When Online Swatches Fail


Don’t get me wrong. I like seeing some sort of ink representation before making a purchase. The colors are approximations only so I don’t expect perfection. However, despite viewing the swatches from Nibs.com in all sorts of lighting conditions, my monitor shows virtually no difference between the blues from Sailor Sky High through Pilot Hydrangea. Are these inks that similar or are the swatches inaccurate? What do you think?



  1. If you are not happy you can tweak it a bit with the other color. I, personally, like experimenting and have unique mixture.


  2. Yeah those look pretty much identical but I’m sure in real life they are different. That’s the problem with scanning them and converting to digital format.

    The hardest thing I have to do when reviewing inks is to try matching what I see on the screen (in post-processing) with what I have on paper.


    • Peninkcillin, matching inks on screen to samples on paper has become so off-putting that I rarely try any longer. I don’t know how you continue to do it.


  3. I always find the swabs at http://www.gouletpens.com/Articles.asp?ID=144 to be more accurate.

    Ajisai definitely seems bluer and denser than Sky High. Most of the new Gentle inks are quite washed out.


  4. Those swatches look close but distinctive to me, so you might consider that the color calibration on your display is inaccurate. You can buy a decent calibration system for under $100: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0037255LC


    • Hmmmm, Hybernaut. I think I’d rather buy a new fountain pen for that kind of money. 🙂


  5. On my monitor Sailor Ultra Marine through Sheaffer Blue all look equally violet.

    Sailor Sky High, Pilot Deep Cerulean Blue, Pilot Asiatic Day Flower and Pelikan Topaz all look neon turquoise.

    Pilot/Namiki Blue, Pelikan Blue, Pelikan Sapphire and Pilot Hydrangea all look middle-of-the-road blah blue.

    Pelikan Turquoise has a distinctly greenish cast.

    I abhor ink swabs. Even the swabs I do with my own inks look nothing like the ink from the pen nib. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.


    • Speck, thanks for contributing your take on the ink colors. I don’t use swabs but stick to my own written samples whenever possible. Still it is helpful when the relative differences in ink colors is evident from online swatches. In this case that just isn’t as obvious as it should be.


  6. Knittipina here. The Hydrangea shows a bit more purple than the Sky High on my monitor. But they’re very similar, yes. Maybe it depends on the monitor? I try to look at the color of the writing line rather than the swab because swabs can look darker. It’s the writing line we’re interested in most of all, right, unless you’re an artist and also paint with your fp inks.


    • Hi Mona! Glad to see you here. 🙂 You are so right about swabs looking darker and that the written line is more important. No, I don’t paint with fp ink but just drool over what my friends can do with it. I have wondered in the past whether blue ink has more of a tendency to be similar from one brand to another. Some of my ink swatch book entries would make it seem so. Maybe I’ll explore that in a post someday.


  7. There are a ton of factors at play here, both with physical writing samples and digital ones. In the physical world, samples (written) are affected by your pen, the paper, the relative humidity in the air (more for dry time than color), your writing pressure, pen angle, and writing speed. Swabs are affected by the degree of saturation of your q-tip (or whatever you use), the paper used, the swabbing speed, and even technique you use to do the swab (number of overlaps, etc). Then in the digital realm you have lots of factors like the type of scanner/camera used, the light source, the measures taken to make corrections once they are made digital, the color profile used (sRGB, Adobe RGB, etc), the web browser you use to view them (different browsers assign different color profiles!), the color profiling system the blog you use assigns, the color calibration of your monitor, the type of monitor you have, heck, even the temperature of the room in which the monitor is….

    Then all of this is skewed by each of our individual perceptions of color, particularly between men and women, as we all see different colors (especially blues and purples).

    The most important thing to do as a person creating digital swabs is to be consistent…what I’ve done with my swabs is gone for the most consistency possible (within reason…. I could buy a $60,000 scanner that would be a bit more accurate, but that would be dumb for me to do). At least if things online are consistent, you can compare one swab to another…they likely won’t be so reliable on a monitor vs. viewing in real life, but it’ll at least help.


