A couple of years into your calligraphy journey, you’ll likely find yourself with a few bottles of dried-up calligraphy ink. Today, we’ll talk about how to fix that ink with some water, stirring, and testing.
We’re all guilty of choosing ink favorites, which eventually results in our not-so-beloved bottles turning into dried-up calligraphy ink. When I set out to write this article, I had six dry or sludgy bottles of old ink that I thought were destined for the trash can. What I discovered it is this: almost any calligraphy ink will reconstitute back to a usable state with water.
How to Fix Dried-Up Calligraphy Ink: A Video
In this video, I’ll walk you through my experience (successfully!) attempting to fix dried-up calligraphy ink.
How to Fix Dried-Up Calligraphy Ink: Additional Information
Yesterday, I would have told you that at least a couple of my old, dried-up calligraphy inks were beyond saving. A brief conversation with my friend Simon, owner of Scribblers, reinforced my suspicions. Simon said: “I know you cannot reconstitute iron gall ink because of the oxidisation and chemical change. Pigmented inks I would imagine you can because the pigment particles cannot evaporate. There could be an issue with amount of dilution required and consistency, though. I would imagine you cannot properly reconstitute dye-based inks because the colour has been dissolved. And, if you could, the colour would be different.”
Let’s take a look at the six bottles of dried-up calligraphy ink that I tried to fix, and the results that I got when I added water to them.
A Note on Adding Water to Dried-Up Calligraphy Ink
First, I officially recommend that you use distilled water to reconstitute dry or sludgy inks. (Unofficially, I just use the tap water here in Boulder, CO, because I haven’t ever had a problem doing so.) The amount of water you add to the ink depends on the state of the ink and how much of it remains. Has the ink dried into a hard cake or powdery pieces? If so, try to add a 1:1 ratio of water to the dry ink.
If the ink still has some moisture in it, use a chopstick to stir in about a teaspoon of water at a time until the ink becomes usable. Be sure to test often as you add the water in order to achieve the right transparency and color! If possible, let the ink sit out overnight. A bit of time will almost always result in powder or chunks dissolving completely into the water. Once the powder or chunks have dissolved, you can add in more water as needed.
I found success in reconstituting nearly all of the inks that I have, despite some of them appearing beyond hope. You can find a list of those inks and my comments below this photo.
Higgins Eternal (black pigment-based and dye-based ink) – I purchased a bottle in 2014. The ink was crumbly and dry, but it reconstituted perfectly and immediately once I added a 1:1-ish ratio of water to the dried-up ink.
Daniel Smith Walnut (brown pigment-based ink made from walnut husks) – I’ve had my latest bottle of walnut ink since 2018. It had turned into several dried-up pieces. Once I added water, it was immediately usable, but chunks still remained. After sitting out overnight, all of the chunks were gone.
Blots Iron Gall – (Medieval ink made from iron) – Once I discovered Rousy iron gall ink, my Blots was put into a drawer and eventually turned into dust. As Simon said, oxidization and chemical changes are inevitable once the water evaporates out of any iron gall. However, I did end up with an immediately usable black ink once I added water to the iron gall dust. The next day, the iron gall ink still had a lot of gunk at the bottom of the jar, but the liquid ink was even more potent, thus making my reconstitution efforts a surprising success.
Ziller Buffalo Brown (pigment-based ink) – I’ve reconstituted Ziller ink before for a mail art project, so I knew it would come back to life immediately. I added a couple of teaspoons of water to a sludgy jar that was about 2/3 full with excellent and immediate results.
When I added water to my totally dry Turquoise Bombay Ink, a pigment-based India ink, I was surprised that the results weren’t immediate. My water turned blue enough to write with, but the resulting ink was a bit weak.
When I made the video for this article, my Turquoise ink was still a chunky mess with a serviceable amount of liquid. However, after 24 hours, all of the chunks dissolved and the ink was as good as new. So, while you won’t experience immediate success in fixing dried-up Bombay ink, giving the water some time to incorporate into the old ink will work wonders.
Not So Great Success
I’ve never deeply connected with Lumiere by Jacquard, which is an acrylic paint that some calligraphers use as an ink. So, my bottle has been sitting in a drawer since 2016, and it had become separated and sludgy.
When I stirred water into the paint, the results weren’t terrible. However, it was difficult to achieve a viscosity that resulted in full opaque upstrokes. The paint was fine on white paper, but I suspect it wouldn’t look great on dark paper (like it once did).
If I liked the Lumiere better to begin with, I’d try harder to get the water to incorporate well into it. Someone suggested using a tattoo ink mixer to stir it up, which I imagine would work. I’ll keep the Lumiere, but I will likely just use it as an acrylic paint from here on out. I just don’t think I can coax it into a viscosity that makes it good to use for calligraphy again.
After conducting my little experiments, I have come to the conclusion that any dried-up calligraphy ink is worth attempting to save with a bit of water, stirring, and continuous testing. Even if you can’t restore the ink’s previous color, you might end up with something that’s more interesting and unique. And, if you don’t … well, you tried! At that point, you can dispose of the ink without feeling like you let it go without a fight. Blissfully, I know that I won’t need to get rid of any of the inks that appeared in this article. They’re all ready to write with again.
This Week: Free Blunt Art Syringe With Ink Purchase
A blunt art syringe is a “sleeper” calligraphy supply. I had no idea how useful it would be until I got one, and — no kidding — I use it every writing session. It deftly revitalizes Bleed Proof White ink and Finetec pans, and it breathes new life into sumi ink that refuses to flow off the nib. As we saw in this article, the blunt art syringe is also great for adding water to dried-up calligraphy ink. If you don’t have this little tool, I want to get it in your hands! Through Wednesday, March 22nd, you will receive a free blunt art syringe with any ink purchase by typing the code MUSTHAVE in the “Apply Gift Card” field at checkout.
I hope that this article empowers you to breathe new life into your calligraphy inks! Please feel free to add your own dried-up ink experiences to the comments section … I’d love to hear what’s worked (and hasn’t worked) for you. Thanks so much for reading, and enjoy the rest of your week!