A Short History of Ink

The earliest known use of ink occurred in China approximately 5,000 years ago, when artists used soot, gelatin from animal skins, and lamp oil to develop a black ink used to colour the raised surfaces of pictures and text carved in stone.

In medieval Europe, scribes usually used parchment rather than paper. Parchment had a greasy surface and was not absorptive-so a new ink had to be developed. Eventually medieval scribes discovered the method of mixing tannins from plants with iron salts. The resulting ink, called iron gall ink, was in use for hundreds of years.

The development of the printing press changed the nature of ink. A special ink made from turpentine, soot and walnut oil had to be developed for special use in printing presses. This ink was oily and more similar to a varnish than the typical handwriting inks of its day.

Varnishes were replaced by mineral oils in the 19th century with the advent of high-speed newspaper presses. This ink was heavy enough to withstand the printing process without smudging, and it also dried quickly on newsprint paper.

Printer ink bears no similarity to the ink found in pens; it has been carefully engineered to provide the best performance when paired with specific machines and papers. Many printer inks contain toxic resins and chemicals that improve solubility at the expense of the environment. Today, however, that's changing. It's likely that the future of ink lies in natural materials and environmental responsibility.

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