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alcohol ink dragonfly

Alcohol Ink – The little known painting wonder

alcohol ink on glass bowlI stumbled across alcohol ink while I was looking for a paint that would stick to tiles. That sent me on a journey that I am still fully engaged in. At the time I had a shoulder injury, so the work had to remain small, which is fine with me. The colors are bright and wonderfully clear, and there are a myriad of uses for them.

There are many ways of blending and separating the colors. There are also as many ways to texture the ink as you can imagine. Of course that said, I use the inks in a free-form way. I don’t use a brush most of the time and I don’t do representational work. So as the color flows onto whatever substrate I’m using, I can adjust, blot, blow, heat, or tilt to get the effect I’m looking for.

That said

there are also the times when I end up with a muddy mess. Working with a medium that is thin and runny takes a bit of getting used to so that the color doesn’t’t just puddle and dry clumpy, with strange, ugly colors taking over, but it’s worth the time and effort.

One of the things I love best about the ink is that although the bottles are small, they last for a long time. I guess it depends on the size of the substrate, but I think this medium is a bit more controllable on a smaller surface. I recommend starting on a small surface before working your way up to the 4×6 piece that lives in your heart.alcohol inks by June Rollins

Unless you work in miniature, I know that somewhere there is the need to make at least one BIG piece. But believe me when I tell you, if that is indeed the case, wait until you know the medium well. There is nothing worse than a bunch of ink dripping of the edges in a way that is totally unpleasing.

If you like your work controlled by the medium, Alcohol Ink is the one for you!

While alcohol ink can be used to make a beautiful background for a painting or drawing, I really love the organic look of the paint as it spreads over a surface. When you drop a dollop of color into another one, it spreads out forming a dark ring around the outside edge of where the color stops.

You can tilt the paper to spread the ink, but be aware, that until the ink is dry the color will spread and change.

If you love what you have right now, too bad.

That’s not what it is going to look like when it is finished spreading and drying. As alcohol ink can be used on almost any surface. The colors stay bright and clear, feel free to let your imagination run wild.alcohol inks

Using a base of 91% rubbing alcohol that can be purchased in almost any grocery or drug store in a spray bottle, you can drizzle a line of ink, allow it to spread out, add more colors or blow with a straw. A brush can be used to pick up excess color, which sometimes turns into a black edge if left to dry.

Paper towels blot and move color around as do trowels, spatulas and even the back of a spoon. I sometimes use the edge of a spoon to draw through the color to the substrate, however if the color is still wet a hairdryer or paint dryer is needed to stop the spread of the color.

You can work over dry color or spray alcohol or a blending solution on a piece you’re not in love with to alter it, but you can’t control what happens. The color will spread and change as it moves on the surface and dries.

Color Theory – It comes in handy when the medium runs the show.

alcohol inks and penI know that color theory is enough to make some peoples eyes cross, so suffice it to say that three or four colors are the most that should be used on a small piece. Because of the organic nature of how the medium spreads and links with other colors, the colors themselves change and evolve until the piece is dry.

So, in order not to make a muddy mess, limit the use of the number of colors used. In most cases, two or three similar colors and on contrasting color is the easiest to use and to fall in love with.

Some artists only buy blue, yellow and red as their color choices, knowing that as the colors blend they will be getting secondary and even tertiary color. I think they just love to watch the interaction of color as it changes color and becomes something new.

The uses are endless – and really fun to figure out.

Now, here is the fun part. Remember how I told you that alcohol ink can be used on most surfaces? It’s so true. It is one of the few colors that truly stick to slick surfaces. I mean, think about it. You can paint tiles for a back splash, make metal alcohol inks on clay pendantpaintings, paint on plexi or glass.

That means that it can be used

for jewelry, glassware (not that you drink or eat out of). You could probably use it on dishes. However, unless you are absolutely certain that there is nothing toxic in the colors you use, why take the chance. And besides, I don’t think I would want my artwork to come off in the dishwasher. Just sayin’.

I’ve seen wind chimes made of plexi tubes with alcohol ink used to make them spectacularly colorful and bright. And don’t forget that there are also used for it in jewelry.

I have an artist friend who created a glass panel for her front door with alcohol ink and it is breathtaking. On glass, they take on a stained-glass effect.


One of my favorite surfaces to use is Yupo. Yupo is marketed as a paper, however it is more of a plastic with a tooth while being thin like paper is. It was originally used for outdoor signs and banners. There are a couple of different colors, both white and off-white. It also comes in small pads up to 18×24 sheets and even larger.

If you like to make your own paints, have at it.

alcohol ink on ornamentBy taking about a quarter of an ounce of acrylic paint and an ounce of 91% rubbing alcohol and shaking it up, you have a form of alcohol ink. You might have to play with the percentage of paint to alcohol, but it is absolutely possible to make your own.

Homemade Alcohol Ink is not recommended on much other than paper. Many times drys lighter than it is when it is wet. But in all other aspects, it is essentially the same. BUT…they might not react the same way store bought ink does, but for backgrounds and sponge applied ink it is great.

Tools and equipment that make working in AI easier.

While the list isn’t especially long for what’s needed, it really is easier to have everything before you start. The list below is fairly self-explanitory.

  • There are many brands of Alcohol Inks around. Look for the best price. Sales are the best way to stock up.
  • blending solution or alcohol, or both – I have never seen much difference between the two except for price.
  • felt pads or a piece of felt cut up into small piece. Either works fine.
  • spray bottles for the alcohol and blending solutions.
  • a heat source for drying, either a hairdryer or a craft heat tool. Make sure the dryer is on low.
  • substrate – paper – glass – plexi – metal – wood – It’s up to you
  • For smaller pieces I use a lazy susan so I can keep turning the piece easily.
  • q-tips – paper towels – plastic wrap (for texture) – straws – gloves if you don’t like getting your hands dirty

A final word…

alcohol ink washer necklace

If you are looking for a medium to control and do as you want it to, this may not be the thing for you. But, if you love the way color spreads and changes, how the colors evolve as they dry, and aren’t to worried about what the design is going to end up as, go for it.

This is as much fun in its own way as coloring in a coloring book is. It allows your mind to drift a bit.  But it’s great getting excited at the same time by what is happening to your surface. Choose your colors carefully and have fun. Spray the painted, still wet surface with alcohol and see what happens.

Blow it with a straw to spread the color or to keep it from invading an especially precious area of the piece. Use the heat dryer to dry the paint, because remember, it changes up until the time it is dry.

So, relax, have fun, don’t worry about being the master of your universe. Just go with whatever happens and enjoy the experience. If you don’t like what you’ve created, clean the surface and start again. Or simply spray with a little blending solution or alcohol and go forward.

If you have any questions or suggestions I would love to hear from you.



alcohol ink landscape




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