Ink Review: Iroshizuku Tsukushi

Iroshizuku Tsukushi. Click to enlarge.

Iroshizuku Tsukushi. Click to enlarge.

Iroshizuku is a line of ink produced by Pilot under their high-end Namiki brand. The natural landscape and plants of Japan inspire the colors in the line, resulting in some of the most interesting and unique ink around. Some of my earliest reviews were of Iroshizuku ink: Yu-Yake, a delightful burnt orange; Momiji, an incredible, if subtle red; Yama-Budo, a ripe, juicy purple; Kiri-Same, the color of storm clouds in a bottle; and Kon-Peki, a deep and intoxicating ocean blue. To mark my recent return to ink reviews after a two-year hiatus, I just reviewed Asa-Gao, which is a daily-writer-worthy vibrant blue.

Returning to this line of ink made me remember just how much I love it. I’ve collected lots of ink over the years, which means that the average tenure of any particular color in my daily writer is probably one month, if not less. As a result, many of the Iroshizuku inks that I collected early on have sat, lonely and unused, for a few years. So, when I went to choose the next ink in my rotation, I picked an Iroshizuku ink that I had owned for years but never reviewed: Tsukushi.

Tsukushi means “horsetail” in Japanese, and can refer to either the horsetail plant or to a wooden stick with a burned tip that’s used to create under-drawings for artwork. According to Pilot, the ink is “a soft brown, like a young horsetail awaiting the coming of spring,” which I assume refers to the plant, as the idea of a burnt stick waiting around for spring can only be explained by artistic bears coming out of hibernation and then sleepily marching into the studio for a quick sketch before wandering off to hunt salmon.

At any rate, Tsukushi is a medium brown with a hint of earthy red. It’s moderately saturated, and does exhibit nice shading with both a fine nib and a wide stub nib. As a wet writing ink, it provides sufficient lubrication across a variety writing surfaces.

As a line, Iroshizuku ink behaves best on high quality, ink resistant paper like Clairefontaine, Rhodia, or Midori. Because most of the colors are wet-writers, they have a tendency to feather on cheap, absorbent paper like bagasse or copier paper. Tsukishi squarely fits the pattern, as seen by its behavior on the various papers I tested it on.

PaperDry TimeFeatheringShow ThroughBleed Through
Rhodia12 secondsNoneMediumNone
Midori15 secondsNoneMediumNone
Bagasse3 secondsHighHighHigh
Copier2 secondsMediumHighHigh
Iroshizuku Tsukushi water test. Click to enlarge.

Iroshizuku Tsukushi water test. Click to enlarge.

Tsukushi held up better than I expected during tests of its water resistance. On the smear test, in which I drag a wet finger across the page, the ink certainly smeared – the red compounds in the ink splayed across the page – but the underlying lines still remained legible. On the drip test, in which I let a few drops of water sit on the page before blotting them up, the ink bled slightly and some came up off the page, but it still remained readable.

On the soak test, in which I ran the page under a stream of water for half a minute, Tsukushi tenaciously clung to the page. While a considerable portion of the ink was washed away, the lines remained clearly visible; at least some amount of the ink appears to have bonded to the paper, preventing it from being fully removed. While nowhere near bulletproof, it was a solid performance

Iroshizuku Tsukushi bottle. Click to enlarge.

Iroshizuku Tsukushi bottle. Click to enlarge.

Iroshizuku bottles remain one of the loveliest designs in the field. Each beautiful, 50ml bottle brilliantly showcases the color of the ink it contains. They are quite solid and the thick bottom gives each one a surprising amount of heft. Also, an indentation in the bottom of the bottle is intended to aid in soaking up the last few drops of ink. These are bottles that deserve a place of pride on top of a desk.

Brown inks have not been in my regular rotation for the past couple of years, but my time with Tsukushi is making me rethink that – especially as we head into autumn here in the US. It’s well-behaved ink with nice shading in a color that I haven’t yet found elsewhere. It’s not cheap – Iroshizuku ink runs about $28 (US) per bottle – but from its time in my pen, I’d say that it’s worth it.

Iroshizuku Tsukushi is available from:

Review notes: The hand-written portions of the review were created on 80 g/m2 Rhodia paper from a No. 18 Bloc pad. The flourished italic script was written using a Monteverde Prima with a 1.1mm steel stub nib, while the remainder of the text was written using a Visconti Homo Sapiens fitted with an EF palladium nib.

