It’s important to understand the different alcohol ink techniques if you are going to make the most out of this bold, versatile, and FUN art form. The bottom line is that there are so many ways you can incorporate alcohol ink into your work to create abstract and realistic pieces.
In this guide, we’ll discuss different alcohol ink techniques you can use to create fantastic alcohol ink art. We’ll discuss the basic materials you’ll need for each and give you a simple-to-follow step-by-step breakdown of each technique so that you can jump right in. For a complete beginner’s guide on Alcohol Inks take a look at: Alcohol Ink: Complete Beginners Guide with Supplies, Techniques, Tips, and Tricks.
A Few Notes on Supplies
The supplies discussed in this guide are suggestions to help you perform the alcohol ink techniques described. However, you can take these basic lists and tailor them to your own unique artistic style! If you’re not familiar with the world of alcohol ink, a few of these supplies may be confusing, so here are a few definitions to help you better understand what we’re referring to. For a complete list of supplies, click here: Alcohol Ink Supplies – Essential Materials for Alcohol Ink Art
- Yupo: Yupo paper is in fact not a traditional paper, but a man-made surface that is 100% polypropylene. This makes it waterproof, which is the perfect surface for manipulating alcohol inks.
- Respirator Mask: Breathing in alcohol fumes for an extended period of time is not recommended. The use of a respirator mask is highly encouraged, but if you don’t have access to one, we recommend trying to create an outdoor workspace so that you are not in an enclosed area with these fumes. We have a few pointers on creating your own workstation: Prepping the Perfect Alcohol Ink Art Station
- Rubbing alcohol: Rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol is a great way to blend your inks, and you typically only need a small amount at a time to achieve great results.
- Blending Solution: Manufactured blending solution is not the same as rubbing alcohol, although it does contain it. Blending solution is a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and typically glycerin, which creates the beautiful feathering and fading effects seen in many alcohol ink works. This occurs because the glycerin helps to extend the drying time of the alcohol, and encourages soft blending between the colors.
- Gloves: Obviously, you know what gloves are! We recommend them because alcohol ink stains everything that it touches, including skin. Wearing gloves will help you avoid rainbow fingertips.
- Work surface protection: Recommended protection for your work surface includes discarded shower curtains, cling wrap, aluminum foil, old ceramic plate, or other non-porous surfaces that will not absorb the alcohol and cause it to seep into your work surface below.
Alcohol Ink Techniques: From Basic to Advanced
Working with alcohol ink isn’t limited to professional artists– even if you’ve never touched a single art supply in your life, there are many basic alcohol ink techniques that can get your creative “inks” flowing. Down below, we’ll also touch on some more advanced techniques, even one using a torch!
Alcohol Ink Techniques #1: Single Drop or Alcohol Ink Pointillism
Required knowledge: You must know your color theory to pull this one-off, and we’ve got you covered: Master the Basics of Color Theory for Harmonious Pours
One of the easiest alcohol ink techniques is the single drop or alcohol ink pointillism method. The essence of this technique is really in the name: all you do is just drop ink on your surface!
This method is great for creating simple, abstract coasters or creative greeting cards on Yupo paper.
In order to create pieces using the alcohol ink pointillism method, you’ll need the following supplies.
- At least 2 alcohol ink colors
- Rubbing alcohol
- A non-porous surface like a ceramic tile or Yupo paper
- Ventilator, or a place to work outside
- Protection for your work surface
Step-By-Step: Alcohol Ink Pointillism
- Clean the surface of your tile with alcohol or another quick-drying, residue-free cleaner. Allow to dry completely.
- Gently shake your alcohol ink bottle and open with the bottle completely vertical, as ink can build up in the tip during shaking and unexpectedly pop out when you open the top.
- Tilting your bottle at a slight angle and squeezing very, very gently, drop your ink at random on your desired surface. You can either touch the tip of the alcohol ink bottle to the surface to apply the ink, or hold it slightly elevated above the surface if you desire. Repeat this step with each color, overlapping in a few places to create color variation and gradation.
- Once you have placed the colors and are happy with the outcome, place the tile on a flat surface to dry.
That’s all there is to alcohol ink pointillism! This technique is wonderful not only for the beginner artist, but for anyone who loves a fun pop of color.
Alcohol Ink Techniques #2: Flood Technique
Required knowledge: Color theory
Similar to the alcohol ink pointillism technique, the flood technique refers to covering the surface of say, a ceramic tile, with a good amount of alcohol ink or blending solution before dropping colors onto the surface. Having this flood coat of alcohol down first encourages your colors to mix and mingle in unique ways, and creates a great opportunity for enhanced gradation!
- At least 2 different alcohol ink colors; for this technique, we recommend limiting yourself to no more than 4 to avoid color muddying.
- Non-porous surface
- Isopropyl alcohol or blending solution
- Respirator mask or outdoor work area
- Work surface protection
- Plastic pipette (optional)
- Straw (if you intend to manipulate the ink with air)
Step-By-Step: Alcohol Ink Flood Technique
- Prepare your work surface and make sure that the surface you’re inking is free of debris. At this time, you should also remove the caps from the alcohol inks you intend to use so that you won’t have to struggle with them while creating.
- If you’ve chosen to use a pipette, fill it with isopropyl alcohol and gently squeeze the alcohol onto your inking surface wherever desired. If you aren’t using a pipette, very carefully pour alcohol onto your surface so that it covers the desired area.
- Working quickly, begin dropping your alcohol ink into the alcohol on your surface. You may notice that the colors initially mix together quite a bit; this is normal.
- Once you’re happy with the placement of your colors and while the alcohol is still wet, manipulate the piece either by using a straw to blow into the colors, or by tipping the surface back and forth.
- If you’re not satisfied with the colors or patterns, you can apply more alcohol, alcohol ink, or a mixture of both and repeat the process multiple times.
- After you’ve completed the piece, set it on a flat surface to dry.
The flood technique is one of the best ways to create soft color gradients and achieve maximum color blending.
Alcohol Ink Techniques #3: Air Manipulation – Wisp Effect
Required Knowledge: color theory, experience with the flood technique
One of the most desired effects is the wisp, feather or fading effect, where the ink is manipulated to blend into the color of the surface around it. Using air manipulation to create wisps makes for an ethereal, dreamy piece.
Achieving wisps can take practice, and it’s recommended that you experiment with the flood technique first so that you have a good understanding of how ink flows when more alcohol or blending solution is introduced. For a little extra help on this technique check out this guide: Alcohol Inks and the Fade Effect
You’ll need a source of forced air for this technique also, and there are a few ways you can move the ink around:
- Straw: For maximum control, you can simply use a straw to blow the ink around on your inking surface. However, it is important that you don’t breathe through the straw! Blow out only– do not inhale the alcohol fumes. You may also want to avoid using a straw if you have asthma or another condition that affects your ability to breathe.
- Blow dryer: You can use a blow dryer with a straightener attachment to manipulate ink on your inking surface.
- Heat gun: You can manipulate ink with a heat gun, but keep in mind it will make your surface very hot. If it’s hot enough, it may also cause inks to pop or burn slightly if you use it for a prolonged period of time. If you have a heat gun or embossing tool that’s got a low heat setting, that may be preferable if you have no other tool to use.
- Compressed air: Compressed air can be in the form of an air compressor or one of those cans of air you can find at a hardware store (commonly used to clean out keyboards). A word of caution: compressed air is powerful! You are very likely to make a bit of a mess unless you specifically purchase an airbrush attachment for your compressor to better control the airflow.
Why Blending Solution?
Although isopropyl alcohol is good for blending inks, blending solution is ideal for creating wisps. The glycerin slows down the drying time of your inks while encouraging blending, and also has a slightly thicker consistency than isopropyl alcohol which makes for more controlled movement.
Diluting Alcohol Inks
Alcohol inks are highly pigmented, which is great! For wispy effects, that pigmentation isn’t ideal for optimal blending and fading. It’s a good idea to grab a few small medicine cups or even an old ice cube tray so that you can put a few drops of alcohol ink in isopropyl alcohol to dilute it. The exact dilution is up to you and how strong or light you’d like your colors to be.
- Alcohol inks in various colors– metallic alcohol inks work well with air manipulation too.
- Plastic pipettes (one per color)
- Small medicine cups (usually about 15 ml) or an old ice cube tray (note: these should not be cycled into food use after this)
- A non-porous inking surface
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Blending solution
- Respirator maskor outdoor work area
- Protection for your work surface
- Air manipulation tool of choice
Step-by-Step: Air Manipulation: Wisp Effect
- Protect your work surface. At this time, you should also prepare your inking surface to make sure it’s free of dirt and debris.
