Skip to content

The history of tattoo ink

The history and evolution of tattoos is an extremely interesting subject and we have dealt with it in different ways, learning about all kinds of amazing events. However, until now, we have not yet talked about the historical aspects of the fundamental tool for any tattoo: the ink.
Obviously, the history of tattoo ink also goes back thousands of years and along the way, there are a number of facts worth mentioning. I invite you to take a very brief historical look at the evolution and history of tattoo ink.
The origin of ink and the ancient world
More than 4000 years ago, tattoos were already being made using bones, branches and stones that were sharpened to carve drawings on the skin and insert the fluid that we know today as tattoo ink. Both the men of Ancient Egypt and those of the Ancient Chinese Empire, tattooed themselves and to do so, what do you think? They learned to produce ink.
They did it with the few elements they had at their disposal and with the ingenuity that characterized these masterful civilizations of antiquity, they used smoke, charcoal, different types of vegetable gums and water to create the first inks in history. These were thicker than what we use today and could only be created in a deep, cold, opaque black color.
This ink, once inside the skin and the wounds healed, remained for life and a very interesting fact is that even today, there are many types of ink produced in China and India that are manufactured under very similar principles. With the passage of time, the first battles and trade, the ink began to be known in different parts of the ancient world and after years and years of work in its production, the first colored inks began to be produced, which added vegetable and animal extracts with colored pigments to the manufacturing process.
Towards a modern tattoo ink
Centuries later, the Romans, who also used these inks, innovated production by extracting ink from squid. They discovered that if certain marine species such as squids or octopuses felt threatened, they would naturally expel a dark, thick liquid. Curiosity led them to try to use them for writing, thus discovering that they could obtain ink from these animals. That dark brown liquid was called sepia.
But it was not until about 1000 years ago that the closest thing to what we know today as tattoo ink was discovered. It was an ink made from the galls produced by oak trees. Insects laid their eggs there, in the oak trees and on the branches of the oak trees. The galls that formed on the oak trees had a high content of a chemical called tannin, which was mixed with other natural chemical elements and resulted in a substance that could be used as ink to perfection.
Throughout the Middle Ages, this ink was used by hundreds of thousands of writers and after several modifications, along with the advance of technology and scientific development, some of the first modern inks were created, very similar to the ones we use today. Currently, there is a wide variety of tattoo inks, the vast majority of which, if used properly in a tattoo, do not imply any danger to health.
Very interesting, don’t you think? What other historical aspects about the invention and development of the technique do you know? Do you use any particular type of ink? Which one?