What’s Seal Ink Made Of?

Seal ink is a mixture of (commonly) red pigment, most often vermillion, mixed with oil and bound together with fibers—usually silk or [moxa] plant fiber. Each manufacturer may also include other ingredients in lesser quantities—all closely guarded secrets. Top quality ingredients ensure a bright color impression when stamped with less color fade over time, and with less oil separation and eventual oil bleed/stain on the finished artwork. Good seal ink will also withstand the wetting required when mounting an artwork in the traditional method. Poor seal ink will run or blur during this process and leave an unsatisfactory appearance to the finished mounted artwork.

Since seal ink is an oil-based ink you need to be careful not to get it on anything you don’t want colored with permanent red ink. Also be sure to give it plenty of time to dry—a minimum of a few days—otherwise you run the risk of smudging the ink.

2 Responses

  1. Ni hao,
    I am puzzled to distinguish soap stone carvings from shou shan shi.
    I guess that shou shan shi is of more value than soap stone. Or is there no difference in appearance when seeing i.e. a typical landscape carving with trees, temples and in the back ground some lime stone rocks?
    Appreciate your help.

    1. Soapstone is often used as a catch-all term for any soft stone but is seldom used for seals as it is generally too soft and crumbles easily. Chinese seal stone, including Shoushan, is generally harder and takes good detail and polish. Visually it can be hard to tell them apart. Shoushan stone, especially when colorful and/or translucent, can be much more expensive than common soapstone [steatite]. Both may be used for carving with Shoushan for high quality carving (art galleries) and soapstone for cheap carvings (tourist shops). What you describe would not usually be done in soapstone.

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