Thursday, April 7, 2011

Noodler's Polar Brown ink review

Slowly but surely I have arrived at reviewing one of my favorite inks: Noodler's Polar Brown. There are several reasons why I purchased this ink. I needed an ink that would be suitable for writing in a journal. I decided to write a chronicle of my family, my life history and so on. Such an ink would have to be waterproof, dark and somber enough for such a task. I decided to steer away from the usual blues and blacks and since I like browns, I started searching for a suitable brown.

Eventually I came upon Polar Brown from Noodler's. On paper, this ink seemed perfectly suited. So I bought a bottle and paired it with my favorite fountain pen: the TWSBI Diamond 530 with an EF nib. There are many things to like about Polar Brown but there's also a small annoyance, which you shall read about in what follows.

Noodler's Polar Brown ink 3oz

The ink comes in the usual Noodler's 3oz / 89ml bottle, filled to the brim (watch out for that). The price is $12.50 or $0.14 per milliliter. There's also a 4.5oz bottle available, with an integrated eyedropper and also a free Platinum Preppy eyedropper fountain pen. If you anticipate using a lot of this ink, the bigger bottle is the sweeter deal.

Noodler's Polar inks have some of the coolest characteristics. Not only are they resistant to freezing temperatures, which means that (in theory) you can safely leave a filled fountain pen in your car in winter, but they are also "bulletproof", meaning resistant to water and other nasty substances that forgers might use. Essentially these features make the Polar series perfect for writing one's life story.

As mentioned, I've been using Polar Brown in my TWSBI Diamond 530 from the get-go. Best fountain pen + best ink = killer combination and a pleasure to write with. I won't say a lot about how the TWSBI writes because that's a subject for its own review. The ink, though, flows beautifully through this particular pen. The line is always glistening wet in that rich, deep brown that I've come to love so much.

Noodler's Polar Brown swatch
An interesting point to make about the color is that if you let the ink pool on a piece of paper towel or very absorbent paper, it will feather such that the outer layer is orange-red. When the ink bleeds through paper, you will first see the orange component showing through. This leads me to believe that Polar Brown is a composite ink, which is no problem whatsoever.

There is no feathering to speak of, at least not with a regular nib, even on cheap paper. However, this ink doesn't behave so well when speaking of bleedthrough. On standard photocopier paper there is some show-through with the fountain pen and full-on bleedthrough with the dip pen. I'm also using a cheap notebook that you can find at Walmart and the ink bleeds significantly through the paper to the point where the reverse isn't very usable, at least not for important notes. On Rhodia 80g and Clairefontaine 90g papers there's no bleeding at all.

Noodler's Polar Brown was one of the easiest inks to photograph and I'm grateful for that. Even from my non-professional photos you can discern that it doesn't show any shading with a fountain pen or even the dip pen, but there is variation in the wide swabs done with a q-tip. I don't know about you, but to me this ink reminds me of dark chocolate and I'm a sucker for chocolate.

Noodler's Polar Brown passed the water resistance test with flying colors although I've noticed that a thin layer of brown washed off from the surface. I believe that happens because not all of the ink gets absorbed by the cellulose and it doesn't get the chance to react and become waterproof. That's not a biggie because you can see from the sample that there isn't any indication that it has been exposed to water.

All the good features out of the way, I've finally arrived at one of the least desirable traits of Noodler's Polar Brown. The ink tends to smudge if rubbed accidentally, even a long time after it has dried. This could be due to several factors. First, the ink is very saturated. Second, my TWSBI lays a wet line. Third, while the ink bonds nicely with the paper, there's still that top powdery layer which does not get to bond and stays exposed to air - and a careless hand.

As I write this review, I lightly used my finger to lightly rub a word I wrote on Clairefontaine 90g paper a week ago. The ink smudged.

I guess that's the price you have to pay for desirable features such as water invincibility and cold resistance. I've noticed that Noodler's Heart of Darkness (which is also waterproof) also smudges a little but only if rubbed very hard. While I don't like this "feature" of Polar Brown, I've learned to watch out for it and be very careful not to touch the paper with my skin.

I'm not a huge ink expert but I haven't found many options for brown inks that are also waterproof and exhibit such a lovely shade. I have a hunch about a certain other brown ink but I won't discuss it until I buy a bottle.

