Oh-emm-gee! Let’s get this out of the way right now. I could not get this list down to ten. Not. Even. Close. And it is not complete at all. Get your comments ready right now because I’m sure I left your favorite color out.
What I attempted to do here was provide a “best option” (consider those air quotes) for the ROYGBIV colors plus a brown, grey, black and blue-black. So — it’s about eleven colors. I left out any inks that are specialty inks that have glitter sparkles or are super-sheeners or those specialty color-shifting colors like Sailor 123. I wanted to provide a basics palette here based on the experiences of five years of helping sell inks at pen shows and these are colors I recommend over and over again as well as colors I personally reach for over and over again.
I also tried to provide a lower priced option or a more-easily available option if my first choice is a pricier ink. Hence, the dozens of swatches in the photos. So, shall we?
Pink: Lamy Vibrant Pink ($8 for 50ml)/Crystal Rhodonite ($16 for 30ml) (It’s the same ink, just repackaged) Okay, well, I already broke my own rule about no ink with sparkle since Lamy Vibrant Pink has sparkle in it but it’s a good solid pink whether you shake it up and use the sparkle that settles to the bottom or not. Once Vibrant Pink is sold out, Rhodonite is the same color but considerably more expensive. Callifolio Andrinople ($13 for 40ml) is my go-to pink. It’s pink without being too pink. Taccia Momo Pink ($13 for 40ml) is the eye-searing pink when you need to make a pink statement. It’s a great ink at a great price.
Red: Diamine Matador ($7.50 for 30ml) This is a good red-red. The price is extremely reasonable and Diamine ink is very well-behaved. Everyone has their favorite shade of red but I tend to recommend this as a good place to start. Sailor Jentle Irori ($15 for 20ml) is my favorite red and THE INK I used when testing paper leading up to the stock we use for the Col-o-ring. It has a gold sheen that shows on certain papers like the Col-o-ring on the edges of letterforms or big swashes of ink. It’s a little more orange-y than Matador.
Orange: Sailor Jentle Apricot ($25 for 50ml) is my go-to orange. It’s the happiest orange and Sailor’s inks are really well-behaving. The bottle is a little annoying for larger nibs but if you can transfer the ink to a taller bottle or syringe fill your pens, it’s not a big deal. My less expensive option is Papier Plume Sazerac ($10 for 50ml). Sazerac is a little bit darker, smokier orange but I am not complaining. More inks need to be named after cocktails, don’t you agree?
Yellow: I’m not sure it really qualifies as yellow but overall yellow inks are not terribly usable on a daily basis so I am using this slot to recommend Callifolio Huere Dorée ($13 for 40ml). Yes, there is KWZ Honey and Franklin-Christoph Honeycomb and Robert Oster Honeybee but Huere Dorée is an unsung beauty and deserves to be recognized. In general, Callifolio is a brand that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves but that’s a topic for another day.
Brown: I am going to slot my pick for brown here next to yellow for lack of a better place to put it. My pick here is Robert Oster Caffe Crema ($17 for 50ml). I don’t tend to pick brown inks very often but when I do, its either Caffe Crema or Melon Tea. People wax poetic about Robert Oster’s blues but when he creates colors outside of his comfort zone, he often makes some really amazing colors. These two browns often prove my point. If you need more options, check out our post about Sepia.
Green: I lean towards greens that are a little more yellow green or olive-y than grass green so my apologies here for my green-bias. I chose Pen BBS #342 Matcha Green Tea ($16 for 60ml) or Sailor Waka-Uguisa ($14.99 for 20ml) which matches a great number of my pens. Both inks perform really well. I really like Pen BBS inks and they are a great value.
Teal: Monteverde California Teal ($9 for 30ml bottle) is an ink I basically just stick into people’s hands when I see them at pen shows and they look bewildered by the many choices available to them. If they don’t have any inks or only have black and blue ink, I recommend this ink. It will open the world of colors to them. Yes, its a sheen-y color but not too sheen-y. It’s not crazy expensive and it’s not an enormous bottle. The color isn’t too garish to put off someone who’s worried that it won’t be “work appropriate” and it’s funky enough to win over someone looking for something “a little different”. If you don’t have a bottle of California Teal yet, you need one.
Turquoise: When people ask me for a great turquoise, the words jump out of my mouth so fast they often do a double take: Robert Oster Torquay. “Not Fire & Ice?” “Nope. Trust me.” So far no one has come back and hit me with the 50ml plastic bottle so hopefully they’ve been happy with the ink. It reminds me of the color of swimming pools when you write with it. Let me know if you agree. My other recommendation is slightly darker, it’s Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku ($22.50 for 50ml) and it’s one of my most-reached-for inks. For me, it’s my neutral. It’s bright but not too bright. It’s turquoise but not garish. It’s totally readable and becuase it’s Pilot, it’s a high performance ink in any pen.
Blue: Waterman Inspired Blue ($11.30 for 50ml) (my bottle was rename Obsession Blue for some weird reason, don’t ask… it’s the same color) is one of my favorite blues. I like to blow people’s minds by telling them this. I also like to show them how it sheens too. It’s safe for vintage fountain pens, it’s inexpensive and it’s fairly readily available. Have a bottle handy at all times. If blue isn’t your thing, Waterman also has a great purple. Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-Peki ($22.50 for 50ml) is another great blue option and is a fan favorite. It’s a lubricated ink designed for Japanese fine nibs and comes in a pretty bottle.
Violet: I have only one favorite violet and it’s Sailor Jentle Fuji-Musume ($12 for 20ml). There are others that I like but they are darker, dingier violets or they are more red-purples. This is a true violet and a gorgeous ink with good ink characteristics.
Blue-Black: My favorite blue-black is Bungbox 4B (¥3500 for 30ml, directly from Bungbox in Japan) but it is difficult to get in the US right now. I assume it’s a result of our current shipping issues and that it should be available through Vanness, Pen Chalet and Goldspot in a few months. Bungbox is a small Japanese pen shop that gets custom made Sailor ink for it’s shop. So, it’s extremely good quality ink and colors that are chosen under the watchful eye of pen enthusiasts like us. Of course, Bungbox ink is also pretty expensive too. So, my second recommendation is Taccia Aogura ($12 for 40ml) which is also a beautiful Japanese ink but is considerably less expensive and much easier to access. It’s a little darker but it’s still a beautiful ink. Another option is Kaweco Midnight Blue ($14 for 30ml). It’s another great blue-black that’s reasonably priced. It’s a little brighter but still perfect for the office or other professional setting.
I have one more option for you. I know, I already gave you three options but you have to understand, after the blue/turquoise and teal category, blue-black is probably the most popular color category. So, here is my other recommendation: Diamine Denim ($7.50 for 30ml). It’s my casual Friday blue-black. You’re welcome.
Grey: With grey inks, there are warm greys and cool greys and sometimes neutral greys. I tried to find one of each but you can decide how close I got. Montblanc Oyster Grey ($24 for 60ml) is as close as I could find to a neutral grey. It’s probably a little more on the cooler side with a hint of blue and a little golden sheen but it’s pretty grey-grey. This is part of MontBlanc’s standard line-up so it’s pretty reasonably priced. Lamy Crystal Agate ($16 for 30ml) is a green grey with a bit of sheen. It’s really quite lovely and is my current favorite grey. Diamine Earl Grey ($7.50 for 30ml) is a warmer grey with more red making it almost a purple-grey.
Black: Everyone needs a bottle of black ink. Once we discover the great spectrum of color, it’s hard to buy a simple bottle of black ink but there’s always a place for simplicity. If you have vintage fountain pens, you can’t go wrong with a bottle Waterman Intense Black ($11.30 for 50ml) which will be safe for your vintage pens as well as all your modern pens as well. If you only have modern pens, Monteverde Raven Noir ($9 for 30ml) will be an excellent option.
Bonus Waterproof Black: I consider Platinum Carbon Black ($22.50 for 60ml) a must-have ink for anyone who likes to draw, paint or do any kind of arty pursuits with their fountain pens. I have put this ink through some pretty lengthy tests to see how safe it is for pens and how waterproof it is and it has performed admirably over several years of abuse. I have sacrificed a Lamy Safari to a let-the-ink-dry-in-the-pen test and it washed out with nothing but water. A longer dry test could probably clean out with a sonic cleaner without breaking a sweat. Sailor Nano Black was mentioned as an alternative but studies by other artists have indicated that Nano Black is not as waterproof throughout the life of a bottle of the ink as Carbon Black.
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12 comments / Add your comment below
Okay, in all honesty, I think you gave yourself an impossible task, but kudos to you to narrow it down so far! LOL. I’m not going to even attempt at it. The blues, greens, teals, blue blacks will be the hardest for me. And if you look at my recent purple orders, I don’t think I can narrow that one down either. Somehow, I think Iroshizuku’s Yama Budo should get in there somewhere.
I do not need more ink … I do not need more ink … I do not need more ink … (quietly opens a new tab just to “browse”) …
I’ll watch for all the comments! Seriously an impossible tasks. I pulled out my ink swatch book but I can see I’m going to have to purchase a ColoRing book or two in order to provide some flexibility in organizing. I have my pages listed by brand and small swatches only. I do prefer brownish reds (Diamine Red Dragon) with the exception of Iroshizuku Momji which is a favorite. I also like blue-black (Noodler’s Ellis Island Blue) and Iroshizuku Shin Kai) with another exception of Iroshizuku Tsuyu Kusa as a pretty spring blue. All time favorites: Diamine Oxblood (matches my Bexley Stalwart exactly – yes, I’m one of those matchy matchy folks), Noodler’s Antietam and Heart of Darkness (although Carbon is my favorite for drawing). Oh boy – I can see I’m slipping down the inky rabbit hole here…
Incredibly helpful, as always! I’d love to see you do the same thing but with all permanent inks. As a historian, I prefer a permanent ink whenever possible. There are plenty of good blacks but things get harder trying to find a good permanent turquoise, for example. Iron gall? Bulletproof? Pigmented?
