The history of Chinese ink can be traced back as far as the 23rd century BC. They were most commonly made from plant dyes, animal extracts and minerals and applied onto graphite surfaces using paintbrushes. The earliest Chinese ink stick dates back to 255 BC and was made from animal glue and soot.
Ink has been around in India since the 4th century BC and was called ‘masi’ during ancient times. It was made from a mixture of burnt bones and tar. Nice. Lots of ancient Buddhist and Jain documents were written in ink, which was applied using a sharp needle; an early yet effective type of pen.
The ancient Egyptians used ink to add brightly coloured tints to their hieroglyphs, both on stone and on papyri. According to Dioscorides it would usually be made from lampblack (whatever that is) and mixed with gum, although his correspondent Pliny mentions it being made from vinegar and an infusion of wormwood in order to prevent the parchment being eaten by mice.
The fountain pen
Egypt also takes the credit for coming up with the idea of the fountain pen, which dates back to AD 953. It was known as the reservoir pen and was created to satisfy the demands of the caliph of Egypt who wanted a pen that wouldn’t leave ink splodges on his hands and clothes.
Ancient Roman ink was called atramentum and was a jet black substance used for writing, dying leather and as a varnish by painters. A popular ink was developed about 1,600 years ago that was made from iron salts mixed with tannin from gallnuts and a thickening agent. Blue-black on first application, the ink would fade to a dark brown over time.
During the period from AD 800 to 1500, commonly referred to as the medieval period, scribes would tend to write on parchment or vellum. One of the most popular ink recipes of the time used the branches of the hawthorn tree, which were cut and left to dry in the mild springtime sun. The bark would then be removed and soaked in water for at least a week. The water was then reduced over a fire until it thickened and turned black. This treacle-like substance was then left in the sun to dry out. Once dry, it was mixed with wine and iron salt.
The printing press
With the arrival of the printing press the use of ink and the accessibility of information changed forever. It was developed in the 15th century, yet it was incompatible with the two most popular inks of the time; the Greek and Roman version made from soot and glue and the 12th century variety made using gall, gum and ferrous sulphate. A new smudge-free variety had to be created. Inventors finally hit upon the idea of teaming soot, turpentine and walnut oil to create a glossy, oil-like consistency that worked in perfect harmony with the press. The rest, as they say, is history.
Image and text source: http://www.printerinks.com/blog/2013/01/10/a-brief-history-of-ink