India ink

"Indian ink" redirects here. For the play by Tom Stoppard, see Indian Ink (play).
India ink (or Indian ink in British English), also called Chinese ink since it may have been first developed in either China or India, is a simple black ink once widely used for writing and printing, and now more commonly used for drawing, especially when inking comics and comic strips. Indian ink generally will readily clog fountain pens if not used for long time, it's then necessary to use water to unclog it. An exception to this is Pelikan Fount India, which does not contain shellac, the substance which can cause clogging.


The ink used in early India since at least the 4th century BC was called masi, which was an admixture of several chemical components. Indian documents written in Kharosthi with ink have been unearthed in Xinjiang. The practice of writing with ink and a sharp pointed needle was common in early South India. Several Jain sutras in India were compiled in ink. In India, the carbon black from which India ink is produced is obtained by burning bones, tar, pitch, and other substances.

Mark Gottsegen argues that India ink was first invented in China, even though India was the source of the carbon pigment used. He states that the traditional Chinese method of making the ink was to grind a mixture of hide glue, carbon black, lampblack, and bone black pigment with a pestle and mortar before pouring it into a ceramic dish where it could dry. In order to use the dry mixture, a wet brush would be applied until it reliquified. Joseph A. Smith also argues that India ink was first invented in China, but used lampblack, carbon black, and bone black that originated in India. Michael and Mary Woods assert that this process of making India ink was known in China as far back as the middle of the 3rd millennium BC, during Neolithic China. However, E-tu Zen Sun and Shiou-chuan Sun say that India ink was most likely invented by Wei Dan (also known as Wei Zhongjiang) of the Cao Wei state (220–265 AD).

The Chinese had used India ink derived from pine soot before the 11th century, when the polymath official Shen Kuo (1031–1095) of the mid Song Dynasty became troubled by deforestation (due to the demands of charcoal for the iron industry) and desired making ink from a source other than pine soot. He believed that petroleum (which the Chinese called 'rock oil') was produced inexhaustibly within the earth and so decided to make an ink from the soot of burning petroleum, which the later pharmacologist Li Shizhen (1518–1593) wrote was as lustrous as lacquer and was superior to pine soot ink.

Uses other than writing

  • Hanetsuki (羽根突き, 羽子突き) is a Japanese traditional game, similar to badminton, played by girls at the New Year with a rectangular wooden paddle called a hagoita, and a brightly-colored shuttlecock. The shuttlecock must be kept in the air as long as possible. Girls who fail to hit the shuttlecock get marked on the face with Indian ink.
  • Indian ink can also be used for home-made tattoos (sometimes called "stick and poke" or "prison" tattoos), by repeatedly stabbing the skin with a sharp sewing needle wrapped in ink-soaked thread.
  • In pathology laboratories, Indian ink is applied to surgically removed tissue specimens to help maintain orientation and indicate tumor resection margins. To avoid having an inky mess, the painted tissue is sprayed with acetic acid, which acts as a mordant, "fixing" the ink so it doesn't track everywhere. This ink is used because it survives tissue processing, during which time samples of tissue are bathed in alcohol and xylene before being embedded in paraffin wax, as part of making glass microscope slides. When viewed under the microscope, the ink at the tissue edge informs the pathologist of the surgical resection margin or other point of interest. Distance from the tumor to the edge of the specimen is an important prognostic indicator that surgeons and oncologists use to decide follow-up treatment options.

See also



  • Banerji, Sures Chandra (1989). A Companion to Sanskrit Literature. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 812080063X.
  • Deng, Yinke. (2005). Ancient Chinese Inventions. Translated by Wang Pingxing. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press. ISBN 7-5085-0837-8.
  • Gottsegen, Mark E. (2006). The Painter's Handbook: A Complete Reference. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. ISBN 0823034968.
  • Menzies, Nicholas K. (1994). Forest and Land Management in Imperial China. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc. ISBN 0312102542.
  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 7, Military Technology; the Gunpowder Epic. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
  • Sircar, D.C. (1996). Indian epigraphy. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 8120811666.
  • Sivin, Nathan (1995). Science in Ancient China: Researches and Reflections. Brookfield, Vermont: VARIORUM, Ashgate Publishing.
  • Smith, Joseph A. (1992). The Pen and Ink Book: Materials and Techniques for Today's Artist. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. ISBN 0823039862.
  • Sun, E-tu Zen and Shiou-chuan Sun. (1997). Chinese Technology in the Seventeenth Century: T'ien-kung K'ai-wu. Mineola: Dover Publications. ISBN 0486295931.
  • Woods, Michael and Mary Woods. (2000). Ancient Communication: Form Grunts to Graffiti. Minneapolis: Runestone Press; an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.

Search another word or see india-inkon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature