Using alcohol ink to create beautifully vibrant pieces is a ton of fun, a little bit messy, and very versatile! From fine, detailed canvas pieces to abstract mugs, there’s not a lot you can’t do with alcohol ink. But what about Alcohol Ink Supplies? In this article, we’ll discuss what supplies you’re going to need to get started with Alcohol inks.
What is Alcohol Ink?
Alcohol inks are, obviously, alcohol based, and heavily pigmented liquid inks. Commercially available alcohol ink typically comes in small bottles with a fine tip or dropper for application. To get a great overview of the world of Alcohol Ink Art, check out our extensive Alcohol Ink Guide.
Common brands of alcohol inks like Adirondack Alcohol Ink, and Jacquard Alcohol Ink, are widely available online and at arts and crafts stores like A.C. Moore, Hobby Lobby and Michael’s. There isn’t much of a difference between the major brands, with some difference in the thickness of certain colors (white in particular). Some artists strongly prefer one brand over the other, but the best way to find your “go-to” ink is to experiment!
Some things that many don’t realize is that Alcohol Ink is the active ingredient in many of your favorite commercially available markers. Therefore, you can also formulate your own alcohol ink using Sharpie markers or other alcohol based markers; which we’ll discuss later.
Essential Alcohol Ink Supplies
Alcohol ink art is very diverse and can be customized based on what result you’re looking for. The biggest variables when it comes to choosing the direction you want to go are the surfaces you paint on and your method for applying the paint. Below we give an overview of the main things you’ll need to get started. After you understand these alcohol ink supplies, you can experiment with different application techniques and surfaces, or take a course, to find the style that you want to explore.
- Alcohol ink: You can purchase alcohol ink online, or at stores like A.C. Moore and Michael’s. The two main brands of inks on the market are Adirondack Alcohol Inks (also know as Ranger Ink or Tim Holtz) and Jacquard Pinata Inks.
- Surface to apply your ink to: What makes alcohol inks special is their ability to bond to virtually any non porous surface. You can use yupo paper, photo paper, glass, metal, canvasand more!
- Application Method: If you’d like to use brushes to apply your ink, brushes with synthetic or natural bristles will work, otherwise you can use droppers, air technique, or felt applicators.
- Isopropyl Alcohol: Isopropyl or rubbing alcohol works well as a blender for alcohol ink colors. It can also help with the movement of the ink.
- Blending Solution: Blending solution works similarly to isopropyl alcohol, except it contains glycerin. Blending solution works very well for creating very soft color intersections and fades. Popular blending solution brands are Ranger and Tim Holtz, and both brands have the same ingredient makeup.
- Gloves: Alcohol ink does stain the skin for a few days, if you’d like to avoid a colorful mess on your hands, gloves are a must.
- Ventilated work-space or respirator: Alcohol ink, isopropyl alcohol, and blending solution have strong odors. Make sure that you’re working in a well ventilated space or wearing a respirator.
A great solution for someone looking to get started in a hurry, which contains most of these essential alcohol ink supplies, is a starter kit which contains Jacquard inks, 25 sheets of alcohol ink paper, blending solution, and some blending tools.
Surfaces for Alcohol Ink Art (called substrates)
Instead of making a list of surfaces, the shorter list might be what you can’t apply ink to! Alcohol ink is extremely versatile and can be used on a wide variety of non porous surfaces, from traditional photo paper all the way to metal, tile, and glass! The ability of alcohol ink to effortlessly bond to these surfaces is what makes it such a special medium, and what makes sourcing these alcohol ink supplies so exciting!
One of the most common flat surfaces artists use to ink on is yupo paper. Yupo is a waterproof, synthetic “paper” that is created using polypropylene pellets. Don’t let that stop you from using it; yupo is typically recyclable.
Yupo paper is the preferred medium for many alcohol ink artists and a top alcohol ink supply because unlike regular paper, it isn’t porous-which means that the alcohol ink is much easier to manipulate on the surface. Because alcohol ink is so thin and quick drying, porous surfaces will simply soak up the ink, making it less fluid and more of a stain, wasting your ink. Using alcohol ink on Yupo is very easy, and provides you with ample time to manipulate the ink before it dries.
Yupo paper can be purchased be purchased through Amazon or at local art supply stores. However it can be extremely pricey compared to other paper, and because of this we recommend getting the smaller size first to get used to the way it performs! Another option would be to experiment with the Pixiss brand Alcohol Ink Paper, as it is less expensive than Yupo Paper.
While traditionally not thought of as an alcohol ink supply, photo paper is a great cost-effective alternative to yupo.
Although you might think that the glossy side of the paper works better for inking, it’s the back of the photo paper that actually works best. Experiment with both, but most alcohol ink artists find that the glossy side has a strange reaction with the inks.
