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 you! I’ll be posting highlights of some of my more interesting email questions every Mailbox Monday. These are some emails of mine from the past week or so:

How should the tines lay down on the paper while writing with the pen? I’ve been holding it at like a 45 degree angle kind of like this / in that the left time is the bottom left and the right tine is the top right but I’ve seen some people where it’s horizontal like –, does this matter or is it preference or depend on the pen and nib etc?

I think I understand what you’re asking….there are pretty much three different factors when holding your pen: 1) the angle of the pen in relationship to the writing surface (45 degree angle is good), 2) the rotation of the pen in your hand (you want the surface of the nib to be facing towards the sky, with both nib tines equally touching the paper), and 3) the angle of the pen in relation to the paper, meaning the angle at which the nib is in relation to the lines as they go across the page. The one that varies the most is the last one, and there really isn’t so much a right or wrong answer there, but usually a 45 degree angle is typical.

I have a Preppy marker and would like to use bottled ink instead of the cartridge supplied. Is there an ink that matches the Sharpie for quick drying and permanence on smooth surfaces?

Sharpies are made using solvents, which is fundamentally different than fountain pen inks, which are water-based. You won’t find any fountain pen inks made today that will be as versatile as a solvent-based Sharpie (or other permanent parker). The only thing that comes close is Noodler’s Bluerase or Blackerase. They are whiteboard inks, but they also work on plexiglass, and I think, regular glass. They work best in a marker pen or highlighter (felt tip) pen like the Platinum Preppy Highlighter. But they’re not going to be like a Sharpie. 

I’m looking to replace my Mont Blanc Gandhi Saffron Ink, any suggetions? Apache sunset was too brown but loved the shading.

I’m not personally familiar with Mont-Blanc’s Saffron, but I did find a review of it here that compares it pretty closely to Diamine Blaze Orange and Pilot Iroshizuku Yu-Yake. I’d recommend taking a look at our Swab Shop as well, to see if you can find a good match, and if you want to be darn sure before you invest in a whole bottle, check out some samples so you can see in person how the ink behaves.

Do you expect to be getting the new Pelikan 2013 Edelstein amber in any time soon? I’m liking this a lot!

It hasn’t even “officially” been announced yet, so it’s going to be a little while, probably at least a month, maybe longer. We’ll have it on order, and get it in as soon as it’s available in the US! We’ll list it on our site once we get the go-ahead from Pelikan to do so.

Do you typically shake your ink bottles prior to filling a pen? If so, is it important to do this all the time for all inks?

When it comes to shaking inks, some people are of the mentality that it should never be done, others believe it should always be done. Me personally, I always shake my inks (gently) before using them, to ensure a proper mixture of the dye colors. Sometimes, when an ink is sitting for a while, there can be some chemical sedimentation that occurs, especially with the more saturated dye colors. Shaking the ink ensures that the dyes remain properly in suspension when you go to fill your pen. There are a couple of good articles on the fountain pen network that talk about this very issue: here and here. Bottom line, you can do whatever you wish :) But i prefer to shake! 

I am particularly partial to Parker fountain pens and when my current supplies of bottled ink run out, I’d like to maybe order replacements from you. Is your ink range suitable for Parker pens? I’ve been using Parker’s own “Quink” brand but colours other than Blue and Blue/Black (boring!) are very hard (impossible?) to find here. Now that I have my syringe set, I am looking to have some variety and might even venture into mixing my own colours. Do you have any recommendations as to brands that might be suitable?

I’m sorry you have such a hard time finding fun colors! When it comes to mixing inks, you have to recognize that you’re entering into somewhat uncharted waters (literally!). The exact chemical formulations of fountain pen inks are proprietary to their manufacturers, but there are definitely some inks that are more compatible than others. As a general rule, it’s best to stick to inks within the same brand when mixing, to minimize the chance of a bad reaction between two inks. That’s not always a sure thing, though. Noodler’s in particular has a range of inks with some very drastic properties, and they aren’t always compatible with other Noodler’s inks. With those, you’re best sticking with inks in the same series. Baystate inks only mix with other Baystate inks, that is for sure. But other inks like the Bernanke Fast-Dry inks, Polar inks, Eternal inks, they’re only going to keep their properties intact if they’re mixed with other inks that have the same properties.

That said, there are some inks that are known to be quite safe for mixing. The best would be Platinum Mix-Free, they were designed from the ground-up to be mixable, and the easiest way to mix them is to try multiple colors and just mix them 50/50 with each other. To help you get started and have fun, I’ve even put together a Mix-Free super-sampler package set, with oversized ink samples and the tools you need to start mixing, here.

I even shot a video showing how to use it, here.

Private Reserve is another brand that’s pretty good for mixing. All of their inks are made to be mixed with each other (except for Invincible Black). Other brands that I’ve heard many use for mixing include Waterman, Sheaffer, and Diamine.

Regardless of the brand, whenever you’re mixing you have to recognize you’re doing something that wasn’t necessarily designed by the manufacturer. You have to have a bit of an experimental approach, so it’s best to keep your ink mixing to small volumes until you figure out your ideal ratios for ink colors. I’ve heard that some people like to stick with a CMYK mixture approach, and popular colors for that are Noodler’s Navajo Turquoise, Noodler’s Shah’s Rose, Noodler’s Yellow, and Noodler’s Black. That approach may work for you if you know specifically what colors you might want, but if you already have a bunch of inks around and just want to “see what happens”, it’s best to mix the inks in a vial or bottle, let them sit for a few hours, and make sure you don’t get any strange reaction (bubbling, congealing, etc) before putting them in your pen. 

I have purchased a medium nib black matte Pilot VP from you recently and I was pleasantly surprised. What a great pen! I am thinking of purchasing a broad nib unit for it. but I saw that you have two types one is rhodium plated broad and the other is not. What is the difference? Which one would you recommend? The same goes for the medium nib, and I don’t know which one is mine. Any idea how could I know that?

I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying your VP! That thing is pretty slick, I have one myself and feel like James Bond when I carry it around ;)

There actually isn’t any difference between the gold and rhodium VP nibs other than the color. Technically, they’re both solid 18k yellow gold, but the rhodium one is plated with rhodium, to give it the silver color. Technically, rhodium is a harder metal than gold and should be more durable than the gold, but I’ve never heard of any practical difference between the two nibs in terms of how they hold up. I wouldn’t really recommend one over the other, it’s really just a matter of which one you find most aesthetically appealing.

As far as telling the size, there is a small designation stamped in the nib below the name “Pilot”, it should be a single letter that tells what size it is, inside a set of brackets. You can only see it if you remove the nib from your pen. For example, this nib shows that it’s a fine:

Thanks for taking the time to read my emails! I’d love to hear what you think in the comments. I’ll be compiling this coming week’s emails into next week’s Mailbox Monday post!