The ultimate colour media: ink
Everything you always wanted to know about ink but were afraid to ask.
By Michèle (Mimita) Harris
Seriously, I really don’t know everything about inks. This is a complex and vast area because inks come in a wide array of combinations. You have to be a chemist to fully understand the ink world adequately. By all means, I’m no expert. That said; in my quest towards exploring and manipulating colours, I have developed a true passion for inking and I am excited to share what I have learned along the way. In doing so, I decided to stay away from brand names. I personally don’t have preferences, I love them all. I find that all inks and colours are fun to work with, and the choice really depends on what you are doing with it. I rummage through the kids’ supplies as much as in my expensive inks. It’s all in what your project requires; what you want and like in the result.
So let’s talk ink!! There are so many inks on the market, enough to make you dizzy. This is no wonder! Ink comes in the form of powder, pad, and pen, solid where you moisten to use, liquid in different kinds of bottles or even in a spray bottle, less liquid in a squeeze type container like gels, pastes, etc... To make things more confusing; on one hand, similar inks are referred to using different terms and on the other hand, same ink types often come in many of the above forms! It’s crazy! We hear about china ink, pigment ink, alcohol ink, chalk ink, oil-based ink, fast-drying ink, embossing ink, resist ink, hybrid ink, watermark ink, distress ink, permanent ink, archival ink, washable ink, dye ink, natural ink, gel ink, acrylic ink (yes, not only paints although paints have ink in them too!)... And we aren’t talking about inks formulated for newspapers, computer printers, flexography inks for packaging, advertisements, etc... I am skipping a few... The fact is that ink goes into everything. (And also that scrapbookers and crafters are passionate about inks!! So many inks are designed especially for crafting and scrapbooking.)
What is ink? Fundamentally, inks are made up of a base (a carrier if you will) that can be a number of things from water to solvent, and then there is ground pigments or minerals or dye (or a happy combination of these) added for colour. Lubricants, fixatives, resins, surfactants, fluorescents can also be used in ink composition, and pigments are composed of a surprising number of different particulate matter. The main goal of each ink type is to stick to the substrate it is intended for. Beyond this, there can be other benefits such as fade-resistance for example. That is why it is important to read the label!
There you have it... Now, let’s try to make some sense of it all. Basically, there are two main groups of ink types used in scrapbooking/crafting: The water-based inks and the solvent-based inks. Some inks are found in both groups, such as pigment inks for example. There’s pigment in it but the base differs. Since we cannot clearly separate these two main groups, the easiest way to go about this is to talk about the most common inks by type/term name.
However, before we do that, it helps to know that water-based inks generally dry faster versus a solvent-based ink, with the exception of alcohol (a type of solvent) inks which dry very fast. Water-based inks are also easier to clean and they are fantastic on paper and cardboard!! Although unless specially formulated for permanency, water-based inks often don’t resist fading over time. Whereas solvent-based inks are mostly slow-drying (again, with the exception of alcohol inks) and therefore they are perfect for heat embossing. Moreover, many solvent-based inks, especially alcohol inks, are perfect for applying to non-porous surfaces such as glass, metal or plastic. Water-based inks may never dry completely on non-porous surfaces or if they do, they will chip, wash off or just not stick.
Terms referring to inks used in crafting-scrapbooking:
Acrylic ink, is an extremely fluid acrylic that is pigmented with super-fine pigments. It is permanent, it dries fast and it is also water resistant once dry. It can be diluted with water to create effects similar to water-colouring.
Alcohol ink, a solvent-based dye ink designed for its archival quality and often also designed to adhere to non-porous surfaces such as glass, metal, plastic, foil, leather, etc. It dries very fast as the alcohol evaporates. This is also a great ink in its pen form because it blends colours easily. The pens are great for colouring stamped images for example. However, keep in mind that you may not stamp your image with an alcohol-based ink because the alcohol-based ink pens will blend and smear the ink of your outline. You need to use a water-based dye ink to stamp your image before you colour it with alcohol-based ink pens. On a side note, Alcohol ink pens are often used by animators when drawing animated movie pictures!
