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For thousands of years, India ink has been used as an expressive medium for painting, drawing, lettering, and tattooing. This permanent ink is traditionally an opaque black, being made with lampblack, a pigment derived from soot. Modern formulas also often include shellac, which functions as a sealant so artists can safely paint washes over the ink, something that dye-based alcohol inks don’t allow. Whether you’re a calligrapher or a painter, our picks will help you decide which product will serve you best.
Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star Waterproof India Ink
Lightfast and permanent, this shellac-free black ink flows beautifully and applies smoothly. It can behave almost like a watercolor, but you can also achieve dense and crisp lines. The fast-dry formula is packaged in a 1-ounce glass bottles with a convenient dropper for precise dispensing, and you can use it with dip pens, brushes, or technical pens. Once dry, it is totally waterproof, making this a great ink to use with watercolor, gouache, and other liquid mediums. This black ink is available in a versatile formula with a matte finish or a high-carbon formula with a glossy finish that works best on acetate.
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Higgins Waterproof Black India Ink
Less viscous than most of our other picks, Higgins’s ink flows very easily while carrying a dark, opaque black. It can be used in some fountain pens as well as dip pens but is easiest to control with brushes. Because it is quite liquid, it is not ideal for creating thin lines, but you can use it to produce nice, thick outlines. This is also a fantastic ink for making washes, and you can achieve a great range of evocative shades that will dry with a semigloss look. The 1-ounce bottle, small and made of plastic, is light enough to travel with but still weighted in a way that guards against spills. A built-in eyedropper provides extra convenience.
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Speedball Super Black India Ink
Sold in a generous 2-ounce bottle, this black ink is ideal for loading into dipping implements. Steel nib or glass dip pens, brushes, and feather quills alike will easily fit in the wide mouth of the small, inkwell-shaped bottle. The intense black ink creates smooth, solid lines that don’t feather, and it dries with a matte finish. It is a nearly no-smear ink that performs well for simple drawing and calligraphy, and it mixes well with water if you prefer a thinner consistency. While it quickly dries to the touch, artists who wish to use watercolors or markers over it should wait several hours or overnight. One note: Take care with the flimsy plastic bottle, which can be easy to tip over.
Pebeo Graphic India Ink
This economical ink is relatively viscous, which suggests that the formula contains more binder than our other picks. The black is incredibly intense and satiny and can be diluted to increase flow without compromising on color. The ink is compatible with dip pens or brushes, and when mixed with water it is very easy to use to cover large areas with washes. Drying time is a little longer than with more costly inks, but the surface is completely waterproof and presents a semigloss finish. The biggest drawback to this ink is that it has quite a strong smell. On the other hand, the large, 8.5-ounce bottle will last in the classroom for a long time.
Purchase: Pebeo Graphic India Ink, $15.25 on Amazon
Koh-I-Noor Rapidraw Black India Ink
Designed for use with Rapidograph pens, this is the best ink to use with technical implements, as it’s fast drying, opaque, and smooth flowing. The highly concentrated carbon formula, which contains a special latex binder, shows up beautifully not only on paper but also on tracing cloth and drafting film. Because it dries to a permanent, lightfast, and waterproof finish, you can also use it for mixed media art. Each 0.75-ounce bottle features a narrow spout to ease the process of filling your pens.