Historical Background of Printing Inks

In about 2500BC, writing inks were first manufactured in both ancient Egypt and China. They basically consisted of paste of soot bound with gums which was formed into rods and dried, them mixed with water immediately before use.
About 3000 years later, printing was invented by Chinese who used a mixture of coloured earth, soot and plant matter for pigments, again mixed with gums as a binder. The first printing press with a movable type was first invented by Johannes Guttenberg in 1440. Here, the ink was bound with either linseed or varnish materials similar to those used for black inks today. In 1972, coloured inks appeared followed by drying agents in ninteenth century.

Today’s printing inks are composed of a pigment (one of which is carbon black similar to soot used in 2500BC), a binder (an oil, resin or varnish), a solvent and various additives such as drying and chelating agents. The exact recipe for given ink depends on the type of surface that it will be printing on and the printing method that will be used. 


Inks have been designed to print on a wide range of surfaces from metals, plastics and fabrics to papers. The various printing methods are all similar- ink is applied to a plate/cylinder made of metal or rubber, which is further applied to the surface to be printed. the image can be raised up above the surface of the plate, in the plane of the plate but chemically treated to attract the ink or etched into the plate and the excess ink scraped off. Different inks are produced to suit these different conditions.
Source “Polymer Science - Coatings and Adhesives and Technology of Printing Inks”

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