To write today’s post, I combed through emails that I’ve received with questions about calligraphy ink. I’m glad to modify the article to include additional information, so if you have a question, please email or comment! Without further ado, here are answers to the queries — both little and big — that TPK readers have about inks:
1. What is the best calligraphy ink?
This is a loaded question because the answer depends on the effect that you want to achieve and your familiarity with writing calligraphy. You can find a guide to calligraphy inks here!
2. What is calligraphy ink made of?
Most calligraphy inks are made of pigment and a binder. For example, sumi ink is made of soot and and shellac. Walnut ink is made of boiled black walnuts (which renders pigmented water) and gum arabic. Remember that not all calligraphy inks are vegan; some inks use animal glue as a binder, and shellac is a resin secreted by lac bugs! If that’s a concern for you, do some research before you purchase.
3. How do you make calligraphy ink?
You use nearly any highly pigmented liquid as calligraphy ink! I’ve used coffee and wine as inks, and I love using watercolors for calligraphy. Gouache is fabulous, too. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try making your own walnut ink or try making your own iron gall ink!
4. Is calligraphy ink poisonous?
Most calligraphy inks aren’t poisonous. All calligraphy inks in the TPK Supplies Shop, for example, are non-toxic. There are some inks to watch out for, however! Iron gall ink has — you guessed it — a lot of iron, which can hurt humans if we consume an excess of it. A good rule of thumb is not to ingest ink and to try and keep any little ones from ingesting it, too!
5. Why does calligraphy ink feather/bleed?
Ink bleed is something nearly all beginners experience. The problem is nearly always the paper and ink combination. If the ink is thin and the paper tends to absorb liquid quickly, then you’ll notice the ink feathering around the edges of letters! A lot of times, the problem can be fixed by switching out your paper or adding gum arabic to the ink.
6. What paper responds best to calligraphy ink?
32# laserjet paper is my pick for economic and high-quality calligraphy practice, but there are tons of papers out there that will welcome your dip pen. You can find my picks for papers in general here, and here is an article that provides sources for calligraphy-friendly envelopes.
7. What’s the difference between dip pen ink and fountain pen ink?
Unless a calligraphy ink bottle specifically says you can put that ink in a fountain pen, I wouldn’t. Pigment particles in dip pen calligraphy inks are fairly large and can clog up a fountain pen pretty badly! You can, however, use fountain pen inks to write with a dip pen. Just add some gum arabic to the ink first to thicken it up!
8. Can you paint with calligraphy ink?
Absolutely! I love to paint with calligraphy ink when I’m looking for a vibrant, opaque effect.
9. How long does it take for ink to dry?
It depends on what kind of ink you’re using and the humidity in the area you live in. Some inks dry faster than others! In my experience, inks like sumi and Ziller dry in just a couple of minutes, while inks like Bleed Proof White take a good 10 minutes to dry to the touch and a few hours to fully dry. That said, I live in Colorado, where there’s very little humidity in the air, so my drying times may be incredibly short compared to the drying times in your area!
10. Does calligraphy ink expire?
Some inks do eventually go bad because water evaporates out of them, leaving only pigment and binder. This can result in a texture that’s similar to Jell-O. For other inks (like iron gall) you might notice mold growth after the ink sits for a long time in storage. For the most part, though, if you use your inks every once in a while and dilute those that have binders (like India ink) on a regular basis, your inks should last for years, if not decades!
11. How do you dilute ink?
The most common calligraphy ink problem is poor ink flow, which is normally caused by too much water evaporating out of the ink. Just add some water back in a little bit at a time! For step-by-step dilution instructions, see this article.
12. Can you revive dried ink?
Sometimes you can revive dried ink! Add water to the dry ink, wait a few hours, then stir. That said, you probably won’t be able to replicate the ink’s original viscosity. If you can, it’s best to simply buy a new bottle.
13. How do you store calligraphy ink?
You can store most inks in their original bottles or in an airtight dip pen-friendly jar. Try to store inks upright if possible; otherwise, you’ll have an inky mess when you go to take the lid off! And, of course, keep your inks out of reach of children. I’m constantly ignoring that tip and paying for it with inky floors.
14. What’s the difference between waterproof and water-resistant inks?
Waterproof inks are completely unaffected by water, while water-resistant inks will react to water but remain legible. You can see in the photo below that sumi ink is water-resistant, and Ziller ink is waterproof. Water ruins calligraphy created with Higgins ink, which isn’t a favorite ink of mine.
I hope that this article answers any questions you might have about calligraphy ink, including questions you didn’t know you had! As you build your ink collection, more questions might come up. If they do, comment on this article or shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’m glad to answer to the best of my ability and possibly add to this article!
Thanks very much for reading, and have a great week!