Who said Alcohol Ink Supplies can’t be found in the kitchen? Aluminum foil is an especially great substrate for beginners, since most people already have this available in their home. You can use aluminum foil flat, or you can crumple it up and then un-crumple it to create interesting ridges and texture. Then, simply ink on the foil and let it dry-the result is a shiny, uniquely textured piece that can be used for jewelry making or framing.
Alcohol ink on glass is evocative of stained glass-dreamily transparent and great for back lighting! Glass is non-porous and much like yupo, a great surface to manipulate inks as they stay liquid and movable longer than they would on a more porous surface.
Any glass will do when it comes to alcohol ink; mirrors, votive candle holders, wine glasses, or vases all make great working surfaces! Keep in mind that if you’re inking a drinking glass, you’ll want to leave room at the top, since alcohol ink is not food grade.
You can also pick up inexpensive picture frames that already have glass inserts-remove the glass and ink on it, and then place it back in the frame for a ready-to-hang piece.
Ceramic Tile and plates
Alcohol ink on ceramic tile or plates works much the same as alcohol ink on glass; the ink flows easily and freely. Many people use 4”x 4” tiles to create alcohol ink coasters that can be sealed with spray sealant or resin, and backed with cork or felt to create unique home decor. Alcohol ink can also be set on fire when on a ceramic tile (on a fire safe surface, of course), which creates beautifully unique patterns and waves. We discuss the safe way to do this method below.
Example of Alcohol Ink applied on ceramic plates:
Ornaments and Bulbs
Alcohol ink can also be used on ornamentsto create colorful additions to any holiday display. Alcohol ink ornaments can be created either with the ink on the inside (if the bulb is see-through) or outside, and have a quick drying time for fast turnaround. If you choose to make ornaments, hanging them from a jewelry tree or a hanger while they dry will help you to avoid smears on the bottom.
Using alcohol ink on metal creates pieces with high shine and great intensity! You may find that sanding the metal lightly first will help the ink to adhere easier, but sanding isn’t necessary if you don’t have the materials available to do so. Make sure that your metal surface is very clean before you get started for the best results.
When you think of canvas, you might think of it as a surface that’s too porous for alcohol ink; and you’d be right! Working with alcohol ink on a bare canvas doesn’t often yield the best results, but if you’re looking to create a large piece, it’s still possible.
To work with alcohol ink on canvas, you’ll want to seal the canvas first. Kamar Triple-Thick Clear Glaze is a great choice for sealing, as it’s easy to apply and stands up well to the alcohol ink. You’ll want to make sure that your sealant coat is very even; the goal is to create a smooth surface for the ink to glide over, and if any patches of canvas poke through, that will interrupt the flow of your ink. Allow the sealant to cure on your canvas for at least 72 hours before you begin inking, just to make sure there are no wet spots (and to give you time for touch ups!).
Customized tumblers are all the rage right now! Alcohol ink works well for tumbler projects, since the inks are vibrant and easy to manipulate. If you’re looking for a certain separation in colors or looking to create a certain pattern on your tumbler, it’s best to work in layers; lay down the first layer of alcohol ink, let it dry for 12 hours, and then layer another color on. This will help you minimize the chance of muddying the colors.
Tumblers can be sealed with spray or resin, but keep in mind that they must remain food-safe. It’s best to tape off the top of the tumbler to make sure that no alcohol ink or sealant inadvertently drips inside.
Supplies to Apply Alcohol Ink
If you want to use a brush to apply the ink, you can use just about any brush you have on hand. A few tips:
- Sticking with synthetic brushes seems to make cleanup slightly easier
- Because the ink can sometimes have an effect on the texture and structure of the paint brush bristles, consider keeping specific brushes just for alcohol ink.
Droppers: fine Tip AND REGULAR
Most alcohol ink containers will already come with a fine dropper tip, but if you’re looking to do more detailed work, you can purchase ultrafine tip bottles to transfer your ink into for precise ink placement.
Fine Tip Droppers:
You can also use standard droppers in any size if you’re looking for an easy way to spread your ink without it shooting out. But be careful of squeezing the manufacturer ink bottle too hard, the top can sometimes pop right off!
If you are looking for more of a drawn on style, or you simply want to be able to adjust some of the details of your art work using a more precise method, markers are a good option. Copic Markers are the front runners because of their versatility which allows you to choose from a myriad of colors and adjust even the “nib” or the applicator part of the marker. Sharpie markers are a stand by because they are easy to find and also offer many color options.
Air Manipulation Tools
Air manipulation with an airbrush, blow dryer, low temperature heat gun or just your breath and a strawcan create some really beautiful patterns! Many alcohol ink artists use air manipulation to create the gossamer softness of flower petals, or to blend colors naturally without using a brush. You can use any brand of blow dryer or heat gun, just be sure to test the speed setting first so you aren’t surprised when you’re blowing on a puddle of ink!
