The Burden of Ink

I’ve accumulated a fair bit of ink over the years. Some of it I like, and of course there’s ink I don’t like very much. Purple that is called blue, or gray that is called black both turn me off. Any ink that looks pale and washed out is not so good. I should just throw these out, but instead I keep them thinking that someday I’ll just use them up when all the good stuff runs out.

This is flawed thinking because I buy ink at a rate much faster than I use it. Even two bottles per year, about my average, is about four times faster than I use ink. In my life I’ve emptied only one bottle of Namiki blue, and one bottle of Sheaffer Skrip Blue, at least that I can remember. Because I tend to change my mind about what I like no one bottle gets hit too hard for too long.

The Skrip got used back in the days when I first used a fountain pen to keep notes at work when I was an engineer. I kept the bottle in my desk and because I used the pen everyday I eventually used up the ink. I don’t know how it could be, but I went for a year or two before I even thought of getting a different ink or really even thought about what else was out there. Nice, simple days. I even hate the color, and the way the ink writes, but I still have a few bottles. I use it for pens that dry out quickly, like Parkers.

Now ink is going through a revival, and boutique makers like Noodler’s and Private Reserve are making new colors almost faster than one can buy them. They’re also making custom colors for specific outlets, and limited colors. Of course, if I like one of these colors (like Noodler’s Van Gogh Starry Night Blue) they stop making it. Either that or its rarity is what makes it attractive. So these inks become special, and what is special tends not to be used so much. I don’t want to be one of these losers paying $50 for a bottle of ink on Ebay, like some pathetic addict.

Then there’s the search for the Perfect Ink. The elusive ink that writes well in every pen, is friendly enough to leave in pens, has a distinctive color that is not too unusual, and will be made forever so that I don’t feel like I’ve got to buy a case before I commit to it. I’ve thought I’ve found this more than once, but then I become convinced something else is better. Waterman Blue Black and Private Reserve Midnight Blues are both close. The Van Gogh Starry Night Blue is also very close, and I bought two bottles so it gets used as well.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m collecting the pens and the ink is there just to make them work, or if I’m collecting the ink and then pens are there only to justify it. But that’s the stuff of hobbies – the endless evaluation and analysis and pondering.

The Surprising Paper In The Laundry Test

As I was writing a recent post where I mentioned that paper with some cotton content was a must for durability. It occurred to me that I hadn’t really proven that it is more durable, it was just my opinion.

So I decided to do an impromptu test. I wrote on 4 different kinds of paper with four different kinds of pens, folded them up and put each in a different pocket of a pair of jeans. I put the jeans in the washer, and then waited to be proven right. Actually, I was hoping to be proven right. Surely the washing machine is a decent test, right?

The results were very surprising to me.

I was convinced the 100% cotton Cranes paper would be intact. In fact, I was pretty sure all of them would be. I figured that much of the writing would be as well.

I opened the washer to put the clothes in the dryer, and noticed that the pockets were inside out. I looked around for the folded notes, but couldn’t find them. I searched further. All I found were a few shreds of paper stuck in the back pockets. 100% cotton, or 0% cotton, it didn’t make much of a difference. Ok, there were some clumps of paper that seemed to hold together better than the rest, but I couldn’t identify them.

So much for paper through the washing machine. I’ll have to come up with another test.

Anyone have any ideas? What do you think, is cotton paper really more durable?

Pens and Paper for Getting Things Done

I’ve finally written up my Getting Things Done approach on my other blog,, but I’ve decided to write about it here from the perspective of the paper and pens I use.

I’m still looking for a software system that works as well as pen and paper, but so far I haven’t found it. I’m not sure I ever will, so I’m sticking with what works.

File Folders

Because I carry these around and handle them a lot, the usual folders get ratty looking pretty quickly. I decided to try the Smead Heavy Duty folders, and so far they seem to be holding up better and I like the kraft color. They’re labeled with a Brother Labeler, which really makes nice labels.


I’ve tried everything from the cheapo copy paper to expensive and inexpensive lined pads to nicer paper with some cotton content. The nicer paper makes a difference – I wrote about that recently and my experience here enforces the point. In this system the paper gets handled a lot, and while regular cheap paper doesn’t fall apart, it doesn’t age very well and it sure doesn’t feel good. I also found that both Neenah Atlas bond (20lb, 25% cotton, wove finish) and Strathmore Writing (24lb, 25%, cotton, wove finish) have decent pen handling characteristics. I bought the Strathmore in 24lb thinking the extra weight would be nice, but I’m finding that is just too heavy. It feels nice and stiff, but it’s heavy and bulky when you build up a stack and even more so when you try to fold it down to pocket size. The Atlas bond was on sale at my local Xpedx for $8 a ream so I bought a bunch. It isn’t quite as nice to write on but handles well and is lighter.

I bought the Strathmore in natural white and the Atlas in bright white. The natural white stands out in a mixed stack, which is handy sometimes. The bright white shows the exact color of the ink better. I don’t think I care which I use ultimately.

For work I write a new next action list every day because I use it to catch a lot of unplanned work, such as responding to phone calls and the like. This provides a nice record when I have to write reports on what I’ve been doing. For this any paper will work ok because it’s only got to survive a day. Thinner paper is better because with 1 sheet per day the stack grows quickly.

For home the NAL gets a lot more abuse. It’s folded in half three times to end up about the size of a business card and rides in a pocket wherever I go. It gets unfolded and re-folded and reverse folded. Sometimes it might be in use for a week, sometimes less. For this kind of use cotton content is a must. The Atlas bond I’ve been using has held up well. Sometimes the list gets a rather romantic aged look to it with a variety of other notes jotted here and there.

I tried the cheapo 20lb bond copy paper we use in our laser printer, and it’s not as nice. Ink bleeds, the creases get weak, and overall it just feels yucky after only a few days. If it got truly soaking wet, or got washed, I have no doubt it would be a goner where the cotton would probably survive.


I’ve used nearly everything, but I’ve been using my Pelikan M800, Pelikan M200 and Lamy 2000 the most. Ballpoints are of course very reliable, and I’ll take one of them or a gel pen if I’m going someplace not FP friendly – like the beach. Otherwise, most of the time I’m using a nicer pen. Good paper takes the ink well and makes a fountain pen write a bit finer.

At first I worried that using a non-waterproof ink would be risky, but so far I’ve had no trouble with ink washing off despite my NAL being carried in a sweaty pocket or pulled out with wet hands. It’s been a non-issue.

Next Steps

I plan to get some 20lb Strathmore Writing when the Atlas runs out. I’m finding I actually use quite a bit of paper – I’ve already used about a ream in just a few months. Between lists, project sheets, and using it for notes it goes quickly. I’m also considering trying the Crane’s 20lb 100% cotton, but it’s pretty expensive.