A beginner's guide – Things you should know about alcohol inks
Updated: Mar 2
Alcohol inks are gaining popularity all over the world due to the versatile nature of the medium and bright colors that can be used to create unique effects and transparencies that no other medium offers. They are relatively easier to use and with no need for prior art knowledge, beginners can also create designs that are beautiful to look at. Another aspect that adds to its appeal is that working with alcohol inks is highly therapeutic and fun. Find out why alcohol inks are so addictive.
Alcohol ink art is still relatively new in India, especially in tier two cities like Jaipur, it is difficult to find supplies as well as workshops to learn this art. Due to all the questions that enthusiasts, as well as learners, ask me, I have compiled this short guide to help you get started. Although there are many videos and articles online, I've specifically talked about products that are available in India.
What are alcohol inks and how are they different from other colors?
Alcohol inks are fast-drying, waterproof, highly-pigmented, alcohol-based inks that are great to use on a variety of surfaces. These are dye-based colors (as opposed to pigment-based) that are flowy and transparent. Due to this nature, users are able to create unique and versatile effects that cannot be achieved with water-based products like acrylic paint. Once applied onto a surface and dried, alcohol inks can be reactivated with alcohol and can be moved again (just like watercolors can be reactivated again by adding water).
What surfaces are good for working with alcohol inks?
Although you can use alcohol inks on any surface, the best effects are achieved on hard, non-porous surfaces where the inks don’t get absorbed and get a chance to move around freely. The best surface to practice working with alcohol inks include:
Synthetic paper (Nara/Beyond Inks)
Another popular surface is a canvas that is primed with three or four layers of Gesso so that it becomes almost non-porous.
The effects that you get and how the inks work would be different for each surface.
What is Yupo Paper?
Yupo paper is a synthetic, plastic paper that is recyclable, waterproof, and non-porous, making it a fantastic surface for alcohol inks. It has a plastic-like feel and is durable, non-tearable yet flexible. The art on Yupo paper can be framed or mounted on other surfaces like wood panels. Resin can be done on top of Yupo paper to create sealed art. There are many national and international brands of Yupo paper available in India. Beyond Inks is the Indian brand that provides Yupo paper as well.
What is Nara Paper?
Another great surface is the one provided by Nara Papers. It is a synthetic, non-porous and stain-resistant art paper that comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and densities. The recently launched Nara black paper is great for metallics and pastel colors. Since I have started using Nara Papers, I have not much used any other substrate. The choice of circular shapes and sizes are all wonderful and these papers can be used easily by beginners as they are very affordable. Customer services is great and they answer all questions immediately and shipping is extremely fast.
A similar kind of paper is now launched by various brands like Beyond Inks, Diy4U, and Craftangles.
What’s the process of working with alcohol inks?
Alcohol inks are fluid and the way of working is to drop the ink on your chosen surface, drop some alcohol or blending solution to enable free movement and reduce the intensity of the ink and then move and dry it through various techniques to achieve the desired effects. You can also use inks with brushes and work with them just like how you would apply watercolors.
Once the ink is applied, you can use a variety of ways to spread it, move it, and dry it. In a few moments, the alcohol would evaporate and leave the dye behind. Once alcohol ink dries, it can be re-activated and moved again with Isopropyl Alcohol. Remember, if you put alcohol on top of previously dried ink, it will remove the dye from that area and make it white again.
Due to the property of being transparent, we can play around with layering. Once a layer dries it can be reactivated again and again with other colors on top to create unique dimensions and color mixing.
There are many techniques and tools that artists all over the world use to move the inks around the paper. Blowing with your mouth, using a straw, hair dryer, heat tools, air brush, and many other such tools are used, but the most popular is a simple hair dryer. It is all about experimentation and the kind of effects that you would like to achieve with the inks.
What supplies are needed to work with alcohol inks?
Alcohol inks: There are many brands of inks available today. NARA inks and Beyond Inks are the Indian brands of inks that have gained popularity, have a good selection of colors, and are pocket-friendly. There are a few other brands like HS Inks, Shilpi Alcohol Inks, Craftangle, and Little Birdie that are also decent. There are many foreign brands that are popular for unique colors. The ones that are available in India (online) or at art stores in metro cities are: Pinata, Ranger, Copic, Marabu, and Brea Reese. All the brands are good and you can purchase based on your budget and color requirements.
Metallic inks: Metallics are pigment-based inks that have to be shaken well before using. If you wish to work with Gold, Silver, Rose Gold, Brass, and other metallic shades, you can trust Pinata's range of metallics (especially Pinata Brass) and Nara Golden Bake, and Beyond Inks Gold and Silver. I have tried many other brands but somehow, I was never able to achieve good effects with other brands. I also like Octopus fluids Gold Rush and Kamenskaya Gold and Brass Colors. For silver, Molotow Liquid Chrome is really good.
White ink: White inks are not transparent like other inks. They are also pigment-based and opaque. Mix them with other colors to create pastel shades or use them directly with the blending solution. They would not flow and blend like other alcohol inks, but they have their own charm.
Isopropyl alcohol: 99% pure isopropyl alcohol can be used to spread the inks. Mixing the inks with alcohol dilutes the pigment and creates a matte finish. You can also create diluted shades in small bottles by mixing your chosen colors with a little bit of alcohol.
Blending solution: Inks can be moved with the blending solution. It maintains the glossiness of the inks, increases the transparency of the ink, and extends the drying time. I do not use blending solution for my art usually.
Tools: There are so many different tools that can be used to create different textures while the ink dries. These are paint brushes, hair dryer, sponges, felt pad applicators, straw to blow the air, spray bottle, or air brush. Read my review of the best drying tools for alcohol ink art.
Safety guidelines: If you do decide to work with alcohol inks and sprays on a regular basis invest in a half facepiece chemical fume mask with organic filters that keeps alcohol vapors away. Use gloves and glasses to keep your skin safe from prolonged exposure. Read my blog about safety.
How to keep alcohol ink art safe?
Alcohol inks are dye-based and fade over time if exposed to direct sunlight. It is best to display your art away from direct UV light to avoid any chance of fading. To protect your art on any surface, you need to spray it with Varnish and then a UV protection spray.
There are no such varnishes in the market that are specially designed for alcohol inks. Internationally, most alcohol ink artists use Krylon Kamar and Krylon UV Resistant sprays. Unfortunately, in India, these are either highly priced or unavailable. I have used Brustro Acrylic Spray Varnish and Winsor & Newton UV varnish with great success.
Read the blog on how to spray and protect your alcohol ink artwork.
Watch my YouTube video about the process of sealing your alcohol ink artwork.
How to get started?
Now that you have understood the basics of the medium, you must be excited to try it out. Here are the essential things that you would need to get started:
Alcohol Inks – You can get started by ordering a beginner kit from popular brands like Beyond Inks or Nara Papers.