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The ink world of Octopus inks © Octopus Tinten

Producing the finest inks for nearly 200 years

Invisible ink encrypted with X-ray radiation, the perfect ink formula, a tradition stretching back 200 years – not many people know that Dresden has a long history of ink production. We talked with one of the successful ink makers still based here, which is carrying on this tradition under the Octopus brand while also making sure James Bond never runs out of ideas for how to keep top secret documents safe from prying eyes. A talk with Managing Director Gunther Lange.

Mr. Lange, you stepped up in 2011 with the Octopus brand, taking on the heritage passed down by the longstanding East German ink brand Barock when it went bankrupt. How has your business developed since then?

We’re doing great. Our revenue is growing steadily. Right now, the figure stands at about 4.5 million euros a year. Octopus Concept GmbH is our sales company, while Octopus Fluids GmbH & Co. KG is responsible for developing and producing our inks. All in all, we have 25 employees now.

What did you inherit from the former East German brand Barock?

The roots of ink production in Dresden go back to 1826. That means we are continuing the tradition of ink production in Dresden in a direct line, starting back in 1826 with the Aug. Leonhardi brand and continuing through to the Barock brand after 1945 and ultimately Octopus Fluids GmbH & Co. KG in 2011.

moss green. © Octopus Tinten
ink manufacture. © Octopus Tinten

What are your most popular or best-selling colors?

When it comes to printing inks, black, of course. In the creative segment, our classic royal blue is the preferred writing ink, followed by purple. And in our alcohol-based tints, Gold Rush, a metallic color, is very popular worldwide.

A recent study revealed that one in two boys and one in three girls in Germany have difficulty with writing – a concerning development that is almost certainly due in part to increasing use of tablets and other mobile devices in the classroom. Does that mean traditional fountain pens are at risk of dying out, and ink with them?

People ask us that a lot. In fact, the trend toward writing with a fountain pen is slowly picking up steam again. We can see it especially in our unit sales of high-quality writing implements – which generally go hand in hand with high-quality ink. In today’s fast-paced world, a handwritten letter or other personal message carries much more weight. It’s a special touch.

The recipes for Coca-Cola and Haribo fruit gummies are among the world’s best-kept secrets. What about your ink? Will you tell us how it's formulated?

There’s not just one ink formula. But I can tell you this much: Most of our inks are based on water or alcohol. But since we have literally thousands of formulas by now, I can’t offer much by way of generalizations.

In that case, we hope you’ll answer this question, at least: Is there really any such thing as invisible ink? And if so, how does it work?

Oh, most definitely! But the formula is top secret, as you might expect. While MI6 and the CIA still use fountain pens with their invisible inks, we have gone beyond that to develop printer’s inks with the same properties as part of our product range. The key there is that the ink can only be seen under UV or black light, since it is the only type of light that interacts with the pigments. This effect is used for things like ensuring the authenticity of documents. It’s almost like an invisible watermark. But it doesn’t last forever, so invisible printer’s ink isn’t suitable as long-term proof of authenticity. Other properties can be used for that. For example, we can give an ink radiological properties that allow it to be read via X-ray radiation, CT scanning, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or mechanical waves (ultrasound).

Printer inks with secret properties are developed in the laboratory. © Octopus Tinten