  8. That’s the thing, I do my best to match paper to screen but I don’t think I ever succeed. I won’t even mention the fact that I have a low-spec monitor which is almost certainly not color-accurate.


    • Peninkcillin, doing your best is all you can do. Still I would hope retailers and manufacturers would hew to a higher color matching standard than reviewers who often own less than ideal tools. For all that I tend to put more faith in the swatches from manufactures than anyone else.


  9. i wonder if anyone has ever thought of outsourcing their scanning. Sure, spending a fortune on drum scanners & colour-calibrated monitors is a little excessive. But there are many decent photo studios/graphic designers out there that have all this expensive equipment and the knowledge to properly calibrate on-screen vs scanned images.


  10. Robin Myers made colorimetric measurements of inks (the data is here) and converted the numbers to sRGB, which I think is about as controlled and standardized a digital representation for these inks as anyone’s going to produce. Note that the inks called “Schreibtinte” are actually Rohrer & Klingner.


  11. This is an interesting post, Margana. Unfortunately, even the best scanning technology and color correction techniques that are employed when the scan is made will still likely result in disparities and inconsistency or inaccuracy when the ink swatch/swab is viewed online. The reasons for this are very simple: Computer monitors vary. And even if you are one of the few computer users who calibrate your monitor, the limitations of current technology still make it likely that the on-screen representation of color will not be the same as the actual real-life color. Have you ever gone to Best Buy or some other TV store when they have a wall of TV screens all showing the exact same show? Did you notice how the picture quality and colors vary from one set to the next? Yes, the images being displayed and the signals being sent to the set are identical, yet the TV screens reproduce them differently. Your computer monitor is exactly the same.

    Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with getting a general idea of what a particular ink MAY look like, but you’re never going to get an exact representation.

    As has been noted, even ink swabs aren’t necessarily going to show you how a particular ink is going to appear once you put in your pen and write with it on your paper. There are basically three inter-related variables that dictate what a particular line is going to look like: ink, paper & pen. If you change one of those variables, the line’s appearance will change. As an extreme example, a beautiful blue ink, say Pilot Asa-Gao made on high-quality paper such as Rhodia, in a fine-nibbed pen may display brilliant color and little feathering or bleed-through. But change one of those variables and it all changes. Switch the paper to ordinary copy paper, and all of a sudden this previously well-behaved ink feathers. Change the pen to a wet-writing broad nib and, even on high-quality paper you may see some bleed-through. Change the ink – well, you get the idea.

    I’m a photographer and I have an expensive color-calibrated monitor to help me edit my images. Yet, when I purchased ink after viewing its online swatch I was almost always frustrated and disappointed that what I saw on screen was so rarely what came out of the bottle. I can’t tell you how much money I wasted buying different bottles of ink that ultimately went unused because of that issue. So, when I started the Pear Tree Pen Company, I wanted to help people avoid the same frustrations I experienced. That’s why I came up with the ink sampler program. I still believe that there’s no substitute for getting a small sample of the actual ink to test in your pen and on your paper so you know how it’s going to perform for YOU, in real world conditions.

    Since we started offering ink samples in 2006, we’ve sold tens of thousands of ink samples (in our exclusive glass vials). Judging by the countless comments I get from customers, most people seem to agree that there’s no better way to test out an ink.



  12. As has been mentioned it’s all about color calibration both on the input and output side. From my years in printing I know that matching color intent was a foremost concern and everyone works hard at it. However, in that field you control the output which is the printed matter. With websites the monitor that you are viewing the images on can really skew what you see. Even if you have the software and take the effort to calibrate a monitor you have to realize that the color gamut is different on it than what your eyes will see looking at those inks on paper. At best digital swatches can be a good guide.

    Also I think the way an ink looks also depends on real world conditions. Ink flow, line width, and the paper substrate you are using make these inks differ from what another person creates.

    It’s an imperfect world. 🙂


    • Real world conditions in an imperfect world? Heh! Well said, Bleubug. That’s probably the best description of why swabs, swatches, and writing samples should not be taken as anything more than approximations.


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