Frequently Asked Questions

Accessories

I have a collection of around 100 pens. I have a few different methods of storing my pens when they’re in use, when they’re not in use, and when I travel.

Those pewter pen holders are all made by the artist Jac Zagoory. You can find his work at http://jzpens.com

Ink

So, in my videos, I’ve mentioned several times that I don’t really use products from the Massachusetts-based firm Noodler’s. As Noodler’s is a very popular company in the modern fountain pen community, people are often curious and/or confused about the why of this, and I have been asked to clarify my position several times.

Let me preface the rest of my remarks by saying these reasons are only my own, and my decisions on whether or not to use a product are not intended to persuade you one way or the other. I seek only to explain the why behind my own choices.

Pens

I have had a string of really poor luck with Noodler’s pens. Of the three or four I’ve tried, none were even remotely usable, and required a level of tinkering and adjustment that I find onorous. I’ve never particularly like the design of the pens, nor the build quality. The flexible nibs are an interesting, low-cost entry point into the world of flex, but I’ve had so much difficulty with pens that would not write at all, let alone well, that I can’t really recommend them to someone just getting started in the world of fountain pens. I know a lot of people like/love them, and I think that’s awesome. They’re just not for me.

Ink

The inks are more complicated. I have several Noodler’s inks in my collection (around 10 bottles or so) but I don’t purchase them much anymore, for a variety of reasons. The biggest issue is that Noodler’s inks have a history of causing problems with pens–especially pens that utilize latex sacs in the filling system. (There are many reports of Noodler’s inks melting sacs in pens.)

Noodler’s inks are particularly viscous (as they are designed in such a way that they can be diluted to extend value) and are often loaded with chemicals that make them permanent (e.g., cellulose reactive) but very, very difficult to clean thoroughly. They often do not play well with other inks, gelling up when they come into contact (like what would happen if you forgot to clean out your pen before re-inking.) Some of the inks bleed and feather ruthlessly, regardless of the paper. Many tend to stain demonstrator pens…or even stainless steel.

Across the larger, serious pen user community, it is my perception that Noodler’s Inks are considered rather harsh in comparison with many safer, gentler inks on the market. (Nibmeister Richard Binder writes about Noodler’s and Private Reserve specifically in a blog post on his site.) There have also been problems with inconsistency in color and writing property from batch to batch.

The main reason I don’t use Noodler’s inks is that I’m just not interested in dealing with the uncertainty of it all. With most ink brands, you find a certain level of consistency between colors in the brand. That’s not usually the case with Noodler’s inks. Noodler’s has so many different types of ink with different characteristics that, like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. I don’t have any need for the bulletproof or waterproof or lubricated or fast-dry or anti-feather characteristics that many of his inks contain. Or if I do, I can find them in other inks that are less problematic overall. And when it comes to color, I can find very close substitutes for almost any Noodler’s Ink in other brands.

Perhaps most importantly, I find myself less enamored with the performance of my Noodler’s inks as I gain more experience with other brands. I like other colors, the sheen, shading, or drying properties of other inks more. It’s not that Noodler’s inks are bad. It’s just that my preferences lean in a different direction.

Political Statements

When it comes to purchasing products, I don’t care what anyone’s personal politics are, so long as they separate their personal politics from their products. However, when a company uses their product to make political statements, then I (and again, this in only my personal take) consider the purchase of those products to be an act of support for the stated political platform.

Many Noodler’s products are politically agnostic. But occasionally, they (and by they, I mean the company’s founder, Nathan) will release a product with an explicit political bias expressed in the product name or packaging. When that happens, I feel I must weigh the political message before I would purchase the product. Since I talk about the products I purchase with a wide audience, doing so may seem like an endorsement.

Now, what little I know of Nathan’s politics is what he has discussed in his own YouTube videos, what he has incorporated into his product names and packaging, and what I have heard from others. I will not speak for him, nor attempt to lay out his beliefs, as that is not my place to do so. Nor will I express how my beliefs differ from my perception of his, as my beliefs are not germane to the subject about which I speak on this blog. Suffice it to say, I choose not to purchase additional Noodler’s products, as I do not feel comfortable in supporting the political point of view expressed therein.

Nor, I should add, would I think less of any person who does purchase them–either because the support the political platform or they simply don’t care.


