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Fountain Pen Inks: Standard, Waterproof or Iron Gall?

Fountain Pen Inks: Standard, Waterproof or Iron Gall? - Pure Pens

Ross Adams |

Throughout history, we’ve relied on the scribes of ancient figures to tell us the stories and actions of our forbearers. One thing those historical artifacts and pieces of writing have in common is they have been to put to paper with an indelible ink.


If you’re writing a special note or piece of work that you want to stand the test of time, a standard fountain pen ink that could be easily washed away may not be your first choice. That’s why for as long as humans have been writing with ink, we’ve been searching for the formula that will transcend centuries.


Yet when it comes to us mere mortals, we quite often just need that robust fountain pen ink which won’t run should you spill anything on it. Yes, today, water-resistant and waterproof inks are some of the most popular out there. Over the years, the weapons of choice have been the old-reliable carbon and Iron-gall inks. What’s the difference and why don’t we still just use that ancient formula that has done so well throughout history?


Standard ink


Water-based without the addition of specific chemicals or constituents, standard ink will naturally bleed, or wash should you get it wet. Indeed, Nathan Tardif of Noodler’s Ink (famed for his ‘bulletproof’ series) recounts instances where handwritten pieces have been rinsed clean in flooded basements caused by hurricanes.


Water- resistant ink


These inks will resist moisture without being specifically waterproof. They are a popular choice for those that may take notepads out with them to and from work but are not necessarily the best choice if you are searching for a suitable indelible ink.


Some examples of water-resistant ink:

Noodler’s V-Mail Series


Document ink

Document ink is a special type of ink made by a number of manufacturers. Every level of the ink is permanent (as opposed to modern-day bulletproof ink which is only permanent to the paper it touches.) Each ink has to conform to ISO standard 12757 part 2 for archival quality. It’s safe for all fountain pens and doesn’t run the risk of associated ink-flow issues.


Some examples of document ink:

De Atramentis Document Ink

Rohrer & Klingner Permanent Black


Carbon ink


The pre-cursor to iron-gall ink (the basis of the first ever inks were coal/ soot mixed with water.) These inks contain carbon particles that work to form an extremely waterproof ink. Quite scarce on today’s market, they do however tend to block your everyday fountain pen if the particles are too large and generally are also restricted to darker/ deeper tones.


Some examples of carbon ink:


Iron-gall ink


A revolutionary development of centuries’ ago, many historical and ancient pieces entombed in museums and art galleries today will invariably have been written with iron-gall ink. Its constituents include tannic acid, iron sulphate, Arabic gum and water. Unfortunately, in addition to its indelibility, its ingredients also make it an extremely corrosive ink.


Indeed, if you are only to look today at the works of Leonardo da Vinci for example, you will notice how the ink has damaged the paper on which he has scribed. It has led to fears that a multitude of documents of such historical importance are at risk due to this property. It can also lead to damaging your fountain pen too.


Modern versions of the ink however have been formulated to a much milder degree and as a result, some official documents still to this day require the use of iron-gall ink. For instance, official records completed by registrars in the UK still are required to be filled out with ‘Registrar’s ink’ (iron-gall.)

Some examples of iron-gall ink:


Fully waterproof or Bulletproof ink


It is because of the drawbacks of the carbon and iron-gall inks, along with the limitation of water-resistant formulas, that Nathan Tardif made it his goal to develop the world’s first ‘bulletproof’ ink. Totally safe for your fountain pen, the ink can be rinsed out easily and lacks the more corrosive elements of other formulas. It is only permanent to the paper it touches, and can therefore be washed out of clothing/ off skin.


Nathan has gone on to produce a range of colours which has made his brands one of the most popular on the market today. Not only are the inks waterproof, they also are resistant to other chemicals such as bleach and even UV light.  In fact, a number of years ago even challenged anyone to manage to wash the ink out of paper. He offered a $10,000 reward- his money remains safe today!

There are your choices. While several years back you may have been restricted to only a handful of waterproof inks, there’s a lot more choice now. However, be careful, as the wrong type of ink may not just last as long as you like, but may also damage your prized fountain pen.


Some examples of fully waterproof/ ‘Bulletproof’ ink:

Bulletproof Noodler’s Inks