This instructable shows how to make a simple red ink, similar to the sort used throughout history. I am using a recipe from Pliny the Elder's Natural Histories. The recipe calls for gum Arabic, water and cinnabar in nearly equal parts. The water and gum Arabic hold the pigment, cinnabar, in suspension to make a simple ink. The instrctuions on how to make the ink were very simple and the ratio of the ingredients was 1:3:1 although this can be varied slightly to change the thickness and strength of hue of the ink.
I did, however make a major change to the recipe as cinnabar is a toxic ore of mercury and so I did not want to handle it, also it is very hard to obtain. I decided to use dragons blood, a plant resin, instead of cinnabar as the Romans often confused it with cinnabar as they were both used a red pigments and when powdered looked very similar. This was good as it is not toxic and is easier to buy off the internet.
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I make every effort to ensure the information contained in this instructable is correct and up to date. However, I accept no liability or responsibility for any problems due to any errors or omissions in the content of the instructable. If you are unsure of anything please research it further.
Risk of harm
I make every effort to ensure the safety advice and precautions contained in this instructable are correct and that you will not be hurt if you follow my safety precautions and any other sensible precautions. However, I accept no liability or responsibility for any problems due to any errors or omissions in the content of the instructable. If you are unsure of anything please research it further and do not do anything unless you are sure it is safe.
Although if you are sensible you should not hurt yourself.
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Step 1: Ingredients
The main ingredients are gum Arabic and dragons blood. You need equal quantities by weight, I used 1.58g of each. (You do not need to be this precise with weight)
Gum Arabic is the dried sap of the acacia tree. It can be bought quite cheaply on the Internet. It normally comes in small lumps and before using you should break the lumps up, so it will dissolve faster, and remove any bits of bark and other impurities which it often comes with.
The dragons blood is the resin of various plants and can be bought on the internet, However it is quite a bit more expensive than gum Arabic. It is easier to break up than the gum Arabic so you probably do not need to break it up before use.
Step 2: What Is Dragons Blood?
Dragon's blood is a red resin that comes from different species of plants from the genera: Croton, Dracaena, Daemonorops, Calamus rotang and Pterocarpus. It has been used throughout history as a pigment, medicine and varnish.
In history there was confusion about the source of dragon's blood and what it actually was. Some medieval sources claimed it was the literal blood of elephants and dragons who had died fighting. The resin of Dracaena species, "true" dragon's blood (which is what I am using), and the very poisonous mineral cinnabar was often confused by the Romans. Both Dracaena and Daemonorops resins are still often sold today as dragon's blood, with very little distinction being made between the plant sources; however, the resin obtained from Daemonorops is now the most commonly sold type, often in the form of large balls.
The dragons blood I bought is a mix of resin from Dracaena cochinchinensis and Dracaena cambodiana. I chose this as the dragons blood used by the Romans was primarily sourced from Socotra and so was most probably Draceana cinnabari.
Step 3: Method
It is simple to make. Add the gum Arabic and dragons blood to a pestle and mortar and grind into a fine powder. The more you grind it the finer it will get and the better ink it will make. I would advise that you grind the gum Arabic first as it is much harder to do, I might even suggest that you use a hammer or similar to smash it into small pieces before adding it to the pestle and mortar. Then once the powder is finely ground add water and mix, the powder does not mix all that well into the water and so you could add alcohol to reduce the surface tension of the liquid. I would recommend adding less water than you think is needed and then slowly add more until you reach the desired consistency.
Once mixed you can filter the ink as there will be some organic matter in the resin that is not needed in the ink. If you leave the ink you will notice this settling to the bottom. Removing this is not needed but will make the ink smother and thus easier to write with.
Step 4: Use
The ink will naturally be slightly glossy from the gum Arabic and if you increase the amount it will be more gloss. This ink can be used like most inks but I would not use this with a fountain pen as, due to its gum Arabic content it, can gum up the pen, although this can be solved by soaking the pen in warm water. To write with this I would use a dip pen, and remember to clean it afterwards. You can also use the ink with a paint brush but I would be careful not to let the brush dry out.
The colour will vary depending on the concentration of dragons blood. This colour should then be reasonably light fast. This sort of ink was sometimes called by the Romans atramentum rubrica and was used for rubrics, which it gives its name to.