Air manipulation can be pretty messy, so make sure to protect your work surface to avoid splatters! Alcohol ink can be difficult to remove from carpeting and walls so a little forward planning goes a long way. Kari Hertzog-Lichfield has writen a great post about how to Prepare the Perfect Alcohol Ink Work Station.
Felt applicators are commonly used to make textured pieces and are sold by companies like Ranger. These can be found at any large craft retailer, and can be used to create a variety of patterns! Felt applicators are great for stippling, and also work well to gently blend colors together.
How to Make Your Own Alcohol Ink
If the thought of buying all these alcohol ink supplies has you feeling discouraged, you may be excited to know that it’s possible to extract Alcohol Ink from many of the markets you may have around the house. This also frees you to customize colors that aren’t sold by Ranger or Jacquard. Sharpies and other alcohol-based markers, preferably with removable tips or “nibs”, can be soaked in isopropyl alcohol to create alcohol ink.
What You’ll Need
- Alcohol based markers
- Pliers or tweezers
- Scissors or exacto knife
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Squeeze bottle or other small container
Making the Alcohol Ink
- First, put on those gloves! This is a messy process.
- Using your pliers or tweezers, grab the tip of your marker and gently pull until it comes out. If the nib of your marker isn’t removable, use the scissors or exacto knife to carefully cut the marker to remove the ink sponge inside.
- Place the nib or ink sponge into the container of your choice. If you’re using an ink sponge (the cylindrical tube found in most Crayola markers for example), you can slice it a little bit to allow the ink to come out quicker, but don’t slice it all the way; once it’s saturated with isopropyl alcohol, it will expand which will make it very difficult to get out of your container.
- Cover the nib or sponge with isopropyl alcohol. There isn’t a definite ratio here-just keep in mind that if you want a super concentrated color, you’ll want to use less alcohol.
- Cover and leave overnight or up to 24 hours, then put your gloves back on and remove the nib or sponge.
Making alcohol inks this way is a great way to really customize your palette! Be sure to gently shake your homemade alcohol ink before using it.
Sealing Alcohol Ink Pieces
Sealing with a brush on sealant can cause your alcohol ink piece to run, so it’s recommended that you start with a spray sealant before moving on to something heavier like resin. Kamar Triple Thick Clear Glaze is a great choice for a spray sealant, and very easy to apply.
Alcohol ink doesn’t necessarily need to be sealed if it won’t be used on something that’s often rubbed, exposed to liquid, or otherwise used in a way other than a display. The ink will naturally dry shiny and vibrant!
Common Issues and Troubleshooting
Having the correct alcohol ink supplies is half the battle when it comes to make alcohol ink art, however, you can still run into issues. We discuss some of the more common ones, and their fixes, below.
- If your colors combine too much and become muddy, wash them off and start over. Since alcohol ink art is commonly done on non-porous surfaces, most of the time, you can take a paper towel soaked in isopropyl alcohol and simply rub the ink off.
- If you spill alcohol ink on your carpet, use isopropyl alcohol and patience to get it out. Spills happen, and if it happens on carpet, soak the area with isopropyl alcohol and gently dab the stain with a white paper towel. You should start to see the ink rising from the carpet into the paper towel; repeat this until the stain is no longer noticeable. Do not allow pets or children in the area until it’s completely dry.
- To avoid burning alcohol ink using the fire method, don’t put too much ink on the tile. If you have large puddles of ink on your ceramic tile, the chance of burning the ink rises since there’s more alcohol in a concentrated area to burn off, which means the tile will be on fire in that one spot longer. The key to a successful fired piece is to work in thin layers, building up over time.
- If your white alcohol ink “curdles” with blending solution, try isopropyl alcohol instead. Sometimes, alcohol ink becomes chunky and let’s face it, kind of gross when mixed with blending solution! If you find this to be the case, try regular rubbing alcohol in small amounts.
Using alcohol ink to create your own abstract pieces is fun and easy, once you get the hang of it! Remember your gloves, work in a ventilated area, and experiment with these vibrant inks! For a detailed guide to all Alcohol Inks have to offer, don’t forget to check out our post on the subject.
Courses to learn more about Alcohol Ink
Here’s a list of great beginners courses to try if you want to deepen you knowledge of alcohol ink.
- Level 1 Alcohol Ink Beginners Course by Sheryl Williams (Includes over 50+ videos over 3-6 weeks self paced course)
- Alcohol Ink Beginners Bundle of 6 Courses by Kellie Chasse (Bundle of 6 courses including sunsets, moonscape, dragonfly, and flowers)
- Abstract Alcohol Ink With Resin Finish by Kellie Chasse (Beginner level)
- Alcohol Ink Landscapes by Sharon Parker