How Chinese Ink Sticks Are Made

In the world of Chinese and East Asian art forms such as calligraphy and brush painting, the creation of ink sticks is a meticulous and age-old process. Known as "mo" in Chinese, these solid ink cakes have been used for centuries as a key tool for artists to express their creativity. Made from a blend of soot and animal glue, the ink sticks showcase a rich and deep black color that’s perfect for creating delicate lines and expressive washes. One of the key ingredients in the production of these ink sticks is rapeseed oil, which, when burned, produces a fine carbon soot that adds to the intensity of the black hue. With their subtle tones and poetic qualities, Chinese ink sticks continue to captivate artists and enthusiasts alike, serving as a timeless symbol of artistic tradition and cultural heritage.

What Are the Ingredients in Chinese Calligraphy Ink?

This Carbon-based soot is then mixed with animal glue, usually derived from animal bones, to create a sticky paste. The animal glue acts as a binder, allowing the ink to adhere to surfaces like rice paper or silk. In addition to the glue, various other ingredients may be added to enhance the inks properties. For example, some ink makers may include ingredients like cinnabar or indigo for color variations. These additional ingredients can create vibrant hues when the ink is diluted with water during use.

The process of making Chinese ink sticks is a meticulous one that requires skill and precision. First, the soot is carefully collected and ground into a fine powder. This powder is then mixed with the animal glue and other ingredients, creating a thick paste. The paste is then molded into the desired shape, usually a stick or a cake-like form, using molds made of clay or wood. The finished molds are left to dry and harden over a period of time, ensuring that the ink sticks maintain their shape and consistency.

Once dried, the ink sticks are ready for use. To create ink for calligraphy or painting, the artist will take a small amount of the ink stick and grind it on an ink stone with water. This grinding process allows the ink to disperse evenly and provides the desired consistency for writing or painting. The resulting ink is rich, dark, and smooth, making it ideal for producing the bold and expressive strokes characteristic of Chinese calligraphy.

Chinese ink sticks aren’t only valued for their aesthetic qualities, but they also hold cultural significance. They’ve been used for centuries and are deeply ingrained in Chinese tradition and art. The process of making these ink sticks is passed down through generations of ink makers, ensuring the preservation of traditional techniques. Each ink stick carries the craftsmanship of the ink maker and the history of Chinese calligraphy, making it a cherished tool for artists and collectors alike.

Traditional Techniques for Making Chinese Ink Sticks: Dive Into the Step-by-Step Process of Making Chinese Ink Sticks, From Collecting the Soot to Molding and Drying the Sticks.

  • Collecting the soot
  • Pulverizing and sifting the soot
  • Mixing the soot with glue
  • Molding the mixture into sticks
  • Pressing and shaping the sticks
  • Drying the sticks in a cool and dark place
  • Polishing and refining the dried sticks
  • Packaging the finished ink sticks

Japanese ink, also known as Sumi ink, is made by kneading together animal glue and soot. The soot is produced by burning oil or pinewoods, giving the ink it’s characteristic black color. This traditional method of making Sumi ink has remained largely unchanged throughout history.

What Is Japanese Ink Made Out Of?

Japanese ink, also known as Sumi ink, is made from a mixture of animal glue and soot. This traditional ink is used in various art forms like calligraphy and brush painting. The process of creating Sumi ink has remained relatively unchanged for centuries.

To produce Sumi ink, animal glue, typically made from cow or pig bones, is first dissolved in water. The glue acts as a binding agent for the ink, allowing it to adhere to the paper surface. The glue-water mixture is heated and stirred until it reaches a smooth and consistent texture.

The next step involves obtaining the soot, which is the primary source of pigment for the ink. Soot can be derived from different materials, such as burned oil or pinewoods. These materials are carefully burned, and the resulting soot is collected and finely ground.

