Ink has been used by artists for at least a few thousands of years. Throughout its history, it was made using different ingredients and techniques and evolved over the years, but nowadays it remains to be an important medium used in fine art. In this post, I will introduce the most popular types of ink you might want to use in your artistic creations. Each type has its own characteristics and purposes. I will also present the tools and surfaces most commonly used with these types, but their applications go far beyond that.
Our list starts with Chinese ink, also known as Indian ink (it’s name is owed to the fact that it travelled from China to India, from where it was brought and introduced to Europeans). This type is used in oriental art, such as Chinese painting, but it’s also loved and commonly used by cartoonists, illustrators, calligraphists, designers, and tattooists for its ability to create fine lines and precise strokes.
The main characteristic of Chinese ink is that it can be found both in liquid and solid form. I have previously described the process of making it in this article. It’s made from pine soot combined with animal glue or another type of binding agent and then formed into a stick. It takes a fairly long time to produce a finished stick - in the final stage, it might require up to a few months of drying. However, because of that, it possesses a unique advantage - it’s dry, so it can last for many years and preserve its quality.
To use Chinese ink in its solid form, you need to have an inkstone and grind the stick together with water - based on your needs, you can add less water to create a thick, dark, and glossy liquid, or add more water or other diluent to get a lighter colour and different shades of grey. Alternatively, you can find a liquid form in a bottle and use it directly with the tools of your choice. What is important to note, is that this type of medium can be waterproof or not, depending on whether a binder is used.
Chinese or Indian ink is best used on board or paper, and choosing paper with different textures will create different results. The tools that are most commonly used with this type are brushes (Chinese or Western), pens, or nibs. Chinese ink is a perfect companion to watercolor painting where it can be used, for example, in a technique called ink resist, or as a substitute for dark colors in the picture.
Acrylic ink is another very commonly-used medium. It can be made using either dye or pigment and is a bit similar to acrylic paint, but more liquid. It can create intense, vibrant colors, although the intensity of pigment-based ink might be slightly reduced compared to a dye-based one.
This kind presents many advantages for the users. First of all, it’s waterproof and quite permanent. However, don’t combine it with alcohol as it can lift the color - unless you want to create some unique effects! Apart from that, acrylic ink doesn’t fade easily over time and has high lightfastness.
Depending on the tools you choose, this type of ink can be used in various ways. For painting, you can experiment with various types of brushes, airbrushes, and other tools. You can also dilute them, similarly to acrylic paint. If you use a fine brush or a dip pen, you can even write with it. Its versatility makes it a very appealing medium for artists.
When it comes to choosing a surface, acrylic ink is best used on paper, canvas, board, as well as plastic, wooden, and ceramic material.
The last type of ink presented here uses alcohol as its base. Alcohol ink is highly pigmented and can create vibrant colors, as well as unusual, interesting effects.
Because alcohol evaporates fast, this type of ink dries within minutes. However, which is quite unlike the other two types described in this article, it can be later changed (“revived” in a way) by adding more ink or alcohol. That way, you have an opportunity to re-do your painting or create something new. However, for that reason, this type of ink might be quite difficult to control and it might take a bit of time and practice to achieve a certain level of skill.
Alcohol ink is very different from Chinese or acrylic ones in one other aspect - unlike the other two types, it’s not advised to use it on paper as it’s going to sink in it. The surface to use should be as smooth as possible so you can experiment with glass, metal, plastic, ceramic tiles, leather, etc. For this type of ink, you can use pens or brushes, however, it’s important to avoid using high-quality brushes as alcohol might dye the bristles.
Only Your Creativity Limits You
As you can see, there are various ink types for you, an artist, to choose from - the only thing limiting you is your imagination and creativity. Whether you prefer traditional Chinese painting or contemporary fine art, I hope that my article helped you understand the three types of ink a little better - I encourage you to experiment with different surfaces, tools, and types of inks to find out which one suits your next creation best.