Looking at Noodler’s Polar Brown

April 23, 2009


Left: A quick sketch of Gert (my rubber chicken puppet) using Noodler's Polar Brown Ink (notice that I wrote "Polar Bear Brown" on this page because my label was already obscured and I wasn't sure of the title; read more about this below). This is on the last page of my current, until this page early this morning, journal, which I made with Nideggen paper. I filled a Niji waterbrush with the ink and sketched with that. Read on for more details

I'm still on the fence about Noodler's. Dick has used it for years in his fountain pens. He carries several pens with different colors to take notes and draw diagrams in his work journals which detail all the "science" stuff he's doing. He's been happy with it.

When I try it I have been less happy. It doesn't flow the way I want it to flow, or it isn't waterproof on the paper I'm using it on (a problem of the paper's sizing I'm guessing because the inks I've tried are advertised as waterproof on cellulose).

But I'm always looking at inks and yesterday I noticed that Wet Paint now had a whole shelf of Noodler's inks in a range of yummy colors. The inks don't all have the same characteristics (as to lightfastness and water resistance) so you have to choose carefully for your intended purpose.

If you go to the Noodler's website you'll find a write up about this ink. They say "once dried upon cellulose paper it exhibits that sought after resistance to bleaches and the chemical tools of the forger as well as UV light resistance and pH neutrality."

That seems positive, but isn't a promise of waterproof results. My own tests on Nideggen showed that on one side of the sheet it was never waterproof (even this morning a light swipe of water will bleed it everywhere) and on the other side if you scrub really hard you can get some bleeding—see the above image bottom center where there is a note.

This is obviously an issue with how the paper is sized, but it makes the ink unsuitable for me to use in my journals when a waterproof ink is desired. I can't count on being at an appropriate page spread (the "right" side of the paper) when I need to sketch with it.

I have some good things to say about the ink: it flows phenomenally well in a fountain pen. I mean WOW, it glides. Also it has an interesting "color." While it looks the color of what might be found in baby diapers in the bottle, it actually has a nice orange brown aspect to it when you write/draw with it.

090423AGertCR Right: A close up of one of the dark line deposits which becomes powdery and smudge prone when dry.

While I was using it in the Niji it sort of separated into its component parts and some strokes are mostly black and others very pale brown. This can be something interesting to play with but I found that the darker areas, took longer to dry (10 minutes or more) and when finally dry they are prone to a powdery smudging if rubbed.

If you don't care about waterproof consistency and use this in your journal anyway then there is the issue of one page smudging onto the opposite page, something I'm never keen on. This is a definite negative for me.

There are a couple other negatives for me. This company provides the worst product labels in the history of product labeling. (I'm sure there are cuniform labels that better suit their task.) Will someone please start a fund for Noodler's so they can hire a graphic designer to unclutter, clarify, and brand this labeling with something other than "crazy"? You should not have to stand in a store and stare at a label for 5 minutes to seek out information about the product's qualities, go to another bottle in the same line and start over from scratch in your search. That's the way you frustrate consumers and loose sales. And it's just a sign of sloppiness, which ultimately reflects on your product no matter what the actual quality of that product.

Once the company invests in proper design for their labels could the company please invest in some printed labels which do NOT RUN WHEN MOISTURE SIMPLY KISSES THEM?????

Dick's ink shelf is full of Noodler's ink bottles that have unreadable labels. He washes his hands between filling one pen and reaching for another bottle and any moisture on his fingers eats away at the labels until they are gone. Also I appreciate a generous company filling a bottle fully, but when you fill the bottle to the absolute brim there is no way someone can open it and not get ink spilling out and down the side, and yes onto that fragile label. What's the point of this sloppiness???

In the course of a short experimental session last night (OK, early this morning, I'd eaten cake while out with friends and couldn't sleep, I'm paying for it today) I had my hands covered with Polar Brown ink several times. What a mess. And that leads me to my other two problems with the ink. I find it has a bit of a chemical smell that while not bothersome or truly annoying is not something I would like to work with for say an hour of sketching. Worse, judging from the way my hands feel this morning I fear I might be allergic to the ink.

090423BGert Left: Since I had some problems with the paper I was working on earlier and I was ready to start a new journal I did exactly that, sketching another quick sketch of Gert in the 6 x 6 inch or so journal I made for my next book with Fabriano Artistico 90 lb. cold press watercolor paper. This time the Noodler's came out in a more even color range (perhaps all the dark elements contained in the Niji had already been discharged in the pervious drawing? Or perhaps I was just shaking it a little more before sketching?) and the paper took the ink like a charm with immediate waterproofness or nearly so—I had to really scrub with a wet brush to get the small amount of bleeding you see on the neck area.

