India ink

"Indian ink" redirects here. For the Tom Stoppard play, see Indian Ink.
"Black ink" redirects here. For the album by American rapper Prozak, see Black Ink.
Example of India ink on paper, Zeedijk by Gustaaf Sorel, (1939)

India ink (Indian ink in British English or Chinese ink) is a simple black or colored ink once widely used for writing and printing and now more commonly used for drawing and outlining, specially when inking comic books and comic strips. India ink is also used in medical applications.


Basic India ink is composed of a variety of fine soot, known as lampblack, combined with water to form a liquid. No binder material is necessary: the carbon molecules are in colloidal suspension and form a waterproof layer after drying. A binding agent such as gelatin or, more commonly, shellac may be added to make the ink more durable once dried. India ink is commonly sold in bottled form, as well as a solid form as an inkstick (most commonly, a stick), which must be ground and mixed with water before use. If a binder is used, India ink may be waterproof or non-waterproof.


A solid ink stick used for the preparation of ink

The process of making India ink was known in China as early as the middle of the 3rd millennium BC, during Neolithic China.[1] India ink was first invented in China,[2][3][4] but the English term India(n) ink was coined due to the later trade with India.[2][3]

India ink has been in use in India since at least the 4th century BC, where it was called masi, an admixture of several substances.[5] Indian documents written in Kharosthi with this ink have been unearthed in as far as Xinjiang, China.[6] The practice of writing with ink and a sharp-pointed needle in Tamil and other Dravidian languages was common practice since antiquity in South India, and so several ancient Buddhist and Jain scripts in India were compiled in ink.[7][8] In India, the carbon black from which India ink is formulated was obtained indigenously by burning bones, tar, pitch and other substances.[9]

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.[2] To use the dry mixture, a wet brush would be applied until it reliquified,[2] or more commonly in East Asian calligraphy, grind against an inkstone. The manufacture of India ink was well-established by the Cao Wei dynasty (220265 AD).[10] Historically the ink used in China were in the form of ink sticks made of lampblack and animal glue.

The Chinese had used India ink derived from pine soot prior to the 11th century AD, when the polymath official Shen Kuo (10311095) of the mid Song Dynasty became troubled by deforestation (due to the demands of charcoal for the iron industry) and desired making ink from a source other than pine soot. He believed that petroleum (which the Chinese called 'rock oil') was produced inexhaustibly within the earth and so decided to make an ink from the soot of burning petroleum, which the later pharmacologist Li Shizhen (15181593) wrote was as lustrous as lacquer and was superior to pine soot ink.[11][12][13][14]

A common ingredient in India ink, called carbon black, has been used by many ancient historical cultures. For example, the ancient Egyptians and Greeks both had their own recipes for "carbon black". One Greek recipe, from 40-90 AD, was written, documented and still exists today.[15]

Artistic uses

Non-art use

See also


  1. Woods & Woods, 5152.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Gottsegen, page 30.
  3. 1 2 Smith, page 23.
  4. Avery, page 138.
  5. Banerji, page 673
  6. Sircar, page 206
  7. Sircar, page 62
  8. Sircar, page 67
  9. "India ink." in Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008 Encyclopædia Britannica Inc.
  10. Sung, Sun & Sun, page 286-288.
  11. Sivin, III, page 24.
  12. Menzies, page 24.
  13. Needham, Volume 5, Part 7, pages 7576.
  14. Deng, page 36.
  15. Spotlight on Indian Ink, Winsor & Newton, Nov 10, 2013
  16. "The Hanetsuki game". Archived from the original on 3 March 2013.
  17. Woeste and Demchick, Volume 57, Part 6, pages 1858-1859
  18. NASA Technical Brief


  • Avery, John Scales (2012). Information Theory and Evolution (2nd ed.). Singapore: World Scientific. p. 138. ISBN 9789814401241. 
  • Banerji, Sures Chandra (1989). A Companion to Sanskrit Literature. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-0063-X.
  • Deng, Yinke (2005). Ancient Chinese Inventions. Translated by Wang Pingxing. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press. ISBN 7-5085-0837-8.
  • Gottsegen, Mark D. (2006). The Painter's Handbook: A Complete Reference. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. ISBN 0-8230-3496-8.
  • Menzies, Nicholas K. (1994). Forest and Land Management in Imperial China. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc. ISBN 0-312-10254-2.
  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 7, Military Technology; the Gunpowder Epic. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
  • Sircar, D.C. (1996). Indian epigraphy. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-1166-6.
  • Sivin, Nathan (1995). Science in Ancient China: Researches and Reflections. Brookfield, Vermont: Variorum, Ashgate Publishing.
  • Smith, Joseph A. (1992). The Pen and Ink Book: Materials and Techniques for Today's Artist. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. ISBN 0-8230-3986-2.
  • Sung, Ying-hsing; Sun, E-tu Zen; Sun, Shiou-chuan (1997). Chinese Technology in the Seventeenth Century: T'ien-kung K'ai-wu. Mineola: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-29593-1.
  • Woods, Michael; Woods, Mary (2000). Ancient Communication: Form Grunts to Graffiti. Minneapolis: Runestone Press; an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.....
  • Woeste S.; Demchick, P. (1991). Appl Environ Microbiol. 57(6): 1858-1859
  • Spotlight on Indian Ink, Winsor & Newton, Nov 10, 2013
  • History of Tattoos, The Tattoo Collection, No Date Published,
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