History of Printing Ink
Esparto grass 1860

Ink was already in use for printing (from wooded blocks) at the time of Gutenberg developed his movable type system. Early inks consisted of lampblack or soot mixed with animal glue or vegetable oils. Ink making became a highly developed art among the Chinese. They introduced earth colors and printed from hand-cut block in the 11th century 400 years before Gutenberg.

In the early day of printing, the printer made his own ink with lampblack and boiled linseed oil which he cooked according to a secret formula. Much of the success of Gutenberg's invention of printing is due to the special ink he developed for transfer to and from the cast metal type. Ink making became a commercial process in the 17th century. The first ink factory was established in America in 1742.

In the early manufacture of inks, little color was used until the discovery of coal tar types in the middle of the 19th century. Linseed oil (a vegetable oil) was the main vehicle in printing ink until the mid-1930's when new vehicles and heat-set ink were introduced for letterpress magazine printing in the United States. UV (ultraviolet) and EB (electron beam) curing vehicles for ink and coatings were introduced in the 1970's. More recent developments in inks have been water-based ink for gravure and flexography, and soybean ink for lithography. Today ink making is a highly refined industry with special ink for each printing process and purpose. The ink industry represents a multi-billion-dollar industry in the United States alone.


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