Can a must-have fountain pen ink, available in an entire range of vibrant colours, be made by one man? We test out the coloured Krishna Inks, manufactured in a very small setup in India and created with a real love for calligraphy and fountain pens. We test out a few colours of Krishna Inks to see if they live up to their growing reputation. Are they really good for calligraphy? Do they work as illustration and painting mediums when diluted? And do they compare well to other coloured inks like Ecoline? Watch to see what we discovered.
Krishna Inks is the brainchild of Kerala-based Dr. Sreekumar, an anesthetist by day and stationery entrepreneur by night. The product line comprises a wide range of inks (regular, sheening, basic, iron gall) with medium to high intensity and a vibrant colour palette and has taken the fountain pen community by storm! And, rightfully so.
Reviewing Krishna Inks
Vishal: Hello and welcome to Stationary Test Drive where no tool is safe from our artful hands. My name is Vishal.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Vishal: And our artful hands have got their hands on Krishna Inks today. These are the their Super Rich Series, in we have Causal and we have Kanikonna. I’m hopefully pronouncing that right and these are fountain pen inks. And to tell us more about it, Samir and Minjal?
About Krishna Inks
Samir: Krishna Inks are actually a very unique product compared to most of the things we’ve been reviewing. They are very much a small, what we like to call in India, cottage industry. So much so that they are when we last checked made by one person or one family.
Minjal: From what we’ve read it’s developed by Dr Sreekumar, he is based in South India and he still makes them by himself. He started selling Krishna Inks in 2010 on eBay. And I believe that Krishna Inks are now available in almost 21 countries.
Samir: I think it’s a very interesting story because inks have obviously been traditionally something that was a small business and something made by individuals but it very quickly became into this kind of large industrial enterprise. And it’s fascinating that it’s still possible for a single person to start something like this.
Vishal: And gain so much notoriety. I never really thought or even imagined that this would be just a small business.
Samir: And not just notoriety but also the fact that Krishna Inks is not small in scale, in that, the last that I checked, in 2020 an interview said that they had 50 different colors. So it’s not like they have stayed small in the product line.
Vishal: Speaking of colors we have two here. We have the Kanikonna, as I said which I assume is a South Indian word for some kind of yellow and we have the Causal which is a very nice blue. And the good thing about these inks is that you just need very little water to dilute them and use for washes.
I’m using my dip pen, Hunt Dip here, watch our episode on that and you can mix them into a very beautiful green, which I hope they make separately because I really liked it and you’ll see it in our test drives. Minjal, you had a different colored one?
Minjal: I did. The ink that I had was Sindhoor, it’s a nice, orange brownish color.
Vishal: It’s a Vermilion I suppose is the thing it’s trying for.
Calligraphy with Krishna Inks
Minjal: I guess, closer to that. So I used the Pilot Parallel Pen which was the first episode we actually did on the Test Drive and I’ve used the Rhodia Pad which also is an episode that anybody who’s interested in lettering and as Vishal demonstrated even illustrations should definitely check out.
Now I’ve been the biggest fan of Ecoline Inks, but these inks really took me by surprise purely because they’re really vibrant. And, Dr Sreekumar actually makes inks for calligraphers and lettering artists.
Vishal: But I think with the buying all the inks, we should mention one thing, is that when you get your Krishna Inks, they come with this stopper and that stopper is very good for transporting the ink. They’re beautifully packaged, they come nicely bundled in some foam, so they don’t get rocked about.
But that stopper is really hard to take out and so you do need some kind of tool, usually some kind of metal knife. I used a butter knife, I could not even pry it open with my fingers or hands so be careful with that.
Samir: In our experience once you get it and once you have it at home and reasonably stable you can remove that stopper and just close it normally.
Vishal: Because like most other ink pots in the world it has a membrane that stops it there and that is fine for storing in the house. But yes if you are frustrated by it at the beginning please don’t injure yourself while trying to open up the bottle.
How are inks made?
Minjal: While reading about Krishna Inks, I came across lots of material on what goes into the making of an ink. So, the three main ingredients to ink making are, one, the dye or pigment, second, the water and third is the solvent, which is actually what determines the properties of the ink.
Whether the ink is water resistant, whether it’s water soluble or what kind of paper it works on, everything is determined purely by the solvent. I think many ink makers will never reveal what solvent they use, because that is the magical ingredient.
Samir: I’m guessing most of the pigments are fairly well known and different colors require either certain specific minerals or metal based compounds or certain plant-based or natural compounds for specific colors.
For example if you have a red it’s often based on iron, if you have a blue it’s often based on copper, things like that. So then it’s the solvent and the particular recipe that you mix your ink with that becomes your proprietary secret.
Illustration with Krishna Inks
Vishal: These inks surprisingly are good if you are an illustrator and that is what I did for my test drive this week. Which is as you can see we mixed up that green before that’s kind of what I got here as a happy accident.
