With so many black calligraphy inks available worldwide, it can be difficult to choose which one(s) to purchase! This two-part blog post series will help to make your decision easier by examining the pros and cons of several different inks.
In previous posts we’ve discussed earthy calligraphy inks, sparkly calligraphy inks, and white calligraphy inks. It’s only appropriate, then, that in today’s article we take a look at three well-known black calligraphy inks! You’ve probably heard of at least one of these inks … and if you haven’t, you may just find a new favorite. I’d recommend waiting to buy any new black inks, though, until after this black ink post series concludes on Friday! That way, you’ll have all the information you need to make a smart buying decision. In the meantime, let’s kick off this ink examination by taking a look at Higgins!
Higgins Eternal Black Ink
When my mother decided she wanted to learn calligraphy a couple of years ago, she bought a bottle of Higgins Eternal ink. I gave it a try once when I was visiting her, and decided I didn’t like it: it was so watery and bled like crazy on the practice paper she provided me with! (Unfortunately, my mom didn’t love the ink, either … I think it’s part of the reason she abandoned her calligraphy learning endeavors.) However, there are many calligraphers who rave about this ink, so I purchased a bottle a couple of months ago to give it another chance.
As far as black calligraphy inks go, Higgins Eternal ink is watery. However, if you’re working with a high-quality paper, that’s not an issue. In fact, it’s an asset because the ink is capable of making impressively fine hairlines! You can see a beautiful contrast between thick downstrokes and super-thin upstrokes in the Janet Style envelope below:
Higgins Eternal is a carbon-based ink that takes pride in its archival qualities. To clarify: it’s a non-acidic ink, which means that it won’t eat away at paper over time. You can use it on envelopes or commissions and feel safe in knowing that the ink will withstand the test of time — thus the “Eternal”.
That said, if the paper you are calligraphing is not necessarily high-quality, Higgins Eternal will give you a lot of grief. As a test, I printed off page 13 of the Amy Style worksheet set on standard 20# printer paper. When I tried to use Higgins Eternal ink on it, disaster ensued.
You can see that the Higgins ink bled like crazy on the printer paper. However, when I tried using the Sumi and Ziller inks, there was no problem.
Here’s what I like about this ink: it gives you the capability to make super-thin strokes. It also dries nice and matte, which is visually appealing. I notice that there’s a little bit of gradation going on when you write with it: downstrokes are generally very dark, and upstrokes are a little bit lighter. I really like that effect! All that said, you’ll probably be frustrated with Higgins Eternal if you are unable to pair it with a compatible paper (and/or add some gum arabic to it to thicken it up a bit). Keep that in mind if you are planning on purchasing it!
If you’re interested in owning a bottle of Higgins Eternal, here are a few places you can buy it:
Yasutomo’s sumi ink is one of my favorite calligraphy inks on the market! It’s velvety, pitch black, and boasts a smooth viscosity that is very beginner-friendly. It scans well, so I use it to create the components of all of the Learn Calligraphy worksheets, like the Kaitlin Style alphabet pictured below.
I do have to say, though, that over time, liquid sumi ink has a tendency to thicken. As with most inks, water evaporates out of sumi ink as you calligraph projects with an open container of ink sitting beside you. There’s an easy fix for this, though: dilute the ink with some water!
I really like the sheen that sumi ink takes on when it dries. It’s not necessarily shiny, but it’s not super-matte, either: it’s … hmm … I think the adjective I’m looking for is “satiny”. Sumi ink is an excellent choice as far as black calligraphy inks go, especially if you’re just beginning to learn calligraphy!
The only thing to keep in mind, really, if you purchase sumi ink is that you need to have a small screw-top container ready to put it in. Unlike Higgins or Ziller ink, you can’t dip your nib in the container that is original to the ink. Instead, you’ll need to pour it into a more dip-pen-friendly jar!
If you’re interested in purchasing sumi ink, here is a list of international retailers that carry it:
I am fairly new to the Ziller calligraphy inks fan club, but I’m loving every minute of using Ziller inks — mainly because they are indestructibly waterproof. Sometimes when inks claim to be waterproof, you have to take it with a grain of salt, but Ziller inks aren’t kidding around. With that in mind, I created the Kaitlin Style envelope below for this blog post.
As I was drawing and calligraphing with the Ziller ink, I did notice that it was a little bit thick. I’m sure that in a few weeks, more liquid will evaporate out of the ink, and I’ll need to add more water to make it user-friendly again. If you run into this situation, don’t worry; it’s never a bad thing to dilute, and if you add too much water, you can always just let it evaporate out.
What’s really cool about Ziller ink is this: the instant that it feels dry to the touch, it is waterproof. With other inks, I usually wait overnight to paint over them. Ziller ink was ready to go immediately! No matter how much watercolor you apply over the ink, the black lines didn’t smudge or run one bit.
Due to the waterproof properties of the ink, I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is thinking of using it for drawing purposes in addition to creating calligraphy. You can watercolor over it without any worries! That said, since its viscosity may require a bit of tweaking, it may not be a super-excellent beginner ink. I’d still say stick to sumi if you are just starting your calligraphy journey. Another thing to note, too, is that Soot Black dries matte — which I really like. If you prefer some shine, Ziller does sell a Glossy Black.
Any color of Ziller is a great choice to add to your collection; however, Ziller inks aren’t widely available. I have only been able to find them in the United States and the United Kingdom. If you know of retailers in additional countries, I’m all ears! You’ll definitely help someone out by divulging what you know about where to find it. 🙂
The Waterproof Test
To be fair, this waterproof test was conducted about twenty minutes after writing the calligraphy. Generally, sumi ink is waterproof if it’s given a big chunk of time (10 hours or so) to dry. However, it is very impressive how well Ziller stands up to a hearty brushstroke of water soon after being written! It is completely unfazed by moisture.
The Higgins company is vocal about its Eternal ink not being waterproof, so it comes as no surprise that the ink runs when water is applied. If you happen to use Higgins ink on a project that you are concerned about getting wet (e.g. wedding envelope calligraphy), you can apply a fixative to ensure that it doesn’t run. I like Krylon Crystal Clear Coating Spray, but you can alternatively use something like MicroGlaze Protective Wax, which is non-toxic and can be applied indoors.
It is my hope that this post has given you some clarity about which black ink might be best for you! A good summary would be this: if you want super-thin hairlines, go for Higgins. Sumi is definitely an all-around great beginner ink. Ziller is best-suited for those of us who like working with mixed media, particularly ink drawings with watercolor.
In Black Calligraphy Inks Comparison Part II, you’ll learn about three more black inks: Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay, Winsor & Newton Black Calligraphy Ink, and Speedball India Ink. In the meantime, if you have any questions or input about the inks outlined in this post, please feel free to comment! As always, thanks so much for reading TPK; I’m grateful to have you here. 🙂