India ink

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India ink and watercolor
MFA# 01.6230


A black writing and painting media used for several hundred years. Originally, India ink referred to a brown-black liquid prepared from ink bag secretions of cuttlefish. The dried colorant, also called Sepia, was mixed with Gum arabic then made into watercolor cakes. Later, as trade developed between Europe and Asia, the terms India ink and China ink (Chinese ink) became synonymous for a black, opaque, indelible ink prepared by mixing fine Lampblack with Glue or Gum. A soft pliable paste was formed into sticks or cakes for transport and sale. Currently, the term India ink is used for a waterproof, black drawing ink. It has a Shellac binder, Borax Emulsifier, and is soluble in Alcohol.

Lithograph plus India ink
MFA# 2001.3
Acrylic paint and ink
MFA# 1999.450

Synonyms and Related Terms

China ink; tinta china (Esp.); encre de Chin (Fr.); tinta da China (Port.); Indian ink; sepia; Chinese ink; carbon ink

Resources and Citations

  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966 Comment: p. 105
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Susan E. Schur, Conservation Terminology: A review of Past & Current Nomenclature of Materials, Technology and Conservation, Spring (p.34-39); Summer (p.35-38); Fall (p.25-36), 1985
  • Boise Cascade Paper Group, The Paper Handbook, Boise Cascade, Portland OR, 1989
  • R.D. Harley, Artists' Pigments c. 1600-1835, Butterworth Scientific, London, 1982
  • George Savage, Art and Antique Restorer's Handbook, Rockliff Publishing Corp, London, 1954
  • Book and Paper Group, Paper Conservation Catalog, AIC, 1984, 1989
  • A Glossary of Paper Conservation Terms, Margaret Ellis (ed.), Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York City, 1998
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998