Daniel Smith Walnut Ink Review - Fugitive, Lightfast Test Results, Art vs Walnut Ink Crystals.
Daniel Smith's walnut ink is fugitive despite being labeled lightfast (test results below). This is a thin, watery brown liquid ink sold in a small 2oz plastic jar. It can be applied with a brush like watercolor or used with a dip pen. It is not waterproof, dry under layers will readily dissolve when new wet layers are placed on top. It can be scrubbed and lifted when used on watercolor paper, similarly to watercolor paints. You can find Daniel Smith's walnut ink for purchase at Blick, Amazon or Jackson's.
The ink is so thin that not all fountain or dip pen nibs will work well. Because it's so fluid it can quickly dump/run off the tip of your pen. Fine line nibs can result in a pale scratchy writing/drawing experience. Gum arabic could be added to thicken the ink for better dip performance, or just use a paint brush to apply. I was able to draw using a gold coated nib (such as Speedball's gold plated 513-EF Pen Nib). Glass pens, or other nibs with larger reservoir/points may hold more ink, which results in long lasting dispensing where you can write full or multiple words at a time.
There is confusing information about this product online regarding its ingredients (most sites have misleading wording that implies this is not genuine walnut, but instead a similar looking type of ink that "resembles" walnut). The label on the jar simply says "acid-free, natural walnut colored drawing ink". Daniel Smith's website clarifies that this product is made from walnut husks. Considering this is a natural organic substance, which is highly acidic when sourced and changes color by reacting with the air, it doesn't seem like an ideal substance for fine art where archival and lightfast materials are preferred.
One of the common crafting uses of walnut ink is providing an antiqued appearance to paper. If you're looking to give an aged, water-stained appearance to your paper crafts or book pages, you could use watercolor paint instead. I used DaVinci Burnt Umber for the painting of an antique looking aged sketch book (color may appear more red-brown in bright scanner bed lighting vs yellow-brown in lamp-lit photographs).
If you generally want to stain paper or paint with brown using a brush (instead of writing w/a pen), then I would recommend using a pro grade "Burnt Umber" watercolor labeled as ingredient PBr7 instead of walnut ink. The draw back mainly being that watercolor will not work inside of fountain pens (pigment particles settle, separating in water and clogging pens). However, you may be able to use dip pens to apply watercolors with some experimentation (balancing water to paint ratio for flow or adding a little gum arabic for clinging to the pen nib). I was able to write at least one word at a time by brush applying diluted watercolor to a glass dip pen tip:
My favorite Burnt Umber watercolors are from Roman Szmal (buy worldwide at Jackson's UK here) or DaVinci Paint Co (buy within USA on Blick here). DaVinci watercolor has an economical bulk 37ml tube (contains enough paint to fill 8+ standard half pans or 4+ full pans - likely to last though dozens of paintings). The low price averages just a couple dollars per pan, cheaper than any other pro grade paint I've seen. It is likely the most economical option of all brown paints from any brand. If you live in the USA where shipping is reasonable, than DaVinci Burnt Umber is the most cost effective option.
DaVinci's Burnt Umber is a warm reddish brown similar to walnut ink while wet. Roman Szmal's Cyprus Burnt Umber Deep is a nearly exact match for dry walnut ink that has desaturated and darkened over time. If you prefer warm colors go with DaVinci (as seen in my antiqued book painting), if you want a darker value cool brown go with Roman Szmal.
Burnt Umber (Pigment Brown 7) is a natural iron oxide mineral that will not fade even if art was displayed right next to a window. Like most iron oxides (earth minerals PBr7, PY42/43, PR101/102 and PBk11) this color is better than LFI (outperforms Blue Wool Scale 9 tests for long term UV exposure). This watercolor has zero fading even after several years of direct sunlight. Great for family portraits meant to be passed down through generations, unlike walnut ink that would fade within your lifetime. This should also be taken into consideration regarding the price of this product being "worth it" compared to the many alternatives.
Line art printable coloring book style pages, as well as larger high res color scans of my art can be downloaded on Patreon here.
There are enough negatives about Daniel Smith's walnut ink that I've listed it under the "bad art supply" category in my reviews list. Part of this determination is the price. This is a very expensive product considering it is mostly water. There are definitely cheaper options that are just as good or better than this product.
If you don't care about lightfastness, but do care about price - there is a more economical powder form called "walnut ink crystals". In 2023 this is branded as Imagine Crafts, but was previously branded as Tsukineko (same product either rebranded, distributed or sold to a new company). It is super easy to recreate Daniel Smith's ink by simply stirring walnut ink crystals into water. You can also better control the intensity of the ink color (more crystals for rich dark browns, more water for lighter browns). It is possible to DIY deeper darker value inks, as the D.S. mixture is fairly weak (low pigment load, likely to avoid any sludgy particles settling at the bottom of the jar over time).
