Can fountain pen inks be used for dip pens? To answer this question beyond a simplistic “yes” or “no”, or perhaps a more enigmatic “maybe”, we need to understand the physics of how fountain pens and dip pens work, as also the chemical differences between fountain pen ink and ink used by dip pens.
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The Two Types of Pens
Fountain pens and dip pens are constructed differently and work on different principles. The differences are most manifest in the reservoir of ink on each type of pen, and concomitantly the curvature of the nibs.
A dip pen, also called a nib pen, uses technology that was heavily used during the early days of writing. During the late 18th and the 19th century, the technology of both pen and ink became better refined with the advent of bottled ink that the pens would be dipped into. Dip pens replaced quill pens that were widely used before.
Since the pen needs to pick up enough ink to write smoothly, and given that the dip pen has no inside reservoir that feeds ink into the pen, the nib has two essential features:
- An outside reservoir in the form of an oval hole on the tip, and
- A slightly concave curvature that helps to hold a bit of ink on the backside of the nib, aided by surface tension of course.
Compared to fountain pens, dip pens tend to be cheaper and less elaborately designed. Their uses these days are usually for specialized purposes such as calligraphy, screen printing, and other artwork.
Fountain pens have a reservoir of ink within the pen itself, with the ink being drawn out through the nib using a capillary system while in use. They often tend to feature fine craftsmanship.
The fountain pen typically has a convex surface and is used to handling water based inks.
The Two Types of Inks
Having understood the differences between the technology used for the two types of pens, it will be easier to understand the different types of inks that each pen requires.
Dip Pen Ink
Prior to the 18th century, users of quill pens were often preparing and using their own ink. Nowadays, you can find manufactured ink stored in inkwells that the nibs are dipped into.
Dip pen ink has a fundamental difference with fountain pen ink, in that dip pen ink is substantially thicker (not watery). As a matter of fact, they are waterproof for the most part. It is pigmented through finely ground up matter within, similar to any paint. As such, they cannot be easily used in a capillary system-driven pen – they will clog it up. Certain varieties, such as India Ink, contain a thickening agent (gum Arabic) that will further exacerbate the clogging problems.
Fountain Pen Ink
Fountain pen ink is water-based and comparatively much more free-flowing. The color in the ink comes from dyes that are mixed in with the water base. Since the fountain pen has a built-in reservoir and given the design of the nib, the ink does not need to be carried on the nib – instead, it needs to flow through the fine capillaries and onto the paper.
Can Fountain Pen Inks be Used for Dip Pens?
The fundamental design differences between the two types of pens cause specific types of ink to be used in each. While it is theoretically possible to dip a nib pen in a fountain pen ink bottle and proceed to draw or write, the end result may not be savory with most types of ink.
In addition to the base of fountain pen ink being water, these inks also use a variety of wetting agents that further aid the flow of the ink through inner reservoirs, through the channels into the back of the nib, and then through the capillary system onto the surface of the nib.
A dip pen nib neither has the shape nor the propensity to hold on to such watery ink. The wetting agents will further reduce the surface tension, which is an essential ingredient to hold small amounts of ink below the surface of the nib of the dip pen and be released in small dabs onto the paper surface.
Common Problems You Can Expect
The most common problem you would find is the ink running too quickly off the surface of the nib and making blobs and stains on paper. The waterier the ink is, the harder it would be to retain decent amounts of ink below the nib. This means you would need to dip more frequently while writing.
Fountain pen ink also dries faster on the paper – think about the difference between a very watery, dye-based liquid and a thick coat of paint on your wall – which makes it harder to get consistent patterns and designs. The color scheme will tend to be patchy.
Dip pen users have searched around for the deepest, smoothest, and most color-consistent inks for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Modern manufacturers have developed the technology to create the right balance of thickness and pigmentation for them. Using fountain pen ink takes away much of those advantages.
There are Many Good Dip Pen Ink Options Available
Good dip pen inks will always advertise holding colors fast and even pigmentation. Here are some examples:
- Speed Ball Super Black India Ink
- USING ONLY HIGH-QUALITY PIGMENT - Made from highly opaque, carbon black pigment
- OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE - Offers excellent reproduction quality on absorbent surfaces
- WITHSTANDS FADING – Offers optimum lightfastness
- USE WITH A VARIETY OF TOOLS - Easily applied by pen, brush, steel brush or airbrush, Speedball’s India Ink is...
- CONVENIENT SIZE – 2-Ounce plastic jar
- Speedball 10 color Pigmented Acrylic Set Calligraphy Ink – set of ten different colors used for screen prints and calligraphy
- RICH, VIVID INKS - Features 10 vivid Super Pigmented Acrylic Drawing & Calligraphy Inks formulated from the best...
- HIGH QUALITY INKS - Inks are inter-mixable, waterproof, lightfast, acid-free and archival
- IDEAL FOR A VARIETY OF DRAWING & LETTERING TECHNIQUES - Ideal for a variety of techniques including calligraphy,...
- WHAT'S INCLUDED - Contains (10) .41oz (12ml) Super Pigmented Acrylic Drawing & Calligraphy Inks (Super Black, Scarlet...
- PLASTIC PALETTE INCLUDED - Also includes a 8” diameter palette that features 10 wells and pen and brush rests
- Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink Set – 12 color bottles
- Set of 12, 0.5 oz plastic bottles with droppers and mixing palette
- Vibrant India inks made from the finest ground pigments
- Lightfast, permanent, and waterproof when dry
- 24 unique colors available across two different sets
- Made in the USA
Each of the products mentioned above will repeat some common features – waterproof, pigmented, non-acidic etc. If they look similar to paint containers, that’s because they are in fact primarily used for artwork.
The Last Word
After reading the sections above, it should be clear that while fountain pen ink could be used for dip pens, it is not desirable to do so. Switching to proper dip pen ink would produce a much better result for calligraphy and related purposes.