Four Blacks


I wanted to write with black for a change (usually I like other colors) and decided to try a brief comparison of:

  1. Private Reserve Invincible Black

  2. J. Herbin Perle Noire

  3. Noodler’s “X-Feather”

  4. Iroshizuku take-sumi

Writing samples were done on my trusty Leuchtturm1917 notebook and a Staples bagasse notebook.

First impressions: The Iroshizuku was clearly the blackest and the boldest of the four blacks. After a 30 second soak in water, some color washed off, though it seems they all have a fair amount of water resistance and would survive incidental contact with water.


The pen was a Desiderata Precession with a Pilot Extra Fine. All inks were dipped. The sample sentence was written along with a short description of the writing experience.

I photographed the pictures with my Nexus 6p with no color correction at 11am in a room with west facing indirect sunlight and CFLs.

Leuchtturm1917 and Staples bagasse were chosen for their mid level paper quality. I wanted to see how this pen and ink combination could perform across a variety of media.


I wanted to choose a black that was both black, bold and well behaved, and I felt like having a little fun choosing, so I chose those four blacks (not all my blacks, mind you, but I just wanted to have a little sampling of the four I use least often) and did a dipped writing test as described above.

Private Reserve: It should really be called “Honest Gray” rather than “Invincible Black”. It was far and away the lightest ink, and it really can’t be fairly called a “black” in comparison with the others. Perle Noire is more black than this, and honestly, J. Herbin is who I go to when I want something that feels washed out! That said, it is a very good quality gray, and I may actually end up using this ink if I decide that I feel more like a gray than a dark black.  

The Iroshizuku: Boldest and blackest, smoothest overall feel on the paper. The line seems wider than the others, but I can’t tell if it’s because there was spread, or if the boldness of the line creates the illusion of breadth. 

Noodler’s: Gave the finest lines by far, and in terms of smoothness, about on par with example one. Blacker than one. Less black than four, but it’s hard to compare because the line width was thinner than that of 4.

 J. Herbin: Solid black, very smooth writing. Clearly smoother than three. It helds its own surprisingly well in the company of other blacks.


None of them had any show-through whatsoever on the other side of the Leuchtturm paper, which is the main concern with using that notebook. Leuchtturm makes a great notebook, but the paper is not invincible.

The Staples paper’s own lines faded more than the inks did! The Iroshizuku lost some color, giving way to a slightly greenish undertone, as did the Perle Noire in the same way. The Noodler’s and the Private Reserve were the ones that held their own as being truly black (or truly gray).

Private Reserve was untouched by the ravages of the soak.  


If I want bold and black: Iroshizuku. 

If I want a terrific gray for printed note taking or where I want a feeling of using a dark pencil: Private Reserve.

Waterproofness: Private Reserve. Hands down. Second, X-Feather. There was a minute amount of blurring of the line with the Noodler’s after the soak, but there was zero with the Invincible Black.

Hairlines and calligraphy: X-Feather

Perle Noire is the be all, do all. If you had to have only a single black, get this. It’s not the blackest, it’s not the smoothest, and has no unique properties but it’s a generic, harmless black that cleans out well (because J. Herbin is always low maintenance), doesn’t leave strong staining, and feels smoother than some other inks. If you have to recommend a black to someone who doesn’t know much about inks, give them this. You quite literally can’t go wrong by owning a bottle. It’s not specialized, it’s just very very good by every objective standard. Like a music competition winner, very good, not polarizing at all.

The above picture is of the dry Staples bagasse.

The above example is the Leuchtturm1917. As I use that notebook, I didn't soak it. The wet Staples paper is the last picture.

Pierre MillerComment