Ink is a liquid or paste that contains pigments or dyes and is used to color a surface to produce an image, text, or design. Ink is used for drawing or writing and may be applied with a pen, brush, or quill.



Includes the following.

Inks generally fall into four classes:

  • Aqueous
  • Liquid
  • Paste
  • Powder

Ink formulas vary, but commonly involve two components:

  • Colorants
  • Vehicles (binders)

Drawing inks are water-based media made from various plant and mineral colorants. Any given ink may vary in tone due to its ingredients' purity, concentration, and dilution degree.

Traditional inks share specific properties with watercolors and can be made with similar materials; however, watercolors always contain solid pigment particles. Inks, by contrast, can be composed of dyes and are of low viscosity, allowing them to flow smoothly from a pen.

Ink has been used for writing and drawing on papyrus in the ancient Egyptian civilization since the 26th century BC.

Historical drawing inks from the Renaissance are typically brown, reddish brown, gray, and black hues.

In the late nineteenth century, synthetic, chemically processed colorants dramatically increased the range of hues available to artists.

Before the invention of steel nib, fountain, and felt tip pens in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, artists used broad and narrow quill and reed pens.

Not all inks are created equal when it comes to water. Some are waterproof, and some are not; be sure to test them before using them with watercolor.

Waterproof ink will be virtually unaffected by water after it has dried. Acrylic inks are permanent but should not be used in fountain pens because they will clog. Water-resistant inks are inks that will resist moisture but are not considered waterproof. After a brief spill of water, they are more likely to not smear.

Types of Inks

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Dye-Based Inks

Inks that are manufactured contain chemical dyes that have dissolved in water. Because the dyes used are water-soluble, these inks are not waterproof.

Dyes or liquids molecules have a larger range of colors and are naturally transparent. They are surrounded by solvenets so every molecule can absorb photons, which leads to higher color intensity or more luminous colors. Dyes connect themselves directly to a substrate without a vehicle or binder. The disadvantage of most dyes are their low light-fastness.

Pigments consist of molecules that are cross-linked with one another as crystals. Only around 10% of the molecules absorb light and have a wide absorbption band. Pigments that disperse light are opaque. Pigments always require a vehicle or binder to fix them to a substrate.

Inks for Fountain Pens
Fountain Pens

An ink that works well with fountain pens and is also waterproof. Please note that not all inks will work with fountain pens, and not all inks are waterproof. For more information, visit "A Beginners Guide to Fountain Pen Inks," provided by

Preferred Brands for Waterproof
  • Platinum Carbon Black
  • De Atramentis Document Black

Pigment-Based Ink

Pigment-Based Inks are also called carbon inks or nano inks. Printing inks normally contain pigments.

These inks contain particles suspended in liquid, such as carbon or mica. The carbon or mica particles are not water soluble, so as the ink dries, the particles become embedded in the paper.

As a result, most pigment-based inks are highly waterproof and lightfast, i.e., resistant to fading over time or discoloration when exposed to light as they age.

Printing Inks
CMYK Ink Colors

"Shortness" is the flowability of an ink when a certain shearing force acts upon it. In paste form, thicker inks are used extensively in letterpress and lithographic printing.

Custom inks come in bottles or glass inkwells.

Solid inks come from Asia. Be aware that inks not recommended for technical pens or acrylic inks will result in clogs.

Heavily pigmented inks may not flow well in nib sizes 0.13 and 0.18.

Acrylic Inks

Acrylic inks are made from polymers or acrylics and are available in a wide range of colors.

Inks for Drawing, NOT all are for Fountain Pens

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Natural Inks

These are types of ink derived from natural substances that have been traditionally used for drawing but, these are not suited for fountain pens, only dip pens or a brush.

From left: 1: carbon black ink/candle and soot; 2: oak gall ink/oak gall nuts, iron compound, gum arabic; 3: bistre/chimney soot; 4: logwood ink/wood splinters [1]

Carbon Black

Is an ink made from candles and soot.

Lamp Black

Is a stable carbon, soot-based ink made by burning oils or pine resins. Used since antiquity, it produced strong linear marks and can be diluted to create transparent gray washes. It was popular in Northern and Central Europe in the sixteenth century and experienced a revival in the nineteenth century.

India Ink

Is an ink made with ground soot/carbon. It uses a binder, such as a shellac, so it is almost always glossy, waterproof, and solvent-proof. Note India ink is not suitable for fountain pens.

Brown Inks

Most brown inks are shellac-acrylic based, and they dry permanently.


Is a pigment called "soot brown." The ink medium is made from made with soot collected from chimneys. Historically, beechwood was burned to produce the soot, which was boiled and diluted with water.

Its color ranges from shades of reddish brown to grayish brown or is generally dark grayish brown with a yellowish cast.

Le coucher des ouvrières, a wash painting using bistre pigment by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806)


Is a reddish-brown ink made from the boiled skins of ripe walnuts. Unfortunately, inks that were made with natural walnuts, which are highly acidic, cause the marks to fade and the paper to deteriorate over time. Rembrandt, DaVinci, and Van Gogh are some artists who used walnut ink in their drawings.

Walnut Ink Example

Tom Norton Walnut Drawing Ink®

It is made with artist-grade pigments, not walnuts, and it is both lightfast and acid-free with the same rich walnut color. This ink acts more like watercolor because it remains water-soluble. Watercolorists love its layering and lifting properties. You can layer to darken tones, add water to lighten, or use a wet brush to lift color. Calligraphers use it with dip and fountain pens, and like that, it remains water-soluble even when dried, so it easily washes out of their nibs.

Tom Norton Walnut Drawing Ink®

Oak Gall

It is an ink that gets its name because it is made from oak galls, nuts that grow on oak leaves and twigs.

They form in response to attacks by wasps and other insects.

Oak Gall


Sepia ink is made by a squid or cuttlefish. These Cephalopods create and use ink for survival. They produce the substance within their ink sac. To escape, when frightened or chased by a predator, they expel a cloud of darkness.


It's been used since Roman times but is challenging to make, so the natural ink rarely appears in drawings.It's often used more to describe the color than the actual authentic ink harvested from cuttlefish.

It was also particularly popular in the late 18th and 19th centuries and replaced bistre for creating a wash.

Painting with Ink

Includes the following.

What is an Ink Wash?

Ink wash painting is a type of East Asian brush painting that emerged in the Chinese Tang dynasty, which uses ink in different concentrations. Features include a preference for shades of black over color variations and an emphasis on brushwork, where a subject's perceived "spirit" or "essence" was valued over realism or direct imitation.

Ink Wash Brushes

Ink brushes are used in Chinese calligraphy. They are also used in Chinese painting and descendant brush painting styles. The ink brush was invented in China, believed to be around 300 B.C. Together with the ink stone, ink stick, and Xuan paper, these four writing implements form the Four Treasures of the Study.

Chinese Calligraphy

What is Sumi-E?

In Eastern Asia, both writing and painting developed together. The artists of Japan, Korea, and Malaysia learned from the Chinese and then created their own versions of East Asian brush painting, using some of the same materials. Sumi-e is the Japanese word for "Black Ink Painting."

Ink Stick

This craft, or artistic movement, emphasized the beauty of each individual stroke of the brush rather than realism. The artist would learn to use the ink freely with a controlled brush stroke. Sumi-e works were judged on three elements: calligraphy strokes used in writing, the words of poetry or writing, and the artist's ability to simplify or use strokes to capture only the essence, spirit,  or "Ch'i" of nature.

Sumi-e Brushes

Traditional Sumi-e brushes are handmade using natural materials. There are three basic types:

  • Brown hair from a weasel, wolf, leopard, badger, or other wild animal. They are stiffer and have more resilient bristles, which will retain the sharp point when painting.
  • White hair from goats, which is soft and pliable
  • Mixed hair from a combination of brown and white hairs.

Woven silk was used as a painting surface before Asia invented paper. Today, rice paper is used. It is a generic term for many forms of handmade papers from Asia that are made from cotton, hemp, mulberry, or various other plants.

Any finished painting must be smoothed or flattened, then wet mounted or pasted onto another piece of paper to support and protect it.

The Four Treasures

Essential tools used in Sumi-E, also called the "Four Treasures," include:

  1. an ink stick,
  2. stone,
  3. brush
  4. and paper

Asian ink, similar to India Ink, is permanent and still maintains its dark values on scrolls over 1,000 years old. This type of ink was invented over two thousand years ago, the same time as porcelain. When dishes were fired or baked, the remaining carbon soot was collected from the inside of the kiln. It was then mixed with glue, pressed into a stick, and dried as a solid.

Ink Stone

The solid stick was then rubbed or ground on a smooth or stone surface with water added. A Sumi-e stone has an impressed smooth area carved out and polished to hold any ink that turns to liquid. The stone's flat top area was called the "land," and the carved or impressed area used for grinding and holding ink was called the "sea."

Grinding ink on the stone would warm up the arm, wrist, or hand muscles. Artists habitually used the time spent to meditate or collect their thoughts before writing poetry or painting. Depending on the ratio of water used, an artist could grind the stick for five minutes to half an hour.


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Fountain Pens

Instructor Recommended

How To



  1. Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA). (2023, Oct. 1). Ink Retrieved Oct. 1, 2023, from

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