Ink Sample racks

[Guest Post] Reds and Yellow and Blues, Oh My!

Today’s guest blogger is LetterMo Community Member Elizabeth Janes, who is a big ol’ F&SF nerd. She lives in upstate New York, mere minutes from the Massachusetts border, and is still looking for her perfect red.

In the guest blog posted on January 31 I referred briefly to my runaway ink-sample-buying habit. Readers may have thought I was joking.

As best I can remember, it started as a search for My Perfect Red: a bit on the warm side, but not so much as to edge into red-orange territory; bright enough to read as red even when used as the tiniest accent; waterproof, or at least water-resistant, if at all possible.

Unfortunately, I know of no brick-and-mortar stationers within an easy drive, at least none that carry a wide range of inks for dip or fountain pen, and I couldn’t really justify making a special trip to Boston or New York City just to shop for ink. Internet to the rescue, right?

Well, somewhat. The trouble is, the ink that looks just right in a Web site’s digital swatch may look very different when it’s put down on paper, due to a number of variables. Has the screen been calibrated for color accuracy, and are you looking at it under the same lighting conditions as when the calibration was done, and at the same angle? How accurate was the color in the image file of the swatch the vendor uploaded to the Web page? Is the paper highly absorbent, or does the ink sit on the surface? If you’re picky about color, expecting close fidelity of ink on paper to image on screen is setting yourself up for disappointment.

Bottled ink isn’t cheap enough that most people can afford to buy bottle after bottle as they seek the color of their dreams. And mixing one color with another can be hazardous to your fountain pen’s health if the individual ink formulas aren’t compatible (or at least it can make cleaning the pen a lot more work). But somewhere online I read that the Goulet Pen Company sold small sample vials of their entire line of inks, so I clicked on over to their Web site. Glorioski! and oh, boy, was I in trouble!

My first order was for two dozen samples and a rack with spaces for forty vials, plus a new fountain pen. (Of course I didn’t limit myself to reds.) I won’t admit to how many orders have gone out since then, but as the photo below shows I’m just about to fill my fourth rack.

Ink Sample racks

As satisfying as the tidy ranks of vials are to behold, the color swatches are even better. The fans of individual slips in front of the racks represent my current stock of both samples and full bottles, sorted into rough progressions from one color to another.

The full pages of swatches (which I’m in the process of updating) show how each ink looks when writing with a glass pen, along with a test for water resistance, and will eventually show tests for fade resistance as well.

Ink Swatch Drip Tests

At the margin end of each color strip I place a drop or two of water, and after about fifteen seconds I tip the page so the water runs down to the outside edge. Some of the inks are every bit as waterproof as the manufacturer claims; others (for which no such claim has been made) give up their color at the first touch of liquid. When the drip tests have been done on the new sheets, I’ll mask off all but the center third of each column of swatches and expose the unmasked portions to strong sunlight for a good long time; that will, I hope, give me a fair idea of each ink’s resistance to fading.

A few days after LetterMo 2015 ended I was about to address the envelope for a card I’d written when I noticed it had begun to snow, in those big fat communal flakes you can feel hitting your head. Aha, an opportunity for real-world water-resistance testing! I lettered and colored the envelope, making sure to write the crucial information in inks I knew to be waterproof, and took it outside to collect some snow.

You know, it’s not that easy to have snowflakes land precisely on a particular small spot, even if you try to help them along by moving the particular small spot directly underneath them as they fall.

Eventually I got tired of chasing flakes, took the envelope inside, and exposed it to an artificial rain shower; results are in the next photo. I’d tried to make sure the address stood out nicely within its box, but I may have played it safe and taken the card to the post office in the town where the addressee lives; I sometimes worry that if my envelopes get too busy or fancy the sorting machinery may freak out.

Rain test

Sometimes my envelopes are a lot more interesting than what they contain, which is fine with most of my friends.

As I was preparing the photos for this post I started feeling a little ridiculous for diving into the deep end of the inkwell. But I’m betting that crafters and artists out there will recognize the feeling, the little stir of anticipation you feel as you look over your tools and materials and wonder, “What will I make today? Wouldn’t that orange and that green look great together? What shall I draw for Chris/Andrew/Pat and Jen?”

Are there any other ink enthusiasts in the LetterMo community, or is your passion for pens or paper or tracking down vintage postage stamps? We wouldn’t stick with the challenge if we didn’t love the writing, but what else about the Month of Letters experience brings you joy?

21 thoughts on “[Wayback Repost] Why do letters seem more daunting than email?”

  1. Having been a letter writer for several years now, I don’t particularly find this challenge all that difficult, other than remembering to do it every day instead of when the whim takes me to write. And since I may not have a penpal’s letter to answer, then I need to think outside my normal circle of penpals and write to others. I saw this as an opportunity to reconnect with a few old penpals that had lapsed, family members that live outside of the city, friends I haven’t seen in a while, and strangers or persons of stature. I think it’s a great challenge and maybe it will even boost the joy of those who process all this mail and deliver it to us. 🙂

  2. I love your post. And I totally agree.

    Email, tweets n twitters, FB comments all have their place and moment in time where they are the appropriate way to respond.

    However, sending a letter, postcard, or notecard is the only way to connect with someone on a more personal, even intimate, level.

    The act of sending a missive does take time, but more importantly it takes thought. What paper will I use? What will I add (stickers, washi, etc.)? What will I say? Combined these choices will be a bright spot in someone’s day. Added bonus? It was created specifically for them.

  3. Great article on postcard apps but you should also take a look at Postsnap’s easy to use postcard app.
    The app offers a number of unique features compared to the other apps reviewed including:
    – Guest checkout with Apple Pay
    – Extensive personalization options including collage layouts, stylish borders which can be adjusted in size with a slider and the option to add editable text in a variety of font types and colors and position it anywhere on the cards
    – iPhone and iPad support
    – Apple Pencil support
    – Facebook and Instagram integration
    – US postal address verification and UK postcode lookup
    Cards are printed and posted in our facilities in the UK, USA and Australia on the same or next working day and so cards typically arrive quickly. Enjoy!
    Stephen Homer

  4. I have been writing letters for several years now. My go to paper is Rhodia Premium or Rhodia Ice pads. I also Life pads too. I like them because they are not quite as slick as the Rhodia.

  5. I love Tomoe River paper for letter writing. I buy 100 sheets at a time and print my own mermaid stationery. I found an envelope that I like and ordered a mermaid address stamp and finish it off with mermaid washi tape.

  6. I too love journals to pull apart for writing. For me the most important aspect of the paper is the pattern. I love to have some colour and some design on the paper. I’ve managed to find a number of nice colours and designs at one of my local “Home Sense” discount stores in the book section. Most of the small journals are a perfect size to fit in the envelopes I use. If not I just give one edge a bit of a trim (but sometimes I really like the ripped edge look too!) ;P

  7. Hi, Christmas cards & more recently a letter (a bill) from the UK to Australia have taken 3 weeks to arrive. The exterior of these envelopes were stamped with a mark such as this from the latest envelope:
    DLC 992-4
    The example quoted arrived at the Australian address on 28/07/2017, unfortunately it contained a bill dated 06/07/2017 which had to be paid within 14 days, by 20/07/2017.
    Why is the post so slow? What does the DLC 992-4 stamp signify? Would appreciate your feedback.

  8. My letter that I wrote was in September. The person who it was for still hasn’t gotten it and it’s now November….
    I don’t understand why it’s taking this long. I live in AZ and he lives in NY. I want answers.

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