Pen Review: Monteverde Prima

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About a month ago, Ron from Pen Chalet contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in receiving a pen for review. I happily accepted, and after a bit of back and forth, he agreed to send me a Monteverde Prima with a 1.1 mm stub nib. I’d heard good things about Monteverde, and my only experience with stub nibs was with the wider 1.9 mm nib on my Lamy Joy pen. It was a gap in my collection, and, having recently renewed my interest in calligraphy, I thought it made sense to do a bit of exploration.

It only took a day before I was looking for words that were fun to write. Words with Ms and Ns, like “mnemonic.” Words with Ps and Qs, like “opaque.” Rs were rewarding, Ts divine, and Vs delectable. “Monteverde” itself was a joy to write. I found myself avoiding words with Fs, though – I still haven’t found a version of F that I’m happy with.

At any rate, the Monteverde Prima comes in a green leatherette-ish box, which is embossed on the top with the Monteverde logo. Inside, the pen rests on a white satin bed and is held in place by a satin ribbon. In the bottom of the box, underneath the bed, are a set of instructions and a cartridge. It’s a nice presentation, especially considering the very reasonable cost of the pen, but it’s nothing especially luxurious.

Monteverde Prima Black Swirl w/ 1.1mm Stub Nib

Monteverde Prima Black Swirl w/ 1.1mm Stub Nib

The pen itself, though, is lovely. The cap and barrel are made from a glossy acrylic resin and are nicely framed by chrome trim. The resin comes in five varieties, each of which consists of a base color with an accent color swirled in, creating a marbled look: black with a yellow-green swirl, green with a black swirl, tiger eye (which is an amber-orange) with black, purple with white, and turquoise with both black and white. The black swirl is by far the most conservative, followed by the tiger eye, while the green, purple, and turquoise are all quite vibrant. On all of the models, the very bottom of the barrel, the very top of the cap, and the grip are all solid, glossy black.

Disassembled pen

Disassembled pen

The pen fills using either a cartridge or converter, both of which are included. The converter, which is threaded, is installed by default. Because it screws into the section, the converter feels very solid when assembled, which is a nice chance of pace from those converters that are held in by friction. I always worry that a stray bump will knock a friction fit converter off its mount and result in spilled ink. I’ve never actually had that happen, mind you, but it’s not even a worry with this pen

The Prima measures 5.25 inches in length, and weighs in at 1 ounce. By comparison, the Visconti Homo Sapiens, which a fairly hefty pen, weighs in at 1.6 oz, and the Pelikan M205, which feels nearly insubstantial by comparison, weighs in at only 0.4 oz. The Prima is a nice compromise between the two extremes, as it feels quite solid and well balanced in the hand. I don’t typically post my cap, so I won’t claim to be an authority on how it feels posted, other than very secure. My one complaint about the construction of the pen is the clip. It is very tight and has no spring to it, so it’s actually a bit tough to get in and out of a suit pocket.

Nib close-up

Nib close-up

Monteverde offers the Prima with a fine, medium, broad, or 1.1 mm stub nib. My review unit came equipped with the stub nib, and I’m pleased to report that it is a joy to write with straight out of the box. It needed no adjustment to work optimally, though I did make sure to clean all of the parts first. The stub nib takes a little bit of technique to get the most out of – primarily hand position. The results, lovely line variation, are worth it, though; it simply becomes fun to write.

J. Herbin Bleu Myosotis on Midori lined notebook

J. Herbin Bleu Myosotis on Midori lined notebook

Noodler's Black Swan in Australian Roses on Rhodia Bloc pad

Noodler's Black Swan in Australian Roses on Rhodia Bloc pad

One does have to be concerned about ink flow with a stub nib – the feed has to be able to keep up with the amount of ink laid down by the nib. Happily, the Prima does the job. While the pen occasionally takes two strokes to get started, usually after being left for a while, it generally starts on the second stroke without issue. It is not a wet writer, though – it just keeps up.

