The Swab Shop is likely one of the most useful tools that we have on 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!