Finally, I'm confused by the company's write up which says the ink is UV-resistant. I always wonder how resistant is resistant? I have a chart that I'll be putting up in the window to test and I'll post it at a later date.

In the meantime I don't think this will be an ink that I'll use much because of the issues mentioned above. I'm putting it away for a few days and will take it out and smell it again and see if I still am bothered by it, but it just doesn't have the qualities I want. It's sad, because I could do with a lightfast, waterproof, fountain pen friendly ink.

If you don't care about the issues I mention above, or if you are a writer who wants an ink that just glides along, I think you'll enjoy this ink. It has possibilities.

    • Donna
    • April 23, 2009

    Thanks for the info on the ink, but what inquiring minds also want to know is where did you find Gert–I think she is great and always hanging around waiting to be sketched.

    • dave
    • April 23, 2009

    the bulletproof black noodlers works for me. you do have to let it dry thoroughly though.

    • Janine
    • April 24, 2009

    You have really opened my eyes to the beauty of chickens, Roz. It makes me want to try doing some drawings of them myself!

    • Roz
    • April 24, 2009

    Gert is the best find of my life! She is hypoallergenic in ways the warthog I found in a Wisconsin antiques store would not have been! She is large enough (about a foot high) that she is easy to draw from a distance and still see some detail. She has a little necklace that says “life model” and goes with me to my demos.

    I have tried to find others like her but have never been able to. I found her in one of those “variety” type stores where they have lots of plastic toys and joke presents and weird things, a sort of local Archie McPhee. Sadly the store is now gone. There

    The bottom rim has the embossed wording in the rubber: Mask Illusions, made in Mexico.

    That’s all I know about her.

    Hope you can find something that moves you to sketching. Things were easy when Dottie was alive. I just had to plunk myself down where she was napping…

    • Roz
    • April 24, 2009

    Dave, Dick uses the bulletproof black too. I’ve tried it on a couple watercolor papers and it just doesn’t dry well for me. I think it has to do with the paper’s sizing holding the ink up from the fibers of the paper.

    What type of paper do you use to sketch on?

    • Roz
    • April 24, 2009

    Janine, I hope you do draw some chickens. I love them. I fell deeply in love with them years ago when I house sat for my vet who lived in the country and had some sheep and chickens. I had to take care of them before getting the express bus into work (I worked downtown at that time). Many happy and long stories about them, point is I love them.

    Met a woman last night at a meeting who has chickens and she was quite happy to have me come over and sketch!!! So I’m looking forward to taking her up on that. (She’d heard I liked to sketch at the State Fair so she brought up her chickens, I do not wear a label that says,”I sketch chickens.”)

  1. Reply

    Roz: I’ve been looking at various inks and I’m not really impressed with Noodler’s either. I was looking at the Dick Blick catalog and found a new Liquitex Acrylic Ink that I’m going to try. It comes in a ton of colors. Maybe Wet Paint will carry it soon.

    • Roz
    • April 25, 2009

    Jon, I am not aware of the new Liquitex Acrylic ink that you’ve found. I will look about for it.

    If you are looking for an acrylic ink I LOVE FW ACRYLIC INKS or ZILLER ACRYLIC INKS.

    Both are fabulous for a host of reasons. Ziller Glossy Black is the most fabulous black ink I have EVER USED. I’m using it this month exclusively in my fake journal and I just can’t wait to sketch every day.

    The problem with the acrylic inks is that you can’t use them in fountain pens. There’s the rub.

    I have used FW INKS in my Faber Castell Technical pens, but with great attention to when they start to dry out because you have to clean them right away. Not for the non-fussy and faint of heart. And then you get a particular type of line.

    I want an ink that will let me use a fountain pen and do all I want it to do. I know, spoilt, spoilt, spoilt.

    But I’ll keep a look out for the new Liquitex Acrylic Ink you mention. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Janine
    • April 26, 2009

    Platinum Carbon Black ink can be used in a FP, is totally waterproof for washes etc, and is a nice deep dark black. Platinum also makes a sketching pen called the Carbon, shaped like a Rotring Art Pen, for $12. Mine just arrived from and I love it. The sketching pen is a very smooth XF. I got some carbon black cartridges for it since the Carbon Black ink in a bottle is $22.00 a pop. (Cartridges are $3 for a box of 4) I’m very happy with it. Great for drawing and writing when I’m not at home and can’t use my favorite dip pens with India ink.

    • Roz
    • April 26, 2009

    Janine I got the Platinum Carbon Black ink from Wet Paint in St. Paul. It was $18 for the jar.

    I know everyone is raving about it but it doesn’t look as rich a black as the ink which comes out of my Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, when you put the marks side by side. Even on the store chart that they made up at Wet Paint the dried ink has a gray lightness to it as opposed to a really crispy black.

