Making Medieval Ink

Making ink in Brother Hugo

If you’d like to make your own ink and write like Brother Hugo, here’s a recipe to help you to do just that!


  • 90 gm (about ½ C +2 tsp)         Oak galls, finely ground
  • 30 gm (about 3 Tbs)                   Vitriol (Ferric II Sulfate)     
  • 400 ml (about 1 ¾ C)                 Rainwater, or distilled water  
  • 3 Tbs                                             Red wine        
  • 10 gm (about 2 tsp)                   Gum Arabic, powdered 
  • A few drops                                 Clove oil


  • A mortar and pestle if you’re grinding your own oak galls
  • A scale to weigh your ingredients or measuring spoons & cups
  • A medium-sized ceramic bowl (such as a pudding basin or a ceramic mixing bowl)
  • An iron rod for stirring (more “medieval” – but a large metal spoon will work just as well)
  • Rubber gloves to keep your hands unstained
  • An apron to protect your clothes
  • Newsprint to protect your work surface
  • A small bottle and stopper for the finished ink

If you have trouble locating these materials, Abraxas sells complete “iron oak-gall ink” kits, which come with a packet of pulverized oak galls included.


Stir together 90 grams (about ½ Cup + 2 teaspoons) of powdered oak gall and 30 grams (about 3 Tablespoons) of powdered iron sulphate (vitriol / Ferric II Sulphate) in a ceramic bowl.

Add enough water to combine (about ½ Cup) and stir until well mixed. Stir in the rest of the water and the 3 Tablespoons of red wine.

Add the 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons) of gum arabic, and stir.  The gum arabic will help keep the granules of pigment suspended throughout the liquid.

Finally, place your ceramic bowl with the mixture in a quiet, warm place to ferment for a few days, stirring it often. (Once every hour should be fine, but there’s probably no need to get up in the middle of the night!)

After stirring and allowing the liquid to ferment for three or four days, pour your ink into a small bottle.  Add in a few drops of clove oil to the bottle as well.  Clove oil is a preservative, and it will help stop mold from growing.

Close your bottle with a stopper, and voilà! You have medieval ink!


˜ Here are some useful accounts from folks who have made their own ink, as well: ™

“Making Iron Gall Ink” by John Daniel at the blog, The Endless Swarm

The Iron Gall Ink Website

“Monastic ink: linking chemistry and history” at the website, Science in School


Finally, here is a small PDF booklet from the Special Collections Conservation Unit of the Preservation Department of Yale University Library. It offers a collection of ink and pigment recipes, both in the original Latin and translated into modern English, from the eleventh century to the late seventeenth century,

Medieval Manuscripts: some ink and pigment recipes

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