Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tools of the Trade: Ink Review - Noodler's Firefly

There are a lot of reasons to pick up a pen. Most of them involve writing something down (and some of them involve poking at the space behind your desk to scoot out that quarter you dropped). Once the writing is done, there's usually cause to read it back. To study it, maybe to edit it. For me, that's where Noodler's Firefly comes in.

I used to get along fine with a handful of felt-tip highlighters for most of my studying and editing. (By the way, have you ever noticed how highlighters tend to just multiply in drawers? I do NOT remember buying so many, but I have lots. Maybe I need to sit them closer to my spare change jar so they can teach it some tricks.)

There is nothing wrong with a good felt-tip highlighter. They get the job done, they're cheap, they're easy to obtain. They're simple tools. They're just not as much fun as they could be.

I got this ink because Lamy decided to release this pen as it's 2013 Limited Edition Safari:

Neon Yellow Lamy Safari. It's more neon than it looks.
When I saw that pen, I saw instant potential for an excuse to a) get a cool new pen and b) find a way to replace yet another common writing tool with a fountain pen.

I ordered my Neon Yellow Safari with a 1.9mm italic nib. An italic nib is one with no ball of tipping material on the end of the nib, usually cut straight across (or sometimes at an angle, called an oblique) and used to provide essential line variation for calligraphic writing. Or, in this case highlighting.

1.9mm is a wide nib, too wide for most casual writing, even if you're accomplished in penmanship. For my purposes, it was perfect.

I went in search of the highlighter ink that would most match my fluorescent yellow pen, and Noodler's Firefly was top of the line. Noodler's and a few other manufacturers make other highlighter inks in various colors, but as soon as I loaded Firefly in my Safari, I knew I had chosen well. It is such a perfect match for that bright, eye-searing yellow I am so well-trained to spot when scanning documents, and it showed up flawlessly on all the text I tried it with.

I was hoping that the fountain pen highlighting method would produce less smearing and ink-transfer when highlighting over handwritten (or ink-jet printed) words than felt-tip highlighters. Sadly, it was not to be. Highlighting over fountain pen ink is especially bad about this, but I noticed it happening with commercial ballpoints and rollerballs as well. Even though this is just as common with standard highlighters, this is a fountain pen which uses capillary action to produce ink-flow, and which can also suck up ink small amounts of pooled ink as it writes. That left the pen writing with a lingering black muddy quality for longer than it would take to de-smudge a felt-tip with a few scribbles.

Another concern is the water resistance. Be warned: if you are using this ink on an important document, keep it away from water! This is one of the most water-soluble inks I have ever used. It literally ceases to exist when it comes in contact with H2O. It is entirely erasable, and that's not a good thing in this case. 

The other issue I experienced was with the pen, not the ink. The 1.9mm nib I received had very tight tines and required some tweaking to get it to flow well. Even once that was done, I noticed that I had trouble keeping the nib flat on the paper, sometimes losing contact and producing a skip. The ink is thin and not very viscous, so it didn't help me out with maintaining flow like some thicker inks will. I also found it to be kind of scratchy and not as pleasant to use as I'd hoped. Part of the problem is with me--I am a left-handed underwriter, and while it doesn't affect my ability to use most pens, I have always struggled with italic nibs of all sizes. I do much better with an oblique that follows the natural contour of my grip and enables me to keep the nib connected to the paper in a more natural way.

This set-up took some getting used to, but I am very happy with the ink. It works great on laser printed and commercially printed pages. I may purchase a Platinum Preppy Highlighter pen in the near future. All Platinum Preppies are easily convertible to eyedropper fillers, meaning you can seal the threads and fill the whole barrel with ink. That would give me a felt-tip alternative to use with this ink, and I guarantee it will be more economical in the long run than going through piles of standard highlighters.

As with some other bright inks, this one proved difficult to scan. My scanner is designed to AVOID picking up highlighted sections, so I had to take a photo instead. It doesn't capture the fluorescence very well, but it is there, just as bright and useful as the drawerful of Sharpie highlighters apparently everyone has.

Of course, if you get a bottle of this ink and it doesn't fit your needs, you could always do what I suggested in the review: smear it all over your hands and go outside at dusk to strike fear in the heart of every firefly for miles.

The comparison is a Sharpie highlighter. When a highlighter is doing its job, it isn't supposed to be legible, right?

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