The Platinum Carbon Pen: Holy Grail of Sketching Pens?

If you follow my ramblings, you know that I love my Rotring Art Pen for working in my sketchbook… except for one thing: the ink refills you have to use for the pen aren’t water-fast, so you can’t sketch with the Rotring and then go over your drawing with sepia wash or watercolor. On the advice of a couple of folks, I bought a “piston converter” for the Rotring so that I could load it with non-cartridge waterproof ink. The results, though, were mixed; India ink just isn’t made to work in a fountain pen.

What I’ve always been after is my “holy grail” sketching pen: a pen that has the feel of a Rotring, but uses water-fast ink. I’ve bought a few pens that purported to be exactly that, but until recently all the pens I’d tried didn’t really make the cut. Recently, though, I saw this post at the ComicTools blog (a blog you really should be following if you draw comics, by the way) that mentioned a “carbon desk fountain pen” that cartoonist Sarah Glidden had recently purchased. Her review is here on her blog. Her portable set-up is pretty much the same as mine–Penel Aquapen for sepia wash over ink line art drawn with a sketching pen–so I decided to give the carbon pen a try. I ordered one from the always-great Jetpens.com, along with some refills.

So, here are some of the sketchbook results I got once I’d received the pen and had given it a whirl:

(Random drawings of things from a recent Vanity Fair – carbon pen and sepia wash & Sharpie.)

(A quick sketch of Ron Paul – carbon pen and sepia wash & Pentel brush pen.)

(Sketchbook page of doodles – carbon pen with watercolors.)

(Quick sketch of Raphael Saadiq – carbon pen and sepia wash & Pentel brush pen.)

It feels quite similar to a Rotring and it performed beautifully–for the most part–when wet media was applied to drawings afterwards. The only time I really got the pen to flub-up a bit was with that watercolor page above. In that heavily-crosshatched image of the guy in the hood, I went in with watercolor almost immediately after drawing him and you can see that a little bit of the black ink bled into the color. Other than that, though, I think I’m a convert. I’m betting if I’d have waited a minute or two before applying the watercolor the ink would have been completely dry.

The verdict?  Well, I’ve hardly touched my Rotring since getting the carbon pen, so yeah, I guess I’ll call my “holy grail of sketching pens” a done deal.


  1. Cannon says:

    You know, Platinum sells their carbon ink in bottles. If you didn’t ruin your Rotring pen with india ink, you could still use it with that.

  2. John the Monkey says:

    As I recall, the Platinum pen has a feed designed for this ink – if used in other pens, most sellers of the bottled stuff advise;

    “However, this ink does have the potential to damage pens if not used according to instructions. This ink can dry and clog fountain pen feeds if left too long as it contains ultra-fine carbon particles. It is only suitable for pens that are in daily use and if the pen is to be left more than a couple of days without use then we advise flushing the pen and converter.”

    (Text from cultpens)

  3. Ben says:

    @Cannon – Good to know about the bottles of carbon ink. Thankfully my Rotring survived unscathed. The two inks have a slightly different feel, so I’m actually fine with having two separate pens.

  4. Ben says:

    @John the Monkey – Yeah, my personal opinion is that the financial savings you get from using bottled ink and a piston converter just isn’t worth the hassle. And, yeah, that carbon ink does tend to dry out. That was the problem with the last water-fast fountain pen I tried. If you left it for a couple of days without using it, it’d dry up and was virtually impossible to get started again.

  5. John the Monkey says:

    @Ben – I’m a writer, more than I’m a drawer, and I love fountain pens, so I come down in favour of bottled inks, mostly, although I’m still using carts in my Art Pen.

    I don’t know how this stuff is for drawing, but Noodler’s “Bulletproof” inks are well regarded for water resistance e.g. (http://www.inknouveau.com/2011/07/noodlers-black-ink-review.html) & I think they’ll play nicely with the nib & feed in regular pens too. As I recall, the ink contains a chemical that makes it bond with the cellulose in the paper, and it gets its waterfastness from that.

    There’s a comment after the review (from Karen);

    “I love Noodler’s Black. I keep my EF Namiki Falcon filled with it always. The water resistance makes it an excellent ink for drawing. Once it bonds with the paper, watercolors can be applied and it does not smudge or budge. I bought my first bottle a few years ago, and have used it constantly ever since.

    If I am in a hurry for it to dry, I will use a heat gun on my drawing before applying wet media – it seems to do the trick, at least for my purposes. But usually if I let the ink dry overnight on my sketchbook paper, it creates a good bond and I can even apply very wet washes without ruining the ink drawing. ”

    We can’t get the ink any more in the UK, so I’ve never tried any. But it might be worth a look if you want the option of using the Art Pen too. I think the Goulet company (the link is from their page) offer samples, so you could always try a small amount before getting a bottle.

  6. Ben says:

    @John the Monkey – Thanks for the heads-up on Noodler’s Black. I’d have to check out what the dry time is with it, though. One nice thing about that carbon ink is that you can go in with wet media almost immediately. That’s a must have for my sketching purposes.

  7. Larry Marshall says:

    Lots of sketchers use Platinum Carbon Black and Platinum Sepia in fountain pens not made by Platinum. Currently I have it in two Lamy pens, a Hero calligraphy pen, and a Noodler’s Ahab flex pen.

    And why do we do this? Because Noodler’s Black is ‘bulletproof’ in a writer sense. It won’t completely wash away if hit with water, so if you’re signing checks, the signature will remain if the check gets wet. BUT, that’s not the same as “will it run a bit if you wash over it as when applying watercolor washes to a sketch. Noodler’s Black will smudge under such a treatment. The problem with all bulletproof inks is that it gets its ‘resistant’ properties by an interaction between the ink and cellulose in the paper. But lay down a thick line and any ink that isn’t in contact with the paper, will move when hit with water.

    Many of us find that Lexington Gray is better in that respect. Right now my Rotring pen is filled with that. I just use a pen syringe to fill an empty cartridge.

    Cheers — Larry

  8. Joel says:

    I appreciate the Noodler’s bulletproof black ink in my Lamy Safari for its ability to withstand watercolors as well as its blackness. You really should check out the Urban Sketchers site and explore what non-cartoonists can do with this combination (it’s become a go-to combination.)

    You sketch well.

  9. Ben says:

    @Joel – Holy cow, Urban Sketchers is great! As far as pen/ink stuff goes, there seem to be some conflicting thoughts from folks on how waterproof Noodler’s actually is. I’ll for sure pick up a bottle if I see it somewhere though.

  10. Joel says:

    I got mine from Amazon and use a syringe to put it in empty cartridges.

    I’m glad you like Urban Sketchers; be sure to check out the various international branches because there are great talents around the world. Several of my favourites are Florian Afflerbach, Joaquin Gonzalez Dorao, Pete Scully, and Tommy Kane. If you dig, you’ll find quite a bit of discussion of tools so have fun and good luck with the Noodler’s.

  11. Joel says:

    Oh, I forgot to ask your opinion of the Microns. I’ve found them quite waterproof and a real go-to pen.

  12. Ben says:

    @Joel – I’m not a big fan of Microns. Partially, that’s because I don’t like felt-tip pens generally. I also prefer a refillable pen; given how much I draw, I don’t like the idea of just throwing them away and then buying new ones. The big issue, though, for me with them is that I rough in my comics in non-photo blue pencil, then regular pencil, then ink… and Microns seem to not penetrate the non-photo blue. So, when I go in to erase my pencils, the ink gets erased from anywhere there was non-photo blue.

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