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Evan Lindquist, Artist-Printmaker
Artist Laureate for the State of Arkansas, 2013-2017

How to Make Gallotannate Ink

Artists like to work with drawing inks that are permanent. Good ink should not fade in light, and it should not run or fade in humid or wet conditions. In Japan, it is said that old family documents, made of good paper and good ink, may be submerged in the well if the house catches fire. Although everything else might be consumed by fire, the family papers may be retrieved from the well and spread out to dry without harmful effects.
Modern black drawing ink is usually waterproof and fade proof, and some form of it is available wherever art supplies are sold. These carbon-based drawing inks may be called "India", "Japan", "China", "Sumi", or "Bokuju". They must be used with a dip pen or a brush. They will certainly ruin a fountain pen. Modern writing inks may be used in a fountain pen, but they will fade gradually in bright light. Most will bleed, run, or fade in humid conditions.
In addition to the carbon-based India or Sumi inks which have been used for many centuries, there was another kind of ink that was used for millions of texts and drawings, retaining their crisp legibility after several centuries. This ink, called "Gallotannate" or "Iron Gall" ink, is made from insect leaf galls.

In the pages that follow, you will find dozens of entries about old ink.
On the Third Page, you will find three downloadable "pdf" files of information published in the 1850s about making ink of various types.

In the Appendix, you will find standards for Testing and Dyes, and available Literature, published by the US National Bureau of Standards in 1936.
You can make a Gallotannate ink that will be permanent for drawing and writing, and it may be used in some fountain pens if you are careful. But beware! This type of ink is acidic and should not be used in most fountain pens unless you are experienced in cleaning and repairing them. Use it entirely at your own risk. These inks were designed to be used with bird quills which are naturally resistant to the acid in the ink. Corrosive action of this ink could damage dip pens, fountain pen nibs, and brushes. They could foul or damage some types of filling systems used in modern fountain pens.
I like to draw with Gallotannate ink while using expensive modern pens (for the most part, they are fountain pens made in the last 20 or 30 years). I dip the nib into the ink, but I never use a modern pen's filling system to fill the pen with ink. When I am finished writing or drawing, I immediately clean the pen by using its filling system to flush it with water. Even though I have done it, I cannot assure you that this process will work with your writing or drawing equipment.
This ink works well with old Esterbrook pens. I use the lever filler to fill the pen with ink, use it for a week or two (or until it runs low, but not quite empty), then flush it out with water. I have never experienced any problem with damage to either an Esterbrook pen or nib. Since 1993, I have kept an Esterbrook desk pen sitting in an inkwell filled with this ink. There is no sign of corrosion or damage. I flush the pen with tap water once or twice a year (whenever it begins to get crusty).
Esterbrooks are terrific pens to use with this ink. I recommend 1940s and 1950s Esterbrook pens for several reasons: They are easy to find (often only $10 or less) in garage sales, flea markets, and antique shops. They have a wonderful variety of interchangeable nibs (including some very desirable flexible and italic nibs). The nibs are easy to hone to a new shape (such as italic) on an Arkansas stone and 4/0 polishing paper. They are attractive. They were well engineered, and only about one-third of those I have found were in need of a sac replacement. They are easy to repair if you forget to flush the pen before the ink dries in it. Finally, even if the ink were to destroy the pen, the replacement cost might be low. (NOTE: Since this description was written and posted in 1995, Esterbrooks have become collectible items commanding higher prices.)
Find out more about dip pens and fountain pens at
This is the first of five pages of information about old ink.
Let's look at a description of old ink types.
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