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Pilot Iroshizuku “Yama-Guri” (brown): 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 all 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 regular standard photocopying paper. 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 photocopying paper: this is still the standard paper that is present in very many offices around the world, and you might also wanna use a fountain pen at work, the place where you most probably spend minimum 8 hours per day. Not everybody will have the option to pick whichever paper he or she would like to use at work. I, for one, am a PhD-candidate, which means annotating articles and grading student course papers – no way around standard paper here. The situation might be similar for many out there. Standard photocopying paper is also highly absorbent, which makes it a good option for many lefties because the ink basically dries – or rather: gets absorbed – instantly. This is, of course, the tradeoff of that kind of paper in combination with fountain pen ink: most ink will look rather flat (i.e. no shading), because the ink just gets ‘soaked in’ straight away.
Having that said, I do not test ink on e.g. Tomoe River or Clairefontaine paper, because I and many lefties do not write on such 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 Photocopying Paper, 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!

Pilot Iroshizuku “Yama-Guri”: a convincing dark brown ink

Iroshizuku Yama-Guri ink swab

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

  Leuchtturm 1917 Standard copy paper
Color  Chocolate-ish dark brown  quite pure dark brown
Saturation  high  high
Shading  a little  some
Feathering  no  no
Bleed-through  no  a little at times
Wetness  rather wet  rather wet
Drying time  max. 15 sec. (with a broad nib, that is very good – but it was a Japanese broad nib, so you might wanna compare it to a medium nib)  max. 5 sec. (see on the left for nib-remarks)
Smudging when dry  no  no
Regular smear test  okay  ok
Left-page smear test  okay  ok

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

Iroshizuku Yama-Guri on Leuchtturm paper

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

Iroshizuku Yama-Guri on standard copy paper


Iroshizuku Yama-Guri is an ink that I have wanted to try for quite some time now, since I am quite a fan of brown inks. Color-wise, Yama-Guri is said to be a “chestnut-brown”, which might be true – depending on the chestnut you are looking at 🙂 . Personally, I found the color to be more of a darker chocolate. But that is just me. In any case, it is a quite pure and clean dark brown.

As with many rather dark inks, there is not too much shading going on there. One can notice some, but not too much shading. Yama-Guri is definitely highly saturated and one of the darkest brown inks that I have tried so far. What I really like about the ink, as said above, is its trueness to brown – i.e. no red, gold, or whatever hints in it. The ink is premium, very well behaved, great flow from the nib, nothing to complain at all.

Pricewise, the Iroshizuku inks are premium inks and range – per milliliter – in about the same level as J. Herbin inks in Europe do. Though the latter are cheaper outside of Europe. Lately, I have also seen that it is possible to get the Iroshizuku inks rather cheap through eBay (around 15-17 €/bottle, no shipping cost), coming straight from Japan then.

Iroshizuku Yama-Guri is a rather wet ink, which might cause an occasional bleed-through on cheaper paper. For it being such a rather wet ink, it has remarkable drying times, though. In my test, it dried considerably faster than Kon-Peki (blue Iroshizuku ink), for instance. And please note: the test is written with a Japanese broad nib, which compares to at least a western medium nib. So as for the ‘leftyness-factor’, this is not too shabby at all! A pretty good ink for southpaws – and anyone else, of course.

Lefty approved? Certainly!


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


  1. Julie Paradise Julie Paradise

    Great review and a very (very!) informative note of yours above the actual review with your explanation of how and why you do a special lefty-test to the inks!

    Might I add a recap of some conversation I had last week:

    I happened to meet some right-handed people from the Near East recently who write their languages/script from right to left (Arabic, Mandaean, Syriac Aramaic, Hebrew), thus having some, if not the same, issues a lefty Westerner has.

    We got to talk about writing and calligraphy and I briefly mentioned how I wished for my left-handed daughter to be writing their script rather than our German because the way we write, the letter forms themselves simply do not fit the natural movement of a lefty, whereas Semitic scripts do, as curves there go clockwise mostly, the flow is perfect for a lefty and, of course, there is no smearing.

    One of them was a lefty and agreed, she said she always enjoyed writing because it just felt good. The right-handed people thus said that they something get cramped hands and do feel that their script “somehow works against” them.

    Hmm, maybe you lefties should learn a Semitic/right-to-left language 😉 to “feel the joy of a script that is made for you” (the lefty from Syria I mentioned above) or, as my daughter sometimes does, start writing your personal notes in mirror script.

    My daughter (8 yo) started to write in mirror script after a DaVinci documentary some days ago. DaVinci obviously wrote like that and she was intrigued by that idea, especially after we had talked about her cramped hands.

    She had become an overwriter a while ago, but noticed how uncomfortable it felt herself, so I showed her some options, like turning the paper for underwriting, and taking care of her hand position. I also provided her with new pens suitable for sidewriting should she find herself more comfortable with that. Note: I do not want to “correct” her but show her options to make it easier, she obviousl has not settled into a certain style or position for writing. We also watch youtube videos with lefty calligraphers (fountain pens/brush script).

    I explained to her how the letter forms are really easy for a righty but counterintuitive for a lefty, and her simple, but genius (ahem) conclusion was to just turn or mirror them.

    Writing various scripts including Cyrillic and Semitic languages myself I do not fear she mixes normal and mirror script up, and for a child this is more of “secret-language” fun, though it does seem to help her a lot.

    (Sorry for this rather long comment, somehow they just get longer and longer … 😉

    • Scrively Scrively

      Hi Julie,

      Wow, thank you a looooot for this very thorough and informative comment.

      The story ‘from the field’ of the Arab-language people actually is super interesting. I had never thought of the fact that they (and this most be most people in this linguistic world, since more people are right-handed in general) face the exactly same issues that westerner lefties. Really food for thought here. I wonder if there are no fountain pen/ink-innovations to be found in the arab world, then. Because I can imagine that this must be a ‘problem’ for very many people there and some genius might might have thought about a solution there. Not sure, though.
      Anyway, this story really made my morning! Thank you – wonderful.

      I have to say that with the considerations that I have pinned down in my ‘ink review format explanation’, I really have no major issues with fountain pens anymore. However, I have tried to practice underwriting a little more in April – because this obviously would be better than my current side-writing. It feels more and more comfortable and I get better at it. I feel most comfortable (with underwriting) when not tilting the paper, but putting it just ‘normal’ in front of my, placing my forearm and hand parallel to the long side of the paper. Tilting the paper a little is more relaxing for my wrist, but it is strange for me to form the letters like this. Letter-formation comes more natural when my hand is exactly under the writing line, like with the paper not tilted. But let’s see where the underwriting-journey takes me. For now, side writing still is a lot more comfortable, but I sort of shift writing styles a little according to needs and my mood. Times of transition, I’d say :-).
      Thanks a lot for your comment again, Julie!

  2. Julie Paradise Julie Paradise

    Oh, I followed your links and found that on the page #5 enables you to even use flex nibs as you are able to push lightly on the upstrokes and pull down the nib on the downstrokes, without smudging, the whole arm being able to move easily. Many righties write like that, just mirrored, and this seems to be the most comfortable position.

    (As I understand it the problem is not the fountain pen or the script itself [well, see above .. but this is out of your influence] but the lack of education, the force some teachers use to make lefties write with their right hand, the lack of showing options, so lefties make do and try until they find a position. Once you get used to it it is very hard to change the style and way you write which is why I am so active in helping my daughter with her learning to writie and develop her own style.)

    • Scrively Scrively

      Yeah, the #5 style is the one that I currently try, too. It is most comfortable for my wrist, but strange to from the letters with the papers tilted like that. It works somehow (a matter of practice, surely), but my letters tend to tilt, too, when I let go of concentration. The style that I also try and that is more comfortable for me to form letters with is #1. However, I find this to be more exhausting for my wrist when writing longer texts (which I do not often do by hand).

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