I used a water brush which is like a refillable acrylic painting brush which you just fill up with water. And because of the sort of the backwash of that, because I dipped into the inkwell, it’s a nice deep inkwell.
I did the yellows first, I went into the blues and I came out with this green and the second I saw it I said, “Oh No, I’ve made a mistake” but it looked so good that I thought no, I’ll absolutely go for it and hopefully Krishna Inks makes an ink like this.
The Krishna Inks are very easy to mix on a palette or directly fill in the ink pen. None of us used an actual fountain pen on this one which I guess in some ways it’s made for. So I will try it with the fountain pen next.
But yeah the ink obviously it mixes and washes like a watercolor. It’s not always going to be the cleanest thing if you’re doing wet and wet like I was for the most part. But it dries fairly quickly unlike watercolors, so you can do layers to get more texture, to dry brush things in, to even double, you know, do washes first and then fully dipped ones to get different gradations of it. It’s a good ink.
I’m not used to dye based inks, I’m used to pigment based inks, so most of the time what we’re using are like Sumi and things like that. Things that would have more kind of grit to them, some kind of substrate to them. But, this one goes down so cleanly and is very smooth and the colors you get out of them are so vibrant, and I’ll be glad to try more of these.
Figure Drawing with Krishna Inks
Samir: And to finish off our test drives I came up with this. Which is, if you look at our episode on the Ecoline Inks, I actually tried to do something that is spiritually similar so that I could compare the effects that the two have.
What I did with the Ecoline Inks, was also a diluted ink wash based drawing and it was figurative. This was very enjoyable to use, and to the untrained eye, what I came up with the Ecoline Inks and this would seem quite similar but they are actually quite different when you are using them.
Krishna Inks vs. Ecoline Inks
The difference technically being of course that I think the Krishna inks are probably more dye based and the Ecoline Inks were definitely pigment based, that was the the specialty of the Ecoline Inks, that they are kind of a watercolor plus ink. I definitely think that the sort of layering that happens because of the dye based is a lot more pronounced in this one than it is in the Ecoline Inks. The Ecoline Inks because of the pigment tend to kind of flatten out a little bit more whereas that sort of feathering that happens and the blotting that happens here is a lot more pronounced when you diluted the Krishna Inks.
Minjal: Both you and Vishal actually diluted the ink with water. I used it without any water to get the actual shade. And like the Ecolines I think what is clear is that inks can actually be used as watercolors!
Samir: I don’t know if your standard blue black fountain pen inks are rich enough to be used this way. I think we are also going by things like the Krishna Ink and the Ecoline Inks which are very specifically rich in in color and pigment.
Fountain Pen Making by Mr. A.C. Ramachandran – Kim & Co.
Minjal: Speaking of, Dr Sreekumar also makes fountain pens! He learned a lot of ink making from his grandfather who was an art teacher, but also learned fountain pen making from Mr A.C. Ramchandran in Calicut.
Mr. Ramchandran has been making fountain pens for several decades and has a brand called Kim & Co.. Fountain pen enthusiasts will be aware of this brand because his fountain pens are supposed to be excellent and Dr Sreekumar considers him his mentor. So maybe we should try fountain pens from Kim & Co.
Samir: We probably will have to try out one from Kim & Co. because I believe Dr Sreekumar makes the pens himself which means that he produces maybe half a dozen a year or so yeah and has years of a waiting list. So maybe we’re not getting one of those anytime soon!
Vishal: But it would be worth it. I think in the meantime his inks are there. I’m sure if there are more people making inks their inks are great. Krishna Inks, they’re well worth it if you’re in India. If you’re passing through India please get someone to order them for you. I don’t know if they’re available in retail stores?
Samir: They are available online through international stores as well.
Vishal: Well yes, I’d say, other than literally just the the warning that you’re going to have to deal with that stopper and that can cause some frustration sometimes.
Samir: But yeah the quality of the ink we have absolutely nothing to complain about. In fact we have only admiration to think that these are made by one or a handful of people versus a gigantic company. And really I can’t see the quality difference here.
Vishal: No, they go toe-to-toe with any great inks that we have tried from major brands, any specialists inks that we have tried from major brands. And they’re very fun to use!
Now maybe you have had the happy accident of stumbling upon us for the first time. If you do please check out inkeymemo.com which is the brand that runs all of this as well as other things. And do sign up for our newsletter where we also talk about stories of people who make things, stationery, inks things like that.
We will be back next time with more fun tools and strange tools and ordinary tools put to extraordinary uses just like the very ordinary sounding Krishna Fountain Pen Inks have turned out to be extra extraordinary to use. So we’ll see you next time and until then I’m Vishal.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Samir: I am Samir. And if you like this episode you really should check out our episode on the Ecoline Inks which are very similar to these but also quite different. Those were fun to use as well. And if you like what Minjal has done you really should look at our first episode ever which was on the Pilot Parallel Pen.