Guest post: Make your own ink!

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IT lawyer, fountain pen enthusiast, and blogger Tom Hall is back this morning with a post on making iron gall ink.


Where does ink come from?

From the Woolworth’s store, of course. Back right corner, bottom shelf, left hand side. Buy a bottle of Skrip for 87 cents and ride the faithful triceratops home. But that was when felt tipped pens were new and roller balls and gel pens were unheard of. Today the triceratops is out to pasture, Woolworth’s are gone and not even the art store in my little town carries pen ink. I grew so frustrated a couple years ago that I started researching how to make my own. I wanted to make a knock-out hot pink. I like gaudy colors that leap from the page.

There are lots of recipes on the Internet, but I quickly discovered a difficulty. I am not a chemist; most of what I found was beyond me. A good friend is a chemist, but when I asked him for help, he merely laughed and explained that I lacked the necessary equipment. I am still wondering whether he meant lab gear or smarts. Undaunted, I reasoned that ink predates modern industrial chemistry, so I did more research and discovered iron gall ink.

According to various Web sites, iron gall ink was the principal ink used in Europe from the 12th to the 19th Centuries. It is still prized by artists. Wikipedia offers a fine article. I was intrigued because the ink is relatively simple to make, produces a striking, permanent, black and gathering the raw materials required a trip to the woods. Plus, preparing the ink would permit me to play mad scientist for an afternoon.

What you will need: Oak galls, ferrous sulfate, gum arabic, logwood and water.


Galls, refer to oak galls “ round growths that appear when a species of wasp lays its eggs in an oak leaf bud. A perfect excuse for an afternoon afield with the dogs.


To be honest, I found no galls, so I substituted acorns and oak twigs. The galls, acorns, etc., are a source of tannic acid.

The ink itself is virtually colorless, and darkens over time. Adding logwood dye to the concoction produces a colored ink. (Logwood dye is produced by boiling logwood in water.)

Gum arabic is a carrier – it keeps the pigment suspended in solution, adds body to the ink and helps it flow.

The following instructions are meant only to illustrate the process. If you want to brew your own, please see this excellent site.

1. Crush and boil galls or other oak materials. Warning “ it stinks. Do NOT attempt whilst Mrs is home, unless she is far more understanding than any guy deserves.
2. Filter
3. Combine with ferrous sulfate (NOTE “ careful handling is required)
4. Add the logwood dye
5. Bottle and write.

Write, and touch a bit of history and tradition. Iron gall ink was used to create Torah scrolls, the Magna Carta and even Bach’s compositions. Or you can cheat and buy a bottle from Scribblers.

Bach brings us to the faults of iron gall ink. As you may have noticed, it is an acidic potion. While excellent and durable on parchment and vellum, it will gradually destroy paper. Indeed, Bach’s original manuscripts are apparently falling to pieces because he used iron gall ink. Also, because it is acidic, and therefore corrosive, it should NOT be used in a modern pen. If you use it with a steel-nibbed dip pen, be sure to clean the nib thoroughly after use.


For my part, I use the ink with dip pens I inherited from a dear friend. It also makes a wonderful gift if you have artist friends.

Now, if only the Muse will mistake me for Bach…..

6 thoughts on “Guest post: Make your own ink!

  1. I made inks for a giant company for 5 years. They are simple to make and sell for $100’s of dollars. Let me know if you want to know more?

  2. In the interest of full disclosure, three of the photos came from Wikipedia’s excellent article on iron gall ink.

    The fourth, showing my late but still beloved Robin the Rottweiler, is my own work.


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