To do my ink chromatography,

  • I start by filling my Pilot Parallels 3.8mm pen with the ink I’ll be testing.
  • Using some chromatography paper I bought from Amazon, I draw a link of ink across one end of the strip, leaving 2-3mm of space at the end.
  • I then suspend the paper on a tablestop microphone stand using a bit of scotch tape
  • I lower the stand so just the uninked tip of the chromatography paper is in contact with a ramekin of filtered water.
  • I let the paper stay in the water for 30-45 minutes.
  • For the video, I set up my camera perpendicular to the ground/table, and let it run for the entire time. Then I speed up the video to 30-60 seconds in Adobe Premiere.

Normally, I probably wouldn’t let the chromatography go as long as 30-45 minutes, but the main reason I do this is for the video visual element that I use in my review videos. The down side is (and you can see it in the video above) that the longer I leave the chromatography running, the more the various colors tend to “bunch up” at the leading edge of the water. If I were doing the chromatography just to separate out the colors, I’d probably stop it quite a bit earlier, while there was still better separation between the colors.

For my ink swab catalog, I use Bristol Artist Trading Cards. They come in a variety of finishes, but I personally prefer the Smooth version.

To put the swab down, I use a long-handled cotton swab. I have found that technique is vital in order to get a consistent behavior when swabbing inks. For starters, I dunk the cotton swab several times. I have found it’s not good enough to just let it sit in the ink. The action of dipping it several times does a better job of getting the swab thoroughly saturated. Then I start in the upper left hand corner of the card and swab down to the lower right. This gives me a sense of the range of colors available from the ink from super wet to mostly dry. It also allows for pooling to highlight any sheen the ink may have (although the artist trading cards aren’t the best paper for highlighting sheen.)

I hand write the name of the ink under the swab, manufacturer first. I generally prefer to use a filled pen for this rather than a dip pen, as it gives me a more accurate indication of what the ink will look like in a pen. (I generally try to swab inks when I ink them rather than doing them in big batches.) If I am doing a big batch, though, I will use a glass dip pen that I wipe off, dip in clean water to thoroughly rinse off, then wipe dry on a separate cloth to prevent cross-contamination.

I stored my inked cards in any business card holder I can find. Artist trading cards aren’t exactly business card-sized (they’re a little larger) so I tend to find business card files without a lid.

I also like to photograph and color correct each of my swab cards. I use Adobe Lightroom to organize and tag my photos. I tag them by manufacturer and by color family, so I can do quick comparisons of inks digitally as well as in person.

I get this question probably more than any other. And, as I often say, it is an absolutely impossible question to actually answer, because my favorite ink changes from day to day or hour to hour based on the mood I’m in, the time of year, and the colors that I’m most drawn to at any particular time. Below are some of my favorites in various color families.

  • Black: I don’t use black inks, so I can’t help you here.
  • Blue:
  • Blue-Blacks:
    • In general, I like blue-blacks that are actually black blues: blue with black instead of black with a hint of blue.
    • De Atramentis Indigo Blue
  • Browns:
    • Caran d’Ache Grand Canyon (Discontinued)
    • Montblanc Toffee Brown
    • Bungubox Piano Mahogany
  • Greens:
  • Oranges
  • Purples
  • Reds:
  • Shimmer Inks (Inks with glitter in them)
    • J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor
    • Diamine Shimmertastic Purple Pazzazz
    • Diamine Shimmertastic Brandy Dazzle
  • Teals:
    • Robert Oster Fire & Ice
    • Sailor Yama-dori
  • Turquoises:
  • Yellow:
    • I don’t really use yellow inks.

While ink can go bad, it rarely does. Ink is a solution consisting of water, dyes (or pigments), lubricants, surfactants, and biocides. So long as all these parts do their job and stay in suspension, chances are in the ink will be just fine. I have ink from the 1950s that is still very usable.

There are a few warning signs in your ink may have gone bad:

  • If it appears that a lot of water has evaporated from your ink (i.e., the ink is very thick), the ink may not be great to use in your pens. You can, in theory, add some distilled water back into your ink bottle, but rather than risk it, you may just want to throw it out.
  • Some inks are prone to growing things like mold or slime. The fountain pen community even has an acronym for it: SitB. (S@#$ in the Bottle.)  If you open your bottle and see mold or slime, throw it out immediately and thoroughly clean any pen that may have recently had that ink.
  • Ink that has been sitting around for a long time can show some separation of the components of the ink, including sediment on the bottom of the bottle. If there aren’t any of the aforementioned nasties growing in your ink, you could probably just shake everything back into suspension, althrough I probably wouldn’t do that.
  • Old inks can exhibit color shifts from their original color or shade. This will especially be true of ink that have been exposed to a lot of light or UV. It shouldn’t cause any harm to use that ink, but the color may not be what you were expecting.

If you have an old ink, and everything seems copacetic, try inking it up in a cheap pen. (I keep several around for just such a purpose.) If everything goes well, it should be safe to use!

Pens

A big part of the pen hobby is experimenting to learn what pens you like and don’t like. And if you’re like many of us, you’ll end up with a bunch of pens in your collection that you like, but don’t love. In that case, you may want to sell off some of your lesser-used pens to free up some funds to buy new pens. But doing this can be tricky. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Meetups & Pen Shows

The best way to sell pens is to sell them in person. If you have local meetup groups or a local pen show, that may be a good place to get started. This is especially true with higher-priced pens, where people want to examine the pen in person before plunking down the cash.

Online Venues

Selling your pens online is really the only option for a lot of pen folks. There are a lot of different places online to sell your pens, and each of them has plusses and minuses.

  • eBay – The world’s most common online auction site. You’ll probably get more traffic here than anywhere else. But eBay has high fees, and you have to be aware of / deal with fraud. A big part of eBay’s system is also their reputation/ranking system. If you’re a new eBay user, you’ll run up against people who are uncomfortable with bidding on your pens because of your low or non-existent rating.
  • FountainPenNetwork – FPN is one of the longest-running fountain pen forums on the internet. There is a ton of information on the site and many long-time users. There is also a place on the forum to list pens for sale. Unfortunately, to access the marketplace on FPN, you need to be a member in good standing and donate to the site.
  • FPGeeks – FPG is a more egalitarian answer to FPN. Access to the site is free, as is access to the buy/sell/trade sub-forum.
  • Pen Addict Slack – PenAddict.com has its own Slack room, including a #sell-trade channel. Access is by invite only. To get an invite, email hello (at) penaddict dot com or message Brad on Twitter @dowdyism.
  • Pen Swap Subreddit – Reddit has a few subreddits for fountain pen fans. The Pen Swap subreddit is specifically for selling, buying, and trading of pens.

If you do plan on selling your pens online, it is in your best interest to become known in the community before you list your pens. If you’re a brand new user, nobody knows who you are, and the very first post you make is for several $800 pens, people are going to be suspicious. Spend some time in the online pen communities and become a known quantity. Then when it comes time to sell, people will better know and trust you.

Giving Pens Away

Not all of your early fountain pens are likely going to be worth selling. If you have a $15 Pilot Metropolitan, chances are that it won’t be worth the work of photographing, listing, packing, and shipping the pen. In cases like that, consider giving the pen away. A few options:

  • Starting in 2017, the concept of a Pay-It-Forward table started at the DC Show. The idea took off, and it will likely continue on in some form in many future pen shows. If you’ve got an entry-level pen in good condition, consider donating it to the Pay-It-Forward table to help get a new user involved in the hobby.
  • If you work in an office environment, consider keeping your inexpensive pens around to give to people who seem interested in your collection. Stick with cartridges and keep the pen uninked, but when someone asks to borrow your pen, you can just give them one.
  • On many of the forums above, people often give away pens or ink they’re not using anymore.
  • Take your pens and ink to your local meetups, and give them to new attendees there.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you have other ideas of how best to sell, trade, or give away your pens, drop me a line and I can add it to this FAQ!

 

The only true answer to this question is, “I have no idea.” Of course, my not knowing the answer to a question has never stopped me from trying to answer it. But, I have written a blog post about this very topic, which you can read here: http://penhabit.com/2017/06/17/why-cant-modern-manufacturers-recreate-vintage-flex/

 

As The Pen Habit blog and YouTube channel has gained popularity, I have started getting a lot of requests to do reviews of specific pens. I do keep an eye on these requests and try to identify trends in the requests, but there is literally not enough time in the day for me to get to even a small fraction of the pens I’ve had requested. Once upon a time, I used to reply to every request, but I find myself not doing that anymore. (It’s one of the changes that happens the longer you are a content creator…you realize responding to everyone isn’t possible!)

I don’t really have any hard and fast rules about what I will and will not review, but a few guidelines I follow:

  • I won’t do a review of a pen if it’s the same pen I’ve already reviewed, just in a different finish.
  • I’m not a fan of hate-reviewing, and won’t review pens I know I’m going to hate.
  • If I didn’t purchase the pen I’m reviewing, I will always indicate where it came from.
  • I’m not super-interested in doing a review just to validate your opinion of your pen. (You’d be surprised how often this comes up.)
  • I try, not always successfully, to do a wide variety of pens across multiple price ranges, but this has become harder and harder for me to do as my own hobby evolves, and I no longer spend much time in the lower price ranges.
  • And, this is a relatively new one: I largely avoid reviewing pens lent to me by my viewers.