Walnut ink crystals give you more freedom, not only in color intensity, but also the ability to sprinkle them onto wet paper for speckled effects. They are also very reactive to water, allowing many backrun/bloom/cauliflower type effects by splashing water onto ink that's already drying. This is the same fugitive ingredient used in Daniel Smith's walnut ink, just cheaper with more creative potential. It stores well, being a dry good that will likely last indefinitely for on-demand use.
You can find walnut ink crystals online at paper crafting stores or Amazon:
While walnut ink crystals give you the option to dry sprinkle it over wet paper for unique effects, you can achieve very similar effects with Roman Szmal's Cyprus Burnt Umber Deep watercolor. This is a nearly exact color match to genuine walnut ink once dry (vs the warmer reddish brown of DaVinci's watercolor that looks more like walnut ink when it was wet). Walnut ink will spread color further over wet paper and will provide a slightly smoother appearance (unlike the more pronounced granulation texture present in watercolor form):
Even if the price was lower I still would not recommend Daniel Smith's walnut ink. It goes down as a warm brown, but has a substantial desaturation into a dull cooler brown as it dries. It continues to darken over time, with notable hue shifts visible within a week. It can be extremely difficult to anticipate the final color and value while you are painting. This means you could think something looks perfect as you paint it, just to find it looks terrible once dry. It also does not hold gradient blends on wet, the thin ink flows into any damp paper areas. This can add challenges when painting skies/clouds or anywhere you want a soft light to dark color transition.
Aside from wet to dry shift and lightfastness problems, the packaging itself leaves a lot to be desired. I've gotten such nice glass pen ink bottles for products that cost over $10 like this ink, but this is thin plastic. Liquid in a large mouth jar is prone to condensation on the inner lid. Over time I've repeatedly gotten crusty dry brown powder all over my desk from the dried ink around the edges of the screw top. Despite opening the lid carefully I sometimes splash my hand with drops coming from the condensation on the lid top. It's an accident waiting to happen, the only positive that can be said about it is the opening is large enough to dip a brush or pen into it.
Regarding safety for fountain pens: Probably not a good idea, as genuine walnut has been known to cause corrosion on metal nibs over time. However, this was due to high acidity and this product claims to be acid-free/PH neutral. I would not use this in an expensive pen, but there are very cheap pens/nib replacements which may allow this to be less of a concern. It's likely that Daniel Smith has either adjusted the PH with an additive, used a non-walnut brown dye or pigment, or otherwise treated walnut hulls in a special way to reduce acidity. I have not PH tested the ink to verify the acid free claims, however I can tell you that this ink is absolutely NOT lightfast.
This website description on the Daniel Smith website claims that this walnut ink is lightfast and this information has been passed along to all major retailers. They do not give a rating. IF any testing was ever done it's possible a heavy handed masstone sample could pass for 1-2 months before drastic fading becomes apparent. However, when diluted with water this ink quickly loses any UV resistance. By the time you reach 50/50 ink to water the fading becomes apparent within 1-2 months. The following is how the ink looks in full strength masstone (top) and water diluted (bottom) after 6 months. For comparison - at this time of indoor, south facing, vertical window (limited sun exposure, not roof/sky facing) there is typically little to NO fading in "lightfast" LFI-LFII rated watercolors. To see this much fading in a short duration is on par with ASTM ratings of LFIII-LFIV:
Here's how that fading looks on a painting done with Daniel Smith's walnut ink:
Daniel Smith is well known for their professional watercolor paints and have also recently started making gouache. This brand is overall very high quality, BUT there are over a dozen colors throughout their product lines which are mislabeled as lightfast. Their watercolor catalog includes nearly 300 colors though, so you'll likely still find a similar color that will work well for your needs AND be lightfast. There's a list on the watercolor review page about which pigments are known to fade.
IF you are planning to use walnut ink with a brush, basically as a liquid watercolor, I recommend using a brown watercolor instead. Many PBr7 based Burnt Umber or Sepia colors will closely resemble walnut ink, without the potential acidity or lightfast problems.
IF you want a liquid, pen-ready, drawing ink that is lightfast, waterproof, safe for fountain pens and fine art painting, then I recommend ROHRER & KLINGNER SKETCH INK instead. You can find R&K SketchINK here = Jackson's online. The colors Carmen (Yellow-orange), Vroni (magenta) and Marlene (Phthalo Blue) make a great primary mixing trio so you can DIY any color ink for your technical or fountain pen drawing. It instantly dries waterproof so you can watercolor on top of it without smearing the lines.
Daniel Smith walnut ink is for sale on Amazon, Blick, Jacksons and other online art supply shops:
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My favorite American art supply chain store is Blick. They have a massive catalog and competitive prices, with quick shipping options here in the USA.
One of my favorite places to shop for a world-wide selection watercolor paint and brushes is Jackson's. They have affordable shipping to the USA and a lovely selection of items not easily found in American stores.
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