How to make your own Magick ink
your own “magickal” ink is an added bonus to spell work.
recipes for iron gall ink have been published over the centuries.
The sheer variety and number of these recipes testify to the
widespread use of iron gall ink and its primary importance to our
literary and artistic traditions. Artists and scribes, domestics and
entrepreneurs each concocted their own formula to suit their
Interest in making historic inks has increased
in the last several years, due in large part to the efforts of a few
ink enthusiasts who have shared their vast knowledge and experience
on the subject. This website is an effort to continue this dialogue,
by sharing information about iron gall ink and promoting an
appreciation for its unique place in history.
It is surprisingly easy to make iron gall ink
- the earliest recipes are often the simplest - and the ingredients
are inexpensive and readily available.
Iron gall ink is essentially created by the chemical
reaction between tannic acid and iron(II) sulfate in an
aqueous solution. The primary active components in tannin
are gallotannic and gallic acid. With iron(II) sulfate,
these tannic acids produce a black pigment, called
ferrogallotannate or ferrotannate, upon exposure to oxygen.
A small amount of pigment forms by reacting with oxygen in
the water, but much more pigment is produced after the ink
has been applied to paper and exposed to air for several
Even though iron gall ink has been
highly prized for centuries for its durability and rich
colour, it is known to be chemically unstable, and may, over
time, change color or damage the paper on which it is
applied (visit ink corrosion for more information). Recent
research indicates that a 3:1 ratio of gallotannic acid to
iron sulfate produces the most stable inks.
Although tannic acid and iron sulfate in water
will produce a coloured solution, it is not a true ink until a
water-soluble binder, such as gum arabic, is added to improve the
body and flow of the solution so it may be used with quill, reed or
steel dip pens (because of the corrosive nature of the ink, it is
not recommended for use in expensive fountain pens). Other
ingredients can be added to strengthen or change the colour of the
ink, act as a preservative, or prevent it from freezing. A brief
description of the source and function of each ingredient may
inspire you to experiment with your own ink formulas.
Iron (II) sulfate
Water or wine
1. Tannic acid
Tannic acid is contained in the galls, bark, leaves, roots
and fruits of various plants. The greatest concentration of
gallotannic acid is found in galls; the bulbous growths
formed on the leaves and twigs of trees in response to
attack by parasites. Galls are collected from oak, oak-apple
and pistachio trees. Depending on the source, they can be
amorphous in shape (Japanese and Chinese galls); large,
smooth and globular (British and American oak galls); or
small, round and spiky (Aleppo galls). Aleppo galls,
collected from trees native to Turkey, contain the highest
amount of gallotannate, and were used in trial preparations
of the inks described below. A lower proportion of
gallotannic acid may be extracted from the bark of various
trees, including oak, chestnut, mountain ash and cherry.
other sources for tannin include pomegranate rinds, horse
chestnuts, hemlock and pine bark. However, the active
tannins in these materials are different, and the ink will
be less durable and have a green tone instead of the blue
black colour characteristic of high-quality iron gall ink.
Essentially, there are three methods by which gallotannate is
extracted from galls. "Instant" ink recipes call for powdered or
crushed galls to be mixed with water or other liquid. Others require
that the galls be boiled for several hours to release the tannins.
The most time-consuming preparations involve fermentation of the
galls by mould.
The fermentation process generally produces
the richest, blackest inks. As the mold enzymatically digests the
gallotannic acid, the solution is transformed to gallic acid. Gallic
acid will produce a purer black colour in reaction with iron sulfate,
while gallotannic acid will produce a comparatively browner pigment.
Should you want to make a gallic acid ink without investing the
time, pure gallic acid can also be obtained from a chemical
Iron sulfate has been called by many different names,
including ferrous sulfate, vitriol, and copperas to name
just a few. The term "copperas" may be particularly
confusing to contemporary readers. Artist manuals
distinguish iron sulfate as green copperas and copper
sulfate as blue copperas. In early recipes, iron sulfate and
copper sulfate were used interchangeably, in part because
natural sources of the minerals were usually mined together.
