Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Noodler's Whaleman's Sepia ink review

Manjiro Nakahama Whaleman's Sepia is a special ink from Noodler's, in that there's an interesting story behind it, it comes only in 4.5 oz bottles which include a free pen, it has a peculiar scent, and the color is rather unique. One more, very important detail, is that this is one of Noodler's security inks, meaning that it was designed to be tamper proof, including high resistance to agents such as bleach.

The name Manjiro Nakahama comes courtesy of a Japanese gentleman who was really into ships and such. Follow the link under his name if you want to find out more but I won't bore you with the details.

In a nutshell, Whaleman's Sepia was designed to resemble the inks that old-time whalers used to make out of squid ink. Very cool concept. I wish it were actually made from squid ink.

I've been waiting a long time to review this ink and here it is, finally. Was it worth the wait? Methinks not, but read on to find out why.

I tested a sample of this ink in my Pilot Vanishing Point with broad nib.

Bottle and pricing

Bottle capacity: 4.5 oz / 133 ml
Price: $27.50 (+ free pen)
Price / ml: $0.20

Whaleman's Sepia is a tad pricier than regular Noodler's inks but not by much and it does come with a pen (an eyedropper Platinum Preppy). You're out of luck if you don't need so much of it though, because it doesn't come in smaller bottles.

Quick word about the peculiar smell. While pungent, I don't find it unpleasant at all. It doesn't stink outright, but you will definitely feel it if you put your nose to the bottle/vial.

Color and saturation

Whaleman's Sepia is supposed to be a sepia-colored ink, which is a shade of brown. It has high saturation but the main problem (for me) is that it comes very close to black as opposed to brown. To my eyes, on paper, it looks positively black. What's interesting is that the photos managed to capture the brown better than my eyes can distinguish it.

Speaking of photos, this is the first ink review where I'm using a new camera to shoot the ink samples.

Back to the ink, in the copy paper example there's a comparison with a regular brown ink, Noodler's Polar Brown. The differences between them couldn't be greater. Just for a lark, I decided to compare it to Noodler's Heart of Darkness (below) and it's obvious how much more it resembles a black ink than a brown one.

Noodler's Whaleman's Sepia vs HOD


I could say there's none, but if I peer closely into its murky darkness, there are slight variations, so for the sake of brevity I will admit that there is some color variation.

Noodler's Whaleman's Sepia shading




Obviously, such a dark ink will bleed on cheap paper. On Clairefontaine 90g it doesn't.

Flow, lubrication, and smoothness

The crux of my beef with Noodler's Whaleman's Sepia is that it is a very dry ink, and I don't like this type at all. Folks with free-flowing nibs might enjoy it though, but it doesn't work for me. The Pilot Vanishing Point struggles with it and the nib dries up after every use. Once it gets going, it writes smoothly enough - when it doesn't skip - and it likes to do that a lot. Unfortunately I've been forced to pump the pen's converter pretty often, to get it going.

Drying time

Drying time is longish on smooth paper but fairly short on photocopy. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Smearing when dry

Surprisingly, this ink doesn't smear much, even on Clairefontaine, provided it dries well. I would have expected it to smear but apparently it bonds really well with the cellulose in the paper. That's very good, but don't forget this is a security ink, meaning that smear resistance should come with the territory.

Water resistance

Water resistance is 9-9.5/10. It's not perfect because a very thin layer washes off after exposure to water, but I don't see that as an issue.

One thing that I didn't test and I would like to find the time for, is bleach resistance. The documentation states that the ink changes color from brown to red to purple, the stronger the bleach. Hopefully I can test that soon.


Sadly I'm not a fan of Noodler's Manjiro Nakahama Whaleman's Sepia. I love the lore behind this ink and the intent, but the color is too dark (though I'm sure for others this is a boon), and worst of all it writes too dry for comfort. Furthermore, unless you need tons of it, you won't find it in smaller bottles. I would give this one a pass, but if you are a fan, please share your experience, I'd love to hear about it.

Here are the two samples, on photocopy and Clairefontaine 90g, respectively.

Noodler's Whaleman's Sepia on photocopy

Noodler's Whaleman's Sepia on Clairefontaine


  1. Sepia ink was originally a brown pigment prepared from the black fluid secreted by cuttlefish; a pigment prepared from the ink, or black secretion, of the sepia, or cuttlefish. The cuttlefish’s scientific classification as Sepiida explains where we got the name for what we now call ‘sepia.’ It was the common ink of classical times. To my eye the Noodler’s Whaleman’s Sepia is too dark for a true sepia ink. Several makers have a put out a version in recent years (Hakase, Montblanc, Athena by Maruzen) and few of them are truly “sepia” in appearance. It’s a hard color to get right and maintain an easy-to-read quality on the page. The Noodler’s variation seems much too dark, but that may be a matter of taste.
    Thanks for your very good review.

  2. I agree that this is really too dark for what I think of as sepia. For a dark brown ink, my favorite remains Waterman Havana (now Absolute Brown). It is very dark but is definitely brown. The one thing I would find appealing about the Whaleman's Sepia is its permanence. Other than that, based on your excellent review, I find too many negatives, especially the flow/skipping problems. As always, thank you for a comprehensive review.

  3. Thanks Freddy! Actually Waterman Havana is quite light compared to other inks such as Monteverde Brown http://peninkcillin.blogspot.com/2014/02/monteverde-brown-ink-review-and-giveaway.html or Noodler's #41 Brown http://peninkcillin.blogspot.com/2012/01/noodlers-41-brown-ink-review.html but I still love it, it's a great ink. Out of all the brown inks I tested so far I'm leaning the most towards Monteverde Brown, but Havana comes a close second.