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.
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.
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.