Throw That Shade You Shade Monster You!

26 09 2020

So, regular readers may recall a while ago I wrote about my acquisition of a MUJI Aluminium. If not, or you want a reminder, it’s here.

MUJI_pen
Image Source: MUJI.com

I really enjoy the sleek “engineered” look to the aluminium body and definitely appreciate the clever design that allows for the cap to fit over the nib and posted (if you’re that way inclined) without actually increasing the profile of the pen. Over time though I’ve come to realise I really wasn’t feeling the love from the nib. It wasn’t exactly scratchy, but more recently bought pens like a brace of Moonman T1s has illustrated what a fine nib really can feel like, and this one just wasn’t doing it for me.

Totally asynchronous to my pen hoarding, I’ve also been looking at some fascinating inks and come to really appreciate those that can offer lots of “shading” – basically having large differences in opacity depending on their thickness on the paper as they dry.

On the right kind of papers (typically coated with kaolin or some other coating), the ink can’t quickly soak into the paper fibres and so surface tension has a few seconds to cause the ink to pool before it slowly dries on the paper. This allows these shading inks to develop more saturation in the pooled areas compared to the start of the strokes where the ink is drawn away, following the nib’s path.

In a typical piece of writing then, shading inks will tend to be paler at the start of letter strokes and more saturated at the end (broadly top to bottom of the letters, but not exactly).

Personally, I find the effect very attractive, and hunt out inks that are particularly good at showing this property, papers that allow the ink to do so, and (here’s the crunch) pens that allow enough ink to flow to allow the effect to be noticeable.

You see – finer nibs put down a lot less ink for their finer strokes and the drying time is therefore shorter, masking the shading property to a large extent. Basically – you tend to look for broader nibs or even italic/stub nibs that can put down a very broad stroke with lots of ink.

Of course… putting down a lot of ink means, well, you need lots of ink to put down!

Rewind to the MUJI Aluminium. It comes provided with a standard short international cartridge, and though the pen is long enough to take the full length alternatives that are readily available, the ink selection is relatively restricted.

I’ve often remarked standards are a wonderful thing… there are so many to choose from! Even ink converters for pens that take “standard” cartridges come in a variety of fittings. Though a standard international cartridge has a neck with a nominal internal diameter of 3mm and an external diameter of 4mm, “standard” converters fall into internal diameters of approximately 2.6m and 3.4mm, so it was with some frustration that I discovered that none of my existing “standard” converters fitted the MUJI which appears to require the narrower “standard 3mm” fitting.

In the end I read that Pelikan converters are of the narrower variety and after a few days wait on Canada Post I received one and found it to be true.

Pelikan Ink Converter – Image Source Amazon

My MUJI Aluminium could now take a long drink of pretty much any ink I wanted to try. The only remaining issue was the fine nib it had come supplied with. A quick bit of research told me it was a standard (yup – another one) #5 nib. These are essentially 5mm at the non-writing end, and typically an inch long. (Hey – mixing your measuring standards is a rite of passage if you were born in the UK in the 60s!)

If you’re lucky, they’re standard enough to have the right curvature to fit over the 5mm feed provided with many modern pens. After some hunting on AliExpress, I found a source of 0.7mm and 1.1mm “stub” nibs for the #5 format for mere pennies. They took a looooooong time to arrive, but the nibs (including shipping from China) were less than a letter across Canada, so can’t complain too much. In the end I settled on the 1.1mm stub to lay down a really nice line variation and offer the ink as long as possible to settle and show off its shading.

Of course, when I came to do this post I didn’t have any Tomoe River or other decent fountain pen friendly paper readily to hand, but even with this cheap, absorbent graph paper you can see what Noodler’s Ink Apache Sunset is capable of offering in the shade department…

MUJI Aluminium, Pelikan converter, Chinese no-name 1.1mm nib, Noodler’s Ink Apache Sunset
Close-up to show shading of Noodler’s Ink Apache Sunset even on non-fountain pen friendly paper


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