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India Ink - What am I doing wrong?


Inky_Ben

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The recipes out there for India Ink (Encre de Chine) for use with a dip pen and nib seem simple:  carbon, water, and a binder,  I have tried two solutions that didn't work:

 

100g of carbon black powder, distilled water to get to the right consistency, 25% by volume of a dissolved gum arabic solution.   Carbon wouldn't stay suspended in solution AND, when dry, the carbon would rub easily off the paper.   The gum arabic was mixed by me -- probably not at a high enough concentration.

 

Tried 10g of carbon black powder in ONLY my gum arabic solution.  Better (but not perfect) adhesion.  And on the wet side of things, carbon also immediately began to precipitate out of solution.

 

Clearly, my binder isn't bindy enough, OR my carbon particles are too large (or both).  I have recently purchase some shellac chips and denatured alcohol.


Any recipes, tips, tricks or hints for the beginner?    My first reaction was that Black Cat is cheap enough by the quart that it might not be worth the effort.  But having started down this rabbit hole, I have a certain need to see things through.

Edited by flangster
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Posted (edited)

Happy to share my growing list of failures with this project.  ;) It'll save someone else from making the same mistakes.    I decided to try shellac as a binder, so I dissolved 1 ounce (28.3 g.) in 500 mil of denatured 190-proof alcohol. to make a working shellac mixture.  This is about half-strength for a standard working solution.  Typically woodworkers will start with a 1 lb cut.  This is half of that in terms of the concentration.   Why?  Just starting slow.  BTW, if you have never mixed shellac before, you can get some water hot on the stove to make a double boiler, and have your alcohol in the inner vessel but turn the stove off and keep that alcohol away from any flame (range of possible bad outcomes from "not good" to "now I need a new face").

 

I tried:

 

6 ml of this half-strength shellac

10 gr. lamp black

distilled water to make 100 ml

 

Using a dip pen, I tested it out.  It flowed and adhered to the pen well, and went down on the paper fine.  I had a little railroading with a flexible nib, but although not all the carbon stayed in suspension, the ink looked promising on paper.  BUT.  when dry, the ink could be rubbed off the paper with very little effort.  Adhesion was something less than drawing charcoal.  This was more or less the same as the gum arabic result.  However, there was no feathering from the alcohol.  I had to stir the mixture every couple of minutes to get the carbon concentration I wanted on the pen, but as a failure, it was an educational one.

 

So then I decided to try an all shellac mixture.

 

I mixed

 

40 ml of my half-strength shellac

10 gr. lamp black

 

As you might expect, this is basically a 95% alcohol/charcoal suspension.  This would not adhere to the pen, and when I put drops of it on the paper, I got the feathering you'd expect.  Added 40 ml of water.  No change.   I tried adding three drops of vegetable glycerin.  No change.  I tried adding 5 ml of Photoflo.  At this point the mixture changed so that virtually all the lamp black was suspended in solution; however, it wouldn't adhere to anything -- not even the sides of my beaker.  Kind of a charcoal glop.  (I believe that's the technical term).

 

Poured both mixtures on the front lawn and will start again from scratch.

 

Will bump up the concentration of shallac by a factor of 2x and try again.

 

NB:  there are some internet recipes that have shellac flakes added directly to water with some Borax to make dissolution possible.  If the alcohol isn't a viable carrier for the shellac flakes, that's where I am going next.

Edited by flangster
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@Claes might have a solution for you. I know he made his own pigments at one time. 

Top 5 of 20 currently inked pens:

Namiki Origami Tradition maki-e Penguin F, Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku

Sailor X Sakazaki Penguin Pro Gear Slim MF, Sailor Manyo Konagi

Blue Marbled Parker Duofold Centennial IM, Scribe Indigo

Parker Falcon, Oblation Portland Rain

Parker IM Monochrome Blue F, Parker Penman Sapphire

always looking for penguin fountain pens and stationery 

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Web search for

Scriptorium Lundensis

and you will find several working recipes.

/Claes 

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10 hours ago, Claes said:

Web search for

Scriptorium Lundensis

and you will find several working recipes.

/Claes 

Many thanks for that!   I see that you have successfully made several types of iron gall inks.  I have the ingredients for that, but was interested specifically in the carbon based India ink types.   Any hints on sources for a good recipe for those?  Most of what I have been able to find on the web has not been very helpful.   They are simple carbon + water recipes without enough binder to either suspend the carbon, or affix it permanently to the page.

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You are welcome!

 

Before we dive deep down into this abyss...:

a) Where are you located?

b) "India ink"? Do you mean "modern" fluid versions, or ancient, proven ink stick types from the Far East? "India" is just a misnomer.

c) From what raw material is your carbon particles coming from? Vegetable soot, Pine oil soot, common chimney soot, ..., ..., ...?

d) What binders do you have available? (Gum Arab? Nikawa? Fish glue? Animal glue? Bone glue? Rabbit Skin Glue?  ..., ..., ...?)

Do NOT use modern acrylics. Do NOT use shellac. Do NOT use egg oil. Do NOT use egg-yolk [even if superb for other tasks].

e) How do you intend to use the ink? In a brush, steel pen/dip nib, quill, ...?

f) To be used on what substrate? Paper? Primed board?... ... ...

 

And a friendly warning: if your soot is not sterlie, funny things will grow in a relatively short time. Do not make too large batches. They may literally explode! Some disinfectant is called for.

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In order of asking:

 

a) USA/Vermont

b) Modern, I think.  I want to duplicate the effect on paper that I get from, say, Speedball/Higgins/Sennelier

c) hmm. Don't know the answer to this.  I bought a pound of "lamp black" powder from Amazon.  I believe it is from pine wood.

d) binders currently in house: gum arabic.  Also the shellac you advise not to use.  But various glues wouldn't be too hard to get, if that's what's called for.

e) Steel nib dip pens -- Ackerman fountain  pens say they can take "anything"  - I am treating that claim with some gentle skepticism, but have tried out commercial India ink (Sennellier) in one and it seemed to work fine and clean up OK.  Don't underestimate the foolishness of an optimist, though.

f) Paper only at this point.  Some of it is "sketch" paper - such as a 100 gm student paper from Blick one of the US art supply stores -- others are hot press water color paper (expensive) or the paper you'd find in a Leuchturm bound sketch book or journal, or card stock

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Lamp black? Sounds like soot, collected from above a lit wick in a bowl of vegetable oil.

That has nothing to do with quality.

Veg oil = smaller particles, often red-brownish-tinge; pine soot = larger particles, blue-black tinge.

 

https://beyond-calligraphy.com/2015/11/18/find-out-how-sumi-ink-sticks-are-created-in-japan/

https://www.inkston.com/stories/guides/visit-old-hu-kai-wen/

 

I do not have any experience from "Liquid 'India' ink" at all. "India" is a misnomer.

 

https://www.ehow.com/how_6590230_make-homemade-india-ink.html

 

Suggestion:

Try a very small batch of Soot + Gum Arab + distilled water. Stir before each fill. Use a brush to fill the underside of the dip nib.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Ah, the limitations of language.  Yes, I know about the misnomer.  Thanks for those links.  The articles on sumi sticks are fascinating. Perhaps I will have to add animal hide glue to this journey.

 

Just out of interest, why do you advise against using shellac?  Damage to the pen nibs over time, or some other reasons?  I have picked up hints that there is some shellac in some common commercial versions of the products I am used to using.

 

Interestingly Sennelier makes a line of clear shellac inks, and it isn't clear whether there is any in their Encre de Chine.  The MSDS data sheet lists less than 2.5% ethyl alcohol by volume, and that might be carrier for shellac, but if so it is in amounts that would be very small.  

 

Edit: also Schmincke Indian ink seems to use a shellac binder

Edited by flangster
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>Just out of interest, why do you advise against using shellac? 

 

Because it misbehaves :-))))) Wrong rheology. (i.e. the same problem if you try modern acrylic/vinylic binders.)

Gum Arab has been used for more than 1000 years in this kind of application.

 

 

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Posted (edited)
20 hours ago, Claes said:

>Just out of interest, why do you advise against using shellac? 

 

Because it misbehaves :-))))) Wrong rheology. (i.e. the same problem if you try modern acrylic/vinylic binders.)

