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 of lampblack, a pigment derived from soot—but you can now find it in a rainbow of colors. 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.
1. 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. Small and made of plastic, the bottle is light enough to travel with but still weighted in a way that guards against accidental spills. A built-in eyedropper provides extra convenience when depositing ink.
2. Speedball Super Black India Ink
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.
3. Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink
Designed to be lightfast and permanent, these inks flow beautifully and can behave almost like watercolors; they can produce stunning effects when mixed with a paint medium, too. Packaged in small glass bottles, each with a convenient dropper for precise dispensing, they can be used with dip pens or brushes. While they are translucent, they are loaded with pigment to yield intense colors that you can dilute to create an array of bright tones. They also layer nicely and retain vibrancy whether used alone or in a wet-on-wet technique. Once dry, they are totally waterproof and carry a subtle sheen, adding an appealing finish to your pieces.
4. Ban Mi Multipurpose Ink
These inks might not have the same pedigree as some of our other picks, but they are an excellent option for those looking to add a little glamour to their work. Each bottle contains fine gold glitter that gives colors a stunning shimmery finish—perfect for adding highlights to paintings or lettering celebratory messages. Like Higgins’s ink, these are slightly watery, but they go on smooth while presenting a lot of rich, highly pigmented color. Suitable for artists of all ages and skill levels, this product comes in a nice gift set of 12 small glass bottles, each one decorated with an animal as a quirky but cute touch.
5. Winsor & Newton Ink
Favored by illustrators for their rich pigments, these water-resistant inks come in more than two dozen colors, which you can purchase individually. You can use them straight from the bottle with dip pens, but they work best with brushes as the liquid has a tendency to separate quickly, so the flow can be hit-or-miss with a hard nib. This also means you have to agitate the inks frequently to retain a consistent body, which some artists might find frustrating. The colors, however, are brilliant and dry with a glossy finish, and the black ink is especially rich and silky. We also love the glass bottles, which are sturdy, have good weight, and are delightfully illustrated. A final note: Winsor & Newton also offers a liquid India ink, a water-based and non-waterproof solution made from ground-up Chinese stick ink. This is ideal to apply with a dip pen and is best used for calligraphy.