In a medieval setting, in an area mainly on chalk or limestone, with a northern european climate were would ink for writing come from?


closed as off-topic by ZioByte, Olga, Josh King, Bellerophon, nzaman Feb 4 '18 at 18:04

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – ZioByte, Olga, Josh King, Bellerophon, nzaman
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In the movie Secret of Kells a fair amount of time is devoted to how the monks make ink. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 4 '18 at 3:34
  • $\begingroup$ In the antiquity and in medieval times (up to about the 14th century) scribes made their own ink and their own pens. These were things one learned when learning to write. More interesting is where did one get the papirus, parchment or paper to write on... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 4 '18 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ This has too many questions, and is too broad. In general, we stick to one question per question. I edited out some of the extra questions to focus on what Dan Clarke provided in his good answer. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Feb 4 '18 at 13:39

There were two types of common black ink. Iron or metal gall ink, was created using gall nuts, iron vitriol and gum. There are hundreds of recipes but a common recipe takes several days to make and requires rainwater.

The other type is carbon ink. It's made from charcoal or lamp-black and gum. It was the most common type of ink before the 12th century, but after that time it became less and less common.

Red ink came from Vermilion which is a mercuric sulphide. It would be ground with egg whites and a type of gum to produce the ink. More details can be found in the first link.

Other colours were made by using various dyes and metals.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Iron gall ink. Just to be clearer for the original questioner, "gum" is gum arabic. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 4 '18 at 3:55

To add to Dan Clarke's answer, you could also use acids from fruits and vegetable juices, mostly renowned as invisible inks. Lemon juice, for instance, is quite durable, you can get a decent amount from a single lemon and all you need is to submerge the tip of the writing device in it, pass it over parchment or paper and let it dry. If all went well, you should not be able to discern anything. When you wish to read it, simply warm up the paper or parchment next to a fire and, by pure magic, the words will become visible, and remain so. Depending on the season and the location, lemons, apples and oranges may be ridiculously cheap to get, or nearly impossible. Lemons grow easily in Mediterranean climates, and their season goes from November until March. Apples grow even in colder climates and they have a similar season to lemons, perhaps a little longer. Lemon juice also lasts for a long time.

Another alternative ink, albeit not invisible, is a juice obtained from cooking red onion skins. As kids we used it to color egg-shells during yearly festivals in March. You place the red onion skins in little water, and cook them until the water takes a dark crimson, almost brownish color. This tint is capable of staining a large amount of materials, and could well serve as ink, if needed. It fades over the years, though. Red onions are relatively easy and cheap to grow, and this juice lasts for a really really long time. Just recook it to sterilize it again.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.