pen review: platinum carbon desk pen

(click to embiggen - photo courtesy of Jet Pens)

Platinum Carbon is archival-quality ink that I've reviewed favorably in the past. I've reviewed other permanent inks as well, but Carbon stands out for its ability to completely withstand water once dry, making it very friendly to artists who want to paint with washes or watercolors over inked lines. Most other permanent inks permanently stain the page, but leave a residue that can be smeared or tint the color of the wash.

To understand the behavior of Carbon ink, it is useful to discuss the difference between dyes and pigments. Generally speaking, dye is a soluble substance that chemically bonds to the substrate that it is coloring. Because they are soluble, many dyes can be washed off easily, and must be fixed in place using other substances. Since the vast majority of fountain pen inks are dye based, finding ones with water resistance is hard to come by.

There are a few dye-based inks that are waterproof, though, by becoming insoluble once they bond with the cellulose in paper. Noodler's "bulletproof" inks are notable examples. The trouble with these inks is that any dye that dries on top of the paper, as previously mentioned, remains vulnerable to moisture – it can be smudged, smeared, and washed away.

Pigment, on the other hand, is an insoluble, particulate substance that physically adheres to the substrate it colors. It is typically added to a medium, a neutral substance that allows it to be easily applied, which often contains a binder, a substance that aids in adhesion, to create a suspension. Oil and acrylic paints, printer's and India ink are all examples of pigment-based colorants.

Traditionally, pigment-based inks are unsuitable for fountain pen use. The medium is often too viscous and the particles too large to be carried by the delicate capillary action that powers the flow of ink in a fountain pen.

Carbon ink solves this problem by using micro-particles that are suspended in a medium friendly to fountain pens. The micro-particles are small enough to flow through the feed and nib, and the medium is engineered not to clog. However, if the ink were to dry out in the pen, the insoluble nature of the pigment would make it very hard to clean out. It would require disassembly of the pen at the very least, whereas most dye-based inks could be flushed out with some effort.

Unfortunately, this characteristic makes many fountain pen users wary of using the ink. Everyone has had or will have a pen dry out on them at some point, and no one wants to ruin their favorite pen when it happens.

Enter the Platinum Carbon Desk Pen. Designed for sitting on top of one's desk, and not for carrying around in one's pocket, this inexpensive pen is dedicated to the task of writing with Carbon ink. Now you can write with Carbon ink to your heart's content, and if the worst should happen, you can simply buy another.

The pen is made of glossy black resin and has the Platinum logo and the words "Carbon Pen" embossed on the side in gold ink. It ships with a single Carbon ink cartridge, but will also accept a converter, which is available separately. The cap is a friction fit – it does not click or screw into place – but it does have a hexagonal section that prevents the pen from rolling around when capped. While the pen looks and feels solid, and isn't intended to be disposable, it is clearly not a luxury pen.

Fortunately, the pen is lovely to use. It has a very long barrel, like a Lamy Joy or Pelikan Script calligraphy pen, which makes it easy to hold and well balanced in the hand. The barrel tapers to a point at the end, so the cap can't be posted. The grip section is also glossy black resin, so those with sweaty hands might find it to be slippery, but I didn't have any issues.

Everything I've described so far is good – there are no showstoppers – but nothing to recommend rushing out and purchasing one. The gold-plated, steel nib, on the other hand, is phenomenal. The model I tested has a "super-fine" nib, which produces the slimmest line I've ever seen produced by a pen.

(For some reason, the term "super-fine" sounds like it should be part of a tagline in a late 70s/early 80s advertisement. Perhaps one featuring Billy Dee Williams or Quincy Jones. "What's finer then fine? Super-fine!" But, I digress.)

At any rate, a nib this fine has no business being this smooth. It has a bit of spring to it, which gives it a cushioned feel on the page. Additionally, you can coax a tiny bit of line variation with gentle pressure, due to the springiness; it is not a flex nib – to be clear, just one with a bit of give.

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The super-fine nib produces an extremely slender line, as you can see in the sample above. The super-fine line would be perfect for writing complex ideograms with, which I suppose is the point. With many types of ink, a line this fine would look washed out, but the Carbon ink is up to the task. While clearly not as bold as the extra-fine line created by the Lamy, it's still a solid black on the page.

I was also happy to find that the feed exhibited no trouble supplying ink to the super fine nib. I've had other extra-fine pens that wrote dry, but this one writes along with no trouble.

At $13.50, the Platinum Carbon Desk Pen is a great value for the money – especially if you're interested in using Carbon ink, but don't want to risk a more expensive pen. If you find yourself hooked, you can even buy a desk pen stand made specifically for the pen.

