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Best Black Ink for Watercolor Painting



Best Black Ink for Watercolor Painting


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I once took an hour to sketch a landscape in black ink, and when I added watercolors, to my surprise and horror, the dried black ink reactivated and ruined the entire painting. You don’t have to make this mistake because I’m going to show you which black ink to use for watercolor painting.

The best black ink for watercolor color painting I have used is Carbon ink. This ink is great when used with dip pens and fountain pens.

I don’t use just one black ink brand, despite my favorite being Carbon ink. For example I probably use Winsor & Newton almost just as much. In fact there are plenty of great alternatives, and some a little bit less expensive. I’ll go through each one with examples. 

What to Look for When Choosing Black Ink for Watercolor

These are the main points to consider when choosing a black ink to apply watercolor paints after:

  • Is it waterproof
  • How long does it take to dry
  • Is it lightfast
  • Does it work well in Fountain pens
  • Price

All black inks in this article are waterproof; however, you also will want to know which dries the fastest.

Picture the scene: you’re an Urban Sketcher, out in London putting black lines down in your moleskin sketchbook. You want to catch the light at that moment because good light can be fleeting.

Which Black Ink Dries Fastest?

So I put on my white coat to conduct my super scientific test to find out which ink dries quickest. And the results are in:

I made a thick to thin line of ink that you might use in your sketch before applying watercolours. I then waited 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes and 1 hr to add a brush of water replicating watercolours.

Few test notes to bear in mind. I used Cass Art Jumbo Gummed 300gsm Cold Pressed sheets. The room temperature was about 19°C.

For the thinner stroke all inks dried in under a minute. Higgin’s Black Magic dried in about 20 seconds to be precise. Sailor blue was another that dried well under 60 seconds.

For the thicker strokes Higgin’s Black Magic was so fast, drying in about 35 seconds. An explanation for is the the amount of pigment compared to the other brands. Higgen’s looks very watered down compared to the jet blacks of W&N or Deleter 4.

So while Higgen’s was the fastest. Pilot, Deleter 4, Carbon Ink and Winsor & Newton had beautiful deep blacks. Pilot loses points for taking longer to dry. Winsor & Newton had a more granular feel.

Overall I preferred Carbon ink, but was very surprised by Deleter 4 which was probably the most deep black here.

Best Black Ink for Watercolor Painting

I’m not going to put this in any order as all the black inks on this list are good, with their own idiosyncrasies and drawbacks. I use them all so I would actually recommend them all; but the Carbon Ink just edges it for me.

Platinum Carbon Ink

If I had to choose one, this would be the one. But in reality I use Winsor & Newton and the Sailor inks just as often. I would actually recommend buying Carbon first then and Winsor & Newton next.

With deep blacks and the way it glides across paper the Platinum Carbon ink is my go to ink.

The Carbon ink is contained in a glass bottle with a medium wide lid which makes going back to the bottle with your brush effortless. No need to decant into a palette.

As you can see from the swatch, this ink in one layer is very pigmented, which is why I prefer it to say the Noodler’s Bulletproof ink which has less pigment.

It also glides effortlessly across cold pressed paper making sketching even more enjoyable.

Noodler’s Bulletproof Black Ink

Noodler’s is a 90ml/3oz bottle of water based black ink made in the US. 90ml means it will last a considerable amount of time. I’m only on my second bottle and I use multiple brands. 

It’s actually made of 97% water with the rest making up the ink ingredients. Which makes sense if you look at a stroke of ink, in the drying test earlier, compared to other brands tested.

One note to know is this ink is only bulletproof or waterproof on cellulose paper

This means when you use this ink on paper with cellulose content i.e. paper made with wood pulp or cotton paper (which is what good watercolor paper is made of), once it has dried it will form a bond with the paper making it permanent.

This is just something to bear in mind when you are using the Noodler’s ink on different types of paper other than good watercolor paper.

