Mixing Batch Water-based Ink

Old jars are getting low

Last month, I gave a brief description of color mixing theory that has worked well for me. I have also posted an earlier entry about very traditional ways of hand-mixing color with a wooden mortar and pestle while I was a guest printmaker in Japan.

Since I’m in the middle of a very large project- over 1,600 prints using water-based processes, I need a lot of ink. I have a large ceramic mortar and pestle, but I feel that I haven’t gotten a fine enough particle with manual grinding- maybe as a result of my impatience. I have looked into electric mullers- Hoover test mullers are pricey (like $5KUSD pricey) and produce very little- albeit they are very accurate.

Caveat: I still do use watercolors from Windsor Newton for dark colors for skies to insure smoothness. I doubt I will ever get the pigments as fine as these folks.

Reason#1: “Grinding your own pigments saves money hands-down from buying tube, dispersion, or pre-mixed inks.”

Pigment Brands

Most of my pigments come from Sinopia. I have found that Sennelier‘s dry pigments are not as powerful or dense. Kramer is OK (very limited and a very non-descript selection) as is Gamblin.

It’s Muller Time

vidiem grinder
Vidiem Jewel wet grinder

OK, Soooo… in my quest for mass amounts of pigments, I found a Vidiem wet grinder- It is designed to mix Eastern-Indian sauces. It works by using two grinding wheels on an abrasive surface and has a tension knob to control the grinding pressure.

I would recommend wearing a mask while working with dry pigments. Combine water (add a 1/4 cup water initially for a full jar of pigment) and most likely a little 1 teaspoon? of ethyl alcohol to break the surface tension (Everclear® grain alcohol works well!). I also add a few drops of clove oil for a preservative which smells a lot better than rotten hydrogen sulphide smell.

Here’s a noisy Youtube video of the mixer in action. You can see me scoop out the good stuff.


The grinder does well in my opinion- I let it run for about 20 minutes and slowly turn the knob tighter as it grinds. I would suggest keeping the pigment’s consistency peanut-butter-like as it’s a lot easier to get out of the grinder. I use a rubber spatula and scrape the wheels while they spin and put the paste into small mason canning jars, label them with the color, pigment maker, and date.

Other thoughts: The grinder’s plastic ‘innards’ become a little staind, so I have started grinding the yellows, gone to the reds, then the blues to keep the color contamination down to a minimum. To clean, I add water into the mixer, turn it on and use dish scrub pads.

Please write for questions of comments, thanks!

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