Ink is all the same – Or not


I’m happy to help people with making ink. Sometimes they will send me the results of their ink making. People like to think that making ink is easy and that all ink is pretty much the same. This simply isn’t the case. Please refer to my blog post 2 logs and board.

Sláine báen Ronán Eastern Scribe, OSW.(Order of the Silver Wheel – EK AoA level Service Award.) chatted with me about making ink and then had a go at it herself. She made two batches and mailed me three bottles of ink. Batch 1 was iron gall ink of one recipe. batch 1.1 was batch 1 add more gum arabic. And batch 2 was a different recipe. I got the ink in November and finally tested them this past weekend.

In the bottle the ink was black and lovely looking for all three bottles. On paper, they were entirely different. Far too pale to be a good ink. I have long said you can not determine the quality of an ink by looking at it in the bottle. I noticed stuff at the bottom of the ink bottle and shook them. And got more color than before but still not really usable ink. And iron gall ink doesn’t need to be shaken up. If you do, you will shorten the lifespan of the iron gall ink and eventually make it go gray.

Sláine and I chatted some more. She was also of the opinion the batches weren’t good ink. She asked what I thought the problem was. Too thin of ink, meaning too much liquid for the ink, or not enough reaction between the ingredients. I offered to see if I could figure out which it was and Sláine took me up on the offer.

I cut out the samples I had written and looked at them under a 20x stereoscope. I also had written with the iron gall ink I make as a comparison.

Ian the Green’s Iron Gall Ink – Stereoscope 20x

You can see that the iron has oxidized black and has formed iron (II) oxide particles.

Sláine’s batch 1.0. Stereoscope 20x. Not shaken. Remeber this looked BLACK in the bottle.

That is essentially just tannic acid extract with maybe some particulate on the left.

Sláine batch 1.0 shaken up. Stereoscope 20x.

Still mostly tannic acid extract. Very little color to this. What color is there is from fine particles probably from the oak galls.

Sláine batch 1.1 (more gum arabic added) shaken up Stereoscope 20x.

This picture shows more sediment particles present and probably some iron(II) oxide there on the left. Remember this too looked black in the bottle.

Sláine’s batch 2.0. A different recipe. Stereoscope 20x

Here we see more iron (II) oxide formed and present in the ink. Though a significant amount of the ink is still tannic acid extract and fine particles probably from the galls. This too looked black in the bottle.

Why did all three look black in the bottle? Black simply means light is being absorbed. In a liquid in a bottle enough particles absorbing light are going to make the liquid look black. And it doesnt’ take a lot to make that happen as you can see.

So after looking at the ink on paper under the stereoscope the answer was not enough reaction between the tannic acid and the iron sulfate was happening. Almost certainly due to a lack of the presence of one or the other. As opposed to something stopping the two from interacting, like putting in your gum arabic in too soon.

Had this been a too think ink, we would see more black iron (II) oxide particles. Those particles would be evenly spread out and too thin to provide enough coverage to look black. We simply don’t see that in batch 1.0 and 1.1. In batch 2.0 we do see iron (II) oxide particles but they aren’t evently spread out. So the inks weren’t too thin.

I shared the pictures with Sláine and explained the conclusion I came up with. Just not enough ingredients of one or the other to interact and produce enough Iron (II) oxide to make a good black ink.

She’s doing some further experiments and we’ll see how things turn out from those.

Not all inks are the same and just becuase they look good in the bottle doesn’t mean they will look good when used. Ink making isn’t always easy and finding out what went right or what went wrong isn’t always easy either. It is almost always a fun experience, though I might be a bit biased in that opinion.

2 responses to “Ink is all the same – Or not

  1. Okay. I use Iron oxide to make my natural dyes turn dark–even had a copper shift to dark blue once. So I can understand how particulates can look black in solution. I was just curious why there was a white blob on an otherwise dark field. Oil on the paper? (Keep in mind I just saw the black licorice ice cream post so I’m still: ‘My Eyes! My Eyes!) lol PS Thanks for all your hard work.

    • Which picture are you asking about?

      Preliminary answer: I wrote with the ink and these are pictures of letters or lines drawn. Maybe it’s the “negative space” of the letter?

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