The Road To Waterproof Brown Inks For Sketching

Recently I wrote about the new Platinum gall inks and noted that they aren’t waterproof in the way that watercolorists need them to be waterproof.  They’re more like the Noodler’s “bulletproof” claim of water resistance.  You couldn’t remove a signature from a check, but the color bleeds when these inks are used on good watercolor paper.  The reasons may be different for Noodler’s vs Platinum gall inks but the results are the same.

Many of us have spent a lot of money trying to find a truly waterproof brown ink we can shove through our fountain pens.  Heck, I spent $30 on the Platinum ink even after I’d found a really good solution just because I was curious.  Anyways, my post on the Platinum inks resulted in some discussion and I thought I’d tell you about my solution.

Jane Blundell did an extensive analysis of the DeAtramentis Document inks where she mixed entire color wheels with these inks.  They are all quite waterproof and fountain pen friendly.  Making matters even better for the in mixer, DeAtramentis sells a “dilution solution” which is just like the ink but without the pigment.  I use Document Black, diluted 5:1 (dilution:ink) to generate a dark gray that’s similar in color to Noodler’s Lexington Gray but is more waterproof and its lower contrast to white paper works better when you’re going to use watercolors on your drawings.

DeAtramentis Document Brown leans towards red, pretty close to a burnt sienna color.  It works well as a sketching color but on white paper, just like black ink, its contrast is very high.  I’ve tried just diluting it and that works but, to my eye, it accentuates the red component of the ink and I’ve never liked that very much.  So, what to do.

Mix a bit of blue with it, that’s what.  Just like mixing ultramarine blue to burnt sienna, if you mix in enough blue you get gray.  But if I add only a few drops of blue, I get a nice, walnut brown that works really well for me.  I’m not going to tell you how many drops or anything like that.  Achieving the color YOU want will require a bit of trial and error on your part.  Personally, I don’t worry about too much.  I mix small quantities, and test with a dip pen until I get the color I want.  The next time I might get a slightly different color.  I don’t really care because my goal is to tone down the contrast of the ink with the paper, not achieve some particular color.

To the cost of this adventure.  A bottle of Document Brown (35ml) will cost you around $20 and the dilution solution (250ml) is another $20.  That’s pretty expensive but, depending upon how much of the dilution solution you use, you also end up with a lot of ink.  Adding another $20 for a bottle of blue really boosts the price and I’d recommend just buying a sample unless you plan on drawing with blue.  It doesn’t take much to achieve the shift shown above.

Finally, here’s a drawing I started on one of the few outdoor sketching days we’ve had thus far.  Watercolor will come but for now you can see the results of my “walnut” ink.  I think the contrast here is a bit more in the scan than on paper.

Fabriano Artistico (9×12), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Brown + blue

10 Responses to “The Road To Waterproof Brown Inks For Sketching”

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  1. Kate Buike says:

    I’m looking for a grey in an ink that’s as fast drying and permanent as Platinum Carbon Black. I use DeAtramentis Document Brown in my writing journal. I like your idea of diluting the Document Black in order to get grey.

    • This is my everyday ink, Kate. You really have to dilute Document Black a LOT for it to start becoming gray, though, so using water doesn’t work well. But with the solvent I dilute 5:1 or 6:1 (dilution:ink) and this produces a very dark gray ink very similar to Lex Gray.

  2. Thank you much, Larry…I may have to give this a try. The Document inks are wont to clogging in my fountain pens (except the TWSBI!) and I wonder if using the dilution solution would help that? I just don’t use them in my two good vintage pens…

    • Kate Buike says:

      I use Document Brown in my Lamy Safari for some years now and never a clog.

    • I’m surprised to hear you say that, Kate. We’ve talked at length about clogging with Noodlers browns but I’ve never had that problem with any of the DA Document inks. I continue to use PCB in my Platinum pens so I can carry a PCB cartridge as backup, but the Document inks have become my go to inks for all other pens.

      Dilution may help. I’ve shoved a lot of full-strength Document inks through a variety of pens but these days I’m almost always using heavily diluted inks, for a couple of reasons. The first is color as I prefer a dark gray to a black when I expect to put watercolors over it. The other reason, however, is economy. The Dilution solution is far cheaper than the ink and you have to add a lot of dilution before you start changing the color of these inks.

      One of the mysteries for me is why different people have different experiences with respect to clogging. If you lived in Arizona it might make sense that the much drier climate might yield different results. But you live in a deciduous climate as I do, albeit yours is not so annoyingly cold 🙂 I think this question will remain a mystery.

  3. Pat Roberson says:

    Love the sketch!

  4. Sheila says:

    I agree with Pat! So good to see that Chez Temporal is still there. My all time favorite café! Wishing you lots more outdoor sketching, Larry.

    • Yes, it’s still thriving. My fav cafe as well and everytime I go there I think about drawing this street, realize how hard it would be (the twisted nature of it precludes simple perspective drawing) and so it’s taken several years for me to get brave enough to tackle it. It took me a couple intense hours to get it to this stage. Glad you recognized it 🙂

  5. Sheila Fitzpatrick says:

    I liked your sketch so much that I printed it out and posted it next to my Keurig coffee machine on my desk at work. Ahhh. Thank you, Larry!