Monday, November 28, 2011

Goulet Swab Shop Tutorial

The Swab Shop is likely one of the most useful tools that we have on GouletPens.com. The basic idea: we've swabbed, scanned, and color adjusted every fountain pen ink that we carry, so that you can compare the colors to each other in a single, consistent place. We initially came up with the idea almost a year and a half ago, when we only carried 138 inks. Now, we're preparing to cross over 500 colors, and we've added several features to the shop since we originally created it.

The Swab Shop has evolved into the three different tools:
  • The Interactive Tool
  • View by Color Group
  • View by Ink Brand

The Interactive Tool- the original concept of the Swab Shop, where you can search and compare up to 5 individual inks to each other side-by-side. This can be useful if you know what you're looking for, and you just want to compare a few, specific colors. 

View by Color Group- View an entire color group of swabs across brands. This is great for narrowing down color options across brands if you know generally what color you are looking to compare. It also works well if you have a specific color that you like in one brand, but want to find a comparable color in another brand.

View by Ink Brand- View an entire brand's line of ink colors. This works well if you really enjoy one brand of ink, and want to see what color options are available within that brand.

How The Swabs Are Done

I personally swab each ink color with a cotton swab and write the name of the ink with the same J. Herbin large glass pen (yup, I've used the exact same pen for all of them!). I use Clairefontaine Pollen 210g cardstock for the paper, because it's pure white, resists ink well to showcase the true color and shading properties, it's pH-neutral and acid-free, so it won't affect the color of the ink over time.

I scan in each swab individually using an LED photo scanner for maximum consistency and color accuracy. Even that isn't perfect though, so I manually adjust each individual swab on the computer. I have a kick-butt iMac that I color calibrate before every adjustment session, and I manually inspect the color accuracy of the swab on the computer as it compares to the 'real life' swab, which I view with a consistent light source (again, the whole consistency thing is kind of important to me). Once I get the color as close as possible on the computer to real life, I watermark and export the digital swabs and my lovely wife embeds them into the tool on our site. Voila!

The whole process only took...oh....probably a few hundred hours....maybe closer to a thousand hours for all of the swabs we have up there. I stopped counting a while ago! It's been quite a process, but it is totally and completely worth it to us and to you, I'm sure.

Where The Idea Came From

Before I knew a single thing about fountain pens, I knew I needed some ink in order to use the one fountain pen I had. I went to the DC Fountain Pen Supershow in 2009 (yup, that was my first exposure to fountain pens!), with a goal to come out of there with a bottle of ink for my pen. I didn't know really what color I wanted, I just knew I liked dark blue (not much has changed in that respect). I went up to a vendor at the show and looked as some bottles and picked out Diamine China Blue, which sounded kind of like what I wanted and looked like a dark blue based on the real-time swab I was given when I asked them for it. But as you may know, fresh ink on the page usually looks darker than it does after it dries...that was the case for me, and I ended up buying a full bottle of ink that I later realized wasn't really the color I wanted. I now had 80ml of a color I didn't like. I knew this would be an expensive hobby if I had to buy whole bottles of ink just to see what color they were!

It was from that experience, the very first ink buying experience that I ever had, that later inspired me to go through all of the hassle of setting up the Swab Shop (and ink samples too, as the two work in tandem). I set a goal of eliminating the wasteful purchase of full bottles just to try a color, and the combination of swabs and samples we offer have undoubtedly been a positive influence in the fountain pen world.

Talk To Me About It

Hopefully the Swab Shop is a helpful tool for you. This video is here to help you get the most out of what we've put out there for you. I'd love to hear how it has helped you, and also what we might be able to do to improve it even further. Please post comments below as I'd love to hear your thoughts!


    1. I love this feature and the ability to order a sample of any ink you carry. I've ordered samples of 6 different inks and was impressed with the amount in your samples. It's plenty of ink to provide a good "test drive".

      But I digress....