Archival ink, do not confuse this term with the brand... In actuality, when you refer to «archival quality», you refer to an ink that is designed for its long lasting, non colour fading properties. And not all archival type inks are alcohol-based; some are water-based dye inks that are specially formulated to achieve the same fade resistance and non bleeding qualities.
Chalk ink, a thick ink made of a variety of dye-based ink. This type of ink dries to a chalky finish and retains its colour even on dark surfaces. The chalk type inks come in the form of pads. There are big pads or little sponge-like-oval or square-shaped pads.
China ink, one of the most ancient ink on our planet; it’s actually made of soot and water combined, sometimes combined with oil. In India, it often comes in the form of a stick that you dampen to draw with it. So what we sometimes call «Indian ink» is the same as China ink. And we all know its black liquid traditional Chinese form in a bottle. The liquid type is typically oil-based.
Distress ink, again here, do not confuse this term with the brand... «Distress» refers to alteration techniques with the goal of giving an aged look to your projects. Not only inks accomplish this result. Paper shredding, tearing, etc, also give you this distressed effect. Typically, distress inks are a water-based dye ink that is especially formulated to dry slowly. It is thicker and its slow-drying yet dye-based properties allow you to blend it, alter it, and create that vintage, stained finish. It is a popular ink because of its versatility. For example, you can apply a small quantity on a sheet of plastic or glass or Teflon and spray water over it, and then you can brush it. Like acrylic ink, you can create effects similar to water-colouring. It is also fade-resistant.
Dye ink, a quick drying water-based ink that is more «transparent» in nature. Dye-based inks may fade with time, and sometimes bleed when used on very absorbent papers. However, this type of ink offers the most variety of colours.
Embossing ink, it is important to first clarify that there are two types of embossing techniques. One consists of using a template such as a plastic embossing folder or a metal die-cut that will raise paper (or other mediums such as foil for example) in the pattern of the template, this is «cold» embossing. The other technique consists of using embossing powders which melt when heated and create a raised (embossed) ink finish (heat embossing). And because this second technique requires ink (that the embossing powder will stick to), that is the embossing technique that I refer to throughout this text. So, «embossing ink» is the term used when referring to many types of ink that are formulated for the purpose of using in conjunction with embossing powders, it’s slow drying. In other words, embossing inks are not a type of ink; it’s rather a property of the ink composition/formulation for use in embossing.
Fast-Drying Ink, refers to the property of the ink. This term is common in referring to pigment inks, both water-based and solvent-based inks, which are specially formulated to dry fast. So yes, fast-drying ink is not a type of ink, it’s all about the ink’s formulation. Also see «pigment ink».
Hybrid ink, usually refers to a combination of dye and pigment ink (not containing solvents)
Natural ink, refers to a dye-based ink made with dye extracted from components found in nature such as in leaves, flowers and berries. China ink and Indian ink, pastels, all fall in this category for instance.
Permanent ink, refers to ink having an archival quality. Again here, this term refers to the properties in its composition; it is not a type of ink. Both water and solvent based inks can be formulated to be permanent. This «permanent» term also commonly refers to an ink which dries permanently on the surface it is intended for, without a heat setting.
Pigment ink, is often oil-based but can also be water-based. It is a thicker ink and it dries slowly. Therefore it is the best for embossing (as are the clear glues and watermarks). Pigment ink is also known for resisting fading even in direct sunlight. Multi-coloured ink pads are made with this type of ink because of its thick formulation; the colours don’t bleed into each other. Pigment ink is usually permanent but can sometimes take weeks to dry and it may not dry at all on non-porous surfaces such as plastic or metal! Pigment inks formulated for fast-drying are commonly found in a pad form. There are big pads or little sponge-like-oval-shaped pads, just like the chalk inks.
Resist ink, is made of a special dye or non-dye composition formulated to prevent additional dye ink colors from bonding to the paper. And it «resists» other dye-based inks so they don’t adhere when stamped on glossy or coated papers as well. Traditionally, resist inks are clear in colour although it is now available coloured as well. However, other mediums such as sealants can be used in resist-techniques... Not only resist inks.
