Tips and Tricks Part Two: Inks

Let’s start by saying that this section could quite literally become a book. In an effort to be brief, this will only cover a few tips on inks. If you need further help trouble shooting, please call us or comment here/email me (jennifer[at]paperinkarts[dot]com) with questions, and I’ll update the article accordingly!

First and foremost, when working with ink, you want to be sure to set it up as efficiently as possible. Customer Rebecca White offers this fabulous tip, “”To keep small custom ink bottles from tipping over on my work table or in the carry-box, I cut an X in a 3″ square piece of dish sponge and then poke the ink bottle down into the X. The wide piece of sponge helps keep the bottle standing upright, and soaks up any drips from the bottle or the dropper.” This is an excellent suggestion for setting up your workspace! Now for a few suggestions on working with your ink once you have it set up!

yhst-141105795965626_2383_235744379Iron Gall Ink: The number one complaint about iron gall ink is that it’s just not black. It’s actually more gray. This is true, but there is a tip for getting it to darken. Using an inkwell or dappen dish, pour in a small amount of ink. Allow it to oxidize, and it will get darker the longer it is exposed to air. You don’t want to leave your entire bottle open (though it’s tempting!) because too much oxidation can have a negative effect. Therefore, it’s essential to have a container for smaller amounts of ink.  Also, be sure to wipe down your nib frequently when using iron gall as it can be corrosive. A simple wet paper towel can do the trick, and nib wipe is even better.

yhst-141105795965626_2383_235578960Acrylic Ink: Acrylic ink can often be too thick for pointed pen work. If you find this to be the case, use distilled water to thin it down a bit. Using distilled is preferred because you can never be exactly sure of what your tap water contains. Distilled water ensures that nothing in the water will react strangely with the ink. Mix in water using a dropper/pipette, and only add a drop or two at a time.

On the other hand, you may find your acrylic ink too thin for some styles of lettering (or maybe you went overboard on thinning it). In that case, you can use Ziller Ink Thickener or liquid gum arabic. Again, use a dropper/pipette to add your thickener, and only add one drop at a time.

The other complaint about acrylic ink (and generally this applies to metallic colors) is that it separates. In that case, you need to mix it, and shaking it is often not a good idea. Shaking can cause certain brands to get foamy. Thus, stirring is preferred. The best and easiest way to stir would be by using the Badger paint mixer or magnetic stirrer. However, if you’re not quite ready for that investment, a popsicle stick or even a kabob stick will work. You’ll just be doing the work manually.

yhst-141105795965626_2383_880462344Sumi Inks: Sumi inks will provide the most beautiful and dense blacks available, and most are thin enough to use straight from the bottle. (If you find a thinner consistency needed, add distilled water a drop at a time.) Sumi ink will have a strong smell, so be prepared for that. It should not cause any health issues; some people find the smell concerning. Just be sure not to ingest it (or any other ink for that matter). The last tip for sumi is to know that it can be corrosive, so wipe your nibs clean frequently as you work with it. You may find you work best with setting a certain parameter such as wiping down your nib after every third line. Besides allowing your nibs to last longer, this will also keep the ink from building up as you write, which should help ink flow.

Mixing Ink: It is not at all uncommon for a bride or other customer to ask you to letter in  color that does not exist in an ink line. It is possible to mix inks, and we generally recommend that you start with colors in the same line (ex-mixing Bombay with Bombay, FW with FW, etc). This is largely because inks in the same line follow a similar formulation, and mixing them should not change the consistency of the ink. However, if you need to mix in white, Bleedproof White and Pen White tend to mix well with most inks.

Two important tips to remember when mixing inks are to add the darker color to the lighter color-not vice versa and to write down how much of each ink you use. If you start with your darker color, you’ll use up all of your lighter color ink trying to lighten it. It is much easier to darken the lighter color. Also, be sure you write down exactly how much of each color you use. Many customers create ink color recipes. You can store them on index cards in a small box, and then you always have the recipe to fall back on the next time you need the color you created or somewhere to start if you need a similar color.

20150902_100502Storing Ink: First and foremost, you should always store your ink in a temperature controlled environment. The garage or the attic would not be a safe bet. (It’s doubtful you’d be considering one of those any way, but if you have a small workspace, you may have to store things that are not being used frequently.) You can store your easily in taller drawers or on shelves. I’ve just started storing the colors I use frequently directly on my desk on metal spice racks. It works well!

20150902_100518If you have mixed a special color or you want to use smaller amounts of inks, you can store them in jars. We offer several options-dinky dips, storage cups, and the smaller jars found in this case. When you use jars for storage, be sure to label your jars, Customer Trish Meyers says, “I used to lose track of which black ink was in which vial (of dinky dips). I stick an Avery 3/4” round white label (#6736) to the top and write the name of the ink or color on the label. The last one holds gum arabic.” If you are using the smaller Dinky Dips, customer and teacher Rose Wathen recommends artist tape and a fine tipped marker, such as a Micron, to label her jars. 11218933_1064007486942815_4402678890509486554_n


We also have exquisite inkwells made my Neil McCaffery. These are leak- proof and safe to store ink in for longer periods. However, make sure you do not allow ink to dry on the threading of the inkwell, otherwise you will not be able to unscrew it once it dries. Trust us on this one! We also offer dappen dishes that are perfect for using while you are working; however, you would not want to store your ink in them for long periods of time because even the ones with lids do not seal.

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Traveling with Ink: Every calligrapher will need to travel with ink at some point, and it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. With a bit of planning, you can arrive to your destination with ink intact. This is especially true if you are driving to your destination. In that case, put your bottles in a storage case or sturdy bag, and place it on the floorboard. If they are sealed tightly, you should not have any trouble. Flying, however, presents many more challenges. If you can take smaller amounts of ink, it is probably easiest to put your ink in your carry on so that you can control how much it is jostled. Even so, you should pack it just as you would for your suitcase. No one wants a purse or bag full of spilled ink! First, put it in a tightly sealed bottle (many customers swear by Nalgene bottles available at the Container Store) or be sure it is completely closed if you are taking your original bottle. From there, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or place it in small Ziploc, and then place it in a larger Ziploc. Double or triple bagging helps in case a leak does occur because the extra bags help contain your leak. When we pack single bottles of ink for shipping, we frequently use sealable bubble wrap bags. This helps protect the ink if it is jostled in transit. It’s not 100% failsafe, but it does help. You can create the same effect with bubble wrap and packing tape. Regardless of which method you use, never ever put your ink in the outside pockets of your checked baggage. That’s just good common sense!

What other questions do you have for trouble shooting ink? What tips can you offer to our readers? Comment here, and we’ll update the article with answers to your questions or the inclusion of your tips!

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