      The Swab Shop is incredibly helpful in comparing similar colors and choosing just.the.right.one. The color accuracy is greatly appreciated so that when I received my samples there weren't any surprises when I used the inks myself.

      Thanks for taking the time and effort to do all this work, it's really appreciated.

    2. I absolutely love both the Swap Shop and the ability to order ink samples!  I've found myself in the same position re: trying to find the right ink color; being able to compare them all side by side accurately is a huge help.  Plus ordering a sample allows me to try out different ink colors and experiment without breaking the bank! The time and effort you've put into creating and maintaining everything is greatly appreciated.

    3. Whoa - I can't believe you've got almost 500 colors in stock!! It boggles the mind!

      The swab shop is an awesome tool. I've referred to it a lot, and I appreciate your efforts to make the colors as true and consistent as possible. Shading inks are my favorite, and the paper & swab technique you use really shows off an ink's full shading potential.

    4. The swab shop is awesome. It's an unique feature that none of your competitors have and I can't imagine why. It helps a lot when trying to make a decision on what ink to get.

      The other big feature I love on your site is the ink samples. Once again, you have blindsided your competition with this move. The idea of an ink sample is pure genius; if it wasn't for them, we'd be forced to buy a whole bottle.

    5. You're very welcome :) Thank you for sharing your feedback with me! I'd glad that the color accuracy helps you, it's surely the most time consuming part of the whole process, and it's really tough to get some of these colors right (especially certain blues and oranges). 

    6. Thanks, Dennis! I'm glad it's working out well for you, this is exactly why Rachel and I set it up the way we did. We actually didn't initially have ink samples linked from the Swab Shop, as that wasn't really the intention. But we had a lot of people asking us to add that feature, and it of course makes perfect sense now to have it that way. 

    7. I know, 500 inks is really crazy! As of the making of this video, we actually only have about 400 colors, but with Rohrer and Klingner and De Atramentis yet to add, that should put us over the 500 mark. It's going to take me a while to add those in though, so expect the number of colors to expand over the next couple of months. 

      I'm glad you appreciate my consistency. I tested several papers to see which showcased the best the inks had to offer, and the Pollen was the most ideal :) 

    8. I know why other retailers don't do their own Swab Shops...it's too much work! We've spent an unbelievable amount of time on it, and Rachel and I are pretty young and computer-savvy. With the hardware and software we need to do it, as well as the programming knowledge needed, it's no wonder everyone's not doing it. It's hard...

      It's kind of the same with ink samples. The concept of ink samples wasn't actually our idea. It was originally set up as a peer-to-peer ink exchange program by KCat on the Fountain Pen Network. We saw that the concept of sampling ink had a lot of benefits, but it was not a simple process to coordinate getting it through other fountain pen users on the forum. We knew that we could do it better because we had access to whole brands of ink and could make the samples available for immediate purchase along with everything else we sell...so that's what we did, and the rest is history :)

    9. Yeah I wanted to mention this and I forgot: I can only imagine the amount of work you put into this. It's not easy at all. I know how long it takes me to photograph an inked-up page for my reviews and then process it to look "accurate" and then upload it... And I only do this once a week but usually less often.

    10. Swab Shop: One of the many reasons I buy all my pen ink from gouletpens.com

    11. You can probably appreciate it more than most. That's why I scan instead of take pictures of the swabs...at least with scanning you have a consistent light source.

    12. I know I shouldn't be surprised but 500 different colours of ink is very impressive!
      I am just going to head over to your site and have a look :)

    13. We're approaching 500 now, we'll be updating more as De Atramentis trickles in. They have a TON of colors, so we're going to be adding their ink colors over the next few months. The Swab Shop is kind of a continuous evolution :) 

    14. 500 +! that's insane! ... I'm going to need a whole bunch more ink vial holders here soon.

    15. Yeah, once all the De Atramentis is on there, it's going to be somewhere around 550. You don't have to tell me that's a lot of ink, I'm swimming in it!


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