- Place some alcohol in your ice cube tray or medicine cups, and then place a few drops of the desired alcohol ink colors in each to achieve the desired dilution. You can test the colors by piping out a few drops onto a test surface.
- Once you’ve prepared your surfaces and diluted your ink, use a pipette to grab some of your diluted alcohol ink and place it on your inking surface. If this is your first time, use one color at a time until you’re used to the technique.
- Using your air manipulation tool, blow the ink outward, away from the center of placement. I.e., if you have placed your ink in a puddle, you’ll want to blow from the middle of the puddle outwards.
- Place a few drops of blending solution wherever you’d like to create your wisps; a few drops along the outside of your blown out color will create a beautiful, thin wisp effect.
- Layer each color in this way until the desired look is achieved. Once finished, place your piece on a flat surface and allow to dry completely.
Wisps can be evasive, and many an experienced alcohol ink artist has a hard time achieving them! If you don’t get wisps right away, try again; practice really does make perfect in this case. This technique is also perfect for 3D items, like bowls, glasses and more! Learn to create some functional art with this how-to: Using Alcohol Inks to Decorate a Ceramic Soup Mug
Alcohol Ink Techniques #4: The Flame Effect
Required Knowledge: color theory, flood technique, fire safety
If we told you that you could make beautiful alcohol ink pieces by setting them on fire, would you believe us? It’s true! Well…mostly. Not all alcohol ink techniques are as bold as this one, we promise!
The flame technique is a unique and fun way to create incredible patterns within your pieces. You can’t create on just any surface though– this technique is best used with ceramic tiles or a similar fire-resistant surface. Do not use this technique on Yupo or canvas.
Using the flood technique, you’ll place ink and isopropyl alcohol on your surface. While both are still wet, you then take a long lighter (the kind used for grills) to light the alcohol. As you likely know, alcohol is highly flammable, and it will light very easily.
There are a few precautions you need to take if you’re going to create pieces using the flame technique:
- Don’t do this inside. Fire can get out of hand very quickly, even under the best circumstances. You should not attempt this technique in your home, or inside at all. Instead, find a place outdoors to create: concrete patios/slabs, paved driveways, even grills protected with aluminum foil work perfectly. Do not use the flame technique on grass, wooden decks, wooden tables, or any other flammable or non-fire resistant surface.
- Have a way to put the fire out. You can use water to put out an alcohol fire, but it’s recommended that you spray the fire instead of trying to douse it. If you have a fire extinguisher, you can also use that. If you have none of the above available, a large non-flammable blanket or something similar can be thrown on the fire to suffocate it.
- Understand how accidental fires happen. If you splash isopropyl alcohol or alcohol ink too liberally around your work area, keep the alcohol bottle very close to the work area, have flammable objects near your work area or are working in an area that has a lot of air movement, you are more likely to start an uncontrolled fire. Alcohol itself will not burn forever– the flame will go out once the alcohol vapors have effectively been burned from the surface, making it a rather controlled, if not very hot, flame. However, stray drops of alcohol around your pieces may also ignite, which will spread the fire unintentionally. Your work surface should be isolated, with at least a 4ft x 4ft area free of flammable objects and should not have sustained air movement, which could spread the flames.
- Do not touch the tile with your bare hands after it’s been aflame. This may seem like common sense, but it’s important to stress that after you light your tile on fire, it will be very hot. Do not touch the tile for at least 30 minutes, and be sure to wear an oven mitt or similar protection.
- Flames can be hard to see in the sunlight. You might think that the flames have dissipated on your tile, but in fact, flames can be very difficult to see when in direct sunlight. As the alcohol burns off of the tile, you’ll see a very distinct shape where the alcohol was sitting– this shape will move towards the middle of itself as the alcohol burns off. If in doubt, look for shadows moving over your tile, or wait a few more minutes before attempting to add more alcohol to the tile.
Creating alcohol ink art using the flame technique requires advanced preparation, but the results? Completely unique!
A Note About Metallics
Metallic inks (gold, silver, etc) do not work well with the flame technique, because they tend to burn. If you’d like to add metallic accents to your piece, do so after your tile has cooled completely.
- Assorted alcohol inks
- Ceramic tile or other fire-resistant surface to ink on
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Aluminum foil– enough to hold your tiles with at least 4 inches between each tile and from each tile to the outside of the foil
- Long “camping” lighter for lighting alcohol
- Oven mitts or other protective gloves
Step-By-Step: Flame Technique
- Find a place outside to work, preferably a concrete surface or a grill. Lay your aluminum foil on your flame-resistant work surface. Place your tiles at least 4 inches apart on the aluminum foil.
