Five super black calligraphy inks in the UK, & why I rate them
Updated: Feb 15
Being a calligrapher in the UK, it can seem like we have so few new shiny things (like inks) to experiment with compared to our friends over in America. There’s always the option of importing of course. But as we either know (or can assume), that can quickly become prohibitive due to the associated shipping and import fees, whether you import yourself or buy through a retailer in the UK. So here I'm going to look at five super black calligraphy inks that are available in the UK!
So instead of fixating on what’s difficult to get hold of, let’s take a look at what’s more readily available, and look at some of the pros and cons of these inks. You’ll find that I’m not including any fountain pen inks for consideration here. I find that the results are far too variable, and as I’m thinking this will be most valuable to people at the start of their calligraphy journey, I’d rather not have anyone spiral due to the finicky nature of those inks!
As always, you need to experiment with the nib/ink/paper combo to find something right for you and your project. One size does not fit all! And while I’m sure there are more black inks than what I’ll go on to speak about here, these are the ones I’ve personally used. Let’s jump in!
Higgins Eternal Black Ink
Did you know that the very first lesson I attended was for modern calligraphy? And I started learning with this ink. Oh, the days of not knowing if the problem was with the nib or the paper!
I like this ink a lot, and I find myself going back to it regularly. It’s a decent shade of black and produces a semi-fine hairline. It has a fairly strong odour, but only really noticeable if you take a hard sniff of the tub (see what I do for science?), it’s not as bad straight from the jar I decant it into. I find the consistency reliable, no agitation is needed to stir up any particles. It’s also not prone to bleeding, and as it’s non-acidic, it isn’t overly wearing on your nibs.
Decent depth of black
Reliable consistency, is not prone to bleeding
Not overly harsh to your nib
Available at: Scribblers, Penman Direct, Blots Pens, Cult Pens, Amazon
Kuretake Black Sumi Ink
Sumi ink is what’s most often given to beginners from what I can tell of other courses. Kuretake and Moon Palace are the most frequently name-checked.
This is an ok ink, but I don’t use it that often. It’s fairly particle-heavy (Sumi ink is mainly made from soot), so you will never get a fine hairline. That said it is a nice deep black, and this one is allegedly quick-drying (if this one is quick-drying I hate to think how long the other Sumi inks take to dry). Again, the consistency is reliable, but being pretty thick you do need to take care when cleaning your nibs so the gunk doesn’t build up. Also, this has a bit of an odour, stronger than Higgins, but not overpowering.
Rich black with a sheen on drying
Not overly harsh to the nib, but can gunk it up
Available at: Scribblers, Penman Direct, Blots Pens, Amazon, Jackson's Art
Walker’s Copperplate Ink
Walker’s Copperplate is an iron gall ink. And this is a true one-up for calligraphers in the UK as this is produced over here and so is easier for us to get hold of!
I like iron gall ink, and this one is super nice to use, and it dries to a dark black. And like the other iron gall ink I’ll be talking about, has a tendency to get sediment-y (and because I’m terrible I will shake it up to get a denser black, even though it puts bubbles in the ink. What can I say - I’m a rebel). For me, the key benefit to iron gall inks is you can get a super fine hairline from them. But, they have an odour. Not so bad if you’re just using from a bottle, but if you spill the whole bottle it’s a different story... Something to bear in mind if you do a lot of practice work, this will see you get through your nib stash that much quicker. But the hairlines!!!
Good depth of black
Has an odour
Harsh on nibs
Available at: Scribblers, Penman Direct
Meticulous Ink Iron Gall Calligraphy Ink
As it says on the label, this is another iron gall ink, and again produced in the UK, and the only place you can get it is through Meticulous Ink!
So why two iron gall inks? Well, the interesting thing about this one is how much blacker it is once you give it a good shake to mix. It truly is just the blackest of the black. If you don’t shake? The result is more of a dark grey. And again you get the superfine hairlines which are pleasing. I find this is more sediment-y than the Walker’s, and I think the smell is a little less with this one (although this is the one I spilt so I know that once escaped from the jar it’s an entirely different story). Again, being an iron gall this will eat through your nibs quicker if you use it a lot. And another thing to keep in mind is that a jar of this is near twice the cost of the Walker’s.
Super deep black achievable
Has an odour
Harsh on nibs
Available at: Meticulous Ink
Ziller Soot Black Ink
This is my most often used ink lately because of how forgiving it is. And this is of note as I don’t get on with acrylic-based inks in general, but this is an exception.
So what do I mean when I say it’s forgiving? I can give you two explanations. The first is that it’s not prone to bleeding. If I have a paper that the Higgins wants to bleed on (even if the nib is new and good), I can switch to this and bleeding is, in most cases, no longer an issue. Also, I find I can get away with using an old nib just a tiny bit longer than I should with this ink, as again, it’s not prone to bleeding. This is good if you’re using cheap paper to practice with, as we all know how that likes to bleed! I also like the nice deep shade of black it gives, I like that it’s the most water-resistant of the bunch (great for envelopes), I like that it gives me a fine hairline (just a little thicker than the iron gall), and it’s not too harsh on your nibs either. A great all-rounder!
Super reliable consistency
Not overly harsh to your nib
Available at: Scribblers, Blots Pens
And an honourable mention goes to gouache ink. I don’t see why you’d particularly want to use black gouache ink, but I understand that some people will like to mix things to their own consistency and shade as a signature look, so I thought it was worth a mention. And of course, you don’t have to start with a tube of black gouache, as you can mix your black from a bunch of different colours.
The way I mix my black gouache means it reads ever so slightly purple (which I quite like), and of course, you can get whatever shade out of it you like depending on what paint you have on hand. You can mix it to whatever thickness you like, so you can have as finer hairline as you’re able to make. While the different colours do like to separate if you have them on the shelf unused for too long, you can always give them a good stir with a paintbrush to rectify that. And I’ve never had a gouache ink bleed on me (bonus) but I have had issues with anything containing blue blobbing, which I’ve then remedied with some liquid gum arabic. And as it’s just paint, it’s kind to your nibs too.
Mix to whatever shade you like
Pick your consistency, you can get away with a lot!
Kind to nibs
As a bonus for you, this is how I mix my gouache inks. Sorry for the measurements being a little rough, but as you’ll want to tailor it to your tastes, this will only inconvenience you slightly. Also, use good quality gouache so the pigments are finer. I personally like Winsor and Newton. I would avoid Daler Rowney.
The Flourished Fox Black Gouache Ink
You will need:
1x 15ml jar (and lid)
Primary red, Primary Blue, Primary Yellow.
A syringe with measurements on the side (I like a small 1ml syringe)
Liquid Gum Arabic
Water (purified if possible)
I’ll start by saying that I define ‘1 part’ as one small blob of paint, think petit pois sized.
Add the following to the jar: 6 parts blue, 4 parts red, 3 parts yellow and mix until you have one even colour
Add 5ml of water and mix until all the gouache is thinned out
Add 2ml of gum arabic and mix until combined
Test your ink!
If it’s too thin for you, try adding a little more gum arabic
If it’s too thick, add a bit more water
If it’s reading too purple for you, add tiny increments of yellow to tone it down
And you can use similar sorts of ratios to make any colour gouache ink you like. I find that using somewhere between 12 and 15 parts of gouache to the stated amounts of water and gum arabic will give me a pretty consistent thickness of ink to work with.
And that’s it! Have I missed your favourite black ink? Is there another out there that everyone should try? Drop me a note in the comments below and I’ll try to pick a bottle up!