When Troublemaker Inks made its local debut of sorts at the Manila Fountain Pen Show, the duo behind it were stunned. In under two hours after opening, Gabriel Arnado and Kaiser Dale Diragos already sold out a couple of colors. Later that afternoon, Gabriel would be seen behind the counter mixing inks for those who ordered custom colors, with barely any pre-made stock left to sell.

“To be honest, we weren’t expecting that much support. We didn’t bring much ink,” recalled Kaiser. “Next year we’ll be sure to bring more.”

The brainchild of two young Cebuanos, Troublemaker Inks is the first Philippine-made fountain pen ink in the market in recent years. The colors on their online shop are definitely Filipino inspired from yellow Mango and green Hanging Rice to Luneta Twilight Pink and brown Tablea. They also have homages to their home province in Freedom Park Rose, Bantayan Turquoise, Basilica Red, and Sinulog Black

From Cebu to the world

“We always had an interest in fountain pens and inks, but what pushed us to create Troublemaker Inks is probably kind of finding something us Filipinos, Cebuanos could be proud of,” said the 19-year-old Gabriel. “And to find that perfect ink for every individual, especially at a economical price.”

Launched through a Reddit post in July 2018, the duo has been getting orders mostly from the United States, Canada, and other foreign countries. Their appearance of the Manila Fountain Pen Show brought them closer to the Philippine fountain pen community.

“It was overwhelming in a way. People actually support us and want this ink. It kind of warmed my heart,” said the 20-year-old Kaiser. “People see us. They know us as an ink manufacturer, not just two kids selling these inks.”

Gabriel and Kaiser at the Manila Fountain Pen Show 2018

It took them six months of on-and-off experimenting with dyes and reverse-engineering of fountain pen inks before they found the suitable combination. Since their launch, they would mix a bottle after every order received, and have produced as high as 50 bottles in a day.

“We don’t call ourselves the owners of Troublemaker Inks,” said Kaiser. “We’re color forecasters. We basically study what inks, colors are in right now and as much as possible we try to fit in that niche, the color that people want.”

The duo focused first on color. Then the ink flow. A buyer can choose a color’s level of wetness when they purchase from Troublemaker Inks’ website.

“Personally, I have very many issues with inks because, really, pens are different from each other,” said Gabriel. “I like this ink but it’s gonna turn this pen into a firehose, in another pen it doesn’t run at all. We want to give that customizability.”

Gabriel and Kaiser, during an interview with this author in Cebu. Photo by Nadz Ruiz.

Controlling the flow

Troublemaker Inks’ color forecasters are not chemists by profession: Gabriel is a graphic designer after a year in the University of the Philippines Diliman, while Kaiser is studying Physical Science at Cebu National University.

“The first time we met the Fountain Pen Network people here in Cebu, the first thing we were asked is, who is the chemist here? And they were shocked,” said Kaiser.

“But if it counts, we kind of know how. We came from science high schools. So I guess we have the foundation. We know how to operate lab equipment,” added Gabriel.

Gabriel came from Philippine Science High School in Central Visayas, while Kaiser is a Bantayan Science High School alumnus.

“With ink making, there’s nothing really troubling with it. Because we just use common dyes, nothing really crazy,” explained Gabriel.

“Basically what we’re using is… not too acidic, not basic. It’s really mild. It doesn’t hurt your pens in any way,” added Kaiser. “We really try to find that perfect balance because we don’t want people ruining their pens, staining their converters or whatnot. It took quite a bit of time before we got there.”

While Troublemaker Inks continues to get more orders overseas, the duo is hoping to reach more of the local market.

“I think, we’re still in that phase where the usage of fountain pens is percolating downwards to like everyday use, like students,” said Gabriel. They both hope that as more Filipinos use fountain pens, more users would load with their ink as well.

Preparing for more trouble

Since this interview in Cebu, Troublemaker Inks has partnered with Everything Calligraphy for local distribution. They have also released more inks, including sheen monsters in Jose Rizal-inspired Doña Victorina and Simoun, and they have are showing no signs of stopping.

“I don’t want to promise anything, but we are dribbling a lot of ideas,’ said Gabriel. “We really don’t have to be constrained by just 10, 20 inks.”

The dream, they said, is to create a wide range of Troublemaker Inks for buyers to find their perfect color. Sure, they had challenges at the start. “We’re not really sales people, so we’d run into trouble sometimes,” said Gabriel. But the small-scale ink manufacturers will take that trouble so you don’t have to worry when you fill you pens with their creations.

“What we don’t have in size we make up in the attention to detail, and the effort we put in every bottle,” stressed Gabriel “Because they’re not manufactured.”

“They are made by hand.”

Troublemaker Inks are available online through troublemakerinks.com and everythingcalligraphy.com.