Ink Showcase: Robert Oster Smokescreen
Of all the boutique ink manufacturers, few of them earn my affection like Robert Oster. Offering a dizzying array of colors and a variety of properties like shading, shimmer, and sheen, Robert Oster inks seem to have something for just about everyone. Back in June, the brand released a new color, Smokescreen, and it immediately caught my attention.
Packaging & Bottle
Robert Oster inks are divided into a series of different lines. There's the "Shake 'N' Shimmy" line that, as its name would imply, offers inks that contain shimmering particulate. There's also a newly-launched "1980s" line that includes colors that are reminiscent of that decade. Smokescreen is part of the brand's "Signature" line, which comprises the vast majority of their color options. And when I say "options," boy do I mean it. The brand’s Signature line alone offers around 100 hues. Suffice to say if choice is what you're after, Robert Oster has you covered.
The Signature inks come packaged in clear plastic bottles with no accompanying box. Personally, I like the fact that the box is omitted, but it does make stacking and storing these inks a little less convenient. Moreover, if you store your inks in areas where UV light is present, you may find yourself wishing for a box to prevent any potential degradation of the color over time.
The bottle has a tall, cylindrical design that's topped with a black plastic screw cap. The cap has a knurled edge that affords good grip for easy removal. There's a white sticker affixed to the cap with text that indicates the name of the ink, a 5-digit number that’s ostensibly a color code, and a small scribble of the ink. I like that the scribble is actually produced using the ink itself; doing so provides a sort of color accuracy that a computer-generated image just can't match.
Labeling on the bottle is minimal, but attractive. A shiny gold label is affixed toward the bottom of the bottle, and the combination of the gold coloring and starburst shape lend a premium aesthetic. The label indicates the bottle's 50ml capacity, the ink's Australian origins, and what appears to be three of the brand's values: enjoyment, variety, and trust.
Filling from this bottle is generally a straightforward affair, with a couple caveats. First, the bottle's tall design does make it more prone to tipping over, and I do find myself filling from this bottle with above-average caution. Second, the mouth of the bottle is not particularly wide, so filling directly into an oversize pen could prove problematic. Finally, if you prefer filling directly into a converter, the bottle's height could become a hindrance if the ink level dips too low.
Color & Inspiration
Smokescreen is a dark, dusty purple with some subtle dark gray and brown undertones. I think the color veers a little too far onto the purple side to align with what I think of a 'smoke screen,' but the hints of gray do help pull the color back to a more literal interpretation.
I've found that Smokescreen's color varies pretty dramatically depending on the volume in which it's applied. When used in some of my pens with a wetter ink flow, it's hard to differentiate Smokescreen from pure black. There's barely a whisper of purple hue, and you'd probably miss it entirely if you weren't looking for it, especially when dealing with more absorbent paper. Conversely, when applied across a larger surface area or less absorbent paper, Smokescreen does display a twinge of purple, and it's much easier to identify it as something other than black.
One of the reasons I enjoy Robert Oster inks so much is that many of them are known to be notorious shaders. Smokescreen doesn't really fall into that category, but you can still see the faintest bit of shading when using Smokescreen on a Rhodia pad. There isn't any sheen to be found, which surprised me a little because some of the marketing images make the ink look like it almost has a bit of a metallic quality. In any event, the dark color and lack of sheen do make this ink workplace friendly, and I think it’s a great option if you’re looking for something a little more understated and professional.
In terms of comparisons, I don't know that I have another ink in my collection that directly parallels Smokescreen. It's much darker than something like Herbin Poussière de Lune or Monteverde Rose Noir. The closest comparison I could find in my collection is Noodler's Nightshade, but Smokescreen is still darker, and Nightshade is more on the red side.
Robert Oster's Signature inks are consistently some of the most well-behaved inks I've used. They have moderate wetness that allows for smooth flow, and I've not encountered any issues with ink starvation or converter cling.
When used on the cheapest bulk copy paper, I have founded that Smokescreen will exhibit some feathering, but it's not excessive. In fact, this past week I found myself stranded in a meeting with nothing but printer paper and a Jinhao X450 inked with Smokescreen and I got by just fine. Besides, I've sort of resigned myself to the fact that most fountain pen ink is inevitably just going to feather on bulk printer paper, with a few exceptions.
On fountain pen friendly paper feathering is virtually nonexistent; I tested Smokescreen on paper from Rhodia, Tomoe River, Baron Fig, and other brands and got nothing but crisp, clean lines.
Ghosting and bleeding are also generally of no concern. My normal handwriting produced neither when using fountain pen friendly paper, even when I used one of my wettest broad nibs. I was able to produce some light show-through when using Smokescreen in a flex nib, but I was putting the ink down in serious volume. And even then the ink didn't bleed onto the next page.
When using fine or extra fine nibs, dry times are as fast as 5-10 seconds. Medium and broad nibs are, unsurprisingly, a bit slower to dry, generally requiring at least 15 seconds to avoid significant smearing.
Smokescreen isn't marketed as a water-resistant ink, but it's been more resilient than I would have expected. When subjected to my spill test, my writing sample did start to bleed a bit, but the underlying writing was ultimately still somewhat legible. I certainly wouldn't describe this as a permanent ink, but it does have some semi-permanent qualities and should hold up better than average when subjected to water.
Finally, cleaning Smokescreen out of pens and converters was trouble-free. I did not witness any unusual crusting or residual staining, even when using the ink in transparent eyedroppers.
Robert Oster Signature inks are priced at $17 for a 50ml bottle. That amounts to a per-ml rate of $.34, which is squarely in the middle tier of ink value. These inks aren't so pricey that I'd consider them to be luxury, but they're just a bit more expensive than some of the most economical inks. With that said, I tend to prefer Robert Oster's inks over just about all of the budget ink options, so in terms of bang-for-your-buck, I think Robert Oster inks are hard to beat.