Beware Online Ink Swatches


The subject of online ink swatches and color representation has come up several times this past week. Some of us have learned the hard way that anything we see on a monitor is as likely to be inaccurate as not. Frustrating but so is buying an ink that disappoints.

Even the so-called color adjustment aids are no guarantee. A respected inky friend reminded me just yesterday how true this is. Since the specific ink in question was developed with her help, she ought to know whether a sample recently posted at another site matches the real ink. It doesn’t.

Though not foolproof, images from the same source may reveal relative similarities. In other words even if the color rendition is imperfect it may reflect whether one color is more or less blue, yellow, or whatever, than another. That bit of information can be useful especially if you aren’t in the market for a blue-green but want your green unadulterated. If you look at samples from different websites, that trick might not work. So even its uses are limited.

Whether swatches, swabs, patches or writing samples, nothing beats seeing the real thing. Exchange postcards, letters or doodles with other ink lovers when possible. If not, try samples like those from Pear Tree Pens. With a syringe or pipette, you can fill a pen with enough ink to conduct a good test and know whether you’ve found one you will enjoy for a full bottle’s worth.

If you wind up with what for you is a dud, swap with inky friends or folks at Fountain Pen Network. No sense being stuck with a stinker that someone else thinks is just the perfect shade.

But I will warn you. What resembles mud today, may in the future look like the perfect shade of brown. On occasion inks I loathed in the past have become new favorites months or even years later but that is sheer luck.

So don’t let those online ink swatches fool you. If you are picky about color, consider them at best an approximation. If you aren’t picky and don’t mind taking a gamble, then expect red to be red and blue to be blue and you could be a happy camper indeed.

More at The Dizzy Pen.


  1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    We can all get a little obsessed about finding/doing something perfect, but perfection is out of our reach. Humans are fallible and our machines are even more so.

    It simply is not possible to create a perfect computerized image of any color sample. The way the human eye sees color only confirms this. Our vision, lighting, alertness, and so on all affect the way we see a color. The line width, wetness, flexibility, paper type and so on affect the way ink looks on the page. And then there’s the fact that many of us (and this is especially true of men) suffer from some degree of colorblindness! Not to mention the inability of computerized images to capture the vibrancy, depth and so on of any given color. There are too many variables of which only a small fraction can be controlled.

    So, even if we could get an ink color to “look perfectly accurate” on the screen it is still more likely than not to vary greatly from the color we see when we put ink to paper.

    We all see color differently image quality aside. This is why one person might see J. Herbin 1670 ink as red-orange while another sees it as blood red while yet another see it as a true red. Just look at any three ink reviews and you’ll see everyone describe the color differently.

    The best we can do is approximate a color. Anyone looking at an online sample as perfect is setting themselves up for disappointment, and anyone claiming to have a perfect scan is setting themselves up to field complaints about how people feel they were misled.

    As Margana says, you really do have to see an ink on the page in order to know whether or not it is the one for you.


  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Margana, Dizzy Pen. Dizzy Pen said: You are 100% correct. Thank you for posting this! RT @inkophile: Beware Online Ink Swatches: http://wp.me/pfSKv-BZ #fountainpen #ink […]


  3. […] As Margana says, you really do have to see an ink on the page in order to know whether or not it is the one for you. Please take a carefully look at what she says. She’s right on the money so far as I’m concerned… Read More […]


  4. It’s true that swabs are not something that shouldn’t be trusted inherently. There are a least a half-dozen factors in how they appear as an end result, any one of which could make it look different. Color accuracy is a bit like threading a needle. It’s basically impossible (because of the laws of physics in how monitors display colors) to get entirely accurate swabs viewable online, however, certainly there are things that can be done to get them close. In the end though, you’re right, there’s nothing like having the ink to try for yourself.


  5. Oops…..too many negatives in my first sentence there. I meant to say ‘it’s true that swabs are not something that SHOULD be trusted inherently’.


    • In my experience swabbed swatches are not reliable for the purpose of judging ink color for use with a fountain pen. The concentration is too thin and quite different than what happens when ink flows from a nib. In addition online swatches show an approximation of color and most often only relative relationships when used in comparisons. In other words you might be able to see that Color A is more red than Color B and that they are both orange but online renderings may or may not reflect the true color much less what happens when used in a particular pen on a specific paper or for that matter seen in a swabbed swatch in the real world.

      Frankly, I wouldn’t trust any online color representations including my own. The state of technology just isn’t up to the task. But for someone who isn’t all that concerned about ink color, online swatches might be fine. Orange will still be orange if that is what one is seeking. But red-orange? Maybe not. And more than likely, the ink will be darker from a pen than any online representation except in the case of an ink that shades well. That’s where an ink lays down a pale and a dark version in the same line. Swatches don’t begin to reflect that well and with that I rest my case.


  6. Plus, color isn’t the only characteristic to judge an ink by. You also have to consider how it works with your pen. Certain brands of ink (or even certain colors of that brand) react differently in the pen of your choosing. So, although you may think that the blue on the computer screen looks nice, you might get the ink and it doesn’t flow wet enough to really show the richness of color you see in the online swatch.


    • Very true, Tom. It’s a total package which is why I keep a log. It’s the best way to keep track of a collection as it grows and just a word or two is all it takes. I keep old letters for that purpose, too. Nothing beats the real thing.


  7. Agree 100%. And it’s the reason that I always try to describe the colors as I am reviewing them. But there is always still going to be a whole lot of “YMMV” going on……


  8. […] Beware Online Ink Swatches– Inkophile […]


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