I'd like to thank Jet Pens for providing the pen for review purposes. Jet Pens made a name for themselves by importing pens, pencils, inks, paper, and other writing accessories from Japan. While their selection of products has expanded to include brands from other countries, high-quality Japanese products still remain their focus. Their customer service is top notch, and I've had them linked as an Ink Retailer that I trust for quite some time.

The Platinum Carbon Desk Pen is available from:

Review notes: the writing sample was created with a Platinum Carbon Desk Pen with super-fine steel nib and a Lamy Safari with an extra-fine steel both using Carbon ink. The paper is bright white Rhodia 80gsm.

ink review: platinum carbon black

Rating: 4.5

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Traditional carbon inks were made with soot or lampblack mixed with gum arabic or another binder. The carbon particles would not fade over time, even when exposed to sunlight, and the ink was not harmful to paper. However, it was not waterproof, could smudge in humid environments, and was not at all fountain-pen friendly.

Platinum has re-engineered the carbon ink, though, to solve all of those problems. Their Carbon Black ink is a waterproof, pigment-based, archival quality fountain pen ink. For those unfamiliar with pigment-based inks, they differ from traditional dye-based inks in that they are made by suspending micro-particles in solution. They are specifically formulated for fountain pens, with particles small enough and binders benign enough that they won't clog the feed or interfere with the capillary action of the nib during normal use.

From what I can discern, though, the nature of a pigment based ink does call for a vigilant level of pen hygiene. It is always a good idea to flush one's pen with water when switching between inks and between every few fills when sticking with the same ink – and it's essential when using this ink. Additionally, you should definitely flush this ink from a pen if you're going to leave it for more than a week without use – it will make the pen very difficult, if not impossible, to clean if it dries in the pen.

Unlike the Platinum Pigment Rose Red ink, which I have previously reviewed, I have noticed that the Carbon ink has a slight tendency to stain converters – bestowing a slightly smoky finish on the clear plastic – much like Noodler's Black does. Therefore, I wouldn't recommend it for a clear demonstrator, but it should be fine for most other pens. It appears to be otherwise safe if sensible precautions are followed.

Carbon produces a solid black line in both an extra fine nib and a wide calligraphy nib. It is highly saturated and offers no shading. Nor does it possess any sort of tint – there are no blues or reds or greens hiding underneath. It's soot black.

It was well behaved on each of the papers that I tested it with. I saw no feathering on any paper, from Rhodia to Ecosystem to standard copier paper to ultra-thin bagasse. I saw moderate show-through on thinner papers – it is a fairly dark ink – but low to no bleed-through.

Drying time was also fairly good, ranging from 2 seconds on copier paper to 8 seconds on the normally long-drying Rhodia paper. The ink flowed nicely, and produced a line true to width – being neither particularly wet nor particularly dry.

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One of the selling points for carbon and other pigmented inks is their water resistance. Some bulletproof, dye-based inks, like Noodler's, bind to the cellulose in the paper, but any ink left to dry on the surface can wash away or smear when exposed to water. This makes them great for signing checks, but poor candidates for artists that want to apply a wash over them. Platinum Carbon Black, on the other hand, dries like paint. This makes them ideal for artists who want to work with mixed media.

The smear test, in which I run a wet finger over the paper, reveals that the ink can be smudged with a bit of effort. If you look close, you can see a fine light-grey tint to the paper where I dragged it across the lines. On the other hand, the drip test, in which I let droplets of water settle on the page before blotting them up, and the soak test, in which I run the paper under the faucet for a minute, show that the ink hasn't moved one bit. It doesn't look like it got water near it at all – a major difference from most dye-based inks.

In the visual example above, I was able to draw an illuminated letter "C" with the carbon ink and then paint over it with thinned acrylic paint without smudging it at all. I had no trouble with it affecting the color of the paint in any way. It seems to be quite artistically friendly in this regard.

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Platinum Carbon comes in a clear, 60ml bottle that definitely shows off the solid black ink. In the bottle, it looks exactly like it does on paper. The thick bottomed bottle would look equally at home on an artist's shelf as on top of one's desk.

Black inks are a staple of the business world, and Carbon Black is a great option. It produces a solid line and is easy to read on any paper. Its waterproof nature makes this a great signature ink, and it is very artistically friendly. It's also great for calligraphy – it makes blackletter scripts look fantastic.

I'm not a frequent user of black ink, but Platinum Carbon Black has edged out Noodler's Black as my reference black. I can easily recommend it for those that prefer a dark, black ink, and for those that are using it to create art.

