With hundreds of different types of inks available to each of anyone on the internet, making your own ink has become the practice confined to a very specific breed of pen nerds; the nostalgic purists, the picky perfectionists, and the cheap (ahem, “thrifty”). Whatever your reason, making ink has a long and rich history and gives us a variety of options to choose from, and being creative people we’re not above inventing our own recipes.
The easiest functional ink that you can make is tea ink. Just boil about a cup of water and put 3-5 tea bags in to steep for about a half hour. Then dissolve some gum Arabic or carrageenan in the hot tea to thicken it slightly and let it cool. Bottle it up and there you have some non-toxic, edible ink. Keep in mind that any ink made from tea or berries is going to be acidic so if you’re writing anything that you want your great-great-great grandchildren to read you might want to use something else. In most cases it isn’t a concern since most writing paper that’s available is going to degrade on it’s own just as quickly as it would when catalyzed by acidic ink.
Once you feel a bit more adventurous you can move on to powder pigments. Classic and highly effective is lampblack, charcoal, or crushed minerals or seashells. If you’re interested in trying more plant oriented things you can try grinding up dried tree bark, herbs, and flowers. The trick to this is to dry the colored bit that you want (usually flower petals) on a paper towel or bit of cloth until it’s looking nice and crispy and to then crush them into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. To get the pigment out of the cells and floating free in your ink you’ll then want to add some alcohol until you’ve got a thick paste. After that you can add your favorite thinners and thickeners to build your ink consistency.
Because non-water based inks lack surface tension and sink into the page much more quickly with increased risk of bleeding I prefer to stick with water. If you go with that philosophy that means that besides water, which will usually leave your ink very runny and might let your ink smudge even after it’s dried, you’ll need to add a thickener, preferably a sticky one. The gums mentioned in the paragraph above make effective thickeners, but since not everyone has that sitting in their kitchen cabinet I tend to go with simple old corn starch. Food starch is a natural glue and will do the job reasonably well. That being said, I still know several people who swear by linseed oil instead of water, which will give you a nice consistency without the need for thickeners. For my part I’m going to be sticking with water based inks because I don’t like bleedy inks.
Article by Alice Jenkins
Alice Jenkins is a writer, graphic designer and marketer. When Alice isn’t trying to figure out whole stole her favorite red pen, she writes about web design, small business branding and marketing trends. Alice writes for PensXpress, a business that specializes in custom imprinted pens.