I have been taken lately with Birmingham Pen Co’s G C Murphy Tarnished Nickel. It’s a dark grey that I’ve found to be a good businessy color while still maintaining a bit of whimsy 🙂
Funnily enough I was playing the same game last week and whilst only one or two are the same as your favourites, I do have at least one of your choices in my top five for each colour. I don’t have all the brands you do but having just got a sampler set of the Callifolio inks, I agree that they’re underrated and look forward to seeing your reviews. I’d also recommend the Birmingham Pen Co colours too but not sure what’s happening – they seem to be reformulating their inks. Having seen the Lamy Agate swatch above I think I know which of the Crystal inks I’m getting…. really enjoying your anniversary posts, thanks.
Wonderful! But now I want to ink up more pens and drink a Sazerac. (More purples, though!)
That was fun! 🙂
This is amazing. I now have to get out my Col-o-ring, compare them, and convince myself I don’t need any new inks…
Black – permanent-Platinum Carbon Black, non waterproof- Noodlers Borealis (politics aside)
Brown – Callifolio Brun Ours, alternate-Yama Guri
Red- Noodlers Qin Shi Huang, a terrible ink, beautiful color, alternate- Montblanc Corn Poppy Red
Orange- Noodlers Dragon’s Napalm, alternate-Diamine Coral, which is actually pretty pink
Yellow- Callifolio Inti
Green – Diamine Wagner, alternate-Diamine Meadow
Blue- Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt, Lamy Blue
Blue-Black- Cross Blue-Black, Diamine Deep Dark Blue
Indigo- Noodlers Kung Te Cheng
Violet- Cross Violet
Red Violet- Yama Budo, Noodlers Saguaro Wine
Pink-Akkerman Pulchri Pink
I have a couple of gaps in the spectrum that I have had to raid my wife’s inks for. Sorry – I really don’t use some colors. Here’s a try to narrow stuff down:
Black (permanent) – Sailor Kiwa Guro
Black (non-permanent) – Waterman Intense Black, Monteverde Midnight Black
Blue – J. Herbin Eclat de Saphir, PenBBS 217 (Iris Tectorum Maxim)
Blue-Black – Pilot Blue-Black
Brown – Toucan Umber
Gray: Noodler’s Lexington Gray
Green (Unlike Ana, I like dark greens) – Bungubox Dandyism, Colorverse Monsoon Storm, Diamine Tropical Forest
Maroon (in this town, it’s important to have a good one) – Diamine Syrah
Orange (not so important in this town) – Noodler’s Apache Sunset
Red – Taccia Aka
Pink – Sailor Sakura
Teal: Sailor Yamadori
Violet – Platinum Classic Lavender Black
Yellow – Diamine Gold Star (yellow has always been a problem – I’m going with a shimmering ink, as it is at least somewhat interesting compared to most inks).
This was fun!
Since everyone has been giving out lists…
I love this post, BTW 😀 Sorry I’m 3 years late to the comments 😛
In Yellow, I’d recommend Diamine Amber or Pennonia Dungo, Maybe R.O. Yellow Sunset.
Orange…since Apricot is discontinued and (some think) replaced with Kin-Mokusei, do you feel that’s an adequate-enough dupe? Sailor USA Florida is pretty great too and Anderillium Flapjack Octopus Orange. I also love more red-orange variety, like Kobe Bauhaus and Pennonia Roka Koma.
Red’s are hard to decide but I really love F-C Urushi Red, not a perfect center red but I love it.
Purple/Violet, J. Herbin Violette Pensee is one I compare to other similar Violets as the point of departure. Waterman’s Tender Purple is pretty great too.
Blue: Diamine Presidential blue, it’s about as close that I can find to a center blue. But I love the more purple leaning blues like Sailor Nioi-Sumire or the (now discontinued) Sailor Ultramarine.
Teal is hard, most of the great teal inks are LEs (i.e. KWZ pen show inks and Diamines LE shop exclusives). But I do really enjoy Sailor USA California even though it’s little too much on the blue side, but more teal than Sailor Yama-Dori. Or one of the darker Sailor Ink Studios like 764.
Green: KWZ Green #5 and Pelikan Aventurine are great center greens, but my GOAT green is Teranishi Guitar Taisho Roman Hikara Gentle Green.
Brown: Sailor Tea Time Fika was one the best but was an LE. 3 Oysters Americano is pretty close.
Grey, Yes, Diamine Earl Grey is great. I love 3 Oysters Doldham too even though it’s kind of a “French Grey”. F-C Graphite 4b is really great too but maybe too dark to be called a true grey!
Black: J. Herbin Pearle Noir and PenBBS Mark Twain are really great!
PCB, fully agree!
Blue-Black, so few inks that people consider blue-black I would actually consider blue-black. F-C Noir et Bleu is really close but probably too grey-black leaning. To me Blue-Black is like a US Navy Peacoat blue-black or what some call a steel blue or suit navy blue. Sailor USA Pennsylvania is pretty close to me, Maybe Taccia Hokusai Ainezu.