Swabbing Inks With the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book

Now that my ink samples have started multiplying like bunnies, I needed a better way to record them than writing them down in a notebook. The Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book‘s been all over the pen blogosphere for the past few months, so I decided to buy one and see if it lives up to the hype.

I won’t rehash all the details because I’m pretty sure every pen blogger on earth has already posted about these things. But in a nutshell, the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book is a set of 100 small sheets of 160gsm, ink-friendly paper held together by a binder ring.

When it comes to making ink swabs, there are no rules. Everyone has their own method, and it takes some experimentation to figure out what works. After some false starts, here’s what I came up with.

I used a syringe and an X-ACTO knife blade to make the swabs, and a Q-tip to color the bottom edge. Then I used whatever pen I happened to have filled with that color to write in the brand and name of the ink.

To make a swab, I drew a few drops of ink into the syringe, then dropped three drops on the left side of the Col-o-ring sheet. Then I took the X-ACTO blade and scraped it across the sheet, through the puddle of ink. (Similar to using a palette knife to apply paint.)

Next, I dropped one drop of ink below the first and scraped that across with the blade.

The syringe/X-ACTO method really shows off any shading and sheening properties of the inks.

For my first attempts, I used a Q-tip to make the swabs and the results were flat and uninteresting.

Q-tip swab (left) vs X-ACTO blade method (right)
X-ACTO blade method (left) vs Q-tip swab (right)

Then I tried using a paintbrush, but it also produced flat looking swabs. Even worse, it took forever to clean the brush well enough between swabs to prevent ink cross-contamination. The syringe and X-ACTO blade take seconds to clean up in comparison, and the results speak for themselves.

I still need to settle on one pen to use for ink testing. It might end up being a dip pen, or maybe just an easy to clean fountain pen with a broad nib. I left some room on each sheet to draw some figures when I decide what I’m going to use.

Overall, I’m pleased with the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book. The paper is high-quality, the chipboard covers are letterpressed and look fantastic, and the name is so clever it makes me smile. The binder ring means you can easily organize, and re-organize, your ink swabs to your heart’s content. I wish the paper were smoother (what can I say, I’m a Tomoe River fan) and the $10+shipping price tag feels expensive (but I doubt I could make one of these on my own any cheaper).

If you’re looking for a way to keep track of the inks you’ve tested, the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book is well worth your consideration.

Three Good Reviews of the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book:

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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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