The printing press was inspired by ink stained hands.

By Winn Apple   |   Published June, 2013

Ok, Ok…that might be a bit of a stretch, but it is possible that Ma’ād al-Mu’izz, caliph of Egypt, inspired the very innovation that led to one of our most influential inventions. Apparently the calif had grown weary of ink stained hands and cloths and demanded that something be done about it.

Hence the fountain pen was created.

The invention of ink began as a simple concoction of ground carbon and glue, molded into sticks – or some such variation of this – and was commonly used among Chinese and Egyptian civilizations.

With the passing of time, ink evolved. But it wasn’t until about 1440 that a suitable recipe for printing press ink was discovered. I say “discovered” because it is rumored in 1410 the famous artist Jan van Eyck had been experimenting with the cooking of painting oil. Inks made with the heat-bodied linseed oil had the ability to stick onto a metal surface.

Well, clever Gutenberg musta got a hold of the formula, which proved to be a vast improvement over the inks of that time. The clarity of the print was vastly improved, significantly reducing the blurriness of the text.

Inks, being oh so ambitious, continued to improve. The use of linseed oil and other vegetable oils rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids produced something akin to varnish, speeding drying time and providing more viscosity.

In the 19th century, petroleum distillate was introduced. The solvents in this vehicle, shortened the drying time even greater. We’d soon discover that it too had its drawbacks.

With the shortage of petroleum and mounting ecological considerations, research into an alternative inspired the use of soy oil. This magic bean effectively reduced harmful VOCs associated with petroleum.

Today, it is quite common to see soy/vegetable based inks listed on the home page of many printing websites.

You should keep in mind, that digital presses do not use soy and vegetable based inks. These can only be used on an offset print job. But digital printing is great for small run jobs. It creates less waste and uses less energy, thereby decreasing CO2 emissions.

Check out Bacchus Press, next time you’re ready to go to press. We offer both offset and digital.

Until next time, keep it green!

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About the Author

In addition to crafting content and blogs, Winn Apple writes short stories and novellas for middle-grade readers. You can find her short stories along with a portfolio on her site, or on her soon to release website, – the best darn place to find short stories for kids.


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