I tested the pen with both J. Herbin Bleu Myosotis and Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Roses, both of which typically exhibit a high degree of shading. With the stub nib, though, they both produced a consistent, solid line. I wouldn’t describe it a dry writer – there was no scratchiness in evidence, for example – it does produce a very measured line, which diminishes the amount of shading one would normally see with either ink. This is not a problem with either the pen or the ink so far as I can tell, but it is a behavior that one should be aware of.

Overall, I’m very happy with the Monteverde Prima. I haven’t had experience with any of their other pens or nibs, but I’m certainly going to explore, given my experience with this one. The Monteverde Prima lists for US$70.00, but it can be found for less at many fine retailers, including Pen Chalet.

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Pen Chalet graciously provided this pen for review purposes.

Ink Review: Iroshizuku Asagao

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I’d like to begin by offering a hearty apology to the fine folks at Jet Pens, who sent me a bottle of Iroshizuku Asagao all the way back in October of 2013. At the time, I thought that I could sneak in an ink review in the middle of my EMBA program. That was a gross over-estimation of time and ability on my part. I managed to get the ink samples created, but the review itself never materialized – always de-prioritized in favor of papers, presentations, and projects. I’m finally back, though. My brain has recovered, and, for my first foray back into the reviewing realm, I’m delivering the long-overdue review of Iroshizuku Asagao.

The morning glory was first identified in China, where it was used for medicinal purposes. It was introduced to Japan in the 9th century, where it became cultivated for its ornamental properties. It became such a popular flower in Japan that the Japanese now lead the world in developing new varieties of the plant, producing a multitude of colors. Asagao is based on the most common color, though – a lovely, vibrant blue. It is highly saturated ink that produces significant contrast on bright white paper, and exhibits low levels of shading when used with a fine-nib pen.

The ink performed modestly across a variety of paper types. On Rhodia paper, which is very fountain pen friendly, the ink dried in 4 seconds, and displayed moderate feathering. Show-through and bleed-through were both moderate as well – manageable, but one wouldn’t want to use this ink to write on both sides of the page. It performed reasonably well on cheap copier paper, where it dried in 1 second, and had low to moderate feathering. It had above average levels of bleed-through and show-through, though. Asagao fared the worst on Staples’ bagasse, where it dried in 2 seconds, but exhibited extraordinary feathering, and had high levels of bleed-through and show-through.

iroshizuku asagao water test.jpg

Asagao is the first Iroshizuku ink on which I’ve conducted a water test, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. They are not advertised as possessing any significant water resistance, so I had no idea whether it would wash out easily, or hang on tenaciously. Overall, it did reasonably well.

The smear test, in which I run a wet finger over the page, turned the lovely blue lines into a lovely blue smudge. However, the original lines remain legible beneath the large blue smear – the information is preserved, even though you wouldn’t want to hand the paper over to anyone you wanted to impress.

The drip test, in which I leave drops of water on the page for a few seconds or so before blotting, caused the lines to feather and some ink to be blotted up, but the sample was still readable. The soak test, in which I run the paper under a stream of water for thirty seconds in an attempt to wash the ink off the page, did rinse a great amount of the ink away. However, enough remained behind to be completely legible.

Iroshizuku bottles remain one of the loveliest designs in the field. The beautiful 50ml bottle brilliantly showcases the color of the ink it contains. It’s quite solid and its thick bottom gives it a surprising amount of heft. An indentation in the bottom of the bottle is intended to aid in soaking up the last few drops of ink.

When I first put Asagao into my pen, I felt as though it was missing something. It was vibrant, lovely to look at, and well behaved, but it didn’t quite have the unique character that many other Iroshizuku inks seem to possess. They’re colors that you just can’t find anywhere else. Then I realized that, as much as I love those inks, they never make it into my regular rotation. Asagao, on the other hand, would be perfect for daily use. It’s a little bold, especially on bright white paper, but on the cream-colored paper of a Moleskine or Midori notebook, it mellows and really comes into its own. If you like Iroshizuku inks, and you’re looking for a daily writer, then Asagao might be the one for you.

Iroshizuku Asagao is available from a number of sources, including the fine folks at Jet Pens.

Review Notes: The hand-written portions of the review were created on 80 g/m2 Rhodia paper from a No. 16 Bloc pad. The flourished italic script was written using a Lamy Joy fitted with a 1.9mm steel nib, while the remainder of the text was written using a Visconti Homo Sapiens fitted with an EF palladium nib.