British Library Treasures in full: Gutenberg Bible
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3. The ink

The ink used by Gutenberg was also a new development. It was not really ink at all, more like a varnish or oil paint. Unlike writing-ink it is oil-based, not based on water. Water-based ink would simply run off the metal types whereas the thick, viscous oil-based varnish sticks to them.

Ink particle
Highly reflective particles in the black ink of fragment IC.58 (using x50 magnification). Larger image

The black colouring of the ink is carbon - perhaps lamp black. Under the microscope, small reflective grains are visible distributed randomly throughout the ink. They are likely to be graphite - highly ordered carbon. These particles may be intended to improve the quality of the ink or be a by-product of the processing of the carbon to make the ink. More information on this analysis.

Gutenberg's printer's ink is distinctive in having a glittering surface. This is because of its high level of metal content, in particular copper, lead and titanium. It also contains sulphur.

The printer's ink was made up in batches, and was of course hand-made. Cyclotron analysis has enabled us to distinguish between batches and that has enabled us to understand much more about how the work was organised in Gutenberg's workshop.

R. N. Schwab and others, 'Cyclotron analysis of the ink in the 42-line Bible', The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 77 (1983), 285-315.

R. N. Schwab and others, 'New evidence on the printing of the Gutenberg Bible: The inks in the Doheny copy', The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 79 (1985), 375-410.

Paul Needham, 'Division of copy in the Gutenberg Bible: Three glosses on the ink evidence', The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 79 (1985), 411-26.

Tell Me More
1. The types
2. The press
3. The ink
4. The paper
5. The vellum
6. Composition and presses
7. The gatherings
8. Three phases in the printing process
9. How many

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