As iron sulfate became available through chemical suppliers,
some recipes suggested cooking in a copper pot or otherwise
adding copper salt to the mixture, presumably based on the
belief that copper sulfate reacted with iron sulfate to
produce color. However, recent research (currently
unpublished) indicates that copper sulfate does not play a
significant role in the ink color, and in fact, may inhibit
production of the black pigment.
Pure iron sulfate may be obtained from
chemical, specialty art or fabric dye suppliers in the form of a
pale green powder or granules. A less pure form may be made at home
by dissolving iron scraps or nails in a weak acid. However, making
your own iron sulfate should never be attempted without a good
understanding of the health and safety hazards involved, which is
not within the scope of this website. For a more detailed
description of the preparation of iron sulfate refer to Manuscript
Inks by Jack C. Thompson, available through his website address
listed in the links option.
3. Water or wine
Most inks are made in water. Of course, the purity of water varies
widely, and older recipes often suggest using rain water, probably
because it was thought to be purer than available standing water
sources. Water from the tap may be contaminated with chlorine,
metals from pipes, calcium and other salts. For this reason it is
generally better to use fresh rain water or distilled water instead.
In trial preparations of the inks described in this website, only
distilled water was used. When measuring the amount of water
specified by weight in a recipe, it is helpful to know that one
milliliter is approximately equal to one gram.
Wine, beer or vinegar were sometimes used instead of water for the
same reason‹ because it was thought to be a purer liquid. Alcohol
may also have prevented the ink from freezing in winter, but, since
some recipes require boiling the alcohol (which would cause it to
evaporate), there may be another explanation for its use. It may be
that the glycerin in alcohol increases the rate of extraction for
tannin. Alcohol also reduces the surface tension of the ink
solution, allowing it to soak more quickly into the paper fibers.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that a large proportion of alcohol or
vinegar may have a preservative effect, inhibiting mold from growing
on the finished ink.
In many recipes, vinegar is suggested as a
diluent in place of water to avoid diminishing the intensity of the
ink color. Simple tests indicate that, in fact, color is not reduced
by the addition of water any more than by vinegar; however, the
gloss (imparted by gum arabic) is reduced more in water than in
4. Gum arabic
Gum arabic is a water soluble golden-coloured sap collected from
Acacia trees native to North Africa. It may be
from art supply stores in the form of a liquid, a powder or as dried
clumps or fragments. Gum arabic keeps the black pigment suspended in
the liquid; otherwise, it would settle to the bottom of the
container over time. It also helps to thicken the ink, allowing it
to flow more easily from the pen or brush onto the paper.
More importantly, the gum holds the ink at the
surface of the paper for a few extra seconds before sinking into the
fibres. This influences the appearance and durability of marks made
with the ink. The ink line is clearer and sharper than it would be
without a binding agent, in part because the ink sinks less deeply
into the paper fibres. However, too much gum arabic will cause the
dried ink to become inflexible, and it can crack and flake off the
Because the pigment in iron gall ink does not completely
form until it is exposed to air, it is not very dark when
applied to paper immediately after preparation. To bypass
this latent reaction, provisional colorants were often added
to the ink to obtain a dark colour as soon as it flowed from
the pen. Natural dyestuffs, including logwood, indigo, and Brazilwood were used until synthetic aniline dyes replaced
them in the late 19th century. Indigo had the further
advantage of imparting a preservative effect to the ink.
Logwood has been used as a colorant
since at least the Middle Ages, and was used widely in ink
formulations produced in the first half of the 19th century.
It is obtained from the wood of the campeachy tree and
supplied as shavings or splinters by suppliers of artists'
materials or fabric dyes. Boiled in tap water, logwood
creates a blood red solution, although it will shift to blue
in alkaline solutions and to yellow-orange in highly acidic
solutions. Unfortunately, the colourant is not very
lightfast, and, unlike the iron gall pigment, it will remain
soluble in water after drying.
