Making your own ink/pigment

Can anybody offer some insight into this process? Obviously this project is an experiment and not a business venture. So I’m just looking to learn a little bit about ink making and pigments.

What is required of a pigment to have it stay suspended in a medium?

Log in to reply   8 replies so far

From the background of commercial and package printing, (not from the background of an artist), I think this area might better be left to industry to supply your needs. Ink pigment particle sizes are in the range of 0 to 1 micron. One of a person’s hairs is roughly 75 microns in width, so you would need some pretty small, and consistently sized, pigment particles. Pigment making is a dirty, toxic process which I think is mostly done offshore now, in places with more lax environmental laws than North America.

Ink is made up of 3 parts: pigment, vehicle, and additives.
The vehicle is composed of resin dissolved in a solvent. The pigment is mixed, or “ground”, into the vehicle. The vehicle then surrounds the pigment particles and protects them and binds them to the sheet you are printing on. Since the pigment starts out being dry like a very fine powder, the vehicle also allows the ink to flow enough so that it can be rolled into a thin film and transfer from the press to the sheet during the printing process.

The additives are substances which give the ink other desired properties. Examples are dryer, which promotes the drying of the ink, and wax (not the type you think of as candle wax) which gives the dried ink film better rub resistance.

In colonial times, as I understand it (and I welcome more info/corrections on this from others), ink vehicle could be made by boiling linseed oil until it got thick. Then black pigment could be made by putting a bucket of something that would burn with black smoke (pine pitch?), in a tent, lighting it on fire, and letting it burn out. The black pigment particles from the smoke would then coat the inside of the tent. Then the bucket would be removed, and a sheet put down inside. The tent was then tapped so that the black pigment would fall on the sheet. This was great ink pigment because the particle size was very small. I don’t think you should try this though, because linseed oil is flammable and boiling it would only make it more flammable, so that to boil it would be very dangerous. Also, can you imagine how dirty and messy obtaining the black pigment in above described way would be? And of course, a burning pine pitch fire could easily get out of control and burn up the tent, as well as you and your possessions.

To answer your question about how pigment could be suspended in the vehicle, I don’t think that would be a problem because pigments don’t seem to settle in the thick vehicles we use, perhaps because they are not heavier than the vehicle itself.

Like I said in the beginning, I think it would be better to leave ink making to industry. Definitely don’t heat or burn anything to try to make it. And, ink making isn’t as easy as I made it sound above……

If you want to try making something you are going to use, why not try papermaking? I think you would find it much more rewarding.

Hope this helps……

It is possible to purchase all the necessary materials to make ink, but grinding is the most essential and difficult part. It can be done with a hand muller, but is better done with a purpose-built machine. It might be a quaint thing to do, but for the overall cost of time and materials you would be better off just buying the ink.

That said, it is possible to purchase pigment dispersions in oil, and the other ingredients are available. I only know of one printed recipe for letterpress black ink as the formulas are closely kept secrets by the ink companies.


If you’re approaching it from more of a “I want to make my own small batch of ink” perspective, there are many resources out there in texts that are more geared towards printmaking.
One good online resource/outline/informative free guide you can check out:

Goes into history and process and materials in verbal depth. Polymetaal is a european printmaking supplier.

One tool you’ll need that is rather difficult to locate these days (anyone reading this have a good source??!) is a glass muller.
Artboards, a brooklyn company, seems to provide a decent looking one- though I’ve never used it, I’m about to buy one:’s.htm

However, you can use a round, 4” diameter piece of 1/2” glass (if you can get someone to fabricate it for you), with some kind of sturdy handle securely glued to it, and it will work pretty well- but by the time you’re done you’ve almost spent enough to buy a muller.
So.. Buy a muller.

I have heard of folks also using warmed stainless steel plates as well, with some success, to ‘loosen’ the linseed oil and make it more easily mixed up.

The nice thing about grinding your own ink is that you get to control the amount of pigment in the ink and somewhat increase it’s intensity/tack to your own liking, and your ink is also as fresh as possible- but if you want it to dry with any rate of usable speed for a commercial endeavor, you’re probably going to have to add driers to it. Otherwise, ink without driers in it made with pure high grade boiled linseed oil is supposed to be some of the most stable stuff out there- we can all still examine Goya’s prints (which didn’t fall apart due to foxing or any crazy archival ink issues), so I certainly believe it to be true.

Good luck in your endeavors.

I purchased my glass muller from T. N. Lawrence:

It has to be used with a sheet of ground glass to work properly, although a sizable lithographic stone might work as well. Since there are different kinds of ink for all the different printing applications make sure you have a formula for letterpress ink rather than etching or lithographic. You must use some sort of drier or your ink will take forever to dry.

etching inks Bone black and lamp black were literally the pigments made by burning bones the soot thereof, and smoke from the burning wick of an oil/paraffin lamp.Vine black ie vine trimmings from vinyards then burnt linseed oil that is “copperplate oil” is added . London had many fires due to this process of setting linseed oil on fire to increase its viscocity so copperplate linseed oil manufacturers were banned to the south side of the city. Artists use boiled linseed oil or pressed oil.Carbon monoxide poisoning ????be careful if you attempt this. Letterpress inks would be a different vehicle, !!

Well, there are litho varnishes as well that you can use, but I haven’t had a huge problem with etching inks on press the few times I’ve used them.

Of course, ymmv.

think it’s a cool idea

let us know how it turns out

yours truly

how to mix inks, kindly forwarded to me from lithographer Juan Pablo Villalpando