Iron gall ink first came on my radar in 2015, when I used it to address a batch of wedding envelopes. The ink gave my envelopes an elegant, vintage look, and I was pleased with how easy it was to use! Since then, I’ve been an iron gall enthusiast, and I was finally able to source an amazing iron gall for the TPK Supplies Shop last week.
What Is Iron Gall Ink?
Iron gall ink has been around for nearly 2,000 years. Some big names, like Pliny the Elder and Leonardo DaVinci, used it — as did the Vikings and many monks. The ink owed its popularity in part to its easy recipe. The formula varies, but the base ingredients are oak galls, iron, acid (usually wine or vinegar), and a binder like gum arabic. Add water, and you’ve got a permanent, water-resistant ink!
Iron gall’s unique black color comes from oxidization process. Basically, when you put pen to paper, the ink has a light gray appearance. As the acid in the ink evaporates out, the iron oxidizes, and you’re left with a rich matte black hue.
Advantages of Using Iron Gall Ink
1. Watery Viscosity
Iron gall ink’s main advantage comes from its watery viscosity. The ink is very thin, so iron gall ink stays on the nib longer than comparatively thicker inks (like sumi or India). Its viscosity makes it capable of creating hairline upstrokes and thick, rich downstrokes. In the video below, you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to use this ink:
2. Water Resistance
Iron gall isn’t 100% waterproof, but it is water-resistant. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it on wedding envelopes or commissions due to its ease of use and the beautiful writing results.
3. Color + Occasional Gradation
Iron gall ink colors will vary by who made them. The Rousy iron gall ink that I just started carrying has a gorgeous matte black color. Every so often, the ink dries just a little bit gray on a stroke or two, which emphasizes the handwritten nature of pointed pen calligraphy!
4. Ease of Use
If you like bouncy modern calligraphy with an off-the-cuff look, you’ll appreciate that iron gall ink is conducive to quick writing. Since it’s so watery, it flows right off the nib and allows you to quickly create flowy, sweeping strokes as shown on the envelope below.
Disadvantages of Using Iron Gall Ink
1. Nib Damage
Many people worry that iron gall ink will aggressively “eat” their nibs. Iron gall is more acidic than other inks, which means that, yes, your nib may wear down a bit more quickly than usual. Will the wear be dramatic? No. It’s very gradual. If you’re diligent about cleaning ink residue off after every practice session, your nibs will last longer. Remember that the everyday wear and tear that you put on your nibs by using them with any ink will invariably sand down a nib’s tip. It’s important to always have an extra nib or two on hand so you can switch them out when your current calligraphy nib goes kaput.
When I was pregnant with my son, I was anemic and had to take iron pills. The pills had a prominent warning: “Accidental overdose of iron-containing products is a leading cause of fatal poisoning in children under 6.” Same thing here. If you have a curious little person around, remember to keep your ink out of reach and/or tightly closed. And, obviously, don’t drink the ink yourself. It’s fine if you get some on your hands/skin, so don’t worry about that!
General Information About This Ink
There are a few things to note about iron gall ink that are neither advantages nor disadvantages. Before you take on writing with this ink, bear the following in mind:
- You shouldn’t use iron gall in fountain pens; eventually, sediment from the ink will ruin the pen.
- In my opinion, iron gall ink isn’t a great choice for calligraphy beginners because of its watery viscosity. Those who understand calligraphy basics will find it refreshing to use, but a thicker (and more predictable) ink like sumi is best for beginners
- Iron gall is a fabulous ink to use with glass dip pens.
- Always keep your ink sealed when it’s not in use. Prolonged exposure to oxygen will cause the ink to oxidize in the jar. That’s why it’s important to keep the lid on!
- Shelf life of iron gall inks varies by brand. I’ve had some iron galls that developed mold after a year, for example, and could no longer be used. Rousy iron gall appears to have a shelf life of at least a handful of years, and it should not develop mold.
About Rousy Iron Gall Ink
You’ll find Rousy Iron Gall Ink in the TPK Supplies Shop. The ink was developed over the course of two years by Simon Rous of Scribblers in the UK, and I worked closely with him to give feedback on the formula. This particular ink was the result of quite a bit of collaboration, and we had to iron out several details (from shipping logistics to label design) to make it possible.
Simon has been making iron gall ink for over a decade. This new formula is wonderful in so many ways and benefits from all of his experience! After perfecting the formula, Simon developed a concentrate version of it, which he ships to me in the US. Once I receive the ink, I use his detailed instructions to brew batches that are equal to those that Simon sells in the UK. I then decant the ink into jars, add TPK-designed labels, and send them to you!
I hope that you learned something new from this article, and that it prompts you to try out an ink that perhaps wasn’t on your radar before. Happy writing!