Spotlight on Indian Ink


A permanent and opaque black, Indian ink mixes well with other colours and adds a cool dense tint. It flows well on the paper, producing strong crisp black lines.

Also known as Chinese ink, Indian ink stems from one of the oldest and most durable pigments of all time: carbon black. Made from any ash, mixed with a binder such as water, liquid or glue, different recipes for carbon black can be found as far back in history as the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.  A recipe by the Greek scribe Dioscorides (40 – 90 AD) still survives on parchment.

Around 3000 BC, drawing ink appeared in China. Often using animal glue as a binder, the pigment was dried into small sticks or little saucers which needed to be rubbed with water to create a liquid ink. Traditionally black inks were favoured by Chinese artists who excelled in producing monochrome paintings, where the gift lay in creating texture and emotions through strokes and varying shades of black and grey. In India, scribes have used needle and pen since antiquity to write many of their Buddhist and Jain scripts. Black ink was known as ‘masi’ in India, a mixture of different ashes, water and animal glue. It was only in the mid-17th century, when Europe began importing ink from India, that it became known as ‘Indian Ink’.

Used for an eclectic range of activities: tattoos, various scientific endeavours and the Japanese game Hanetsuki, today Indian ink is a standard among illustrators, calligraphists, designers and cartoonists.  A staple for any sketch, artists such as Hogarth, Henry Moore, Warhol and Hockney have all used Indian ink. The iconic gentleman spider wrapped around boxes and bottles of Indian Ink was created for Winsor & Newton by the world renowned designer Michael Peters OBE, and won a D&AD Design award for Packaging Design in 1973.

Winsor & Newton produce two professional quality Indian Inks: Liquid Indian Ink which is the traditional formula of the Chinese sticks and is not water-proof, and Black Indian Ink which uses a shellac binder allowing the ink to have washes painted on top without bleeding.