Review materials: For the wide strokes, I used Pilot Parallel 6.0mm and 3.8mm calligraphy pens. They both have steel nibs. For the fine strokes, I used a Lamy EF steel nib on a Lamy Safari. The illuminated letter was outlined with a Lamy EF nib and then painted over with acrylic paints and a brush. The paper is Rhodia 80g.

Platinum Carbon Black is available from:

ink review: platinum pigment rose red

Rating: 4.0

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Platinum Pigment Rose Red is my first experience with pigment-based fountain pen inks. The vast majority of fountain pen inks are dyes dissolved in water or other solvents, but pigment-based inks have micro-particles that are suspended in solution. They are specifically formulated for fountain pens, with particles small enough and solvents benign enough that they won't clog the feed or interfere with the capillary action of the nib.

From what I can discern, though, the nature of a pigment based ink does call for a vigilant level of pen hygiene. It is always a good idea to flush one's pen with water when switching between inks and between every few fills when sticking with the same ink – and it's essential when using this ink. Additionally, you should definitely flush this ink from a pen if you're going to leave it for more than a week without use – it will make the pen very difficult, if not impossible, to clean if it dries in the pen. That said, it appears to be safe if these normally sensible precautions are followed.

Rose Red is an ink with a low level of saturation and, in a fine nib, possesses a moderate degree of shading. In a calligraphy nib, though, the intensity of the ink corresponds directly to the wetness of the line – it ranges from a pale bubblegum pink to a juicy, ruby red grapefruit.

This ink behaved quite well on each of the papers I tested it with. I saw feathering on neither Rhodia paper, which I expected, as it tends to be feather-resistant, nor on the absorbent paper of an Ecosystem journal. Show-through was low, as it's a fairly light colored ink, and I noticed no bleed-through with any of the pen and paper combinations that I tested.

Dry time varied considerably, though. On Ecosystem paper, the ink was dry to the touch on six seconds. On Rhodia, which normally takes longer, it took about fifteen seconds – much too long for lefty-over-writers. For my habits, it's in the comfortable range.

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One of the selling points for pigment inks is their water resistance. Some bulletproof dye-based inks, like Noodler's, bind to the cellulose in the paper, but any ink left to dry on the surface can wash away or smear when exposed to water. This makes them great for signing checks, but poor candidates for artists that want to apply a wash over them. Platinum pigment inks, on the other hand, dry like paint. This makes them ideal for artists who want to work with mixed media.

The smear test, in which I run a wet finger over the paper, revels that the ink can be smudged with a bit of effort. If you look close, you can see a fine pink tint to the paper where I dragged it across the lines. On the other hand, the drip test, in which I let droplets of water settle on the page before blotting them up, and the soak test, in which I run the paper under the faucet for a minute, show that the ink hasn't moved at all. I was incredibly surprised! It doesn't look like I got water near it at all – a major difference from most dye-based inks.

In order to get the ink to leave the page, I actually had to get the paper wet, and then rub it hard enough to take a layer of paper up. Essentially, I had to destroy the paper to get the ink off. This certainly qualifies for the label of permanent for me – and I think it will certainly please those that are looking to use it for artistic purposes.

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Platinum Pigment inks come in a clear, 60ml bottle that definitely shows off the ink. Unlike many dye-based inks, which can look dark and uniform within the bottle, pigment inks are vibrant, and look exactly like their respective color on paper. The thick bottomed bottle would look equally at home on an artist's shelf as on top of one's desk.

Pink inks are likely even less business appropriate than red inks – even red ink finds a place in proofing. This ink is certainly not going to be the one to reverse that trend. For those considering using it for personal journaling or correspondence, I would look at the sample provided closely – the contrast isn't high enough in an EF nib to be comfortable for long periods of reading, in my opinion. For calligraphy or other artistic purposes, though, this is an amazing find – and is certainly where I see myself and others using it.

For my first experience with pigment-based inks, Platinum Pigment Rose Red left me satisfied. The color is far too pink and light for my everyday use, but it leaves me excited to try the other colors in the Platinum Pigment line. For those that like rose colored inks, this is definitely one to consider.

Review materials: For the wide strokes, I used three calligraphy pens: Pilot Parallel 6.0mm and 3.8mm pens, and a 1.9 mm Lamy Joy. All three have steel nibs. For the fine strokes, I used a Lamy EF steel nib on a Lamy Safari. The paper is Rhodia 80g.

Platinum Pigment Rose Red is available from: