DIY India Ink: Permanent, Waterproof, Water Soluble

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What do you wanna know about India Ink? It's just soot and water. End of story.

Mic drop.

Walk away.

And that would be the end of it if not for the fact that there are so many things that you could mess up in that simple process of acquiring soot and mixing it with water that you might as well just give up and get yourself some ink sticks.

India Ink is probably the oldest form of ink that has ever been used and is still in use because it's so resilient, permanent, archival (and it's high up there on that list considering there are texts that are thousands of years old written in India Ink that are still kicking it), and so easy to make.

India Ink is actually just a colloid of fine carbon and water. Now, if you remember your chemistry lessons well, you'll remember that it's usually difficult for a liquid to maintain a colloidal state since it means that particles (here, it's carbon) are restlessly dispersed in the medium (in this case, water) without reacting with it. They should not form sediments and typically do not undergo a chemical reaction with the medium.

Milk is one of the most common colloids you can find around you. Now, try and imagine it. The carbon particles in the soot that you get off your old-fashioned chimneys or your candle wax experiments needs to be so small that when mixed in water, you can't even trace it anymore. It's way less than a 1000 nanometers. That is really hard to achieve in a non-lab or manufacturing setting.

So, we improvise. Did you know that many ink-makers use all kinds of natural or chemical emulsifiers just so that they can try and make smooth free flowing inks that can last you for thousands of years and yet flow out of the narrowest nib of a fountain pen? There are many different kinds of natural emulsifiers like gum arabica, agar agar, gelatine, and even processed egg whites (called glair).

Every time you use an emulsifier, however, there is a slight chance that you would have compromised some aspect of the ink that you want to lay down on the paper. It could be the viscosity, the color, the stickiness to certain kinds of medium and not others, the quality, and so many more factors come into play.

All of this makes it extremely difficult for any artist to surrender to their passion and make their own ink. It actually becomes easier to surrender to the wallet and invest in some high-quality ink sticks. And, then you hope you can masterfully create masterpieces with.

Now that I have suitably bombarded you with all the conditions, here's my recipe for India Ink.

Oil to Carbon: How I made soot at home?

I used: An oil lamp (I used one from the time we celebrated Diwali) Cotton Wick A plate to collect the soot. It's best to use something that isn't as smooth such as aluminium or cast iron Some utensils to prop up your chosen plate so that the plate is halfway touching the wick The setup:

Rustic AND charming. Yes, I know. I am that adorbs.

Carbon to Ink: The Journey
2 teaspoons of Soot
2 teaspoons of Water
1 drop (I repeat) 1 drop of dishwashing liquid
1 paintbrush

Mix the soot you get from your soot collecting setup with some drinking water that's been boiled and sort of purified in some way. Use a paintbrush to mix it all in. Now, since it's difficult to pour a small drop of the dishwashing liquid, I used the paintbrush to swipe just a tiny droplet off a plate I'd put the dishwashing liquid on.

There's a lot of mixing involved so settle in with a nice podcast or ebook playing in the background as you vigorously keep mixing it in. Or, you could get a pot shaped container like I did and keep swirling it around for a good ten minutes. Yes. Now, imagine you're in Napa valley sipping some wine and swirling it around ever so often. Note: do not sip on the ink.

Why use dishwashing liquid? Most of the time, the carbon from soot has impurities such as metallic compounds, and fatty acids from the oil lamp. Even if you use candle wax, you will have some fatty acids transfering onto the soot which clumps them all together. It also makes it difficult for the soot mix with water to form into its colloidal ink form. So, the dishwashing liquid dissolves some of that oily residue and allows the carbon to freely interact with water to form ink.

Some things to remember. This mixture is best used when freshly mixed. It could be because of the dishwashing liquid, but this India Ink recipe doesn't dry out as quickly as just soot and water. Don't take my word for it though. If it does dry out however, just add some more water and a swipe of dishwashing liquid again and you're good to go.

Hope this helps. If you've tried this, let me know how it went in the comments below.


Ray out! Peace! Photo credit: me of course:)