The Impact of Ink in our Lives

Today’s ink has a big impact on our everyday lives, from books and manuscripts to cakes and cookies; ink tells us a lot of the things we need to know through the simple process of printing. Ancient cultures used primitive forms of ink to write on cave walls, the skins of animals or even onto their own bodies. Where does ink come from? How has it evolved over the centuries to become the common forms that we use today? In this brief article, we’ll take a look at the history of ink, the types and how it’s used in modern times.

Today there are basically three different types of ink:

  • Ink based on pigments with an added binder
  • Inks based on dyes like used in a fountain pen
  • A chemical precipitation ink like iron gall ink

The first inks used by man were created using vegetable or fruit juices, secretions from various sea animals, blood and even from the bark from trees. The first ink as we know it today was developed during the ancient Chinese and Egyptian civilizations around 2500 BC. It was usually created using fine carbon particles like lamp black with glues or gums acting as bonding agents.

India ink became popular in China around the fourth century BC. It was created by mixing burnt bones, pitch and tar from India and written using a pointed needle.

There have been many changes over the years regarding ink, the pen and the printing machine. Inventions such as the ballpoint pen, felt-tip marker and fiber-tip pens have led to different formulations of inks that contain new solutions of dyes that were unknown in previous decades.

Today’s inks can generally be divided into two classifications; ink that’s used for regular printing of magazines and newspapers and ink that is designed for non-impact devices, like inkjet, LED, laser and electrostatic machines.

Color printing inks are generally made from linseed or soybean oil, or a heavy petroleum distillate is used as a solvent, and then combined with organic pigments.

Most white inks contain titanium dioxide as the pigment, but there are growing concerns about the known toxicity of heavy metals and many inorganic pigments are now being used to alleviate this concern.

The primary step in producing black ink today is to wet the carbon black in a premixing process. This makes sure that any air bubbles remaining in the ink mixture are eliminated. The premix is then run through a disperser and mixed with resins and oils to reach the proper viscosity for printing. Filtration is also required to make sure no oversize particulates remain and an electromagnetic filter eliminates any metal fragments that may have been introduced into the mixture. Additional final adjustments can be made to insure that the ink is ready for shipment to the customer.

Color inks are created using flushed pigments and the color slurry is filtered and then mixed with an oil-based varnish to displace any excess water from the pigment. The final step is to run the ink through quality control to make sure that every requirement in the process has been fulfilled.

With every new technological electronic device there are always those who claim that printing with ink is doomed, and yet newspapers, magazines and other printed materials continue to be produced every day. After some 4500 years, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight to the unique and valuable process of printing with ink.

Written by Erryn Deane from Needham Ink. Erryn is the digital business manager for The Needham Group of companies, with a wealth of knowledge in laser marking systems, amongst many other things, he has decades of experience in online development, business analysis and management. In his spare time, he likes to find out how things work and looks to improve them, from vehicles to electronics or even musical instruments.

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