Water-Soluble Fountain Pen Inks Are Gentler On Pens And Safer To Leave In Them For Longer Periods Of Time

Water-soluble inks are the opposite of waterproof inks—they run, smear, or fade at the first touch of moisture. This might sound like a weakness, but it actually comes with some big advantages. Unless you’re a habitual drink spiller or plan to take your writings out in the rain, there are a few good reasons to choose a water-soluble ink instead of a waterproof ink.

Why Use A Water-Soluble Ink?
First, water-soluble inks are much more common than water-resistant inks, so limiting yourself to water-resistant inks will leave with a severely restricted palette. This is especially true with lighter, warmer colors like orange and pink, which are almost never waterproof.

Second, water-soluble inks are easier to clean. Since they dissolve quickly in water, you don’t have to spend as much time cleaning them or resort to using a special cleaning fluid. They’re also easier to clean from other things, like clothes. Just don’t take that as an invitation to wanton ink spilling! Even the most water-soluble inks can still leave permanent stains.

Third, water-soluble fountain pen inks are gentler on pens and safer to leave in them for longer periods of time. Many waterproof inks contain pigment or iron gall particles, which can clog or even damage your pen if you forget to clean it regularly. We still recommend cleaning your pen every month or two when using water-soluble ink, but you don’t have to worry about harming your pen if you forget.

Finally and most interestingly, water-soluble inks can be used to create some fascinating art effects. Let’s take a closer look at them now.


Two easy ways to create impressive effects with water-soluble inks are to use ink washes and background effects.

Ink washes are a convenient middle ground between simple sketching and full-on painting. Start by creating a normal drawing with water-soluble ink. Then, go over the drawing with a wet brush or a water brush to dissolve the ink and “paint” with it to create smooth shading and color gradients. Even a quick and simple treatment can add incredible depth and liveliness to the artwork.
When you do an ink wash, the original ink lines of the drawing may dissolve completely into a cloud of color or they may leave a distinct trace that reinforces the structure of the drawing. If you want your lines to disappear as much as possible, choose highly water-soluble inks and smooth paper, and perform the wash as soon as possible after drawing. If you want your lines to stay visible, do the opposite—choose moderately-soluble inks and more absorbent paper, and wait a few hours to a day after drawing before doing the wash. We’ll list the inks we’ve found to be highly and moderately water-soluble further down.

Mutli-tone ink wash made using Noodler’s Sequoia Green.
The Chandelier Tree, located in Leggett, California.
When working with water-soluble inks, you may run into ones that separate into two or more distinct colors when you wet them. These inks may not produce the look you were originally going for, but they can be used to create some unique multi-tone effects. Noodler’s Sequoia Green, shown here, is a dark pine green that separates into ochre and olive green when wet.

Background effects being made for the title art.
You can also use water-soluble inks to create unique background effects for drawings, calligraphy art, and homemade gift cards.
One simple technique is to create a gradient of two or more colors. First paint a section of the page with a water-soluble ink. Then take another water-soluble ink and paint an overlapping section of the page. Where the two inks touch, the wet ink will dissolve the dry ink and the colors will blend.

Another technique is to create patterns in a background of water-soluble ink by “lifting” the ink with water. First paint a background with one or more water-soluble inks, using the gradient technique above if you want. Once the ink is dry, apply water to the paper in any pattern you want. You can use water droppers, brushes, syringes, or even a fountain pen filled with water instead of ink—have fun and experiment with anything you can think of! Let the water sit for 30–60 seconds to let the water dissolve the ink (the longer it sits the more noticeable the patterns will be), then carefully blot the water with a dry paper towel to reveal the patterns you’ve created.

There are hundreds of water-soluble inks out there, so it would be silly of us to try to rank them all here. Instead, we tested the solubility of all our fountain pen inks and picked out some of our absolute favorites to use for art. We’ve also listed all of the water-soluble inks we found further down.

Diamine Ancient Copper
Art made with Diamine Ancient Copper
The ancient city of Petra, located in modern Jordan.
Perched right on the border between brown, orange, and red, Ancient Copper gives drawings a warm, rustic feel.

J. Herbin Poussièr de Lune
Art made with J. Herbin Poussièr de Lune
The Giant’s Causeway, located in Northern Ireland.
The name Poussière de Lune is French for “moon dust.” This ink may not look like actual moon dust, but its subtle purple hues can certainly create an ethereal, otherworldly look.

Kaweco Pearl Black
Art made with Kaweco Pearl Black
The Storseisundet Bridge, located off the cost of Norway’s Romsdal peninsula.
We love Pearl Black for its rich darkness and the bold, even shading it produces. When a subtler, slightly less soluble black is called for, we also love Diamine Jet Black.

Lamy Turquoise
Art made with Lamy Turquoise
Melissani Cave, located on the Greek island of Cephalonia.
You really can’t go wrong with any turquoise ink, but to us Lamy Turquoise hits the perfect tone for creating captivating, almost crystalline atmospheres.

Noodler’s Apache Sunset
Art made with Noodler’s Apache Sunset
Bryce Canyon National Park, located in southwestern Utah.
The most dramatically shading ink we’ve ever come across, Apache Sunset can range from pale yellow to bright orange and even blood red depending on its concentration. This makes it a particularly great choice for drawing expansive vistas.

Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa
Art made with Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa
The ancient city of Bagan, located in the Mandalay region of Myanmar.
A soft, almost cornflower blue, Tsuyu-kusa exudes a sense of serenity, simplicity, and innocence.

Rohrer & Klingner Verdigris
Art made with Rohrer & Klingner Verdigris
The sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie, located in south-central China.
Dark and moody with a subtly teal twist to its blue black hue, Verdigris is a great alternative to standard black.

Sailor Jentle Miruai
Art made with Sailor Jentle Miruai
The Great Smoky Mountains, located in the southestern United States.
A deep, misty gray-green, Miruai is great for creating mysterious and intriguing atmospheres.

Water-soluble inks can be divided into two groups: highly water-soluble inks and moderately water-soluble inks.

We found the inks listed as highly water-soluble to leave little or no trace of the original line after wetting. Your experience may vary from ours, however, depending on your specific technique. For the original lines to dissolve as completely as possible, use smooth paper, avoid sharp pen nibs that will scratch the paper, and wet the drawing immediately after (or even before) the ink fully dries.

The moderately water-soluble inks will retain at least a subtle image of the original line after wetting. To retain as much of the original line as possible, use more absorbent papers and wait for about 24 hours after finishing the drawing before you wet it.