Saturday, November 3, 2012

Review: J. Herbin Scented Inks

A few months ago, I received a small box from Karen Doherty, Exaclair USA's Vice President for Marketing. Inside the box was a large Rhodia dotPad and a set of J. Herbin's Les Subtiles (The Subtle) inks. I wasn't aware then that those were scented inks and just stowed them away in my ink cabinet. When I rediscovered the set a few weeks ago, and realized that I have five bottles of scented ink, I knew that I had to write a review about them.

The J. Herbin website says that these scented inks are made from hydrosols (floral water) of rose, orange, lavender, apple, and violets. The hydrosols are from Grasse, France, a Provencal town long associated with the perfume industry and famous for its floral scents. These inks are safe for fountain pens as they are naturally scented and do not contain pigments.

The set has five inks with different scents and colors. Green apple for Vert/Verte (green), lavender for Bleue (blue), rose for Rouge (red), orange for Ambre (orange/brown), and violet for Violette (purple). The inks are presented in clear 10ml bottles with shiny, silver metal caps. These are also available in individual 30ml semi-frosted bottles.

The J. Herbin Les Subtiles sampler set, clockwise from top: Vert/Verte, Bleue, Rouge, Ambre, and Violette.

Vert/Verte. The green ink in this set is scented green apple, but smells sweet like green apple Jelly Belly candies. It has a vibrant green color which is very similar to J. Herbin's Vert Pré — a happy, refreshing green that is not too yellow, or too blue. In a wide and wet nib, it is a serious dark green, but changes into bright, highlighter green in a fine nib. I don't have many green inks, and I like this one, I will definitely include this in my rotation.

Bleue. An ink set is never complete without a blue, right? This set's blue ink is advertised to be lavender-scented, but I think its scent is a bit strong and quite pungent. When dry, this ink looks somewhat similar to J. Herbin's Bleu Myosotis, a light, grayish blue with hints of purple. I like this blue ink, but the strong scent put me off when I wrote using it. I know I will use it later, but to keep my pens from its strong scent, I will probably use it with my glass dip pen only.

Rouge. The red ink in this set is rose-scented and my favorite among the five for its scent and color. This red ink has a classic rose scent that reminds me so much of my late grandmother's perfume which she used to spray on me, when as a skinny seven-year old, I joined other girls during Flores de Mayo and offered flowers to the Virgin Mary. Whenever I smell this ink, I am taken back to those hot and humid days of May years ago. This ink's scent is not the only reason why it is my favorite. I am partial to red inks and this one became an instant favorite. It looks so much like J. Herbin's Rouge Opera, with the same deep and intense red that I fell in love with a couple of years back. I will definitely keep and use this ink.

Ambre. Next to Rouge, Ambre is also my favorite in terms of color, but I do not like its scent. Ambre is the orange/brown ink in this set and is orange-scented, but like the lavender-scented Bleue, I found the scent a bit strong and overpowering. The color is almost exactly like the brownish-yellow J. Herbin Ambre de Birmanie. This ink also shades well, and probably the only ink in this set to shade as beautifully. 

Violette. This is the purple ink in this set and has the next best scent after the rose-scented Rouge. Scented like violet flowers, this ink has a very pleasant and delicate scent. The color, though, is very bring for me. It still looks lighter than most purple inks in the J. Herbin line, and I will definitely keep and use this ink next to my other purples.

All the five inks in this set wrote well when I tested them. They didn't have any flow or drying issues and all colors looked bright, vibrant, and happy in the 90g Clairefontaine GraF it sketch paper. Among the five inks, only Violette had minor feathering, while the rest behaved well. At first I worried that the scents will bother me, as I am sensitive to scents and perfumes. Surprisingly, they did not bother me at all as their scents are strong only while inside their respective bottles. As soon as they dry out on paper, their scents do not linger anymore.

I love these scented inks from J. Herbin, and I will use them to write to my friends and in my diary. I only wish that the 10ml bottles in the sampler pack had labels in them to indicate their colors (and scents?) and had plastic caps that are easier to twist than the thin metal ones used on them.

Aside from the Les Subtiles set, J. Herbin inks have other ink colors, including a set of their regular 30 ink colors. These water-based inks are non-toxic, have neutral pH and manufactured using natural dyes. A printable PDF of J. Herbin fountain pen ink swatches are available for download here.

The sample set of Les Subtiles ink reviewed here is courtesy of Exaclair, Inc. through Karen Doherty, and also the Clairefontaine GraF it Sketch pad.


  1. Great blog post! Interesting to read about the scents.

  2. Thanks for the fine review. I have seen these in catalogs and never gave serious thought to them thinking the scent part was just an advertising gimmick. Now that I know that someone actually used them I will give them a try, especially the Rose and Violet.

  3. The colors look very nice - I thought they would be dupes of similar Herbin fountain pen inks in the regular line, just with scent. The rose-scented one and the green one look the most interesting to me.

  4. I love this review! Lovely pictures and I especially love the writing of each color!

  5. Great review and pics!

  6. Hi, Im just curious. How did you learn calligraphy? Did you have formal lessons? Thanks.

    1. Hi! I learned calligraphy on my own. I just downloaded guides and learned the strokes.:) It's actually very easy.

  7. aries3:22 PM

    hi! nice blog. i stumbled upon your site looking for pen ink.
    i was wondering where you can buy relatively cheap ink here in manila?
    thank you.

    1. Hi! Scribe Writing Essentials at Eastwood Mall sells J. Herbin, Sailor, and Pelikan (including Edelstein) inks. National Bookstore has Parker, Cross, and Lamy inks. These are the available sellers and brands in the country.

  8. Hi, I'm a newbie in using fountain pens. Can I use this kind of ink in my Lamy Safari fountain pen?