19 Sep 2015
Inky Stinky
“When is a Waterproof Drawing Ink Not a Waterproof Drawing Ink”

Apropos of nothing much, except I’ve got a bit of Pen’n’Ink work to do soon, I thought I’d investigate the water resistance of the random collection of drawing inks I had lying about the house. As I sometimes like to splash a bit of watercolour over my inky scribbles, I’m always on the lookout for the 'perfect' ink.

So, without further ado, here are the candidates:

L to R: Rotring Isograph Ink, Parker Quink Fountain Pen Ink, Calder Indian Ink [label missing], Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Winsor & Newton Indian Ink and [lounging Seductively across the front] Pentel Brush Pen Ink Cartridges

My rigorous testing was pretty straightforward. I did a bit of cross-hatching and a block of solid colour with each ink, left them on the window-sill in the blazing Manchester sunshine to dry for half an hour and then painted over the top of them with a watercolour brush loaded with clean tap-water. So, without further ado, here are the results:

Rotring Isograph Ink


Weird one this. Back in the day, when I was a nipper at school and then later Art College, I used to use Rotring pens for doodling quite a lot. We didn’t have such fancy-schmancy things as brush pens back in those days, so those were the next best thing available for pen’n’ink work on the go.

I’ve not used my Rotring Pens for yonks, but had a few bottles of the ink lying about the place. I remembered it as being really thick and gloopy and [more importantly for the purposes of this test] waterproof --it certainly clogged up the pens like cement, given half the chance!

But apparently not --unless something weird has happened to it over the intervening-- this seemed pretty thin and watery and it ran pretty badly.

Parker Quink


It wasn’t really fair on this venerable old fountain pen ink, to include it in the contest. But it looked so lonely, sitting by itself on the shelf when I grabbed all the other inks, that I thought I’d let it play too.

As expected the results are pretty poor. It runs like the proverbial bastard, at the merest hint of moisture, although it actually gave a deeper black coverage than some of the self-proclaimed 'drawing inks'.

Calder Indian Ink


Bit of a surprie this one. This was a real cheap [and when I used it last time, I thought also 'nasty'] no-name drawing ink that we used to buy in in bulk, when I worked at the college.

I remember using it back then and had it filed in the back of my wee noggin as not being much good. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t half bad at all. It ran a wee bit, but only enough to very slightly muddy the water I used to wash over it. If I’d washed a colour over it, I’d probably not have spotted it at all.

Not the thickest of inks though. I wasn’t able to get much more than a watery grey out of it when trying to ink some solid colour.

Noodler’s Bulletproof Black


Well, here’s a different kettle of haddock altogether. With that typical understatement and lack of self-aggrandisement, which is characteristic of the 'Merkins, this ink bills itself as not only waterproof, but also 'bulletproof' and 'eternal'. It also sells for a wallet-raping £12+ on eBay [and I have seen it priced as high as £25+, for a normal sized bottle]. Needless to say I never paid anywhere near that for it, when I bought it. I’m not completely insane!

So does our transatlantic challenger live up to the hype? Of course not. It smears almost as badly as the not-even-trying-to-be-waterproof Parker’s Quink. Although, to give it its due, it does lay down a nice dark black. The other good thing about this ink is that it’s usable in fountain pens. But then again, so are lots of other [much cheaper] non-waterproof inks!

Winsor & Newton Indian Ink


Ah! --good ol' faithful W&N Indian ink. Beloved of art students throughout the decades. Not only does it have a cool spider cartoon on the label, it’s lovely and thick and gloopy and dries raised on the paper and with a nice shellac shine to it. And, once it’s dried, it’s not budging for love nor money.

I really scrubbed over this one with the watercolour brush to try and make it smear a bit and it didn’t bat an eyelid [the slight mark above the ink patch is where I didn’t quite clean my brush thorougly enough, after testing its neighbour].

Great stuff. I just wish it was available in the big bottles you used to be able to get it in. I can only seem to find the wee square ones these days.

Pentel Brush Pen Ink


This one wasn’t really a surprise to me. I’ve been using Pentel’s Brush Pens for about 3 or 4 years now, ever since I discovered them. And I fecking love this ink. It’s thin enough to use in a pen [well, a brush pen anyway. I’ve not plucked up the courage to try it in my fountain pen yet], it covers pretty well although; because it’s designed for using inside a pen, it’s obviously not going to be as thick as a proper drawing ink. But…​ are you listening here, Noodler’s? …​this stuff is completely bulletproof [as in 'waterproof'] when dry. On whatever paper I’ve tried it on, you can’t even make it smear in the slightest. It’s fantastic stuff!

The only downside is that the Pentel Brush Pen ink only comes in cartridges, which weigh in at nearly a quid each. For what I’d estimate is 1ml of ink. that makes Pentel Brush Pen ink about £1000 per litre, which has got to put it right up there with the most expensive wines and perfumes in the world --which is completely ludicrous.

I’ve searched high and low to try and find this ink for sale in bottles. I like it that much but, even ploughing through Pentel’s Japanese website with the help of Google Translate left me none the wiser. I also sent Pentel UK an enthusiastic email, lauding this ink’s properties and asking them about buying it in bulk or in bottles and got a 'kind regards' one-liner reply from a woman called Sally saying:

Brush pen cartridge ink is not available in ink bottles

Sally from Pentel UK

Well, thanks for taking the time out to pen that friendly response there Sally. I hope I didn’t interrupt a particularly important nail filing session!

The Verdict

  • All other considerations aside, the Winsor & Newton Indian Ink gives the thickest, blackest coverage and its water-proofness [is that a word?] is matched only by the Pentel Brush Pen Ink.
  • The boffins at Pentel deserve a sepcial mention for managing to make a completely waterproof ink which is thin enough to use in pens [well, brush pens anyway]. And if anyone from their marketing department is reading this; get that stuff in bottles and you’ll have artists beating a path to your door!
  • An honourable mention also for Calder Indian Ink, which I’m convinced was rubbish last time I used it. But seems to have magically metamorphosed in the bottle into something pretty damned good.
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