Basic Ink Making – A guide

May 25, 2013 I had two different entries for ink making in the Middle Kingdom Arts and Sciences Fair.  Both of my entries came in first place.  But I started off not having a single clue how to make ink which is where most first time ink makers start at, just like I did.

The first time I ever made ink nobody in the room really knew what we were doing.  We had read some books, seen some things, but we didn’t know what we were doing by any means.  We had a tin coffee can of California Oak Galls a small medicine bottle of copperas and a desire to make ink.  So… we did.

We boiled the oak galls, pulled out the chunks and threw in the copperas.  And it turned black!  We all stuck our head over it and watched it turn black. And then quickly realized that this was not a wise thing to have done and quickly pulled our heads back.  We put a dip pen into the pot and then wrote with it. “INK!” we declared and so we were successful.

Today, I might quibble with my naive self of then but in essence we were not entirely wrong.  We were more enthusiastic than we were knowledgeable but from enthusiasm for learning comes knowledge.  Be enthusiastic and celebrate your triumphs!  My journey into making ink has been filled with triumphs and what some might call set backs.

My hope is that with this post I can give you the tools to have your first triumph and to inspire you to try-umph even more ink making.

So what are the basics of making Iron Gall ink?

Get your ingredients together.

– Water

– Oak Galls

– Copperas (Ferrous Sulfate)

– Gum Arabic.

What kind of water?  For your first batch?  Any kind of water.  I am partial to store bought distilled water myself but most tap water is just fine.

Where do you get oak galls?  You can pick them from oak trees or you can buy them online.  If I buy them I buy Aleppo Oak Galls from John Neal Bookseller.

Copperas can be purchased from some SCA merchants.  I purchase mine from Frey Scientific.

Gum Arabic can be purchased at most art supply stores in a clear liquid form. I prefer dry gum arabic either in crystal or powdered forms.  Commercial sellers of dry gum arabic include John Neal Bookseller Kremer Pigments, Natural Pigments and (sometimes) Sinopia.

ADDENDUM:  For a step by step pictorial guide please see this January 2014 post.

You might want to keep things a bit small the first time you make Iron Gall Ink, though some people want to go big.  Either way is fine, though I’ll be talking about a small batch of ink in this post.


1 quart of water, 1 oz Aleppo oak galls, 1/2 oz copperas, 1oz dry gum arabic or 2 fluid oz liquid gum arabic (commercial bought)


1 liter of water, 30 grams Aleppo oak galls, 15 grams copperas, 30 grams dry gum arabic or 60 milliliters liquid gum arabic (commercial bought)

In a well ventilated area… (kitchen with fan, open doors and a fan, park wherever)

Boil your water.  As the water boils break up your oak galls.  Once the oak galls are broken up put them in the water.

Boil the oak galls until the liquid takes on a dark color preferably a dark coffee color.

Filter out the oak galls.  You can do this by pouring it through a sieve, a strainer or as in period well woven linen or cheese cloth.

Toss in the copperas and watch everything turn black, a bit like magic.

Add in the gum arabic and stir until everything is liquid.

Congratulations you now have ink!  Use it.  Store it. Share it!

This first batch of ink should serve you well.  Is it the best ink?  No.  Is it usable ink?  Of course.  And it should write fairly black as well.  Clean your metal nibs after using this ink with water and mild soap.

I have several period recipes available on this blog if you want to read them and try your hand at making those.

I am always available to answer any questions and help you out with ink making if you desire.  Please feel free to e-mail me at IantheGreen AT gmail DOT com or comment here on this post.

If you want to make ink, just get out there and start making it!


6 responses to “Basic Ink Making – A guide

  1. Pingback: Ink and Embroidery – The Inevitable Scadian·

  2. Pingback: Ink and Embroidery – The Inevitable Scadian·

  3. Would you possibly allow me to reprint this in our monthly Shire Newsletter? If so, I would send you a copy of the newsletter.

  4. Hello. Thank you for sharing your story and recipe online for us to see. And especially where to find the ingredients for making ink. I just recently picked up the hobby of writing via ink and nib, and sealing the letter with a wax stamp. I love history and in many cases the romance of doing things “the old way.” Thanks again for sharing.

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