When it comes to calligraphy, the ink you choose can profoundly affect your work’s outcome. With so many options available, I’ve curated a guide on some standout inks that have consistently delivered for me over the years. My hope is that this guide will demystify the ink selection process for you, allowing you to make informed choices that best suit your artistic needs!
Calligraphy, illustration, and watercolor make for an incredible combination! Anytime I know I want to incorporate watercolor into a project, I use Ziller Soot Black ink because it’s completely waterproof when dry. Before I found Ziller, I had never encountered an ink that couldn’t be encouraged to smudge — at least a little bit — when it encountered water. I use this ink for all of my dip pen + watercolor projects. It’s especially amazing for watercolor maps!
The disadvantage of using Ziller ink? It’s a bit paint-like, so it can be quite thick. Working with it might require some patience! But it’s well worth it for the waterproof qualities of the ink.
One of iron gall ink’s most notable attributes is its incredible flow, which ensures that the ink glides smoothly across the paper with each stroke. This results in clean and crisp strokes and allows you to maintain a consistent rhythm without being hindered by ink that is too viscous or too watery. This consistency can be the key to mastering more complex scripts and techniques without getting bogged down by the mechanics of the ink itself.
Iron gall ink has a rich historical connection to the art of calligraphy. Used by scribes and artists for centuries, this ink has a unique property of oxidizing over time, which means that its color deepens, adding elegance and antiquity to the script. For the intermediate calligrapher, using iron gall ink can feel like tapping into the rich legacy of calligraphers from eras past.
Walnut ink, a timeless classic in the calligraphy world, is derived from the husks of walnuts. This organic source has made it a favored choice for artisans and scribes over many centuries. When it dries, walnut ink reveals a beautiful vintage hue. This unique characteristic lends depth and character to any piece it’s used on, making it a beloved choice for those seeking to add old-world charm to their creations.
Like iron gall ink, walnut ink can present a challenge for beginners due to its watery consistency. This fluid nature requires a steady hand and understanding of ink flow. If you’re new to calligraphy, try honing your skills with the more forgiving sumi ink for a few weeks before diving into the nuanced world of walnut ink. With patience and practice, however, you’ll find that walnut ink offers a unique, vintage charm that’s difficult to replicate with other inks.
If you’re looking to create vibrant and colorful calligraphy, Bombay inks are amazing. They’re highly pigmented, lightfast, and a wonderful viscosity. They are a bit thinner than sumi ink, so I wouldn’t recommend starting out learning with them — but these inks are great if you’ve got some practice under your belt.
The thing I love about Bombay Inks? They’ve got some gradation to them. There are some strokes you’ll make that are super dark, and others will end up being very light. Not everyone loves this look, but I think it’s cool. One thing to keep in mind, though: Bombay inks don’t come in pointed pen-friendly containers. It’s best to transfer them to an airtight jar for convenient storage.
I’ve conducted several white ink tests, and ultimately, I’ve decided that Bleed Proof White is my favorite. I love how it dries a brilliant, true white, even if it’s not the most waterproof ink out there. (Bleed Proof Ink is, in fact, a watercolor hybrid.) It also comes in a pointed pen-friendly container, which is a huge plus.
The main thing to remember with Bleed Proof White is that it needs to be diluted. When it arrives, you’ll notice that it’s basically a solid mass of white. This consistency can be surprising to first-time users, but it’s designed that way to offer you control over its thickness. By adding a few drops of water and mixing, you can achieve the perfect viscosity for your calligraphy needs, ensuring smooth strokes and crisp lines every time.
I put “ink” in quotes for this because Finetec metallics are actually watercolors! To use the watercolors as ink, you’ll need to brush them on the back of your nib. This might seem unconventional to those used to traditional inks, but the effect you achieve is undeniably vibrant and shimmering. Once you get the hang of it, the metallic watercolors offer a luxurious sheen that can elevate any piece of calligraphy or art.
If you’re curious about how to use metallic watercolors for calligraphy, don’t miss the short tutorial below. It’s delightfully simple, and the beauty of metallic watercolors is their longevity. Even if they dry out, you can effortlessly rehydrate them and use them time and time again.
Best “Ink” for Travelers: Watercolors
Watercolors offer a versatile and dynamic medium for calligraphers, allowing for an expansive range of shades and gradients. By blending different hues, you can create a myriad of unique colors tailored to your specific project. When used for calligraphy, they lend a painterly touch that’s both ethereal and vibrant.
While watercolors are great for travelers, don’t limit yourself to using them for on-the-go calligraphy! They’re also fabulous for mixing up custom “ink” colors at home. Owning a watercolor palette gives you access to practically any color of calligraphy “ink”. My favorite watercolors are from Greenleaf & Blueberry, but there are plenty of others out there, including the student grade Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors in the TPK Catalog.
Keep in mind that there’s a vast array of inks out there, and I’ve yet to try many of those inks. If there’s an ink you’re particularly fond of, please share in the comments. I’m always eager to expand my collection, and others will benefit from your recommendation, too! Likewise, if you’ve come across an ink that didn’t meet your expectations, let me know. Your insight is invaluable, and often I discover wonderful new supplies thanks to the TPK community.