    Of course I’m so used to looking at the Ziller Acrylic Glossy Black this month while I’ve been working with my fake journal! Not a fair comparison, which is why I mention the pocket brush because that is a fair comparison.

    Also the Platinum didn’t flow as well out of the pen as the Polar Brown did, but since the Polar Brown is an eel ink (they make it so it will flow exceptionally well) that’s not probably a fair comparison either.

    I definitely want to put it into another pen (and try it with a different tip) and see how I like it with extended bouts of sketching.

    • donab
    • June 4, 2009

    How do you get your Niji water brush clean again after you use ink in it this way? I accidentally sucked some green paint up into the sponge of my brush recently, and though I’ve force a lot of clean water through it, it is still leaking yellow into the water.

    • Roz
    • June 4, 2009

    Donab, you DON’T! I used an older Niji waterbrush to fill it with ink. I knew I wasn’t going to use it for anything else but the Noodlers. (Actually I passed it on to a friend who hadn’t tried Noodlers, and now it’s her “problem.”)

    I only use older Niji brushes for tests like this, and to use the inks or liquid watercolors (like those made by Dr. Ph Martin’s).

    When I am painting with my Niji I simply have it filled with water and I have a paper towel with me at all times to wipe off excess color and squeeze a little water out to get that pigment off the Niji. The brush hairs/filaments may look stained, but I have no trouble “rinsing” the brush this way while in action (on site painting).

    If you have sucked some paint up into the Niji you should be able to get it clean enough by simply running some water through it (filling the tube and squeezing it all out, wiping the brush tip as you go).

    Also, I’m not really fussy about contamination.

    Looks like this might be a good short video topic!

    Good luck.

  2. Reply

    I love Noodler’s inks; love the labels, love the quirky art, the handmade feel of the entire package. Your review insists that it be many things it is not – it’s a fountain pen ink that is waterproof and many other things (I haven’t tested all of the claims). When you use it in a fountain pen it dries pretty quickly.

    • Roz
    • July 23, 2009

    Erik, you’ve misread my review, I don’t insist that Noodler’s be something it isn’t. I’m simply running a product through its paces and reporting what those results yielded. Very clear about the conditions. That’s what people who use products do—look at the claims and then relate them to their experience of the product under actual working conditions.

    From the context of this blog people reading the review also know clearly what it is I need from and do with a product, and are likely, because they’ve come here, to want or need the same things in a product.

    I’m simply going by what the claims for the product are and stating how my experience relates to that.

    Also smell matters to me. Might not matter to you, but it does matter to others. It’s something I have to report on. Is that insisting a product be something it isn’t? Nope, I’m just clearly saying it smells badly for me—people who aren’t bothered by smells can disregard that info. A product is what it is, smell and all.

    I don’t understand your last sentence at all. “When you use it in a fountain pen it dries pretty quickly.” I don’t know what that’s in reference to because I was using it in a fountain pen for part of my test. Using the Niji deposits more ink perhaps—is that what you are getting at? If so I’m confused, because I talk in my review about how even with the Niji “the paper took the ink like a charm with immediate waterproofness or nearly so—I had to really scrub with a wet brush to get the small amount of bleeding you see on the neck area.”

    So how is that not drying pretty quickly at least in that usage?

    I’m a huge fan of Noodler’s inks(we always have 10 or more bottles of it in the house, different colors), just not the Polar Brown.

    The main killer for me is the smell. Can’t get around that. I do insist on using products that do not cause me headaches from smells or other reactions (such as wheezing). Sensitive? Yeah, I’m the canary in the mine, and happy to be so.

    As for the labels on this product. Come on! Watersoluble ink on a label for a liquid product? You don’t have to work in print media like I do to find that off-putting and sad. It’s simple to be addressed. I am going to insist on certain standards in business. I’ll agree to that!

    For people who want an ink that just glides—well I stand by that too. It does that.

    I hope you have fun testing all the product claims and come to conclusions that suit you about the product. The nice thing about reviewing products for ourselves is that we do get to insist on exactly what it is that we are looking for, and every product from tampons to oranges, toothpaste to fountain pens and the ink that goes in them, are judged by those criteria. If we bother to make disclosure about what it is that we are looking for then anyone can read our reviews and find those characteristics that would suit them.

    The product one person doesn’t like is going to be loved by another for precisely those reasons—all my reviews are based on that concept.

    Thanks for writing in. You also reminded me I have to go and check that lightfast test!!!

    • alec
    • December 1, 2009

    Watercolor paper has all kinds of additives in it, now a days often polymers to get the desired resistance against rippling, rubbing-resistance when wet etc.
    The Noodlers site does state that the ink doesn’t like papers that have coatings and polymers in it.
    I don’t have myself Noodlers ink, but I’m looking into it as an archival quality ink. Your review is the first that I find that is critical and I like that a lot.
    But am I right to say this ink isn’t for using with brushes, but excels in a fountain pen?

