Clarifying the Ink Survey

Clarifying the Ink Survey

Last week I asked the fountain pen community to participate in my survey on wet and dry inks. Thanks in no small part to support from The Pen Addict, The Well-Appointed Desk, mnmlscholar, Penquisition, and others, I’ve had a strong influx of responses that will, I hope, provide just the supplemental data I hoped for.

I’ve also, understandably, gotten a lot of comments wondering why the heck I did what I did. So I thought I’d take a few minutes to sate your curiosity, starting with the most popular question.

Why did you pick these specific inks?

(a.k.a., Why didn’t you pick more popular inks?)

When we started this project a few years ago, we actually had no intention of putting a survey out to the community; that idea only came up later. So I never considered the popularity of an ink when I made the initial list of inks for testing. Instead, my choices were driven by the following:

  • The inks should cover a broad range from very dry to very wet.
    The underlying goal of the investigation is to pinpoint what physical factors make an ink wet or dry, so I knew that I needed to have inks that hit those extremes if we were going to suss out the mechanisms at play.
  • We need to balance batch variability with the need for a wide range of inks.
    You’d expect that larger ink manufacturers would have less variability in their ink supply, whereas inks from smaller makers might vary from batch-to-batch. Obviously, we want to avoid batch-to-batch variations. At the same time, though, the big manufacturers — think Diamine, Sailor, Pilot — aren’t going to have as wide a range of ink characteristics. In particular, they’re not likely to put out super dry inks because, quite simply, they won’t be popular. One reason I included some smaller makers, like Papier Plume and Birmingham Pens, is that I needed to include some inks that ventured further from average.
  • The inks should not include any extreme sheen, shimmer inks, or pigmented inks.
    Both pigmented inks and shimmer inks have particles in them, which — based on other fluids — we know can drastically change rheology and flow characteristics. For the initial investigation, we didn’t want that added complexity. The heavy dye saturation that causes sheening was also a wrinkle we didn’t want to start with.
  • The inks need to be easily available (to us).
    This is a project launched for fun with a budget of $0. All ink purchases so far have come out of my own wallet. So the initial list drew heavily on inks I already had on-hand, along with a few low-cost supplements purchased specifically for the project.

What do you mean by wet?

(a.k.a., You didn’t define what wet and dry mean; wet and dry depend on the nib/pen/paper, etc.)

My choice to not define ‘wetness’ and ‘dryness’ was intentional. There’s a reason the survey talks about “perceived wetness and dryness.” These terms, though very common in the pen community, are inherently subjective. Everyone has their own sense of just how wet or dry a combination of pen, paper, nib, and ink are. That’s rolled into my expectations going into this.

What I’m really aiming to get out of the survey is a crowdsourced spectrum for these inks — like a rough order from ‘this is the driest ink’ to ‘this is the wettest ink’. Because my hypothesis is that that spectrum will get mirrored in key variables, which will tell us that those characteristics are the critical ones for determining an ink’s wetness/dryness.

Have you seen this journal article?

Yes, thanks. It’s already in my Zotero library and will most certainly make it into the literature review. Our work only partially overlaps with their study, though; we’re looking at the problem a bit differently than they did.

What about doing the survey again (or in a Round 2) with more popular inks?

Far be it from me to disappoint the community on this count. My collaborators have agreed to test some more inks, and I’m currently putting together a second round of inks for testing. This time I’m using Fountain Pen Companion and survey comments to guide the choices. (And, yes, they will include both Diamine Writer’s Blood and Troublemaker Abalone. My new bottles are in the mail.)

As per my answer to the first question, I suspect that a list of popular inks won’t give us as much variation on the spectrum between wet and dry. But it will give us a chance to gauge just how widely people’s opinions on a given ink vary.

When will we see the results?

Since this is a small side project for all of us, we don’t have a specific schedule for getting the results published. But we do intend to publish when we’re ready, and I plan to couple that with public dissemination. Put simply, I’ll definitely be sharing the results with the pen community; I just don’t yet know when. Whenever I am ready, I’ll reach out to some of the big names in the community to help me get the word out. Stay tuned!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *