So, you have a fountain pen or two, and now you're ready to stock up on ink. But which?
Some of you will just buy boxes of black or blue cartridges or a bottle of black Parker Quink at the local office supply store and be good to go. You're sane. Carry on.
But some of you are like me. Ever since the days when I first saved up my allowance for bigger and better boxes of crayons, I've been on a quest for MOAR COLOR. Colors--so many colors and so many nuances!--were part of what drew me to fountain pens to begin with.
On top of color, there are other little attributes that may matter to you: do you need water resistance? Does it matter if the ink fades over time or under certain conditions? Does it bother you if an ink takes a little time to dry? What kind of paper do you write on most?
These days, the options are mind boggling, and thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can easily get your hands on just about any ink on Earth. But how on Earth do you decide what to choose?
1. Google them. (Or Bing them, or whatever floats your boat!)
There are many wonderful people out there with great cameras and scanners and a much better eye than yours truly who put in the time and effort and skill to come up with beautiful and exhaustive reviews. If you search for, say, "Iroshizuku Kon-Peki review," you'll be presented with all sorts of reports, some including comparisons with similar inks, some showing how a given ink behaves in different pens and on different paper, some testing water resistance, etc., etc.
In addition to blogs, more and more fountain pen vendors are getting tech savvy, and have swabs and comparisons up for viewing. Goulet has some of the best in the biz, including their nifty Swab Shop, which has a tool to allow you to compare similar inks. (Disclaimer: I have absolutely no affiliation with Goulet except as a satisfied customer who thinks they do a grand job).
This may be enough to help you decide. It's how I chose my first bottled inks. However, be aware that scanners, cameras and monitors can all vary dramatically. What you see may not be what you get. It will get you in the ballpark, but isn't quite the same as seeing the ink in person.
2. Find penpals with ink!
Most ink crazy people are only too happy to spread the madness. If you have friends who have inks you're interested in, have them write you a letter using those inks. You'll give them an excuse to play with their pens and ink, AND you'll get to see the ink in person. Win win!
This isn't always an option--not all inks are available in cartridge form, and some companies' cartridges are proprietary, but in some cases, you may be able to buy ink in cartridges before committing to a full bottle. This is how I first discovered what is now Waterman Inspired Blue, for example. Be careful that the ink you are buying works with your pen. Here's a good table on the subject.
Most vendors will be happy to answer your questions on this before you buy!
Some companies will sell you a few milliliters of ink in a small vial, so you can try before you buy. Goulet Pens is the one I'm most familiar with: I'm still working through the boatload of samples I bought a few years ago. You will need a way to get the ink into your pen, which can be a little harder than with a full bottle. What I generally do is to use pens with converters for this testing, and fill the converter via a blunted-needled syringe, a la this older blog post o' mine.
This method gives you the ability to test ink on your terms: in your pens, with your style of writing, on your paper.
You may also be able to trade ink samples with friends. I've sent samples out in the past!
So there you go. Hopefully this makes the whole ink shopping thing feel a little less intimidating. And, going back to you black Quink folk...don't be afraid of a little insanity now and again!