My Favorite Waterproof Calligraphy Inks


Let’s talk ink for a bit. It’s been a while since I’ve done a watercolor or a calligraphy post, or any post for that matter. I’ve recently adopted the “slow blogging” method. I spend most of my time teaching these days. You know I teach calligraphy right? If you’re new, it’s a stellar class that includes personal coaching so you know you’re getting the right instruction for your specific needs (and yes, I totally teach lefties).


Sometimes I find I want to do some kind of watercolor wash after doing an illustration or a name. But I can’t, because the ink inevitably smears everywhere. I thought I’d test out to see how many of my inks are waterproof. Now, I didn’t test all of my inks, I just tested the ones I have that are easily available and most common. I have some small-batch inks that are a little harder to source. I’ve also only tested black (or black-ish) inks. Pigmented inks are a whole different can of worms because of the unique properties from pigment to pigment. If you’re hoping to use a pigmented ink with watercolor, I would recommend trial and error before working on a finished piece. Well, and really trial and error no matter what you’re using before working on a finished piece.


Among my inks, I tested:



So what inks do you think performed the best? I personally thought that the Pebeo Encre De Chine and the Ziller Glossy Black would do the only waterproof ink. I was mostly wrong. Continue below to find out which ones did the best!



See above for everything before the test. Sorry my hairlines are too fine. ;) They don’t show up that well on the camera so let’s get a little closer for the results, shall we?


  • Ziller Glossy Black – Was a total joke. It bled everywhere. But it bloomed so beautifully.
  • Speedball India Ink – Smeared a little bit when wet. I personally don’t love this ink because it can be harder to manage than most. So I kind of ignored this one.
  • Calli India ink – The bottle says this is waterproof, so I was happy they were right. Unfortunately I believe my brush wasn’t totally clean when I tested it so you see the faint ring around the squiggle. The pigment didn’t budge at all when I got it wet.
  • Iron Gall Ink – Smeared, plus it’s very light. Iron Gall ink darkens with time, so it would get more permanent, but I wouldn’t mess with it for watercolor use.
  • Pebeo Encre de Chine – WINNER! I was right, this one didn’t budge a BIT. No halos. In fact, the ink repelled the water.
  • Higgins Eternal – Like I tell all my calligraphy students, this is a great ink for practice, but isn’t practical in most applications. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t do well.


  • Ziller Soot Black – This one surprised me. I got finer hairlines than any of the other waterproof pigments and it held so well under water.
  • Sumi 60 – Yeah right. Someone once told me that sumi is waterproof when it dries. It’s possible for other brands, but definitely not Zig (the most popular).
  • FW Acrylic – This ink is a little tough to manage to put on the paper and it budged a little in the testing process. For that fact I didn’t really give it much attention.
  • McCaffrey’s Penman’s Ink – This moved a little bit under water, but not much. It’s a very light ink that darkens over time (like iron gall), so I wouldn’t use since there’s just not enough contrast.
  • Walnut Crystals – You have no idea what kind of marking I made, this bled so much and I didn’t have to agitate the water above the pigment at all. DEFINITELY NOT WATERPROOF.
  • Sumi + Walnut Blend – I love mixing 50/50 walnut ink and sumi together. They’re both very much NOT waterproof, but together they were more waterpoof than they were apart. Interesting, right?



The above was done by my friend Suzi Brown. We had a conversation about waterproof inks a while back (which inspired this post). Her findings were frustrating. None of the above inks were completely waterproof. Additionally, she allowed each ink to dry overnight! In the test pieces I completed, the ink was barely dry before I tested it.


My favorites out of the testing were the Pebeo Encre de Chine, Calli India and Ziller Soot Black. So I thought I would test even more by illustrating and painting flowers using each ink.


I used a dip pen (pictured) and watercolor paper with each one. I used both Strathmore and Canson watercolor papers and yielded consistent waterproof results on both papers.


I was impressed with the super-fine lines I was able to produce with the Ziller ink (as mentioned before). The super-fine hairlines got a little lost under the darker washes, so I’m not sure a name with a dark wash would work as well with this ink if you plan on photographing the names. It wouldn’t yield as much contrast. But besides that, it looks quite nice in person.


The Encre de Chine flowed like butter from my nib. It’s a very smooth, almost slippery ink. It dries rather quickly so I found myself cleaning and wiping my nib often. The paint almost beads up off the ink because of the glossy texture of the pigment.


In some cases I had a hard time controlling the Calli ink (see blobs in there?), but it could have been a nib/ink compatibility issue. This ink gave me bold hairlines that are easy to spot in darker washes and easy to photograph.


So there you go. Three spectacular options for waterproof calligraphy/illustrations. Hope it was helpful! Like I mentioned before, you can find my class quite helpful, too. ;) Follow on Instagram and Periscope for more stuff, too!

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    1. Hedy Harris says:

      Thank you this was great. Thanks for going to the trouble to work this out for all of us.

    2. Lady ID says:

      I love sumi ink! I have to ask though – the black/white pen holder – where did you get it?? So cute!

    3. Christina says:

      Thanks for this informative post. I really love your striped oblique pen. Where can I get such a beautiful oblique pen holder from?

    4. Patricia Nikkila says:

      Thank you so much for making this video. It was awesome! I’m so glad you took the time to compare and give your opinion on each one. I’m new to calligraphy and love watercolors so thank you, thank you, thank you.

    5. Marlene says:

      Hi, I’m new in calligraphy and stumbled over your blog while looking for waterproof ink. Thanks for the recommendation! However, how do you clean nibs from the waterproof ink? Thanks so much!

      • Melissa says:

        You want to clean your nib by dipping in water and wiping clean with a lint-free wipe before the ink dries. Basically this means you’re constantly dipping in water and cleaning. For every 5 times you dip your nib in ink, dip it in water once. That’s not a set-in-stone rule, but it’s about something like that.

    6. Frances says:

      Can I ask which sumi ink you used for your walnut and sumi combination?

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