The finely ground soot is then mixed with the animal glue mixture. This process requires meticulous kneading and grinding to ensure that the soot is evenly distributed throughout the ink. Traditional methods often involve using a special grinding stone and manually grinding the mixture in circular motions.

Once the ink has been thoroughly kneaded and ground, it’s ready for use. The final product is shaped into solid ink sticks or ink cakes, which can be stored and used over an extended period. In Japanese culture, these ink sticks are highly valued and often treasured as they represent the craftsmanship and artistry of the ink-making process.

The Japanese characters for Sumi, 黒 (black) and 土 (earth), reflect the color and origin of the ink. The combination of these characters represents the essence of Sumi ink as a rich black pigment that comes from the earth. This ancient technique of ink production continues to be cherished as a vital part of Japanese art and cultural heritage.

This traditional method has been passed down through generations and remains an integral part of Japanese calligraphy and brush painting. The attention to detail and mastery required in the ink-making process highlights the deep reverence for artistic expression in Japanese culture.

The Process of Making Ink Stones and Their Importance in Ink Grinding.

  • Ink stones are essential tools used in ink grinding.
  • They play a vital role in the process of making ink.
  • Ink stones are traditionally made from fine-grained rocks, such as slate or quartzite.
  • The process of making ink stones involves carving and polishing the rock.
  • Skilled craftsmen use special tools to carefully shape the ink stone.
  • The surface of the ink stone is then meticulously polished to create a smooth and even grinding surface.
  • The smoothness of the ink stone surface is crucial in achieving high-quality ink grinding.
  • Ink stones are designed to hold ink and facilitate the grinding process.
  • During ink grinding, a small amount of water is added to the ink stone.
  • The ink stick is then ground against the stone in a circular motion.
  • This grinding action helps to release the pigments in the ink stick and create a smooth ink paste.
  • The texture and quality of the ink stone directly influence the resulting ink.
  • An excellent ink stone can produce finely ground ink with rich and vibrant colors.
  • Ink stones are also valued for their aesthetic appeal and are often considered works of art.
  • Collectors and calligraphy enthusiasts appreciate the craftsmanship and unique patterns found in ink stones.
  • Overall, ink stones play a significant role in the art of calligraphy and ink painting.
  • They’re cherished tools that contribute to the creation of beautiful and meaningful artworks.

Source: The Beauty of Sumi Ink – PIGMENT TOKYO

The process of making inkstones involves careful craftsmanship and selection of materials.

How Are Ink Stones Made?

Inkstones, an integral part of traditional Chinese ink painting and calligraphy, hold a fascinating history and a unique process of creation. Delving into the artistry behind the making of inkstones grants an appreciation for the craftmanship involved. Typically formed from stones that are specifically harvested for inkstone-making, their materials greatly influence their functionality and the quality of ink they produce.

The process of making inkstones begins with the selection of the appropriate stone. This stone is then skillfully shaped and carved to achieve a plane surface, removing any impurities or flaws. The top surface, known as the “ink pool,” is meticulously carved to create a smooth and concave space that holds water and allows for ink grinding. This surface is vital, as it determines the consistency and texture of the ink produced.

Once the stone is shaped, it undergoes polishing to refine the surface and enhance it’s smoothness. The craftsman applies different grinding materials, such as sandpaper or other types of stones with varying coarseness, to achieve the desired finish. This grinding process demands attention to detail and patience, as the stones texture greatly affects the ink-grinding experience.

After the grinding process, the inkstone enters a period of curing. This stage allows the stone to slowly absorb water, improving it’s ink-grinding capabilities over time. The length of time for curing varies depending on the type of stone used and the desired quality of the inkstone. Additionally, some artisans may apply special treatments to further enhance the stones water absorption properties.


In the intricate process of how Chinese ink sticks are made, the fusion of soot and animal glue gives birth to a timeless medium that’s captivated artists for centuries. This fusion produces a rich palette of subtle tones within blacks, allowing for the creation of poetic lines and ethereal washes.

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