The Story Behind the Incredible Indelible Ink used to Mark Voters during Elections!

Voting this election, right India? Well, then show your finger. Oh, what is that dark mark on it? Is it the indelible ink? Why is it so stubborn? What’s the story behind it?

Hitanshu Bhatt
New Update
indelible ink

The wave of elections is going on in India and with 5 phases already done, we are sure you might have a mark on your finger if you have already voted. Ever wondered who makes this permanent ink that usually stays up to 3 days despite regular wash? Well, this is a product of Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited which was established by the name Mysore Lac and Paint Works in 1937 by Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the then Maharaja of Mysore province. But Mysore Paints was not the one to make this indelible ink in the first place. Confused? Read further to know the entire story. 

Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar - Founder of Mysore Lac & Paint Works (Source)

It was in the 1950s that the government of India and the Election Commission felt the need to eliminate bogus voting and develop a solution to identify voters who had already cast their ballots. In response to this appeal from the government, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) began researching the production of an indelible ink. The team of CSIR scientists at the National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL) in New Delhi worked rigorously and developed a chemical formula for this ink.

They used ‘silver nitrate,’ which reacts with the nail and darkens upon exposure to light, to create this ink. This water-based ink also contains a solvent like alcohol to facilitate faster drying, along with some dyes. The composition of indelible ink is optimized to diffuse into the skin spontaneously, providing a definite marking that is resistant to chemical and mechanical manipulations. According to a report from the United Nations Development Programme, the ink can remain resistant to soap, liquids, household cleansers, detergents, and other substances for up to 72 hours after application. However, the precise protocol for making this ink, including its chemical composition and the quantity of each constituent, is not widely known, according to a blog by My Gov.

How did Mysore Paints and Varnish end up manufacturing it?

Workers at Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd. bottling indelible ink
Workers at Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd. packing indelible ink


After its invention in the 1950s, the license to manufacture this ink was given to Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited, a Karnataka government undertaking, in 1962. Since then, this has been the sole company responsible for making indelible ink and supplying it for all elections in India, big or small. Currently, each vial (bottle) is sold at a fixed rate of Rs 174 and comes in 10 ml amber-coloured plastic containers. These particular containers are necessary because the ink is photosensitive and needs to be protected from exposure to direct sunlight. In earlier times, the ink was stored in brown-coloured glass bottles, according to My Gov. “In total, 3,89,816 bottles of indelible ink were supplied in the first elections to the states for Rs. 2,27,460,” says a report by the Election Commission of India.

Different applications, same results

indelible ink story

The ink is said to be first applied on fingers rather than nails as to the current situation. 

A report from the Election Commission of India (ECI) on the first general elections (1951-52) mentioned that the ink was applied with a glass rod. To everyone’s surprise, Mysore Paints not only supplies this ink to the Indian government but also to more than 25 countries, including Canada, Ghana, Nigeria, Mongolia, Malaysia, Nepal, South Africa, and the Maldives. “However, as different countries follow different methods for applying the ink, the company supplies the ink according to customer specifications. For example, in Cambodia and the Maldives, voters dip their fingers into the ink, while in Burkina Faso, the ink is applied with a brush, and nozzles are used in Turkey,” says the My Gov website.

Although this ink has undergone many changes over numerous elections, its effectiveness remains the same. No matter how hard you try, its persistence in staying on fingers makes it one of the most integral parts of elections in the world’s largest democracy.

permanent ink Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited Mysore Lac and Paint Works Mysore Paints story of indelible ink Election Commission of India CSIR Who makes indelible ink