Skip to content

Pilot Iroshizuku “Shin-Kai” (blue-black): Ink Review

On Scrively's Ink Reviews - Background Information (click to expand)

Lefties, Ink, and Fountain Pens

Why is there a need for an explanation of the format of an ink-review, you might ask?! Well, because the ink reviews on Scrively are not like all the other ink reviews that you will find out there. This, again, is because Scrively is written by a lefty. Hence, I have walked that extra mile and made the effort to come up with a slightly twisted own format for ink reviewing that aims at catering my needs – and hopefully the needs of many more southpaws out there. It is my sincere hope that I will be able to serve the lefty-fountain pen community with ink-reviews that are meaningful – in the hope for ever more lefties to start daring to pick up a fountain pen and also experience the joy of writing with fountain pens, which really is a pleasure indeed. Of course, I do also hope that the reviews are enjoyable to the ‘right’-handed fellows out there, too 🙂 .

So what is special about the ink reviews here on Scrively?

Well, lefties sometimes (think they) have a fountain pen issue, because the writing from left to right causes the writing hand to slide over what has just been written (the “writing line”), thus smudging and smearing the fresh, wet ink all over the place. This writing style is called side-writing and is the way most lefties, unless they’ve retrained themselves, tend to write. This includes myself as well.

Now there are a lot many well-meant tips out there on the internet on how, as a lefty, you might succeed in retraining your writing style so as to be able to write as if you basically were right-handed. Underwriting, for instance, is one of those “strategies” which are considered to be very effective, because this technique will keep your writing-hand below the writing line. With that, you will most likely have next to zero restrictions when it comes to fountain pen writing, i.e. you will be able to use all the nibs (flex, broad…anything that puts a lot of ink on the paper and, in turn, will take an eternity to dry), inks (no need for caring about drying times), and paper (so called fountain pen-friendly paper which is quite “ink resistant” and causes the ink to dry slowly – that helps the ink to develop more…let’s just call it “character” here) that right handed people can use, too. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

No, it doesn’t. At least not to me. Why? Personally, I tried to practice underwriting for a little while. Not more than some days, though. So yeah, technically, I can absolutely see this working. No doubt. However, I just refuse to strain and twist my wrist and joints into the most uncomfortable of positions for weeks or months, just to become sort of something I am not – a wannabe righty. To me, a writing-tool has to accommodate my needs, not the other way around.

On top of that, all this effort and stress of retraining your writing habits, at least in my own experience, is absolutely not necessary. That is, if you just consider a few things, that really ain’t a big deal: you just combine the right nib-sizes, paper-choice and ink. That might sound complicated, but really isn’t at all. In short, with nibs you stick with EF to M. With paper, you just refrain from the super-duper fountain pen-paper, that will have that ink laying on it’s surface for ages to show all that shading. Taking that into consideration, you are all set to become a very happy fountain pen user.
Disclaimer: Provided you have an approach that is similar to mine, i.e. you are more of a functional writer with a great appreciation for the aesthetics of writing (paper, pen & ink) while not being overambitious with artistic writing or calligraphy or a longing for thick strokes, a lot of line variation (i.e. flex nibs), very wet nibs/inks or paper that brings the best details out of an ink. Then you might really have to become an underwriter. Personally, I am more than good with a regular line and seeing at least most of the nice characteristics of the ink I use.

Having that said as a rather long prelude, let’s now turn to the format that I came up with and that I do employ for all of my ink reviews.

The Lefty-Ink Review Format

As a lefty, I will do most ink reviews using EF- to M- nibs. These do not lay down too much ink on the paper. The ink will then, of course, dry much faster than with a broader nib, which is what the typical lefty might want in everyday pen usage. Hence, I am mostly interested in how the ink performs and what the ink looks like (ink characteristics) using any of those nib-sizes. This also means that I am not using any flex- or whatever-nibs in my reviews, since I do (for now) simply not care how an ink behaves or looks with those ones. Since I am, of course, nevertheless interested in what the color (and some shading) really looks like on paper, each ink review will contain an ink swab.