    • Roz
    • December 1, 2009

    Alex, all any ink manufacturer can do is comment on their aims for normal use of their product and I think Noodlers is good at that. It’s then up to us as consumers to work out what works for us and that’s the fun as far as I’m concerned.

    I only know of one watercolor paper that has synthetic fibers in it to minimize buckling (Strathmore Aquarius II) but it would not surprise me to learn that other papers are sneaking polymers into their sizing. I would love to hear back from you as to which papers you’ve learned are doing this.

    All watercolor papers do have sizing of various types and compositions and this will effect the ink flow and absorption and “waterproof” aspects, keeping it away from those cellulose fibers Noodlers wants to bind with.

    I find it interesting then that in my samples the watercolor paper test went much better than the Nideggen test. Nideggen is definitely an old-fashioned paper, without polymers, but definitely with sizing, and a lovely rich sizing that makes it wonderful to use.

    As with all things I think people have to check an ink on the papers they use (these are just two of the papers I use, but important ones, frequently used ones, so good for me to test on and decide what works for me on them).

    I’m not aware of Noodler’s making any claims about using it with brushes or suggesting it not be used with brushes. What Noodler’s does claim is that it will flow in fountain pens (that’s what they are aiming for) so it’s simply a natural leap for me as an artist to put it in a “fountain pen like” brush and see how it works. If most of my blog readers don’t do that at least once it’s only because they are worried they are going to ruin their Niji brush. Happily I have lots of them that have been decommissioned with worn tips, but are otherwise great, and useful for such testing.

    Had the ink not had such a strong smell (which gave me a headache) I would have continued to keep it in a Niji and used it for brush work. I think more testing with it in the brush on other papers would have allowed me to make some “workarounds” in how I controlled flow and avoided build ups that would “brush off.” Then it would have just been a matter of deciding whether all the “fussiness” of using it in the new way was worth it to me. Because of the smell I never got that far, but I have a lot of supplies I use in ways that require some sort of “workaround” and I’m happy to have them because they get me a result I couldn’t get otherwise.

    If you’re looking for an ink that dries waterproof on “regular” papers I think you should give Noodlers a try. Dick uses it all the time in his log books. As I say in my review, it glides out of the fountain pen! Really, quite unlike any other fountain pen ink (even their inks in different lines) I’ve ever used. There’s just that pesky chemical smell to get past. And I can’t.

    • Gement
    • February 10, 2010

    I was searching through the ‘net for discussions of Polar Brown (which he’s reformulating, so I’d be interested to know what you think of the new version, which won’t have the red feathering).

    I’m totally with you on frustration about how random it is to try to find even a product listing of all the colors he makes or which distributors have what.

    On the other hand, he’s kind of the Doc Bronner’s of ink. I mean, have you read the stuff he writes? It’s madness, really. When I tell people about Noodler’s, I say, “It’s this one madman with a chemistry set who just keeps making more colors to see if he can get it to do a different trick. And he doesn’t have a copy editor and he sounds like a total crackpot. He’d probably prefer ‘eccentric in the best traditions of American innovation.’ He has a whole rant about overfilling his bottles to make sure people get value for their money. It’s hysterical.”

    So I’m torn on the label issue. I kind of like the Doc Bronner’s version.

    • Roz
    • February 10, 2010

    Gement, well the Noodler’s maker is definitely eccentric, and I’ve been a “victim” of his topped-off bottles on more than one occasion!

    I love innovation and eccentricity. I just wish it came with proofreading and waterproof labels.

    It’s great to know that he’s reformulating the Polar Brown ink. It will be up to Dick to try it however, as the “eel” ink component is one that causes the ink to have a different smell than his other non-eel inks. And while I adore how it flows I can’t cope with the smell.

    I wish him all the success in business, however, because he has made Dick so very, very happy with different inks for all that he needs to do in his lab books!

  3. OH yeah, Roz…I missed this at the time, but I can SO RELATE. I’ve got one bottle of their ink that I have NO idea what it is, because it was a dark title on dark, busy graphic, and some of the ink slopped down on it anyway. WT…?!?!

    I like their Lexington Gray and Brown #41–others are fun and pretty but don’t work well for what I do (ink and watercolor on good paper.)

    They ARE lovely people, and I really enjoy their ink pens, but…

  4. Reply

    Kate, of all the Noodler’s inks I like the Lexington Gray the best and because Dick keeps a bottle always on hand I can “borrow” or rather siphon some off, whenever I feel like a change. While it bleeds a bit on most of the papers I use its color is so light that it really isn’t noticeable even with watercolor, but definitely not noticeable with gouache.

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