How Is Ink Made?
Ink is made from a pigment, or dye, and a liquid, called the vehicle, in which the dye is dissolved. There are two chief types of ink: Writing ink which can be washable or permanent, and the ingredients used in its manufacture vary according to the color wanted and the purpose for which it is needed. Blue-black inks are usually made from a dark-colored solution and an extract of tannin. The dark solution is usually made from a soluble iron salt, such as ferrous sulphate. Blue dyes are added to blue-black inks to make it more attractive.
Colored inks contain other soluble dyes and the liquid vehicle is water. India ink is carbon black suspended in water and is usually used in drawing. Writing ink is made by purifying the water and then dissolving the other ingredients in it in large tanks. Afterwards the solution is clarified and then packaged in bottles. Printing inks are thicker than writing inks, often with a consistency like paint. The dyes are often dissolved in a heavy varnish.
Many ancient cultures around the world have independently discovered and formulated inks for the purposes of writing and drawing. The knowledge of the inks, their recipes and the techniques for their production comes from archaeological analysis or from written text itself.
The history of Chinese inks can be traced to the 23rd century BC, with the utilization of natural plant (plant dyes), animal, and mineral inks based on such materials as graphite that were ground with water and applied with ink brushes. Evidence for the earliest Chinese inks, similar to modern inksticks, is around 256 BC in the end of the Warring States period and produced from soot and animal glue. The best inks for drawing or painting on paper or silk are produced from the resin of the pine tree. They must be between 50 and 100 years old. The Chinese inkstick is produced with fish glue, whereas Japanese glue (“nikawa”) is from cow or stag.
The process of making India ink was known in China as early as the middle of the 3rd millennium BC, during Neolithic China. India ink was first invented in China, although the source of materials to make the carbon pigment in India ink was later often traded from India, thus the term India ink was coined. The traditional Chinese method of making the ink was to grind a mixture of hide glue, carbon black, lampblack, and bone black pigment with a pestle and mortar, then pouring it into a ceramic dish where it could dry. To use the dry mixture, a wet brush would be applied until it reliquified.
The manufacture of India ink was well-established by the Cao WeiDynasty (220–265 AD). Indian documents written in Kharosthi with ink have been unearthed in Chinese Turkestan. The practice of writing with ink and a sharp pointed needle was common in early South India. Several Buddhist and Jain sutras in India were compiled in ink.
In ancient Rome, atramentum was used, in an article for the Christian Science Monitor, Sharon J. Huntington describes these other historical inks:
About 1,600 years ago, a popular ink recipe was created. The recipe was used for centuries. Iron salts, such as ferrous sulfate (made by treating iron with sulfuric acid), were mixed with tannin from gallnuts (they grow on trees) and a thickener. When first put to paper, this ink is bluish-black. Over time it fades to a dull brown.
Scribes in medieval Europe (about AD 800 to 1500) wrote principally on parchment or vellum. One 12th century ink recipe called for hawthorn branches to be cut in the spring and left to dry. Then the bark was pounded from the branches and soaked in water for eight days. The water was boiled until it thickened and turned black. Wine was added during boiling. The ink was poured into special bags and hung in the sun. Once dried, the mixture was mixed with wine and iron salt over a fire to make the final ink.
The reservoir pen, which may have been the first fountain pen, dates back to 953, when Ma’ād al-Mu’izz, the caliph of Egypt, demanded a pen that would not stain his hands or clothes, and was provided with a pen that held ink in a reservoir.
In the 15th century, a new type of ink had to be developed in Europe for the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. According to Martyn Lyons in his book Books: A Living History, Gutenberg’s dye was indelible, oil-based, and made from the soot of lamps (lamp-black) mixed with varnish and egg white. Two types of ink were prevalent at the time: the Greek and Roman writing ink (soot, glue, and water) and the 12th century variety composed of ferrous sulfate, gall, gum, and water. Neither of these handwriting inks could adhere to printing surfaces without creating blurs. Eventually an oily, varnish-like ink made of soot, turpentine, and walnut oil was created specifically for the printing press.
In 2011 worldwide consumption of printing inks generated revenues of more than 20 billion US dollars. Demand by traditional print media is shrinking, on the other hand more and more printing inks are consumed for packagings.