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The Pen Doctor XXXIX

(This page published August 1, 2022)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

The Perennial Noodler’s ink Question

Q:I know that some people say not to use Noodlers ink, but I have looked at reviews, and all say that the inks are safe and only require water to wash out of a pen. I have always been concerned with my letters, checks, and such reacting to water. I do like Noodlers Blue Black, Bad Blue Kingfisher, and Luxury Blue. Should I stay away from these inks, and if so, what waterproof inks do you recommend?

℞x:First, it’s good that you are doing your research on inks. I wish everybody were as careful as you. I can honestly state that after more than 25 years of experience, I don’t think “safe” is the adjective I would use to describe Noodler’s inks — unless you’re using a dip pen. These photographs show a Pilot Vanishing Point feed and a Pelikan M1000 barrel that were damaged by Noodler’s Baystate Blue ink. Not all Noodler’s inks are as dangerous as Baystate Blue; but some are infamous for clogging, others are notorious for bleeding and feathering, and some are known to cause flow issues. Because no two batches are ever the same, any given bottle might be troublesome, or it might not — you can’t tell until it’s too late. A manufacturer that continues producing and marketing inks like these is not one whose inks I care to trust in my pens.

VP feeds
M1000 damaged by Noodler’s ink

Almost all inks react to water; after all, you use water to clean out a pen. Inks that are truly permanent require much more maintenance and a very high level of pen hygiene. The only permanent ink I recommend wholeheartedly is Platinum Carbon Black. Platinum also makes a nanoparticle blue that appears to be just as good, but I don’t have enough data on it to recommend it without reservation.

Should I buy an Ultrasonic Cleaner?

Q:What about sonic cleaners?  Are they safe for all pens, or should I avoid this deep of a clean?  I have used pen flush occasionally if it looks like I need it.  Should I always use the flush?

℞x:Ultrasonic cleaner are not safe for all pens. Anything with a heater or with more than 50 watts of power is too much, and such a cleaner can enlarge tiny cracks in celluloid. Even a cleaner that is safe under these guidelines, however, can oxidize a hard rubber pen, turning it brown or olive green in a matter of seconds, and any soaking, even without an ultrasonic cleaner, will destroy casein.

Ultrasonic cleaner

If you use many different brands or colors of inks in modern pens, an ultrasonic cleaner can be a good bet. There are some inks that you just cannot get out without taking the nib and feed out, so you need to be proficient at, and comfortable with, removing and reinstalling them. (Doing this almost always means you’ll need to realign the nib afterward.) The foregoing said, I don’t just blithely recommend that you run out and get an ultrasonic. With a thoroughgoing pen hygiene regimen, you aren’t likely to need the extra horsepower very often, if at all. If you do decide to buy one, do not buy one with the controls in the lid. The wires that connect the controls to the rest of the machine run through the hinge, and they will flex, fray, and die fairly quickly.

Ink variety

Most pens that come across my bench needing flush are in that condition either because they are vintage and long disused or because they have been neglected. Maybe once every couple of years, one or anothr of my personal pens needs flush, usually because I set it aside without emptying and cleaning it, thereby letting it dry out. (I don’t ever change inks, so that aspect of things is never an issue for me.)

Sorely Troubled by a Snorkel Tube

Q:I bought this pen on EBay, supposed to work, but didn't, and seller does not accept returns. I watched 4 long videos on You Tube on repairing the pen and took it apart. The ink sac is ossified and crumbling, which I can replace but the nipple where the snorkel ends on the inside of the plug that attaches to the ink bladder is missing. I cannot find a replacement plug. How necessary is the nipple to the snorkel and pen's function? Do you carry this part? There was also a hard, black plastic stick filling and occluding the snorkel which easily came out by pushing on it with a pin.

℞x:I’m sorry, but there are some basic problems here. First, I don’t understand what you mean by “the nipple where the snorkel ends on the inside of the plug that attaches to the ink bladder.” There should be a short length of black hard rubber extending from the back end of the Snorkel tube; is this what you mean? Next, the thing you have removed, calling it “a hard, black plastic stick filling and occluding the snorkel,” is the inner feed. It is made of hard rubber, not plastic, and it has a narrow groove running along its length. That groove conveys ink from the sac to the main feed, and without this part the pen will leak but not write. Its orientation within the Snorkel tube is critical, and its back end should stick out a little from the end of the Snorkel tube. If the back end is broken off, the pen will usually still write, but it might be less reliable.

Snorkel tube & sac section

The real problem here is that you watched four videos on YouTube, and none of them was able to teach you correctly what was wrong, and what was not wrong, with your pen. There are some very good videos on YouTube, but there are more bad ones than good. Many videos have been posted by people with a good helping of self-confidence but without the necessary experience to back it up, and those videos can be truly frightening. Unless you are already skilled at repairing pens, you have no way to tell which videos are good and which are not. Please take my advice and stop watching YouTube videos on pen repair. Instead, read the article titled How to Restore the Snorkel/PFM Filling System on this site. It was written by an experienced pen repairer whose skill is acknowledged by his peers, and it will show you the right way to handle this repair.

If you buy an item on eBay and find that it is not as advertised, it does not matter whether the seller takes returns or not. Allowing a situation like this to go unchallenged hurts everyone that uses services such as eBay. Unless you’ve altered the item so that it is no longer as received, you can (and should) file a dispute. If you can provide clear proof that the item was not truthfully described, eBay will rule in your favor. If you’ve altered the item, however, you are most likely stuck with it.

Ink Makers Anonymous?

Q: I found your article, "Inks: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" to be very interesting and useful, but it left me with a few questions that I hope you can answer:

  1. Are fountain pen inks boiled during manufacture, or is it just "mix and swirl?"

  2. Are most dye-based inks made with aniline, procion, or some other form of dye?

  3. In addition to water, dye, surfactant, and mold inhibitor/biocide, do inks include any kind of binder? I know gum arabic is considered a big no-no, but I was wondering if manufacturers use something in addition to bind the dye and water, or if the nature of the dye (whether aniline or procion, etc) is such that it isn’t necessary.

Thanks! I ask because I’m experimenting with home ink-making, and there’s surprisingly little information out there.

Ink Scientist at Work

℞x:Let’s see if I can answer your questions one at a time, as you have presented them. You should know, however, that although I contributed to that article, the original author was Richard.

  1. So far as I know, fountain pen inks are not boiled during manufacture. All constituents of such inks are soluble in water, excepting perhaps certain inks that contain nanoparticle pigments instead of dyes, cornstarch to control feathering, or a bentonite to control flow. These latter components are produced as particles sufficiently fine that they can easily be maintained in suspension, even during long periods of storage at low temperatures.

  2. Most fountain pen inks are made with aniline dyes. Procion dyes are intended for dyeing fabric; they bind chemically with the cellulose in plant-based fabrics. They require a nontrivial time to do their work, they work better when heated, and some of them will not set sufficiently without the use of a mordant. They contain sodium carbonate, which is strongly alkaline and will raise the pH of any solution containing it. The majority of fountain pen inks are acidic, not alkaline. Alkaline inks can damage some pens, and the more alkaline an ink is, the faster it will cause rubber sacs or diaphragms to ossify.

  3. Fountain pen inks do not contain a binder. A binder is used to adhere the particulate matter in pigmented inks to the surface of the paper; with dye-based inks, the colored liquid solution is pulled by capillary action into the interstices between the paper fibers. (This is why copy paper is lousy for FPs; its fibers are loosely packed to provide spaces where toner particle can lodge between the fibers, and this makes dye-based inks bleed- and feather-prone.)

The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information.

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