Does Fountain Pen Ink Expire?

Collecting is a big part of what makes the fountain pen hobby so fun and engaging. There’s something that is just so satisfying about welcoming a new pen into your collection and knowing that every single writing instrument serves its own distinctive role. The same goes for fountain pen inks. Each bottle has a unique shade and texture, adding excitement to your writing. However, having several open ink bottles in storage might lead a pen enthusiast to ask the following question: does fountain pen ink expire? Here, we’ll explore just that. 


Shelf life of fountain pen ink

Before we get into whether fountain pen ink actually expires, it helps to first understand the typical shelf life of a standard bottle of ink. Most fountain pen inks can last anywhere between 10 to 60 years. This may vary depending on the formulation of the brand, from Parker to the ever-popular Iroshizuku inks from Pilot. While unopened bottles will certainly last much longer than opened ones, inks can still be used years after opening given that they are not contaminated through unhygienic use. This is why many fountain pen users can still use vintage inks to write with. 


Does fountain pen ink expire?

Fountain pen inks are manufactured in such a way that much of the risk for contamination is reduced. This gives it a very long shelf life, and there is no specific expiration date. However, there may come a point where the ink becomes unusable due to various reasons.


Has my ink gone bad?

Determining whether your ink is still usable can be done by looking out for the following telltale signs: 


Dry ink

Over time, you may notice that the ink levels in your bottles are falling faster than you expected. This is because fountain pen ink evaporates since it is mostly water. If too much of your ink has evaporated, you may be left with a thicker and more viscous liquid that can clog up your feed. In some cases, you can dilute the ink by adding some water to it. However, it is important to inspect your ink for the next sign on this list before doing so.


Sediment and other solids

Other than dry ink, another sign to watch out for that may indicate that your ink has gone bad is the presence of sediments and other solids. Inspect your older ink bottles for a layer of settled particles at the bottom (not including shimmer, of course). If you see this, then it may be time to toss the ink as it increases the risk of a clogged feed. Furthermore, if these solids are no longe part of the liquid in your ink, then the color may have changed significantly. 


Mold and slime

Another sure sign that your ink is no longer fit for use is the presence of mold. There are two types of mold that you should be aware of. The first is the type of mold that floats on the surface of your ink, which is a clear indicator that it’s time to discard your bottle. Unfortunately, there is also a type of mold that is more difficult to catch, which is slime in the bottle. You may not realize that you’ve contaminated your pens with this type of mold from your ink until you pull your nib out of your ink bottle. A good trick you can use to check your inks for this is to stir the liquid with a toothpick. If slime sticks to it, then you know to toss your ink out. 


Bad odors

The last sign that your ink is unusable is a bad odor. Each ink may smell differently from the next, but they should always smell faintly of chemicals, if not a bit sterile. Ink that has gone bad will have an unpleasant and musty smell. When in doubt about your ink’s odor, it is best not to use it at all. 


Good fountain pen ink hygiene

It is always best to practice good hygiene when taking care of your fountain pens and inks. You can avoid ink going bad by taking certain precautions. Remember that the more exposure your ink has to external contaminants, the more likely it will become unusable sooner. 

Good fountain pen ink hygiene includes keeping your ink bottle capped at all times, avoiding putting any ink back into the bottle, and dipping only clean nibs, converters, eyedroppers, and other fountain pen paraphernalia into the ink bottle. 

Storage is another important aspect when it comes to preserving your fountain pen ink. Fountain pen ink can last a very long time if stored correctly. First, make sure that the bottle cap is screwed on tightly to avoid leaks and air contamination. Keep your bottles in dark, dry, cool places, such as a desk drawer. Inks that you plan to store long-term should be kept in their original cardboard boxes and placed in an airtight container. 


The Bottom Line

Wondering if fountain pen ink expires is a valid concern for any fountain pen enthusiast. After all, most if not all of us would like to keep our collection of pens and inks intact. By taking good care of your inks through good pen hygiene practices, you’ll be able to enjoy them for many years to come. 



Written by EndlessPens Blogger Ramona Kabigting

Author: RamonaTutorial



Manufacturers of ink are purposefully remiss in labeling the bottle and box on the creation date of the ink. The retailers and consumers have been trying unsuccessfully to create a standard whereby the manufacturers are required to disclose this date on the bottle or displayed on the box. A few of the better ink manufacturers show the creation date of the ink, but you will need to search for it, and in some cases ask them what some of the codes mean.

Burton Black

This is a great article. Many thanks. I am an avid user of vintage Shaeffer Skrip in the classic glass bottle with the reservoir on the side. For the most part I have had no problems. However, once I was using a child’s medicine dropper to fill an Airmail 71-JT with purple ink. I stuck the dropper to the bottom of the bottle. When I pulled it up, it looked like a blob of grape jelly hanging from the dropper. It broke my heart, but I poured the ink down the drain.

Steve Oestreicher

Very nice and thorough article. It covers the topic in very good detail without being repetitive.
Thank you!

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