• Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink

    Have you ever had a less-than-optimal ink experience? If so, the answer may have been dilution. It’s amazing what a bit of water can do for your calligraphy!

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock

    If you’re new to calligraphy, it’s easy to feel terrified at the prospect of modifying your supplies. Ideally, they should arrive ready to use — no need to change anything! In practice, that sometimes isn’t the case. In today’s blog post, you’ll learn why, when, and how to dilute ink to make it more user-friendly!

    Why Dilute Ink?

    If your ink is too thick, it tends to cling to the nib, and you’ll have a hard time getting it to descend. This often happens with inks that have sat out for long periods of time with their lids off (such as when you’re practicing calligraphy), allowing the water to evaporate out. That said, brand new inks can arrive thick as well! 

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock
    Most of the water has evaporated out of this black ink, causing it to coat the nib rather than easily flow off of it.

    If you dilute your thick inks with water, the ink flow will often improve. You’ll notice that the ink will go from nib to paper without much of a fuss, making your writing more enjoyable and consistent!

    Flourished Calligraphy Medallion Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    Manageable ink is a must when using a dip pen! This calligraphy medallion was created with diluted sumi ink.

    It’s important to note that not all inks need to be diluted. For example, thin inks like iron gall or walnut rarely require dilution. In fact, some thinner inks need to be thickened! (For more information, see the Help! My Calligraphy Ink is Bleeding article.) There are other inks, however, that will come to you needing dilution from the get-go, like Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleed Proof White Ink. Because it’s more of a paint than an ink, you must add water to Bleed Proof White in order to write with it.

    Seven Tips for Writing White Calligraphy | The Postman's Knock
    For a tutorial on writing white calligraphy — including how to dilute the ink with water — see the Seven Tips for Writing White Calligraphy article.

    When to Dilute Ink

    There are three instances in which you should dilute ink:

    • You notice that your ink has gotten thicker than usual or doesn’t flow freely from the nib. 
    • The ink arrives too thick to use (this will be the case with inks like Bleed Proof White and Lumiere).
    • You want the color of the ink to be less intense.

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock

    How to Dilute Ink

    Officially, I should recommend that you use distilled water to dilute your inks. Tap water can have impurities that encourage mold growth and mess with your ink performance. In reality, I use tap water to dilute my inks. That said, water quality varies from place to place. Your best bet is to buy a gallon of distilled water and keep it around for calligraphy purposes!

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock
    The tap water in Boulder, CO, where I live, doesn’t seem to have properties that encourage mold growth in ink. However, you’re always better off using distilled water to dilute.

    Once you have your water, you can transfer some of the ink that you want to dilute into a small container (such as a dinky dip). That way, you can just dilute some of the ink versus all of it. This is a good idea just in case you end up being surprised at the reaction the ink has to dilution! 

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock
    0.25 oz. Dinky Dips containers are great for mixing small quantities of ink with water!

    Use a blunt syringe or a small spoon to transfer a tiny bit of water (three drops or so) into the ink.

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock
    Add a small quantity of water to the ink to start. It’s easy to overdo it!

    Then, use a stir stick, toothpick, or chopstick to mix it up.

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock
    If you don’t have a chopstick, toothpick, or coffee stirrer, substitute something else with a similar shape.

    Test your ink out on a piece of paper. If the ink still wants to cling to the nib, add a little bit more water, then test again. Repeat the process until the ink is easy to use, and that’s all there is to it!


    It’s not difficult to overload your ink with water. If you get too much water in there, no big deal! Just let the ink sit with the lid off overnight. That way, some of the water can evaporate out.

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock
    You’ll know there’s too much water in your ink because it will have a very faded color and/or bleed at stroke edges.

    Also, note that if your ink refuses to leave the nib, it doesn’t always mean that you need to dilute the ink … instead, it may be an indicator that you need to clean off your nib. You can learn how in this tutorial (my favorite is the potato method)!

    Finally, remember that adding water may make your color less vivid or less consistent. I like that look, but if you don’t, it’s important to be aware of that.

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock
    I used diluted Turquoise Bombay Ink to write these Janet Style addresses. Notice that the tone isn’t consistent; some strokes are lighter than others! I love this effect, but if you don’t, it’s something to consider before you dilute your ink.

    If you still have questions about how to dilute ink, I’m glad to answer — just ask in the comments! Feedback and suggestions are also welcome. Thanks very much for reading, and enjoy the rest of your week!


    Lindsey's Signature | The Postman's Knock