What is India Ink?

India ink (also known as Chinese ink) is a black or colored ink that was once widely used for writing and printing. It is now more commonly used for drawing and outlining, especially for comics. While the ink was actually invented in China (as early as the 3rd millennium BC), it was called ‘India ink’ by the British due to their trade links with India.

India ink has been used in India itself since the 4th century BC, and was called ‘masi.’ The practice of writing with ink and a sharp-pointed needle was a common practice in South India, and several ancient Buddhist and Jain scripts were written in ink.

The manufacturing of India ink gained traction around 220–265 AD. Historically, the Chinese made ink in the form of ink sticks made from lampblack and animal glue. The Chinese had used India ink derived from pine soot prior to the 11th century AD. When worries over deforestation increased, an official named Shen Kuo decided to make ink from other sources. He made ink from the soot of burning petroleum, which was later praised as being superior to pine soot ink.

A common ingredient in India ink, called carbon black, has been used by many ancient historical cultures such as the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

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