Sumi ink is a wonderful medium for beginners + veteran calligraphers alike, as it requires no mixing (when purchased in bottle form), has a smooth fluidity, is easy to clean when the occasional mishap occurs + works well with both broad-edged + pointed nibs. Once mixed, it's easy to regulate the consistency + bring old sumi back to life by simply adding water, one drop at a time. Archival + often waterproof (more on that in a minute), this is a deep, rich black go-to for any modern ink artisan.
Sumi ink comes from inksticks or Ink Cakes, made from burnt vegetable soot + animal glues. To make it fluid, the inkstick is ground against an inkstone with water until the desired consistency is achieved. Originally intended for use in East Asian calligraphy + brush painting, sumi provides a beautiful, often textural finish. The connection to ancient calligraphy practices makes this medium so meaningful for me.
KY Series Yasutomo Sumi Ink
This is my all time favorite for drills. It dries fast, flat + matte, but more importantly, it has a lower acidity than most of the other sumi inks, which means you can practice your letterforms without the worry of your ink eating your nibs so quickly. This is the sumi ink that I provide in my Beginner kits, simply so new students don't have to worry about replacing their nibs quite as often. It's important to understand, however, that this sumi is not waterproof. This means if you are working on a project where that is a factor (envelope addressing, for example) you'll want to switch to a different ink.
Moon Palace Sumi Ink
This sumi has a slight sheen to it, which I like. I used to use this one for my drills prior to discovering the KY Series. The bigger difference between these two favorites is that Moon Palace dries waterproof. That's a big bonus, especially when I'm using sumi to address envelopes that have any chance of traveling in inclement weather. If I'm looking for the textural beauty + ease of a Japanese sumi coupled with longevity, you can bet I'm switching to this guy. The spout makes for easy transfer into your ink well, too.
Bokuju Sumi Ink
aka. The Green Bottle
If I'm being honest, I really have this bottle just to have it sit on my desk. It's just so darn cute. Unfortunately, it's just not as user friendly as most of the other options. There's no spout, so you will need a syringe or funnel to transfer the ink into a usable ink well. It's incredibly dense + black, which is nice, though harder to work with if you're new to a practice. You'll also get the highest shine out of this one - it contains shellac - which translates into a much higher acidity. So while it will be perfectly waterproof once dry, get ready for this ink to eat your nibs. Bokuju is also the slowest drying, so it's not nearly as convenient for drills. But seriously, the bottle is adorable, no?