My conclusion after having used Noodler's Polar Brown for almost a couple of months is that this ink comes close to fulfilling all my requirements in an ink. It has a gorgeous shade of brown, it is dark and saturated, it flows really well in my TWSBI, it dries reasonably quick and it is extremely resistant to tampering. Its major disadvantage is that it is prone to smudging but this is not enough to make me dislike it. In a way, it's like a woman. Perfect women are boring. The most interesting ones are flawed.

Noodler's Polar Brown ink review on photocopier paper

Noodler's Polar Brown ink review on Rhodia 80g


  1. Thanks for this review. Somehow I overlooked this ink completely - I was just looking for a brown ink from Noodler's, to be used in my new pen, and only found three inks (#41, Burma and another one, forgot the name now). #41 was my favourite and I planned to order it today, but after seeing your review I am not sure any more 8^)

  2. Very nice, thorough review. I bought a bottle of the standard brown a few months ago and still haven't had a chance to try it. Hopefully it'll be close to this ink, as I like the color in your scans.

  3. Hi Dear Peninkcillin Brother !
    First of all many thanks for your courageous messages that you tell me.
    We still fighting for getting our freedom. Thanks for this review. Thats the true time while I am just looking for a brown ink from Noodler's, to be used in my new pen. Great review. I liked.
    But I know very the dark color inks with fine nibs seems to me like a black. With dark inks its difficult to understand the real color of ink.
    Warm Regards from Turkey to you and to your family

  4. Initially I was going to buy #41 but it wasn't in stock so after reading some more about brown inks I concluded that Polar Brown would do. Good thing I got it because I'm not sure #41 is waterproof.

    I also have samples of both #41 and Burma Road Brown (which is more khaki than anything else). I'll be reviewing them in the future.

  5. Thanks! If I'm not mistaken standard brown is very close to Polar Brown in color but it doesn't have these bombproof properties, if I'm not mistaken.

  6. Hi Ali!

    If you have the opportunity, try to buy a sample of this ink first. Goulet Pens sells samples of all their inks and I believe they ship outside the US.

    In real life I don't think you will confuse this ink with black. It's just like chocolate, not even the black chocolate but the dark one.

    But of course, if you prefer lighter colors, there's plenty of inks out there. There's a particular brown ink that I wish to try but it's a surprise :)

    Take care and stay safe!

  7. Hello Ali,

    I use Polar Brown in a Lamy Extra fine and it does not go to black as one may expect. I've used it on cheap paper and Rhodia. The color stays pretty much the same (though no shading at all on the cheap paper). In fact the color may...may be a little too golden for my taste.

  8. Dear Peninkcillin and Jason !
    Many thanks for your replies to me.
    I am producing a small notebooks under the name ANIKI in A6 format with the high quality finishing 110gr. papers of CONQUEROR and CORDENONS for turkish fountain pen addicts in a small prices(3.7US$ 48pages110gr. 3US$ 64page 90gr.). Those are the handmade notebooks. Why I start up to produce the small notebooks ?. As you know, usually the notebook papers up to 80gr. is not suitable for fountain pens, specially not for wet pens. And its its difficult to find the notebooks with heavy papers with low acidity which affects the ink color deeply. In the color darkness point paper acidity is so important. For ivory or cream color papers, you can see very clearly the color changes. I know very well while we are writing there is Bermuda Triangle build by nib, paper and ink. The dark transformation happen If the nib is very thin and a little bit wet on ivory paper.. Also same thing happen with wet-thick nibs depending the ph. of paper.
    As Peninkcillin said, it will be nice to buy ink samples for deciding. But I you are living in Turkey the shipment cost is important for getting a small sample boxes and than ordering again.

  9. This paper of yours seems similar to Clairefontaine 90g paper. Do you have your own factory? The price looks pretty good.

  10. I love # 41 Brown. It's an excellent shader, very close in colour to Polar brown (though some might say it's a little lighter) and when soaked into tissue paper it has an orange halo around it. It doesn't smear quite as easily as Polar Brown though, but it does smear a little easier than HOD

  11. Dear Peninkcillin !
    Our papers are better quality than clairfontaine papers. Me too, i like clairfontaine. Our papers are 110gr. deluxe and special production. We have a notebooks with cotton papers by CONQUEROR and with hand made papers by CORDENONS.
    Yes I have a small factory. I you need you can contact with me by the following email;
    I am ready to send you some sample notebooks..

  12. Sounds good but is it waterproof? I don't know why I'm even asking because I just need to test my own sample of #41 but it will take a while because I don't have non-inked pens.