Some Ink Recipes
Complied and written by ©Claes G Lindblad on May 21, 1998.

I became interested in inks more than 20 years ago, when trying to tame a dip steel pen to behave nicely. All inks available locally were intended for fountain pen use, meaning they were too runny and too thin for proper scribal use.

The Persian Recipe - my First Ink Attempt

Then I came across an old recipe, once upon a time used by Hassan, a Persian Scribe. It told me to find:

  • 500 g water
  • 5 g salt
  • 250 g gum arabic (see note below)
  • 30 g gall apples, grilled and powderized
  • 40 g iron sulphate (a.k.a. copperas or vitriol)
  • 30 g honey
  • 20 g soot for stage 3 (see table at right)
  • Directions
    1. Mix the six first ingredients.
    2. Leave them on a slow fire for two hours and stir now and then.
    3. Then add 20 g soot.
    4. Heat it for another hour.
    5. Filter and pour into bottles.

    It sounded thrilling as well as an easy task. Since I was a newbie, I did not know where to find all strange ingredients, in fact, it took me three weeks to scout them down. I started, late one evening. Three hours later the moment of truth arrived - but my concoction did not have the slightest resemblance with ink. Well, it was black, all right, but it behaved much more like a heap of butter, just out from the fridge. There was not a chance in the world to 'filter' it through anything, I had to scoop it up with a knife to transport it to a wide-mouthed container with a close-fitting lid.

    What did I do Wrong?

    Well, the recipe was printed in French, so I had missed the 'slow fire' bit, and had boiled it for three hours... For this reason, I gave it the name of 'Blusch' (which is a non-existing word, composed of the Swedish words 'Bläck' and 'Tusch' = 'Ink' and 'Chinese/Indian Ink').

    There is a strange thing in the recipe above, viz. the amount of gum arabic. 250 grammes? One tenth of it sounds more reasonable -- but who am I to fight Hassan, the Persian Scribe?

    Oh - there is one thing missing in the instructions above, a task which is as boring as time-consuming: it took me one full hour to clean the pan afterwards... In short, do not start your alchemistic era with the recipe above. Instead, I recommend a more normal, ferrogallic ink.

    Basic Ink Formula

    The basic ferrogallic ink formula is very simple: 1-2-3-30 (parts per weight).

  • 1 part gum arabic
  • 2 parts copperas (=vitriol)
  • 3 parts gall apples
  • 30 parts of water
  • Directions
    1. Crush the galls finely.
    2. Add water.
    3. Stir. Let stand for 1-2 days in the sun.
    4. Add copperas.
    5. Stir. Let stand for 1-2 days in the sun.
    6. Add gum arabic.
    7. Stir, sieve and bottle.
    8. Ready!

    An Ink for Hectic Types.

    In case you are the hectic type, take a cheap red wine, rich in tannin, instead of water -- and pure tannin instead of galls. Good galls contain about 60 % of tannin (which is the active ingredient we are after), so use 1.8 parts of pure tannin instead of galls in the recipe above.

  • 1 part gum arabic
  • 2 parts copperas (=vitriol)
  • 1.8 parts pure tannin
  • 30 parts of red wine
  • Swift directions:
    1. Heat the wine to about 50-60 degrees Centigrade.
    2. Add tannin, stir.
    3. Add copperas, stir.
    4. Add gum arabic, stir.

    You will be able to make it in about 15 minutes.

    Regulating the Viscosity

    Now, the ingredient which governs the viscosity (the flow) of the ink is gum arabic. In case you like pointed pens, about *half* the amount of gum arabic would suffice, I presume. It is quite OK to make the batch with less gum arabic and then add more later on, if called for. But it is impossible to decrease the amount afterwards -- and if you dilute your ink with water or wine, you will also lose some of its blackness and covering power.

    Where to Find the Ingredients?

    Gum Arabic is probably the easiest ingredient to find, since it is used in enormous quantities by candy factories. Certain products contain up to 99 per cent gum arabic - the minute rest is flavourings...
    Copperas (iron sulphate, vitriol) is also used by gardeners to kill weed, i.e. a garden center may be able to help you.
    Gall apples can sometimes be found in stores specialized in items for do-it-yourself yarn dyers. They may also have copperas.
    Tannin in its pure form, tannin is probably only found in stores selling lab and chemistry supplies.

    Good luck with your experiments!

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