My email inbox gets a plethora of interesting pen related questions, and I spend a good deal of time crafting thoughtful responses to each person who writes to me. A lot of times, the questions I get are good ones that I feel are worth sharing with others, so that’s what this post is for! These are some emails of mine from the past week or so:

I just purchased and received a 4.5 oz bottle of Noodler’s polar brown ink. I was dismayed to notice, however, that the bottle had a “winter 2009 edition” label on it — I saw online that Noodler’s reformulated the ink in 2011 to be darker and more saturated ( ). Is there any way I could trade the bottle of ink I purchased for the newer formulation, as I rather prefer that tone? 

No need to fret, the ink you have is the newest Polar Brown. There has only ever been one reformulation, and that happened in 2009. Noodler’s had some web issues on their website in 2011, and as a result had to take down and reload a lot of their pages on their site. You’ll notice the date is posted as March 22, 2011. If you look at many of the pages, that’s what date shows as the ‘post’ date, but in fact it is just a technical oversight on their site. We’ve pointed it out to them time and time again, but you see it’s still there. It’s not to be taken as March 22, 2011 was the date the ink was reformulated, rather it was that March 22, 2011 was the date they uploaded that information onto the site. I know it’s confusing and I’m sorry about that.

I’m very interested in the Pilot Custom 823 and wanted to ask a quick question.  I’m a lefty so usually gravitate toward fine (Kaweco) or extra fine (Lamy Safari) nibs.  I took a look at the Pilot Custom 823 writing samples and am having a bit of trouble deciding whether the medium or fine nib is best for me.  Do you have any thoughts?  Also, do you have recommendations of a great quick-drying ink?  Blue is preferable.

The 823 is a really cool pen, I’m a fan! The Pilot nibs are pretty fine. The fine nib on the 823 is just a tiny bit finer than the Lamy extra-fine nib, but not by much. There’s a pretty big jump to go up to the 823 medium nib though, so if you like the Lamy extra-fine, then I think the 823 fine would be ‘close enough’ to that to meet your needs. The Kaweco fine is broader (no shock here) than the Lamy extra-fine, and the 823 medium nib is going to be a little broader than the Kaweco fine. Long story short, if you like the Lamy extra-fine and want that (or a little finer), the Pilot fine is what you want. If you like the Kaweco fine and perhaps want even a little broader, then the Pilot medium will be the way to go.

When it comes to using each nib, there will be pluses and minuses for both sizes. The fine nib will put down less ink and dry faster, but the medium nib is going to feel a little smoother as you’re ‘pushing’ it when writing left-handed instead of ‘pulling’ it like you would right-handed.

For inks, the fastest drying one I know is Noodler’s Bernanke Blue:
The way this ink dries quickly is by being absorbed very quickly into the paper. The ink has more of a tendency to spread and feather than other inks, and that is a consequence of the fast drying feature. If you want to use an ink like this for fast drying, then that would be an argument in favor of leaning towards a fine nib, since the width of the line on the paper will appear thicker with fast-drying inks. Private Reserve also has fast-drying inks:

What would you recommend for my next step up the FP ladder of quality. I own the popular Lamy and TWSBI now. I’m looking at your Pilot Vanishing Points or a Pelikan M200.

Well, the VP and m200 are quite different pens, really. There are some pros and cons with each, which I’ll lay out for you here:

Pros- convenient click mechanism, ‘cool’ factor, 18k gold nib, replaceable nib units available, lots of colors to choose from, can use cartridges (Pilot/Namiki only though) or bottled ink
Cons- small ink capacity, can be awkward to hold for some people, more expensive, more involved steps to fill it with ink, only 3 nib options (F, M, B)

Pros- lower price, nib units are swappable, piston mechanism, higher ink capacity, more nib options (EF, F, M, B)
Cons- steel nib (not that it’s a bad nib, it’s just not 18k like the VP), few colors to choose from, on the small side (that may not be a con)

Depending on the specific features that are important to you, either one of these pens may suit you. They’re both classic pens that are staples in the fountain pen world for good reason. They both write really well, just be aware that because Pilot is Japanese and their nibs are usually ground pretty fine, that the Pilot F is going to write much like the Pelikan EF, and all of the other sizes will be about one step different with Pilot always leaning thinner than Pelikan.

I have a quick question for you.  I have just tried the sample of Noodler’s Blue that comes with the “Blues, Royal” ink sample package.  I really love the color!   However, I am interested in the lubricating properties of the Noodler’s Blue American Eel ink.  Is that the same color?  I can’t quite tell from the swabs.

Yes, the Blue and Blue Eel are nearly identical. The only reason we don’t put Blue Eel in that sample package is because we are out of stock of it a lot. We have it in now though :) Noodler’s Blue/Eel is one of my all-time favorite inks!

I am  looking for an ink that was once made by J. Herbin, called “l’Encre des Vaisseaux” now discontinued. Have you ever heard of it? Do you know of a substitute (non-Noodler’s)?

I found your FPN thread asking about the ink and I see that you’ve gotten a couple of good responses there, that’s more information than I have on the ink! The best I’ll be able to do is try to find a color that comes close, though I don’t know exactly what shade of purple L’encre des Vaisseaux is. I imagine the reason that ink is no longer available is due to EU regulations on ink manufacturing. In recent years, many ink companies have had to either reformulate or discontinue the formulas for many legendary inks, even including ones like Pelikan Blue-Black and Lamy Blue-Black.

Ironically, the only substitute that comes to mind are all Noodler’s inks. If the water resistant aspect of the ink isn’t important to you, then it opens up a lot more options for you. If you want a water resistant purple that isn’t made by Noodler’s then there’s only one ink I know, and that’s Rohrer and Klingner Scabiosa. It’s more of a dusty purple though, not vibrant like Violette Pensée.

I don’t specifically know much about this ink at all, in fact most of what I know about it now is from the responses in your FPN thread! If the properties of the ink aren’t critical and you’re going mainly for color, then I strongly urge you to check out all of the inks we have in our Swab Shop:

The ones that I feel may match closest (non-Noodler’s) are: Diamine Lavender, Diamine Violet, Diamine Majestic Purple, Sheaffer Purple, Waterman Purple, Rohrer and Klingner Cassia, and other ones within that color range.

Will you be at Atlanta pen show? 

Unfortunately not! We have a two-year old and a 3-month old, I’m afraid a 12-hour drive is pretty much out of the question for us! Perhaps in future years though :)

Hopefully these posts are helpful to you! I’d love to hear what you think in the comments. Also, feel free to shoot me an email anytime, your question could end up in the next Mailbox!