I have some of the most loyal and generous viewers, and they’re always super willing to provide me with review materials, which I deeply appreciate. However, as time has gone on, I’ve run into a few problems around dealing with review pens from viewers (pens getting damaged while in my care, disappearing during shipping back to the owner, extremely long delays in creating review, etc.) As a result, I’ve had to re-evaluate my own rules around how I deal with review pens.

Going forward, I won’t be accepting pens on loan from most of my viewers, especially those with whom I do not have a real-life relationship. There are still many pens in my own collection, pens from retailers, and pens from my local pen friends to provide me content for a long time. It means I may not be able to get access to all of the pens out there, or review super-unusual or super-rare pens, but the peace of mind from not having a $2000 pen in my possession that doesn’t belong to me is a valid trade off. And as my production schedule changes, I simply do not feel comfortable holding onto people’s pens for months or even years before I am able to get to reviewing them.

So, while I am deeply grateful for those wonderful viewers who are willing to offer me their valuable writing instruments for review, I am planning to limit those loaners for the time being. Rest assured that your generosity and trust are recognized and appreciated.

 

Personal

Yes. Yes it was.

Early on in my reviewing days, I made a joke that I was patient zero for FPV (fountain pen virus) as I was responsible for getting so many people into the hobby, and that I should come with my own warning label. When I was working on a revamp of the site, I commissioned a biohazard-inspired logo to play into that joke.

I have had a lot of people tell me they really don’t like the logo, which I can understand. I happen to really like it, so it stays!

Well, first, it’s kind of rude to ask a complete stranger about their personal finances.  So, you know…

Anyway. My day job is as a senior product manager for the customer website of a major US mobile phone carrier. I focus on the aspects of the site where customers are able to change their plans and update their services. I’ve been working in the tech industry for about a decade now, and focus pretty heavily on product and program management.

Outside of my regular “day job,” I also narrate audiobooks on a freelance basis, and own my own audiobook production and distribution company with a business partner friend of mine.

However, most of my pen purchases are paid for by selling existing pens in my collection and by selling my own line of paper notebooks.

The long and short is that I spend A LOT of my time working, both on my regular day job and on several side businesses.

 

Well, first of all, thanks. But I’m a big believer that content should always stand above presentation. So, while I am happy you appreciate the quality of my videos, it’s way more important to me that the content of those videos is even better!

As for equipment, I am fortunate enough to have a couple of rooms of my house dedicated to my “studio.” I am also fortunate enough to have learned how to use most of it in my past life as an actor/singer/dancer. I use the following equipment to make my videos:

  • Cameras
    • Panasonic GH-4
    • 2 x Panasonic G7s
  • Lights
    • 2x Neewer 576-led light panels
    • 2x Neewer 160-led light panels
  • Audio
    • Sennheiser Lavalier Microphone
    • Rode NTG-2 Shotgun Microphone
    • Zoom H4N Audio recorder
  • Computer
    • Mac Pro
    • iPad (for teleprompter, video monitoring while I record)
    • iPhone (for video monitoring while I record)
  •  Software
    • Adobe Audition (Audio)
    • Adobe After Effects (Animations and Transitions)
    • Adobe Premiere Pro (Video Editing)
    • Adobe Lightroom (Photo Editing)
    • Izotope RX 4 (Audio noise reduction)
    • Scrivener (Writing)
    • Waves Audio Plugins
    • Wordpress (Blog Content Management)
    • Teleprompter

 

I’ve talked about this in a lot of my videos, but I got started rather by accident.

My father has been a long-time fountain pen user. He had a Sheaffer fountain pen he purchased back in the mid 1970’s, and had used it for years. Then, when visiting Pike Place Market with me in Seattle, we discovered the “Market Penmaker,” a gentleman who makes and sells turned wood pens. (These days, he only does ballpoint pens.) My dad got one and liked it.

A few years later, my mother asked me if I’d go to Pike Place and get him another pen for a birthday present. I did, and while I was there, I started talking myself into maybe getting a fountain pen of my own. The next week, I returned to the market and bought my first pen, this one made of Amboyna Burl wood. I justified the then-exorbitant $65 price by saying I would use it to write in my journal and it would last me forever.

I ran into a few problems with the pen (I would call it ink starvation these days) and went online to try to find more information. That’s when I fell down the rabbit hole. I got sucked in the videos of Brian Goulet and SBREBrown, and spent hours trolling the forums. It all went downhill from there.