Lastly it says it is PH free which means it will work with acid free paper, which is another property of good quality watercolor paper.

I use this ink with my Jinhao x750 fountain pen, which is the only fountain pen that allows me to use the Zebra G nib, popular for manga and comic line ink art.

Which reminds me, the bottle for this Noodler’s ink is quite wide which makes filling my Jinhao fountain pen with a converter much easier.

Sailor Ink

This ink was recommended by one of my favourite artists to follow on YouTube, Mateusz Urbanowicz. He uses this ink with brushes, which is how I prefer to use mainly. I have used it with a dip pen and have found it to work really well.

The glass jar looks beautiful and of all the inks here, Sailor black has the largest lid, which means dipping back into the jar container is much easier.

The Sailor blue ink in particular is a particularly luscious shade of blue. It even gives me a little nostalgia from my school days. But this blue looks far more premium.

The bottle also looks amazing. It’s a thick glass bottle and plastic blue lid, and I much prefer this type of container. Lighter plastic containers can be easily knocked over.

Winsor & Newton Black Indian Ink

One advantage Winsor & Newton has over all the other brands is availability. Some brands in this article are imported from abroad. W&N on the other hand, especially here in the UK, is available readily in local art shops.

Of course that’s because it is a British brand steeped with Royal connections having been granted the Royal warrant from Queen Victoria in 1841.

The smaller jar lid and opening means I will always prefer to transfer ink to a dish to use. The bottle neck is just far too small to effortlessly dip my brush without taking my attention away from my paper. It’s a not a dealbreaker but I would imagine this bottle is meant to fill the smaller W&N containers.

It’s a premium brand and as you can see from the ink swatch it’s a lovely deep black. It works well especially with sable brushes and also fountain pens.

I do find it a bit granular compared to the other brands. But this isn’t a con against W&N, as sometimes I this is the look I am after.

Deleter Black 4

I’ve never compared Deleter to other brands before and I was surprised to see how deep a black it could make. I might even state that it’s the deepest black of all these brands.

It has a very matte look to it. Although none of the inks tested look even remotely glossy.

You can use alcohol-based markers over this ink, which is helpful to know. I can use Copic Markers on top of it. Which makes sense as this ink is popular with comic book/manga artists. So this is very good choice ink for line art.

Pilot and Higgins

Pilot disappointed me in the drying test. From the results I would not take this ink out for urban sketching. I just wouldn’t want to wait 10 minutes for the ink to dry.

Having said that, if you’re not constrained by time, Pilot ink is a very deep black and is fully resistant to water.

Higgins is another ink popular for line art. I find it similar to Noodler’s ink to be very diluted with not a lot of pigment.

Now there is internet talk of Higgins reformulating their inks around 2012-2012. And my batch is recorded as 2012. Which also shows how much I use this ink! So it could be that my Higgin’s is from a previous generation.

But I would put this last on my inks of choice so I am in no hurry to replace my version.

Which Black Ink is Best for Fountain Pens?

The main requirement you want from an ink to use in fountain pens is that it doesn’t clog up the pen and has good flow.

Platinum Carbon ink is my pick for best black ink for a fountain pen. I just rarely have issues with it. Not only is it waterproof and fast drying, it counters bleed through and feathering. It’s also a decent price to boot.

This is an ink with a lot of pigment so I would recommend cleaning your fountain pen every month at the very least to keep your pen in good condition.


Lightfastness is how black ink is affected by light over a period of time. Some inks and watercolors will include the lightfast rating on the back of the tube/bottler.

The more premium the paint the better the lightfastness.

But to test this out I will leave my test sheet out and update this article with there results of time’s effect. So be sure to bookmark this article to see the results.


I do hope this article has helped you in your decision to which black ink is best for you.

If you have any more questions do pop down in the comments below and I can reply back directly.

Don’t forget to follow me on any of my social medias, Instagram and YouTube for more content, and Twitter for up to date news on what I’m working on.

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