Like any other ink, printer inks are made from a mixture of a carrier and a pigment. The way a particular ink is manufactured primarily depends on the type of printing process it will be used for.
Like writing ink, printer ink should evenly and completely cover the surface of the media that's being printed. It should also dry fairly quickly. Although many artists have the luxury of letting their lithographs sit out and dry, most commercial printers do not enjoy that luxury.
For example, printers who print thousands of newspapers a day using huge offset presses require ink that will soak into the paper. This way the paper can be cut and folded and even distributed while the ink's still drying. That's also the reason that newsprint often comes off on your fingers when you read today's paper.
Originally printers ink pigments came from ground lamp black, which is basically soot, along with different vegetable and animal compounds that were used to create colors for printers. Today the pigments are probably either dyes or chemical compounds. However, carbon-black is still favored for manufacturing a black pigment.
The big difference between traditional ink recipes and modern printer inks is the carrier that's used to attach the pigment to the paper. Classic recipes usually use linseed oil. Newer recipes use alkyds - resins - and either mineral oil or soybean oil.
Whatever carrier is used, the process has pretty much remained the same for the past several hundred years. The carrier is first heated to between two hundred degrees and six hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Then it's cooked for up to twelve hours. The longer it cooks the thicker it gets.
Lithographic and letterpress inks are paste inks or oil inks and need to be cooked longer. Once cooked, thinning solvents are added to make carriers for rotogravure and flexographic printing.
While the carrier is cooking the pigment is prepared. The pigment is ground and dried in a roller mill and actually uses the same technology nineteenth century grain mills used.
Next, depending on the printing process the ink will be used for, the pigment and carrier are mixed with additives such as lubricants, wax, drying agents, and surfactants. The concept is to make the ink thin enough to easily dry yet thick enough to adequately cover the paper.
Simultaneously it must easily transfer from the printing press to the paper while wasting as little ink as possible. The less wasted ink, the easier it is to clean up afterwards.
Nowadays the printing process can be done at home or in the office on a laser printer or inkjet printer. Printer inks for inkjet printers dry fairly quickly while yielding professional quality results.