- Using the flood technique, place your colors on the first tile. When finished, move inks and isopropyl alcohol at least 4ft away from the flame area.
- Using the camp lighter, lightly bring the flame to one of the corners of the tile nearest to you. You will only need to very lightly touch the alcohol to get it to light. Light the closest point to you, so that you do not need to reach over the tile to light it, subsequently having to pull your hand and the lighter over the top of the flame.
- The alcohol will light quickly– remove your hand and lighter as quickly as you can, and then back away from the tile. It will burn until the alcohol has dissipated.
- Wait about 5 minutes to make sure that the flame has burned out completely.
- Repeat this process with the other tiles. Once finished, allow tiles to cure for at least 30 minutes (preferably an hour) before handling with an oven mitt.
If you’d like to add more color to one of your already-fired tiles, you can keep repeating the process on the same tile. However, you should not repeat it more than 2 or 3 times in a short time period to avoid the possibility of your ceramic tile breaking.
Alcohol Ink Techniques #5: Petri Dish (Resin)
Required knowledge: color theory, alcohol ink pointillism, basic resin usage
Alcohol ink works very well in resin; in fact, the petri dish technique is one of the most popular ways to create unique resin art!
For the petri dish technique, you won’t need isopropyl alcohol or blending solution: your most important additive will be white alcohol ink. White alcohol ink is opaque and very heavy, and the key to creating drips of color within the resin.
- Up tothree assorted alcohol inks
- White alcohol ink
- Two-part resin
- Silicone resin mold (should be at least an inch deep)
- Work surface protection
Step-by-Step: Petri Dish Technique
- Prepare your work surface by laying down a non-porous material like aluminum foil, a silicone mat, or cling wrap. Place your mold on the protected surface.
- Mix your two-part resin according to the manufacturer’s directions.
- Fill the silicone resin mold to the desired depth. If you have bubbles once you’ve poured the resin in, you can use a straw to gently blow on the surface of the resin to pop them.
- Take one alcohol ink color and drop a few single drops in different places on the surface of your resin. Working quickly, drop a single drop of white in the middle of each colored alcohol ink drop. Repeat while alternating colors, always dropping white alcohol ink into the middle of the colored alcohol ink each time.
- Once you’re satisfied with the colors, allow the resin to cure according to the manufacturer’s directions. If the piece doesn’t show a lot of color dropping at this point, don’t worry: the colors will continue to move as the resin cures.
- After the resin has cured, unmold and enjoy!
The wonderful benefit of the petri-dish technique is that no two pieces can ever be exactly the same! Are you a visual learner? Check this guide out for a little extra help: How to Color and Dye Resin: Step by Step Tutorial (Video)
Alcohol Ink Techniques #6: Sponge Brush Technique
Required knowledge: color theory
If you’re less about random color placement and more about control, you might want to consider applying alcohol ink with a sponge brush. Using a sponge brush, you can create crisp lines, gradients, and even landscapes.
- Sponge brush: you can find these at most hardware stores and craft stores. Typically, these will have a black sponge and a wooden handle. They come in many shapes and sizes, we recommend experimenting with a few to find the shapes you like!
- Alcohol ink
- Yupo paper, ceramic tile, or other non-porous inking surface
- An ice cube tray, small medicine cups, or multi-cavity silicone tray
Step-by-Step: Sponge Brush Technique
*Note: this step-by-step will cover the basic setup, but the technique will depend very much on what you’re trying to achieve.
- Prepare your work surface by laying down a protective covering like aluminum foil or cling wrap.
- Place your alcohol ink colors in your tray of choice: if you plan on mixing the colors or trying to create a gradient, you may want to use a tray that has one large area to make it easier.
- If you intend to use blending solution or additional isopropyl alcohol, you will want to dispense a bit of this into your tray of choice also.
- Begin applying ink to your surface. You will need to work somewhat quickly so that the ink doesn’t dry as you’re working with it. If this does happen, you can use a bit of alcohol or blending solution to reconstitute the ink.
Alcohol ink can be used for a wide variety of projects to create beautiful, unique patterns and designs. The quick-drying nature and vibrancy of alcohol ink make it a great tool for beginner and professional artists alike!
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