Shelf Life of Fountain Pen Ink


A thread at Fountain Pen Network about moldy ink made me curious about which brands of ink still contain phenol or another effective biocide. The EU’s rules for the manufacture of inks has affected a few brands though new formulations seem to have improved recent batches. While I have had a few bottles go bad, never has that happened with Noodler’s, Diamine, or any Japanese ink in my collection. Nor has it happened with ink in my collection manufactured more than five years ago.

There is no intent to bash any ink but rather to find ink that, if stored for an extended length of time, is most likely to remain untainted. Parker Penman ink is a good example. It was only manufactured from 1993-2000 which predates any government tinkering. My stash remains viable with the exception of one bottle of Ruby that arrived partially used and containing SITB. The former owner was the culprit in that case.

So who is making the good stuff these days?

Leonardo Fountain Pen Meets Noodler's Black Ink

Leonardo Fountain Pen Meets Noodler’s Black Ink

This bottle of Noodler’s Ink was purchased more than seven years ago and remains untainted. That’s what I call “the good stuff” and ink that is worthy of high praise.


  1. Nice topic! I had a bottle of Private Reserve Orange Crush go bad in only 1 year after purchase. I thought I had done something to contribute but now I’m rethinking it. Thanks!


    • It’s something that can happen even in the best of families. 😉


    • I found this post/comment because of the exact same thing. Private Reserve Orange Crush that went bad (after two years perhaps). I hadn’t used it for a while and when I opened the bottle there was an air escaping sound. The ink was noticably browner than it used to be.

      My other Private Reserve inks are still usable after the same length of time. But I use them more, so maybe it has something to do with leaving the bottle sealed for a year. Or maybe they’ve just been changing so slowly I haven’t noticed.


  2. I am so glad to see this posting. Most of the time when people raise the question at FPN they are answered with an outpouring of messages assuring the OP that the respondent has been writing with ink from the 1950s for years, so the OP should expect that newly purchased ink will do fine for at least half a century. There seems very little awareness that the ink one buys today is in general not the same kind of ink as was prevalent in the good old days. Ditto for ordinary school notebook paper. I still have my notes from the 1950s/1960s/1970s, so what’s the problem??? Well, I do have notes intact from the 1980s, but after that it becomes a whole new world out there in school notebook country. And the behavior of ink w/r/t fading is intimately related to paper.


    • “They don’t make ’em like they used to” certainly applies. My Moleskine journals from ten years ago were fine with fountain pen ink. Then they started using paper made in China and the quality wasn’t even close to the older version. To the good, other companies have seen an opening and introduced a good variety of paper products to compete with Moleskine and we have been the beneficiaries of that abundance.

      There is nothing that can be done for ink that degrades but ink lacking a proper biocide can be improved with its addition. At least according to a number of posters at FPN that’s an effective solution for those who can acquire something appropriate. I won’t recommend it since I have no first-hand experience with it. The proportion of biocide to ink is important. When a manufacturer adds it to an ink, they know exactly how much to use. I would rather enjoy my ink unadulterated and trust the people who know what they are doing. The EU tinkering has undermined my trust at least with inks of recent manufacture.

      Vintage ink is a risk to be sure. When in doubt I do not use a fountain pen but keep to easily cleaned or replaced dip nibs.

      As for FPN, its a big community though only a small percentage post regularly to Inky Thoughts. The difference in some modern formulations from even five years ago can be significant and you are right that such a caveat should be added when recommending inks that have been modified. J. Herbin is a good case in point. They were forced to conform to EU regulations even though they’ve made ink successfully for hundreds of years. Some batches had problems but the company did the right thing and replaced contaminated product. The newest batches have had no such complaints but I do wonder how long it will survive well. I have some JH that is nearly ten years old. Will it outlive ink that is two years old? Enough time hasn’t elapsed to know. We shall see…


  3. I am now questioning my saving of MB British Racing Green… will it go bad?


    • Joe, I don’t know if your ink will go bad or what is the shelf life of MBRG as there was no expiration date on either the bottles or the boxes. Since it is irreplaceable, I admit to being extra careful to avoid contamination. However, my stash is still fine and I intend to use and enjoy every drop of it. I hope that works for you, too. If not and you are concerned, you will find a ready market for unopened bottles. Gambling on a favorite ink is worth the risk to some of us.


  4. ACK! Talk about motivation to use up some of my inks! My oldest bottles are 5 year old Sheaffer Scrips and both are completely fine. Next is Pilot Iroshizuku at just shy of 5 years old, also fine… fingers crossed they all stay that way!


    • Writing lots more is a good thing, yes? 🙂


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  7. I just bought a 1000ml bottle of Pelikan 4001 brilliant Black; that’s right, 1000 ml. If I store this ink in an airconditione house do I need to be worried about shelf life? I use 4001 in my three pelican 205’s so it was a happy coincidence that the only big bottle I could find was that ink through amazons UK site. I am in the states, Texas to be precise.


    • Charles,

      That’s a honking big bottle of ink! The biggest risk would be from contamination either airborne or contact from filling your pens. Texas is hot and can make mold growth more of a risk. There isn’t much you can do about spores in the air. For refilling purposes, I would recommend decanting small amounts into a thoroughly cleaned and rinsed old bottle. Don’t pour ink back into the 1000ml bottle or insert a pen. Both would risk contamination. A pipette is okay though not useful with some pen filling mechanisms.

      Shelf life in the absence of little beasties should be years. I have bottles of Pel 4001 that are ten years old and still viable. Assuming the formula hasn’t been modified, your bottle could be good to the last drop.

      Happy writing!


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