might roll out their first ink colors by creating a more traditional palette, iPaper went bright and tropical. My initial thought is that these would probably not be the first inks I would recommend for a new fountain pen user, but I also don’t think that the world really needs another black or blue-black ink.
Sadly, Eustonia is the only color not available from Shigure Inks and it’s probably the most usable as a daily writing ink since it’s a darker violet with pink undertones. Blue Magpie is a bright vivid blue and Pleione is a deep magenta. Cherry Blossom is a neon pink, Nantou Treefrog is a light lime green and Dendrobium is a golden yellow. On Col-o-ring paper, it’s easy to see the sheen in Eustonia and Pleione. All of the inks shade beautifully.
On Tomoe River paper, Blue Magpie also sheens and Eustonia and Pleione shows a lot more variation. Cherry Blossom and Dendrobium shade but don’t show as much sheeining. In person, Cherry Blossom has a little golden sheen that is hard to see on screen.
When compared with other inks, Pleione looks quite similar to Monteverde Rose Pink but all my other inks in the same hue was much duller. The closest I had were Robert Oster Australian Opal Pink and J. Herbin Bouquet D’Antan.
Eustonia is very similar to Sailor Studio 123. In the make-up world, this might be called a “dupe” if it were considerably cheaper but by the time you get this to the US, the prices for iPaper inks vs. Sailor Studio are pretty similar. Lennon Toolbar Morning Glory is a little more vivid with less sheening.
As for iPaper Nantou Treefrog, the rare-as-hen-teeth Diamine Calligraphy Passion Ink is probably the closest color I could find. J. Herbin Vert Pré is close but a little more vibrant. Pilot Iroshizuku Chiku-Rin is more subdued and Diamine Light Green is just a deeper shade of lime green.
Magpie Blue is another “dupe” ink, IMHO to a Sailor Studio ink. This time its a pretty close match to Sailor Studio #143. The only other color I could find that was even close was Montblanc Miles Davis Jazz Blue (which is similar to Bungbox Hatsuyume Aofuj but that is very difficult to find).
Dendrobium feels very similar to Sailor #770 and both remind me a lot of the rare Birmingham Pen Co. Luna Park Marmalade. Both De Atramentis Gandhi and Montblanc Lucky Yellow are a little more golden, leaning a little more orange.
Cherry Blossom is really similar to Lamy Neon Coral. If you missed this very rare color, then Cherry Blossom is a good option. Kobe #12 Okomo Neon Coral is a tiny bit more orange and Kobe #30 Prince Cherry and Taccia Momo both lean more pinky magenta. The Pilot 100th Anniversary Benzaiten is very similar in hue but is not as neon, it’s just dulled down a bit.
I want to love yellow ink but I find it hard to use and I think I conscientiously skipped the Treefrog ink as being too light in the lime green family to tempt me. I don’t actually have full bottles of the Sailor Studio inks so I am happy to have these inks.
Each of these inks are available in 30ml bottles for $22 each. The iPaper inks are vibrant and pretty but most of the colors are pretty similar to a lot of other colors. If you’ve already collected a lot of Sailor Studio Inks, you may not need to purchase any of these inks. Alternately, if you don’t have a large ink collection, these might be good options to add to your collection since they are unique and unusual.
It’s been a long year so far and no pen shows to break it up! So when Franklin Christoph announced their Virtual Pen Show, I decided I’d have a little look-see. And wouldn’t you know it…something caught my eye!
Months ago, Franklin Christoph did a limited run of a color they called Salmon Glow in the Pocket 45 model. During the sale they had a few pens left in a variety of models and I jumped at the chance I missed. Since I only have Pocket 45’s I decided to opt for something new: a Pocket 20 with a clip!
The Salmon Glow lives up to it’s name. It’s a positively glowy pinky orange. When I went looking for an ink to match I chose none other than J. Herbin’s Corail des Tropiques. I think it matches perfectly!
The Pocket 20 is fairly close in size to the Pocket 45 coming in at 4 5/8″ to the 45’s 4 3/8″ inch. They are also similar in weight – 17g for the 20 and 14g for the 45.
There are a few major differences in the models though:
The 20 features a #6 nib (I got a steel fine), whereas the 45 features a #5 nib.
The 20 features a friction cap, whereas the 45 features a screw cap. This is IMPORTANT to remember as I’ve eye dropper filled both pens, and that 20 could get quite messy if I forget!
The 20 has a clip, whereas the 45 does not. At first I wasn’t sure if I would like this aesthetically speaking, but there is something nice about having a pen that won’t roll away from you (or off the table!)
The body shape of the 20 is more rounded, whereas the 45 is slightly more angular.
Overall the pen performs beautifully right out of the box – I would expect nothing less from a Franklin Christoph. If you get down to it, I bought this pen solely because I loved the body material and I have been kicking myself for missing the previous version. Other than the color, the body material is very similar to that of my special Vanness exclusive Franklin Christoph Pocket 45. I love the vibrancy of the color of both, but also the translucency in the body. Okay okay… I kind of wanted them as a pair!