The History Of Ink

Ancient cultures from all around the world have discovered their own versions of inks, for the purpose of writing and drawing. There have been many different recipes for inks and examples of their use can be found on ancient text from archaeological excavations adding to the rich history or ink.

The earliest civilisation known to have used ink is in ancient China, where in the 23rd century BC plant dyes, animal and mineral compounds were ground with water and applied to surfaces with brushes. Evidence can be found dating back to 256 BC, at the end of the Warring States period of inks made from soot and animal glue.

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For drawing on paper or silk, inks are produced from pine tree resin. To produce this resin the tree must be between 50 and 100 years old. In China the sticks are made using fish glue but in Japan they are made using glue from a cow or a stag.

India ink can be found in China as early as the 3rd Millennium BC, during China’s Neolithic era. Despite the name, India ink was invented in China. However, the materials to make the carbon pigment, was often traded from India and this is where the term India ink was born.

The traditional way of making ink in China was to grind a mixture hide glue, carbon black, lampblack and bone black pigment, using a pestle and mortar. The mixture was then poured into a ceramic dish, where it would be left to dry. In order to paint with the dry mixture, a west brush would be applied, until it the ink became liquefied enough to paint with.

Indian scripts written in the Khartoshi language have been unearthed in the North Western, Chinese province of Xinjiang. These document have been written using ink and a sharp pointed needle, which was a common method used in Southern India. A number of Buddhist and Jain sutras were written in this type of ink.

In ancient Rome something called atramentum was used. Romans had three kinds of atramentum, Librarium, Sutorium and Tectorium. Atramentum Librarium was what they used as their writing ink, Sutorium for dyeing and Tectorium was used by painters.

A popular recipe for ink was created around 1,600 years ago and the recipe was used for centuries to follow. The ink recipe consisted of iron salts, tannin from gallnuts, which grow on trees and thickener. When this ink is first applied to paper it looks a bluish black colour. However when the ink dries it fades to a dull brown.

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In the period of AD 800 to 1500, in Medieval Europe, scribes wrote mainly on parchment, which is a material made from animal skin that is dried and stretched, but not tanned, making this a different material to leather and suitable for writing on. The ink that these scribes used was made from the branches of a Hawthorn tree that were cut in the spring and left to dry out. The branches were then pounded until the bark came off and was then soaked in water for eight days. After the eight days of soaking the water was boiled to make the mixture thicker. The thickened mixture was then put into bags and dried in the sun. Once the mixture had dried, it was then mixed with wine and iron salt, over a fire and the end product was ink that could be used to write on parchment paper.

If you think the fountain pen is something from the modern world, then think again. In ancient Egypt there was something called the reservoir pen, which dates back to Ad 953. Ma’ād al-Mu’izz, the caliph of Egypt commanded that a pen should be built that would not stain his hands and clothes with ink. Ma’ād al-Mu’izz was presented with the reservoir pen.

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 15th century Europe and a new type of ink needed to be created, so that the machine could produce good quality printouts. At the time the only inks available to Gutenburg were the classic Greek and Roman inks, which weren’t suitable for printing surfaces. A new ink was eventually created for use with the printing press and was made out of soot, turpentine and walnut oil.

Nowadays the worldwide consumption of printing inks is worth over 20 billion US Dollars. The demand of traditional printing is shrinking but new methods are evolving and developing in the printing industry. The differences between Inkjet and Laser printers are blurring and the 3D printing is beginning to reach a wider audience.

Sam Rose