'Ink' is a very broad term under which a large amount of substances and solutions fall. Taking its primary use as an example, the make-up and composition of the ink used in printing and writing differs greatly depending on what it is being printed on to, its volume, the method used to transfer it onto the substrate, and so on. This difference can be made apparent simply by looking at pens, as the ink used in fountain pens, which has a watery consistency and takes time to dry, is nothing like the kind used in a ball point pen, such as a Biro; which is viscous and more closely resembles the ink used in newspaper printing.
The best way to relay how ink is made is to go in to how ink was made in the past, and it is safe to say that it has been made from many things over the course of history, usually depending on factors such as:
- What materials they had on hand
- The tool being used to apply the ink
- What material the ink was being applied on to
For example, in ancient China they used crushed minerals ground with water as their ink, and used a brush to apply it on to silk. They also developed and adopted the use of animal and plant based inks.
Other cultures through out the course of history also developed their own inks, some recipes were similar to others, and some quite different:
- Egypt (4000 BC) – Crushed rocks, minerals & a liquid
- India (4th century BC) – Burnt bones, tar & plant resin
- Rome (2nd century BC) – Atramentum (a deep-black liquid usually made from tar or burnt ivory)
- Europe (12th century AD) – Dried Hawthron branches, soaked and boiled in water, & wine
- Europe (15th century AD) – Soot, turpentine & walnut oil.
All of these different cultures created these various inks to suit what was available to them, and later on to improve functionality. For instance the ink made in Europe during the 15th century mentioned above was developed for use with the printing press; as the kind of ink generally used at the time was not able to be used for printing without severe quality issues.
As we have already established, there are many types of ink and many different uses them. For the most part the ingredients used in modern writing tool are similar to the ones which have been used for centuries, though more refined.
The way ink is made can be summed up best not by what is used to make it, but the functions which they perform to make the ink viable.
- Additives – Used to affect the consistency of the ink and give it additional non-essential properties
- Binders – A key component which holds all the others together, and promotes cohesion
- Carriers – Affect the inks flow and may have an effect on how it looks when dry
- Colourants – Pigments or dyes which give the ink its colour
Generally speaking so long as the ink's ingredients cover these 4 criteria, the ink will be viable; and it is due to this that so many ink's have been able to be created.
This is not to say that things cannot still go wrong. Inks used in the past seemed perfectly good at the time, but some have had unexpected side effects, which have proved them ineffectual or harmful. For instance the ink used by German composer, Johann Sebastian Bach on all 8000 pieces of paper on which his work is written, eats away at and erodes paper. The damage caused was not immediate, but within the past 300 years the ink has all but destroyed the manuscripts and have called for drastic steps to be taken to try and prevent further damage.
- Due to the increase in sociocultural awareness and the call for product transparency by consumers, inks made without the use of non-renewable resources have been developed from soy beans.
- The ink that is expelled from some animals such as squids and cuttlefish can be used to write with has been in the past, but now they are rarely used for anything other than cooking.