We read newspapers, books, and magazines on a daily basis. We display pictures on our refrigerators, take notes in our notebooks, and even sketch out the occasional doodle on the side of our papers. We buy products made using ink, and we purchase those products with money printed in ink. Needless to say, ink is a found in almost every element of daily human activity.

A common ingredient in countless manufacturing processes, ink has been used by humanity for over 4,500 years. But what’s it made out of?

Four centuries, ink was created from an organic base; usually from the dyes found in fruits or vegetables, and even in cephalopods such as squid, cuddle fish, and octopus. At one point in time, even blood was used to help draw out and depict the everyday lives of our ancestors before us. We’ve come a long way since then, and as we evolved, so did our manufacturing techniques.

Today, ink is classified into two categories: printing ink and writing ink. In conventional printing, ink is utilized when a mechanical plate comes in contact with a blank surface, such as a piece of paper, leaving behind a transferred image like a letter or picture.

Over time, this process transformed into digital, non-impact printing which includes ink-jet and electron-photographic technologies.

Color printing inks, like those used in digital printing, are made with linseed oil, soybean oil, or a heavy petroleum distillate (called the vehicle) which is combined with organic pigments to give it color. All of these pigments are created using basic ingredients from the period table of elements.

For example, black ink is made using carbon black, and white pigments are made from titanium dioxide.

Ink also contains other additives such as waxes, lubricants, surfactants (an additive that impacts surface tension), and drying agents which aid in printing and help add certain characteristics like gloss or matte finishes.

Printing ink has grown to become a $10 billion global industry, and without it, we would have no way to express ourselves. Thanks to ink, humanity can continue to pave the future in color, creating lasting impressions that will be remembered for centuries to come.