How Long do Fountain Pen Cartridges Last?

If you like fountain pens, you may have wondered how long do fountain pen cartridges last, really? You may be surprised at the answer – inks stored in cartridges are surprisingly long-lasting, as we will discuss further below.

There is a good reason that branded ink manufacturers typically do not provide a “use by” stamp on their products. One notable exception is some Mont Blanc ink brands, which the manufacturer deems best used within 5 years.

Why Would Ink Spoil?

Inks nowadays have five main ingredients:

  1. Water
  2. Dyes
  3. Lubricants
  4. Surfactants that bind the ink together, and
  5. Biocides that kill bacteria

Over time, ink can spoil if they are exposed to bacterial attacks, and/or UV radiation and/or other factors. For example, the use of biocides might be regulated in certain markets, as they have been post-2008 in the EU. That may, in turn, lead to faster spoilage.

However, most of these factors are more likely to come into play if the ink is stored in bottles that have been opened. In the case of cartridges, which are sealed before they are put in use, the considerations are very different.

Differentiate between Cartridges in Use and Those Stored on Shelves

One can answer the question of how long cartridges last based on one of two circumstances: (a) how long will a fountain pen cartridge last when it is already inserted into the pen and therefore in use? and (b) how long will a cartridge last if it is sitting on a shelf somewhere?

Cartridges in Use Can Last for a Long Time

In terms of the first question, a cartridge flows out based on the nib used. For example, a broad, stub or italic nib causes more ink to flow out with use. A music nib, with two breather holes (that is, a broader ink channel) will also tend to use more nib with regular use.

Additional considerations include the following:

  • The size of the cartridge matters since large size cartridges hold more ink
  • The type of ink – whether free flowing or with suspended particulates – matters. Thinner, waterier, and therefore free flowing. inks will exhaust quicker
  • Finally, the type of paper used also makes a difference. Absorbent papers smudge less but use more ink.

Most ink that is of reasonably good quality is expected to last for decades, anywhere from 10 to 60 years, with moderate and regular use.

We are concerned more about the second case – namely, how long do fountain pen cartridges last when you keep them sitting on the shelves.

How Long will a Cartridge not in use Last on Your Shelf?

Sealed cartridges sitting unused can theoretically last for a very, very long time. There are, however, some practical considerations that come into play.

Cartridges on Shelves – Factors to Consider

The baseline for ink in cartridges is good, in so far that they can sit on shelves without being contaminated, diluted or subjected to bacterial attacks. Most bottled inks spoil due to contamination as bottles are first opened and then used periodically.

However, cartridges are made out of plastic. As such, the ink within is subject to slow evaporation over a period of time. This is in line with a problem with almost every ink container, drying out due to evaporation creates issues. Dried-out ink will tend to clog up the channels in the nib and damage the pen, besides messing up the calligraphy.

In the case of bottled ink, adding water may be a remedy, even though it could produce uneven results. In the case of a cartridge, taking that route is out of the question.

Whether ink dries out or otherwise gets spoiled (see below) depends on a few factors, such as:

  • The packaging used
  • The type of ink
  • Color and ingredients
  • The way it is stored

In the case of cartridges, many of these factors are minimized. However, storing them in a cool environment not exposed to direct sunlight will definitely help to keep the ink from spoiling.

Some other common-sense warnings:

  • Do not buy ink from manufacturers that do not have a decent reputation and track record
  • Avoid inks that have vegetable pigments and advertise low biocides – while these are less important for cartridges, they could still have an impact based on the porousness of the material in the cartridge itself

How to Tell if the Ink has Gone Bad

Ink gone bad will either run badly (e.g. stop and start), and/or smell bad and/or look slimy or moldy. Granted, it is harder to spot some of these things with cartridges, but you will likely notice.

Brands that are Reputed to Last a Long Time

Regardless of whether they are stored in bottles or cartridges, some brands of inks are reputed to last for a long time due to their composition and packaging. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Waterman – in spite of their suggested use by date, they tend to last longer
  • Japanese brands such as Pilot
  • Parker Quink
  • Noodlers, which contains a number of less free flowing, non-smudging ink
  • Diamine

Inks that May Have Problems if Stored for Long

Some of the inks that are utilized to prevent smearing may have a tendency to spoil faster. Examples include Iron Gall inks, some Parker varieties (e.g. Parker 51 and Superchrome), and Monteverde green, blue, teal circa 2019.

The Last Word

Ink cartridges from reputable manufacturers should last for a really long time provided they are stored in a cool place away from direct sunlight. However, if you are buying from not so established sources, you have to be aware that evaporation, and possible contamination, could occur over time.

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