DIY Ink Sample Storage Tray

You know how one ink sample turns into two, which turns into five, which turns into twenty? I’ve been sampling a lot more inks lately and I reached the point where storing my ink vials in a plastic bag just wasn’t getting it done.

So I made an ink sample storage tray out of a candy box and a sheet of styrene plastic.

Yes, you can buy a fancy plastic tray like this or re-purpose a marker tray, but I had the raw materials at hand and the time to build a tray to my exact specifications.

The part that holds the vials is a sheet of styrene plastic 0.06″ (1.52mm) thick. It’s rigid enough to do the job without being too heavy.

First, I cut the sheet down to fit inside the candy box. Then, I marked out a 3cm grid to indicate where to drill each hole. I chose 3cm spacing because I didn’t want the vials to be too crowded together — my biggest complaint with the Goulet tray.

I used a center punch on each spot where a hole needed to be drilled, and then I used a step bit to drill a small pilot hole. Using a center punch before drilling helps keep the bit from wandering when you start a new hole.

Then I used a little chunk of magic called a step bit to enlarge the pilot holes into 5/8″ holes. If you’ve never seen a step bit before, it’s basically several sizes of bits in one, and it’s ideal for cutting and enlarging holes in thin materials such as plastic and sheet metal.

(The piece of tape is there to keep me from drilling too far and making the hole too big.)

After I drilled out a few holes, I did a test fit to see how they worked with a vial. These are Goulet ink sample vials, and the 5/8″ hole size was perfect.1

I cut a wine cork to make some supports for the tray, and hot glued them into each corner.

I noticed that the plastic sheet was sagging a little in the middle, so I used some scrap styrene to make some supports. Styrene plastic is easy to solvent weld using methyl ethyl ketone (MEK). It’s not glue; it actually melts the plastic together so the resulting bonds are very strong once they cure.2

I’d call this test a success. The labels on the vials are easy to read, and the vials are spaced wide enough apart to be easy to grab.

All that’s left to do is drill out the rest of the holes.

Most people will probably want to buy a solution for their ink storage problem, but it’s not too difficult to build exactly what you want if you’ve got the right tools and materials at hand.

1 Some ink sample vials look like Goulet vials but are actually slightly larger. I decided to stick with 5/8″ holes for this tray, but you might need to use an 11/16″ hole if you have these larger vials.

2 MEK is what the pro restorers use to weld celluloid, like you’d find in a vintage pen.

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