On top of that, I will place special emphasis on the wetness and the drying times of the ink which, again, is of special interest to lefties. Besides the drying time, I came up with something that – besides the “Regular Smear Test – I call the “Left-Page Smear Test”. First of all, I do write with all the inks that I test for about one week, using them as my everyday ink for this period of time. This is the amount of time where I can really see how the ink performs in various conditions and where I will also fill a couple of pages in my notebooks. The “Regular Smear Test” then just comments on the “smeariness” (is that a word even?) of the ink that one would experience when actually writing “regularly”. The “Left-Page Smear Test” responds to the fact that, as a lefty, when writing on the right page of a notebook, your writing hand will rest (for longer periods of time) on the left page of the notebook. The ink on that left page is already dry, but the extended resting of the palm on that dry ink will occasionally cause smudging. And this is what the “Left-Page Smear Test” is all about: Will the dry ink on the left page smudge?

When it comes to the “testing ground”, which is the paper on which I test, I will always test on two types of paper: Leuchtturm 1917 and a regular standard spiral bound notepad. Why?
For the Leuchtturm 1917, this is one of my (and many other people’s) preferred notebook. First of all, Leuchtturm is for many reasons among the favorite notebook options for many Bullet Journalists, which I am one of. Second, the paper is quite fountain pen friendly and lefty friendly. This means that it is just ink resistant enough to show you some of the nicer ink characteristics such as shading, while it is also just absorbent enough to make it the perfect choice for lefties. On top of that, the paper is slightly off-white or ivory, as are many notebooks out there, so you will be able to see what the ink looks like on such a paper.
For the standard spiral bound notepad: this is still the default paper in many peoples daily lives around the world. Not everybody will want to spend a premium on high quality notebooks, or use such notebooks for all kinds of writing. The spiral bound notepad (“Collegeblock”) is widely available in any stationery store or even supermarket, and often the go-to notepad for studies or work, since one can tear out and easily file the pages. Most of those spiral bound notepads are rather okay to write on with fountain pens. They are better than standard copy paper (i.e. the one used in printers, which is not really meant to write on with fountain pens), but not as good as the rather premium notebooks. Sometimes, notepad paper is a more absorbent than the better notebooks, which makes it a good option for many lefties, because the ink basically dries – or rather: gets absorbed – a bit faster. On top of that, I use this paper as a reference so as to see what the ink looks like on white paper.
Having that said, I do not test ink on e.g. Tomoe River or Clairefontaine paper, because I and many other lefties do not write on such a kind of paper. For the interested reader, ink reviews on such paper are widely available in other corners of the web, where my ‘right’-handed fellows do an excellent job in reviewing ink.

So, in short, the ink reviews on Scrively follow the scheme below:

Review criteria

  • Testing time is always 1 week (or more)
  • Unit capacity (ml) and price (€)
  • Price per milliliter (€ / ml)
  • Color and saturation
  • Shading
  • Feathering
  • Bleed-through
  • Appeared wetness
  • Drying time
  • Smudging/Smear when dry: deliberately smearing with a finger across dry ink
  • Smudging-/Smear-Test
    • “Regular Smear Test“: Smeariness when writing “regularly”
    • “Left-Page Smear Test”: Tendency to smudge once being dry for an extended period of time – i.e. the fact that, as a lefty, when writing on the right page of a notebook, the writing hand will rest (for longer periods of time) on the left page of the notebook. The ink on that left page is already dry, but the extended resting of the palm on that dry ink will occasionally cause smudging. This test checks, if the ink smudges under those circumstances, or not.
  • Reviews will always encompass an ink-swab and a writing sample with anything from EF- to M-nibs

Testing ground

  • Standard Spiral Bound Notepad, white paper, 80 gsm
  • Leuchtturm 1917-notebook, off-white/ivory paper, 80 gsm


Any ink that, after testing, can be recommended for lefty-use under the circumstances outlined above will then, at the end of the review, get a stamp for being “Lefty Approved” 🙂 . 







For providing accuracy and consistency when it comes to the representation of the ink’s color, all scans of my ink reviews are produced with a Doxie Flip mobile scanner @600 dpi.

I sincerely hope that this section will be helpful to you and that you enjoy reading it!

Iroshizuku “Shin-Kai”: a wonderfully complex blue-black ink for everyday use

Pilot Iroshizuku "Shin-Kai"

Ink name: Pilot Iroshizuku “Shin-Kai”
Unit capacity: 50 ml (glas flacon)
Price: ca. 20 €
Price per ml: ca. 0,40 €

  Leuchtturm 1917 Spiral-bound Notepad
Color  Blue-black with grayish and purplish hues. Subtle red sheen.  Blue-black. Some grey-purple hues. Red sheen where the ink pools.
Saturation  High  High
Shading  Subtle, but beautiful  Noticeable
Feathering  None  Minimal
Bleed-through  None  None
Wetness  Rather wet  Rather wet
Drying time  10 sec.  8-10 sec.
Smudging when dry  Hardly  No
Regular smear test  OK  OK
Left-page smear test  OK  –

Handwritten review on Leuchtturm 1917 paper
(scanned @600 dpi with Doxie Flip – click image to enlarge on Flickr)

Pilot Iroshizuku "Shin-Kai"

Handwritten review on a Standard Spiral-Bound Notepad
(scanned @600 dpi with Doxie Flip – click image to enlarge on Flickr)

Pilot Iroshizuku "Shin-Kai"

Pilots Iroshizuku “Shin-Kai”, since I first used it a little while ago, has rapidly advanced to my most liked and used inks.

The Japanese name “Shin-Kai” translates to something like “deep sea”, which shall represent its color. Now I can’t tell you if this name serves as an appropriate description of the inks color, since I never really dived that deep myself in order to see the color down there (I imagine it must be rather pitch black there), but what I can tell you is that the ink is a very lovely blue-black. I find the inks color to be pretty complex, exposing some grey and purple hues – depending on how dry the ink is and also on the angle in which you look at the paper. Also, the ink does expose some very nice but subtle red sheen. It does so often at a second pass for instance, or where the ink pools.

“Shin-Kai” has some really nice subdued shading. As with many dark inks, of course, this is to be expected, since the “brightness-spectrum” through which it could potentially shade is rather narrow. Anyway, with both this subtle shading that doesn’t poke your eye out and the muted blue-black color, this ink is excellent for everyday use. It should be “serious” enough for business or school documents, but by being neither blue nor black and with its hues still interesting enough to be fun to use.

Otherwise, the ink is very well behaved. There are no bleed throughs and only minimal feathering on cheaper paper. The dry time is very good for such a rather wet ink. The saturation is pretty high which might cause some ghosting, which normally isn’t an issue anyway.

Pricewise, the Iroshizuku inks vary quite dramatically depending on where you get them from. While some retailers might charge around 35-40€ for the 50ml bottle, I have also seen them for around 10€ on eBay, coming straight from Japan. normally oscillates around 20€ for 50ml, which lays somewhere in the middle and makes the ink still a premium price. Diamine inks, for instance, cost a fraction of that. Faber-Castell or Pelikan premium inks cost about the same.

As for its ‘leftyness’, Iroshizuku “Shin-Kai” is great. It dries pretty fast and has no tendency to smear or smudge.

Lefty approved? Yup, ladies and gents!







I hope this ink review was helpful – feel free to check out my other ink reviews as well.

If you would like to compare this color to any other ink color/brand, I would suggest to head over to GouletPen’s “Interactive SwabShop” – a tool that lets you compare over 500 different inks, while the swabs are done under similar conditions. This is a wonderful tool for “cross-color-brand-comparison” that I can highly recommend.


  1. I wasn’t really into blue-black inks until I got myself a bottle of Tanzanite from Pelikan’s Edelstein ink collection. Now I’m hooked!

    By the looks of your scan, my ink seems darker, but all the other properties compare tête-á-tête with Iroshizuku’s, even for that red sheen you mention. I totally agree with you in that the ink can be used without reservations on business documents and yet, it adds a bit of flair to your writing. I think I will try this ink sooner or later. Thanks for the great review!

    • Scrively Scrively

      I also just started loving blue-blacks for their versatility and the interesting in-between color. I recently got Tanzanite, but had not yet inked it in a pen actually. Let me take this as an opportunity to make a quick Tanzanite/Shin-Kai-comparison swab for you later today. I’ll tag you in it on Instagram, so you can maybe gauge the difference ;-). Thanks gain for your comment!

        • Graeme Graeme

          This is not directly about ink, I am a lefty, for some years I have foolishly tried to write “normally” or under the line, I had a modest measure of success, but my writing sloped severely backward. I have given this up and returned to the typical lefty overhand style so these reviews are much appreciated as are your pen reviews, thanks and please keep on reviewing.

          • Scrively Scrively

            In the beginning I also found the underwriting style tricky. Nowadays, I got quite comfortable with it. So I mix between side- and underwriting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.