This is the inaugural post of a guest blogger ink review on Ink Nouveau! A special thanks to Gerry Morgan for this wonderful review, which compares J. Herbin Café des Îles, Diamine Raw Sienna, Diamine Chocolate Brown, and Diamine Dark Brown on four different papers: Clairefontaine Triomphe, and G. Lalo Vergé de France in Ivory, White, and Champagne. ~Brian Goulet

I grew up in England, where we were required to write in pencil at school from age five until seven, and then with a fountain pen until age 11. After that, we could choose any pen we wanted to, but many of us simply continued to use a fountain pen. I remember very little about my first pen except that it was a Platignum and that I used blue cartridges. We used cartridge pens because the school was rightly cautious about letting loose a group of seven-year-olds with glass bottles of ink.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve continued to have a fountain pen even though I’ve mostly used ballpoints for day-to-day writing. In the 1980s, my girlfriend bought me a slim Montblanc pen that I still have. As a student, I used it to make notes on discarded computer printout paper that was surprisingly good to write on with an ink pen (Brian, perhaps you’d consider adding this to your range of papers!)

For a couple of years, I lived in France, where there was a great selection of high-quality paper. I didn’t really pay much attention to this at the time, but I still have notes that I made in Toulouse on Clairefontaine, Carré d’As and Super Conquérant, all wonderfully smooth and all with a faint grid of bluish horizontal and vertical lines.

Until about a year ago, I was content with just that one pen, and I always used Montblanc black ink. But then I decided to branch out a little and bought a green marbled Waterman Phileas, then a Phileas demonstrator. I filled them with Visconti Blue and Sheaffer Scrip Red, both gorgeously pure colours. Ultimately, I decided that demonstrators are not my favourite pens (lacking mystery, perhaps) and the only Phileas still in my possession is my “space pen”, which is silver-coloured and would definitely be the one household item I would grab if I suddenly learned that I was about to be blasted into orbit.

Since then, I’ve accumulated several more pens, mostly Pelikan M205s and Parker 51s, and many bottles of ink. I discovered Diamine inks several months ago. My yellow Pelikan M200 is permanently filled with Diamine Aqua Blue — a wonderful shade of turquoise. And my white Pelikan M205 is usually primed with Diamine Orange. So Diamine was high on my list when I decided to try some brown inks. After reading other people’s reviews of browns, I ended up with a shortlist of three: Diamine Raw Sienna, Diamine Chocolate Brown, and J.Herbin Café des Iles. This was before Brian started selling Diamine, so I ordered the inks directly from the manufacturer, who also sent me a sample of their Dark Brown ink. The Café des Iles came from Brian (a handy sampler), as did the papers: white Clairefontaine Triomphe and G. Lalo Vergé de France in three colours: white, ivory and champagne.

The Triomphe has become my favourite paper for all inks except brown. It’s so smooth, and such a pure white. But, to my taste, brown ink looks better on paper other than white, and it’s a close call between the three Vergé de France colours. I currently have a preference for ivory, but champagne is also very tempting. As to brown ink, I love the shading of Café des Iles, which has become my favourite ink for writing letters. But Diamine Chocolate Brown is also a beautiful colour, and perfect for writing on Post-It notes (not that I keep a pen for that particular purpose).

I still use black ink, but mostly for work (I’m now a programmer based in the US — my company, ExpenseController, provides a system for other companies to manage their travel expenses online). Despite the many electronic tools available, there’s nothing quite like a database diagram beautifully drawn in black ink with a very fine nib. But for personal correspondence, I’ve completely switched to brown!

Samples and full sizes of Triomphe, Vergé de France, J. Herbin, and Diamine are all available at The Goulet Pen Company.