Until the end of the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, ink-mak­ing was a nor­mal part of the print­er’s job, each print­er mak­ing his own ink from the mate­ri­als then avail­able, and adding the colour, con­sis­ten­cy, and oth­er items which expe­ri­ence had taught to be required for each type of print­ing job.

Ear­ly inks used for print­ing did not vary much from those used by Guten­berg: fine­ly ground pig­ment (lamp­black for nor­mal black ink) sus­pend­ed in an oily medi­um (often lin­seed oil). Oth­er ingre­di­ents might also be used such as resin, wax, or sub­stances which increased the speed at which the ink dried.

In the ear­ly years of print­ing the ink was dis­trib­uted by hand using pads known as ink balls. A sys­tem of ink­ing the forme with rollers was ini­tial­ly devel­oped by Friedrich König (1774–1833) as an inte­gral part of the cylin­der press he devel­oped in the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. The same prin­ci­ples have con­tin­ued to apply for let­ter­press and litho machines ever since.

About 1800, the man­u­fac­ture of ink began to devel­op into a sep­a­rate industry.With the devel­op­ment of a wider range of print­ing process­es, there was also a need for more var­ied print­ing inks, which are usu­al­ly dis­tin­guished by the method of dry­ing. Inks for let­ter­press and lith­o­g­ra­phy dry by a com­bi­na­tion of meth­ods: evap­o­ra­tion, pen­e­tra­tion into the paper, and oxi­da­tion. Pho­togravure inks, and all inks based on ani­line dyes, dry entire­ly by evap­o­ra­tion. News­pa­per inks are absorbed into the paper and dry very rapidly.

As mod­ern web-fed rotary press­es run at high speeds, inks have been devel­oped that dry on con­tact with the paper, which reduces the risk of set off. Faster press­es also led to new meth­ods of dis­trib­ut­ing the ink onto the type using reser­voirs and sys­tems of rollers.

A B Flem­ing & Co were per­haps the best known of the Scot­tish ink man­u­fac­tur­ers. The firm was estab­lished in the 1850s in Lei­th, lat­er mov­ing to Car­o­line Park in the Granton area, with addi­tion­al premis­es in Corstor­phine from the 1960s. At one time they also oper­at­ed a fac­to­ry in Dundee. The com­pa­ny ceased  trad­ing in the 1980s.