DISCLAIMER: I do not now nor have I ever claimed to be an expert on all things fountain pen or ink. However, I do exclusively use fountain pens, and I’m very active amongst FP enthusiasts. I also happen to use Noodler’s ink and many other brands as well. Over the course of the last year I’ve noticed more and more people asking if Noodler’s ink is dangerous. What follows is a mixture of my experiences with Noodler’s and a brief analysis of the Noodler’s debate. In all things I am a moderate. As such I have striven to take a middle of the road approach to this debate.
I do not work for or with Noodler’s ink. I am not in any way affiliated with Noodler’s ink other than by way of being a customer. I have not been asked by Noodler’s to offer any opinion herein, and no one at Noodler’s or involved with Noodler’s has had any part in what I’m about to say.
In short, these are my words, my opinions, and my analysis.
Here is my general stance on Noodler’s ink: IT’S JUST INK!
Pens are meant to be used with fountain pen ink. Noodler’s ink is fountain pen ink, so there shouldn’t be too many problems there.
Noodler’s ink does happen to fall into a category called “high maintenance”. Other inks in this category are Private Reserve inks, iron gall inks, and some Diamine inks. Noodler’s inks are highly saturated (that’s the reason for the rich vibrant colors we so adore), but with saturation come responsibility:
- You MUST use good FP Hygiene. See the FAQ for an explanation.
- Do not mix Noodler’s ink with other ink brands unless you’ve tested the mixture for ill effects. Mixing inks willy-nilly is an accident waiting to happen. If 2+ incompatible inks are mixed the mixture will produce sediments, precipitants, sludge, slim, and various other nasty things that will lead to clogged pens!
- Do not leave Noodler’s ink in an pen long enough for it to dry out in the pen. If you have a habit of filling your pens and then letting them sit unused for 3 months+ you may want to think again. Most fountain pens are not airtight. Fountain pen inks are about 97% water. What happens when water sits in an open air container? EVAPORATION. This also happens with fountain pen inks. Slowly but surely that 97% evaporates leaving the 3%. That 3% is largely dyes, and overly concentrated dyes will clog pens!
Pens need to be cleaned. If you don’t clean your pens you will eventually have problems with clogging and staining. This is true of any ink brand even Quink, Skrip, and Waterman. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of cleaning out a vintage pen caked with 30-year-old dried ink you’ll know what I mean.
Also remember that pens, just like all material possessions, will begin to wear. Despite your best effort, your pens will need maintenance at some point. Fillers break, feeds crack, nibs wear. It’s not necessarily the ink’s fault.
Having said that, there is one notable possible exception: Noodler’s Baystate Blue.
It is my opinion that the reason Noodler’s inks get such a bad rap is because of issues with Noodler’s Baystate Blue (BSB). However, BSB is one of nearly 100 inks offered by Noodler’s. Even if you decide to steer clear of BSB there are at least 99 other options for you to explore.
The only Noodler’s inks that have been repeatedly linked (however tenuously) to destroying pens are from the Noodler’s Baystate Series. Baystate inks are slightly more alkaline than most inks (the bottle lists that pH as somewhere between 8 and 9). This alkalinity can cause problems with SOME pens. There may also be some ingredients in the ink that react poorly to SOME plastics.
If you do a google search you will generally find 3 types of BSB damage claims:
These inks DO NOT MIX WELL WITH OTHER INKS. The only inks you can mix with Baystate inks are other Baystate inks. IF YOU MIX A BAYSTATE INK WITH ANY OTHER INK YOU WILL LIKELY GET A CLOG. This can be true even if there are only trace amounts of any other ink in the feed. If you are going to use BSB you must be certain that you are using it in an exceptionally clean pen. Many BSB users have dedicated a single pen to BSB for this reason. Having a dedicated BSB pen makes it easier to avoid clogging.
2. Melted plastic feeds
The maker of Noodler’s Ink, Nathan Tardif, has acknowledged that there are certain “cheap Asian” plastics with which Baystate Blue (BSB) does not play nice. In some cases BSB can actually cause these plastics to “melt”.
This claim emerged with the report of a series of melted Lamy feeds. That particular set of Lamy feed was made of a similar cheap plastic. Lamy has since discontinued using that feed. Apparently, BSB was not the only ink to destroy that feed. Since then people have reported using BSB in Lamy pens without problems. I’d still advice caution since some of those faulty feeds could still be out there.
Having said that, one should be careful not to over generalize here. The number of pens damaged by BSB is small in comparison to the number of pens happily writing along with BSB. While the number of pens still using this “cheap asian plastic” feed is quite small, we are not sure which pens use these plastics.
Finally, BSB has been accused of staining some pen materials, but that is only some. Celluloid is one oft cited victim. This claim is also linked to Lamy. In particular, the Yellow Lamy Safari. Even still, one must be careful not to over generalize. There have also been many reports that BSB did not stain at all.
If you do have staining, BSB can be cleaned up with ammonia OR bleach (never together or you could kill yourself!), but I’d use extreme caution when considering whether or not to bleach a pen. Some plastics and metals will react poorly to bleach. If you choose to use Ammonia, a diluted solution of 10 parts water to 1 part ammonia is generally safe for fountain pens (save casein or milk celluloid which can dissolve in water). ETA: I’ve never used bleach on a pen and never plan to. Ammonia usually does the trick.
As you can tell from the above, BSB is one of the most high maintenance inks on the market. It is up to you to decide whether or not you will use BSB. Just bare in mind that many many fountain pen users use BSB without having any issues with clogs or melted feeds or stained pens.
On FPN there was a thread (that has since been disappeared) where FPNers made a list of BSB Learned Lessons. Here’s part of the list:
- Clean you pens regularly to mitigate build up in the feed channels.
- Try diluting BSB with water to improve flow and to reduce feathering and bleed through.
- BSB is safe in Platinum Preppies (and Noodler’s fountain pens).
- Isopropyl alcohol can clean up BSB stains, but be careful! Some plastics dissolve in alcohol.
- One poster claims that BSB + large Indian eyedropper pens + Broad nib +Rhodia paper= Perfection. YMMV
- If used on thermal you will get “special effects” (ie an oil ring around your letters)
- Use household bleach to clean up BSB stains, but be careful with using bleach on your pens as some plastics do not interact well with it.
- Some report success using BSB with a Hero 100. YMMV
- Some report success using BSB with a Waterman Kultur. YMMV
- Some report success using BSB in Mont Blanc piston fillers. YMMV
- Some report success using BSB in Pelikan piston fillers (others report BSB having a negative effect on the piston filler mechanism). YMMV
- Be careful using BSB in some cheap Chinese pens (some are made of a plastic that BSB can melt)
In summary, BSB can be a difficult ink to use.
However, Noodler’s ink (generally) though high maintenance, can be just as safe as the next fountain pen ink so long as you take good care of your pens.
Ink your pens, use your pens, rinse your pens, repeat! It really is that simple so far as I’m concerned.
Last updated: October 23, 2010.