The best surfaces for working with alcohol inks
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
The first question I get asked by many beginners is that what surfaces can be used with alcohol inks. Alcohol inks can be used on a variety of surfaces; the only requirement is that the surface should be as non-porous as possible. The inks need a smooth surface to flow. If the surface would absorb the inks a lot, you would end-up using a lot of product and not achieve the effects alcohol inks are famous for. Here are some of the surfaces that can be used. I have listed them in order of my preference and their pros and cons.
Many brands across the world have now launched their own styles of synthetic paper. They claim that the paper is stain-resistant, can be wiped clean, and has a smooth surface. Those are all wonderful features when working with alcohol inks. I have been using Nara Papers since the time I started working with alcohol inks and for the past two years, I have not faced any problem with the paper. Most of the art that I have created has been on Nara Papers.
The other brands (that I have tried) that offer similar kind of synthetic papers in India are Beyond Inks and Diy4U. All the papers are somewhat similar. The good thing about Nara Papers is that it is available in many shapes, sizes and thicknesses, white and black colors, which is extremely important when I need to make professional alcohol ink artwork for sale. I can choose the kind of paper that is most suitable for the technique I want to use. Apart from that, the quality of being wipeable makes synthetic papers great for beginners. After finishing the artwork, it can be framed like any other art, or stuck on wooden cradle boards and become ready to hang.
In India, I think, the best surface for practicing alcohol ink art for beginners is synthetic paper as it is quite reasonably-priced. Papers are easier to store as well.
Yupo paper is also a type of synthetic paper. Ink spreads slightly differently on yupo paper as compared to synthetic paper and hence the effects achieved are also different. On Yupo paper the art looks smoother and the color blends are softer. Yupo paper also brings out the undertones of some of the colors, which is great. The drawback is that the paper gets stained with the inks and you have to be careful about working on it so that stains are not greatly visible. This also makes yupo paper unfriendly for some of the techniques. In India, Beyond Inks and Brustro offer Yupo papers.
Laminated MDF boards:
Laminated MDF boards are great to work with alcohol inks. They are wipeable and don’t get stained much, therefore they can be used several times. This is a great surface when we want to practice techniques or make art for selling. The end result on laminated boards looks more finished and can be installed easily in interiors. They are very heat resistant as well, so they do not warp or bend with moderately hot tools like hair dryers. Those who want to resin their art can do so directly over the board (after varnishing). However, there are a few cons, they are more expensive than paper and very limited shapes and sizes are available. I think it is possible to get wooden boards laminated through local carpenters in the sizes of your choice. The ready to use boards available in India are from Diy4u (which also has a paintable MDF frame – only available in circular shapes though), and Nara Boards. Nara Boards come in several shapes and sizes and the company can be contacted to get customized sizes.
Canvases are porous by nature, so they have to be primed to make them not absorb as much ink. This can be done by priming with several layers of latex-based primers, gesso, gloss mediums or glossy varnishes. Canvases come in all types of shapes and sizes and the finished artwork is ready to hang with ease. Many people prefer art on canvas as it makes it easier to do mixed media work. Nara Papers has pre-primed canvas that can be used directly without any base coat, but it comes in the form of a roll, so you will have to get it stretched or framed yourself in the size of your choice.
Acrylic is a kind of plastic that comes in a variety of colors. The most popular ones for alcohol ink art are white, black, and transparent. You can opt for the glossy variety for alcohol ink art. Acrylic is stiff, extremely stain resistant (good quality ones), and can be cut in simple to intricate designs. Many companies are making acrylic coasters, art surfaces, clock surfaces, designer/custom cut-outs, and much more. Nara Papers, Beyond Inks and Diy4u – all offer various styles of acrylic surfaces for alcohol ink art. Since they can be varnished and resined directly, many resin artists use them for making coasters, name plates and clocks.
Glossy ceramic is the best surface for alcohol ink art. It is smooth, does not get stained at all, and overall look of the work is very polished. Artists use ceramic tiles, ceramic pots, cups, plates, planters, or figurines. They are very easy to paint on. All of us have some ceramic stuff lying in the house and they are great for experimentation when we get new inks. I think ceramic tiles are among the most used by artists who make alcohol ink + resin coasters. Ceramic mugs are also widely popular (sealing/varnishing them is a bit of a challenge though due to its cylindrical surface). Decorative art done on ceramic plates are popular too. A few cons though: size and shapes are limited and availability might be difficult. These are all breakable so need to be handled with care while making, varnishing, storing and shipping. Moreover, if you are making art on surfaces that people might eat and drink from, then you need to make sure that the varnishing and sealing is food grade and non-toxic. It must be washable and heat resistant as well.
Transparent glass, glass bottles, wine glasses, and mirrors are very popular for alcohol ink art. The glass surface can be painted to achieve a transparent ink look. Some artists apply a colored sheet or paint the other side of the transparent glass to make the inks stand out. The art on glass surface looks glossy and polished. Some cons: varnishing is a challenge as the spray will leave fine droplets/dots and they would be visible on the glass/mirror, thereby reducing the natural shine and clarity. Everything needs to be handled with utmost care to ensure safety from cuts as well as breakage.
Some other options:
There are many other surfaces that artists use and you can experiment with many more based on the kind of effects you want to achieve. Here are some more popular ones that I have not tried personally:
· Photo Paper
· Freezer Paper
· Aluminum foil
· Craft Plastic Paper
Some artists also use alcohol inks on porous surfaces, such as:
· Unprimed canvas
I hope this post was useful. Let me know if you find any other surface that works well for alcohol ink art.