Beware! These inks may be corrosive and
harmful to expensive writing and drawing equipment. There may also
be toxic environmental effects in mixing them. Before experimenting
with these recipes, you must consider the risks and accept
responsibility for whatever happens.
Gallnuts, 5 grams
Ferrous Sulfate, 1 gram
Gum Arabic, 1 gram
Water, 200 grams
Grind the gallnuts to a fine powder and
immerse in half of the water. In a few weeks, mold will cover the
top surface. Skim off the mold and pour the liquid through a filter.
Dissolve gum Arabic in a small amount of water and add it to the
liquid. Dissolve the ferrous sulfate in water and add it to the
liquid. Add 1 gram of carbolic acid to keep mold from forming.
Gallnuts, 30 grams
Crystallized ferrous sulfate, 20 grams
Gum Arabic, 20 grams
Water, 600 grams
Grind the nuts to a fine powder and place into
a bowl. Add half the water and let soak. In the remaining volume of
water, dissolve the ferrous sulfate and the gum. Into this liquid,
pour in the ground-and-soaked gallnuts. The liquid will turn black
and can be used immediately, but it will reach its most intense
blackness if it is stirred frequently for one or two months. After
this, allow it to set for a few days, then filter and pour into the
ink bottle. To avoid the formation of mould, add 5% of volume of
strong gallnut extract and boil for 5 minutes. Too much of the iron
salts will make the ink turn a rusty brown with darker edges, and it
may also eat into the paper. Too large a quantity of gallnuts will
make the ink lose its intensity, but it will remain resistant to
water and alcohol.
To make good ink. Take 150g of the best
Nuttgalls, break them in a mortar but not in small pieces, then put
the gall into one litre of clear rain water or soft spring water,
let them stand 4 or 5 days shaking them often, then take 2 ounces of
white gum arabick, 1 ounce of double refined sugar, 1 piece of
indigo and put in the same and shake them well and let them stand 4
or 5 days more. Then take 60g of good green copperis the larger the
better and having first washed off the filth put in to the rest and
also a piece of clear gum, about as big as a walnut to set the
colour and it will be fit for use.
"...Copperas is ferrous (or iron) sulphate,
which is available from any drugstore as a dietary supplement. In
its natural and impure state copperas has a green tinge, hence the
incorrect association with copper. Tannin, or tannic acid ... is the
brown substance found in the bark and leaves of trees. Medieval
scribes had their own favorite sources, however: acorns, walnut
shells and, most often, the small protuberances that grow on oak
leaves in reaction to the eggs of certain parasite wasps.... one
part powdered gum arabic, two parts copperas, three parts crushed
galls, and 30 parts water, all by volume...."
Paul Werner, "Dragon's Blood and Ashes",
Calligraphy Idea Exchange, volume 1, number 2
Some others to try:
Berry Ink. Use 1/2 cup fresh berries or thawed frozen
berries; push them through a strainer so that you get pulp-free
juice. Add 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar (to hold colour) and 1/2 teaspoon
salt (as a preservative) and mix well. You can use a small glass jar
as your "inkwell", if you have one.
Walnut Ink. Crush the shells of 12 walnuts by putting them
in a sock and hammering them lightly. Pour the shells into a
saucepan and cover them with water, then let them simmer for 30
minutes. After that, remove them from heat and let them soak
overnight. Strain the shells out of the ink and add 1/4 teaspoon of
vinegar to help preserve the colour.
Invisible Ink. Try writing with lemon juice on a
piece of paper using a paintbrush or Q-Tip. When the ink has dried,
hold the paper over a toaster to heat it. Your writing should appear
in brown lettering as the parts of the paper with acid from the
lemon juice brown faster than the other parts. You can also make
invisible ink from equal parts baking soda and water. Brush grape
juice over your secret message to reveal the writing--the acidic
grape juice reacts with the baking soda, which is a base.
Note: store these three inks in the fridge, they will not keep
long in warm conditions.