ink review: noodler's black revisited...

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...or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Noodler's Black was the very first bottle of fountain pen ink that I purchased. I'd heard people rave about the ink – how smooth it made any pen write, how solid a line it produced, how little it feathered on nearly any surface. When I set out to use it though, I was unimpressed. I reviewed it unenthusiastically, citing its long dry time and lack of character as reasons I didn't plan to use it frequently. At the time, I thought I was being incredibly critical of the ink, but experience has opened my eyes – there are inks far more worthy of being criticized.

Experience gives one perspective, but it also causes tastes to change, apparently, because I've revisited Noodler's Black, and I'm prepared to declare it one of the best inks I own – a best of breed that akin to the BMW 3-Series, the Omega Seamaster, and the iPhone. To be sure, it is still not the right ink for every occasion, but it is the right one for so many more occasions than I originally gave it credit.

Noodler's Black is super-saturated ink that produces zero shading in my Visconti EF Dreamtouch nib. It lays down an opaque black line that provides considerable contract to the bright white paper of my Clairefontaine notebook. It is not the darkest black on the market – Platinum Carbon and other Noodler's inks give it a run for its money in that arena – and one can coax some variation of intensity out of it in a super-wide calligraphy nib, but it is definitively black.

Show-through is surprisingly low for such dark ink – I've used much lighter, less saturated inks that show through to a considerably greater degree. Bleed-though is non-existent – the closest the ink came to bleeding through was on the super-low end copier paper we order at work.

The ink likewise defies feathering on nearly every paper I tested. I finally managed to get it to feather by writing on a paper towel. Even, then, though, it was readable – you could truly write on it in a pinch. I wouldn't recommend it, of course – paper towel rolls don't really have the useful form factor of a Moleskine notebook, and you always run the risk of someone using the first three chapters of your great American novel to clean up after the cat – but you could, and that's pretty cool.

That brings us, of course, to the main sticking point in my first review – the drying time. Here, experience speaks and allows me to be more nuanced than my first review – the drying time is still very long on high quality, coated paper, but it is remarkably quick on absorbent, low-quality paper.

On paper that fountain pen aficionados tend to prefer, like Rhodia and Clairefontaine, Noodler's Black can take upwards of a minute to dry. Either I've become far less concerned about the pristine nature of the opposite page in my journal, or the way in which I write has changed, because I no longer find this to be an issue.

On paper that fountain pen aficionados tend to avoid whenever possible, like the cheap recycled copier paper that we inflict upon the employees at work, Black dries in about 5 seconds – in high humidity. It's an amazing dichotomy that's characteristic of many of the inks produced by Nathan Tardiff – the man responsible for Noodler's.

Another area in which Noodler's Black displays dramatic differences is in its lubricating qualities. It is not wet ink, and the line that it produces tends to be narrower than other inks. In some pens, this makes the nib feel slightly scratchy when compared to other less dry inks. However, it's not like a traditional dry ink, either. It is viscous, not miserly, and in many pens – especially wet writing ones – the ink allows the pen to skate across the surface of the page as if it were the surface of a still, frozen lake. My Visconti Homo Sapiens is one such pen – its Dreamtouch nib loves this ink. Writing with the combination of the two is effortless.

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One of the main selling points of Noodler's Black is that it is bulletproof, which means that it is archival in quality – resisting fading and being friendly to paper. It also binds to the cellulose in paper and therefore becomes resistant to removal by washing, erasing, bleaching, and other conventional means. Here again, a greater level of experience allows me to be more nuanced when analyzing this characteristic than in my initial review. Noodler's Black is, indeed, not removable, as my tests below demonstrate. However, only the portion of the ink that binds to the paper resists removal – that which remains can be washed away.

You can see this behavior in the smear test, in which I run a wet finger across the page. The lines are just as dark as they were to start, but now a light grey smudge accompanies them.

On coated papers that resist ink penetration (to avoid feathering, bleed-through, and show-through), some of the ink will end up drying on top of the paper and will not bind to the cellulose underneath. What remains bound to the paper can't be removed. However, unlike Platinum Carbon, for example, which does become completely waterproof when dry, the portion of Black that remains on top of the paper can smudge, smear, and wash away when exposed to water, making it unsuitable for use in artistic projects where one wishes to wash or paint over an inked line. For most, this will be a minor point of contention, but it is worth pointing out.

The drip test and soak test, though, prove the bulletproof label – I defy anyone to identify that the ink has been touched by water at all. While the excess ink that dried on top of the page has been lifted or washed away, what remains is just as bold and dark a line as it ever was.

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Noodler's inks come in a standard 3 oz. bottle that's filled to the brim – so be careful when opening. Noodler’s intentionally uses stock bottles and lids to keep their prices low, which means that they aren’t intended to be showpieces in and of themselves. They are functional and stable, but not an objet d'art intended for the top of one's desk.

Is Noodler's Black the perfect ink? No – I haven't yet found one that is. But in the right pen, and with the right temperament, it might be the perfect one for you. Every fountain pen collector owes it to himself to have a bottle of it in his collection. Noodler's Black is highly recommended.

Noodler's Black is available from:

Review notes: for the fine lines, I used a Visconti Homo Sapiens with an EF Dreamtouch Palladium nib. For the bold lines, I used a Lamy Safari Joy with a 1.9mm steel calligraphy nib. For the very wide lines, I used a Pilot Parallel pen with a 6.0mm steel calligraphy nib. The paper is Rhodia 80gsm from a Rhodia No. 18 Bloc Pad.