Gum Arab has been used for more than 1000 years in this kind of application.

 

 

Well,  armed with this excellent advice, I increased the concentration of my gum arabic solution by 5x to roughly the color of the store-bought product (what you might find in the watercolor aisle at your art supply store}.  Then I did, essentially, a titration test -- adding more gum arabic solution to my carbon/H2O solution one eye dropper at a time until the carbon did not smudge away from the paper when the ink had dried.  Progressive examples below.  Consistent with some of the links that Claes sent, I also made quite a small batch.  Why waste carbon at 100 grams a go?

 

Basically, I increased the sticky stuff.     Here is the resulting recipe

 

4 grams carbon black

6 ml distilled water

6.5 ml gum arabic solution (commercial concentration)

 

I put the carbon black in a stone morter and pestle and ground away at it for 20 minutes. Why?  because I thought I finer particle size might help keep the carbon in suspension longer. All liquids were added and mixing was done in the morter at room temperature.  I added gum arabic a dropper at a time until I got to the point where the dry ink on a test page would not smudge.

 

 

 

NAS_4740_GumArabicTest.thumb.jpg.fd7815fd4666833b3f747350e427fefe.jpgNAS_4740_GumArabicTest2.thumb.jpg.418d0fe7a38a3d854f5c048171a54e1d.jpgNAS_4746_GumArabicTest3.thumb.jpg.362eb30739f9e4d8714ff0f3ba014f06.jpg

 

The resulting ink is pretty black, and a pretty black. It dries quickly and doesn't smudge to the casual touch.  I haven't tried really abusing the image on paper, but then again I wouldn't do that with a commercial ink either.  The resulting volume after drawing and noodling about for a half hour is about 15ml or a half fluid oz.  Even with 20 minutes grinding away to make the carbon powder finer, there were still some dregs at the bottom of the morter where some of the carbon had settled out of solution. I tried dabbing some of this with a brush on paper and comparing it to what I could get from the same brush dipped in the inkwell.  The dregs appeared to have a higher concentration of carbon particles. although the consistency was thicker too, and it wouldn't be my first choice for drawing with a pen:

 

NAS_4748_InkwellvsDregs.thumb.jpg.fdb3629afb62a3f08be64d04c1531799.jpg

 

So that's about it.  Thanks all who looked or helped out.  I consider this a pretty successful experiment.   I do have some hide glue coming and may try a comparison of ink made with that as a thickener instead of the gum arabic solution.  Lordy, I am so easily amused.

Edited by flangster
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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, Claes said:

Morning!

 

While you were asleep I found these two good sources:

https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/about/libraries/our-work/conservation/persian-recipes/black-inks

https://kimanisamk.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/diy-india-ink/

 

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

 

 

Your Google skills are excellent!  If I had had that first link from the Bodleian, I wouldn't have run the test above, I would just followed the recipe.  I think one of them is pretty close to where I wound up (reassuring).  The only thing I have to add is that if you have a saturated solution of gum arabic dissolved in distilled water rather than the powder, you can just mix and go without heating anything up.   But as they say, it is six of one, half a dozen of the other. 

Edited by flangster
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> I put the carbon black in a stone morter and pestle and ground away at it for 20 minutes. Why?  because I thought I finer particle size might help keep the carbon in suspension longer.

 

Absolutely correct!!! :-)))))

 

Good work! And best of all: you have succeeded :-)))

Joy!

 

/Claes

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Thanks for all your help.  Next up is some experiments with RIT clothing dyes and various water soluble colored wood tints.  But that will be the start of another thread.  I have learned already that the addition of Chromaflo 830-9907 Cal-Tint II 16-Ounce Black Colorant to anything I have tried turns it all into a mess that won't adhere to a pen nib.  Had better luck with Mixol colarants.  I have seen the excellent thread here on other clothing dyes.  The RiT dyes are either powdered or liquid and the liquid dyes seem to have a pretty neutral pH.

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Morning!

 

Explanatory PDF sent to you as a PM.

 

/Claes

 

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Addendum:

Also, there are "long" binders, and there are "short" binders.

"Long" binders do not work for dip nibs &c -- but there is a way to "shorten" them:

admix some grit, such as an ochre pigment 🙂

 

 

 

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