Ink Mixing: Putting Unused Colors to Work

We’ve all done it: Gone and splurged on a bottle of ink (or five) from Goulet or Jetpens, only to get it home and think, “mehhh?” Often the color’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not not exactly what you were looking for, so the bottle of ink sits unused and neglected in a drawer somewhere. 

What to do? There’s always eBay, the FPN or FPGeeks classifieds section, or you could work out a trade in the Pen Addict Slack Channel (or at a pen show!), but what if there are no takers? Consider mixing the ink! With a touch of creativity, a syringe, a steady hand, and a slight tolerance for making a mess, you could have a completely new ink in minutes. 

Warning: while you are engaged in ink mixing, avoid carpets, pets with light-colored fur, and your non-pen obsessed significant other. With regard to the latter, it’s probably best that they don’t come home to find you hunched over the sink with a syringe in one hand and an “ink vial” in the other. Trust me. 

I recommend leaving your "kit" at home and not mixing inks at work.  Unless you are really tight with H.R. and have enough credibility to explain this one.  

I recommend leaving your "kit" at home and not mixing inks at work.  Unless you are really tight with H.R. and have enough credibility to explain this one.  

Full disclosure: I’m an ink mixing novice. I present to you the product of my first effort: a mix of 4 parts Sheaffer Skrip Red and one part Aurora Black. I like the result, though next time I might try to go with a bit less black. I was going for a deep maroon (sort of like Diamine Oxblood), but it ended up just a shade too dark. 

I was pleased enough with the result of this mixing effort to use the whole ink vial.  There were no adverse effects from mixing these two inks:  It dried quickly and didn't bleed.  

Tips for mixing ink: 

  • If possible, only mix inks of the same brand. You can break this rule, as I obviously have here, but it involves a certain degree of risk since different ink companies might use different dyes, etc., that could react adversely to one another.
  • If you must break this rule and mix between inks (hey, I didn’t have any black Skrip), stick to “basic” or “safe” inks. (i.e., mix Waterman and Skrip, Aurora and Skrip, etc.) Don’t mix “boutique” inks (such as Noodler’s, Organics, Private Reserve, or Levenger) with anything other than their own brands. Even then, only mix within their “families”. For example, don’t for the love of God mix any of the Noodler’s Baystate inks with anything other than another Baystate Ink. Nathan Tardiff himself has stated that you shouldn’t do this, because it will cause an adverse chemical reaction and clog pens. Also, mixing a Noodler’s bulletproof ink with another non-bulletproof ink may cause the resulting mixture to be “not-bulletproof”. 
  • Most importantly, go slowly, and mix in small batches. I like to mix using an ink syringe and a small ink sample vial. The vials are marked with measurements up to 5ml on the side (enough approximately 5 fills in a cartridge converter pen). The grading helps you to determine the appropriate proportions.  Once you find a mix/color that you like, then you can make a larger batch.   

All you really need to mix inks are a syringe or a pipette (I find the syringe to be easier and more precise), ink, and a container to hold the result of your experiment.  I repurposed an old ink sample vial during the "experimental" phase, but when I go to mix a big batch of my red-black I am probably going to use one of the smaller Nalgene containers for storage.  A lot of people also use the Nalgenes for travel when they don't want to carry a full bottle of ink with them.  A wide variety of sizes are available.   

Disclaimer:  Mix inks at your own risk!  Assume that the result of your concoctions might harm a pen, and test them in less valuable writers before inking up that prized vintage Vac.