Washable ink, is a water-based ink usually designed for children. It is non-toxic and obviously designed to be washable although it may still stain certain fabrics. Moms probably already know that...
Watermark ink, is a specially formulated clear composition which leaves a subtle tone on tone effect on the surface you apply it to. It is a slow-drying ink and you can emboss with it. But it is primarily designed to leave that "watermark" effect on your projects.
Is your head spinning yet? If you are attracted by inks; the best way to get acquainted with them is to experiment to your little heart’s content, one ink type at a time.
If you are new at this and don’t know where to begin, if you prefer to stick to the basics; I suggest you take a class on a new technique, and/or follow tutorials and participate in challenges that will make you get out of your comfort zone! They are often the kick in the tibia we need to get going and we are always proud of the result. Don’t take my word for it, try for yourself!! =)
In my mind, as you begin exploring the ink world, starting to feel the need to alter-colour embellishments (think of the chipboards, cut outs, etc) even make your own embellishments, or simply add depth and a finishing touch to your work: three types of ink are essential:
I would recommend that you start with chalk inks, and/or fast-drying pigment inks, that come in the tiny pad form , to ink the edges of your projects. This gives a more finished, professional look to your layouts. But read the label, if you purchase a pigment ink that doesn’t dry fast, you might smudge all over your project! Everyone agrees to say that brown is the colour you will use the most, so start with that one. You will discover that this type of ink is also great for other colouring projects, you can use them on chipboards, with masks, re-colour letters, etc. They are a must!
Image 1. Inked with blue chalk ink around all edges. It’s subtle but it’s what gives the depth.
Image 2. The blue and orange paper circles are inked with a brown halk ink and so is the chipboard, entirely covered with 3 colours of chalk ink.
Image 3. Inked on the ripped portion and around the envelope detail to create the aged look.
From there, you could extend to the spray inks (dye ink in a spray form), found in both water-based and alcohol-based formulas. Some are pigmented with metallic particles. Fun effects can be created by spraying ink droplets on your layouts’ backgrounds. You can also use them with masks. The alcohol-based sprays are great to alter the colour of pretty much anything in order to match the colour palette of your layouts. The water-based sprays do that too but you cannot use them on non-porous surfaces such as plastic (many ornaments are made of plastic). The colour you choose to start would be the colour that you use the most on your projects. You know, if you have girls pictures, go for the pink or red, if you like the vintage look, go with a cherry chocolate colour, if you are working on a wedding album, go for the metallic gold and so on.
Image 1. Sprayed background with gold metallic pigmented spray, before placing the swirl chipboard (that was coloured blue with chalk ink).
Image 2. Spray used with fencing and barbed wire masks.
Image 3. The background was a white cardstock before it was sprayed with 3 colours; the 3rd one contains metal pigments giving this shiny finish that matches the coloured stamped image.
And a third step would be the slow-drying pigment inks to begin embossing! These pigment-inks require a small investment because you will also need embossing powder and a heat gun. And they are a tad strenuous because you have to heat the embossing powder over the ink, in order to set. It’s not hard at all; it just requires the additional step... so if you’re the «lazy» crafter-scrapbooker type, you may not like it... However, it adds professionalism to your greeting cards and all your craft projects. Pigment inks combined with embossing powders can be used on everything from the edges of your photos, papers, props, chipboards. They can also be used with rubber and gel stamps!! Can you imagine the results? If you want to impress people... Emboss!
Image 1. Inked using gel stamps and embossed with a silver powder (Not to brag, everyone can do it, I have to say that embossing is difficult to capture on a photo, the real-life result is quite stunning)
Image 2. The gears are embossed with the same silver powder as Image 1 and then embossed again with an extra thick clear embossing powder to give it that rough look. The background is cold-embossed but it is also heat-embossed with pink, purple and gold embossing powders.
Image 3. The gears are inked blue with pigment ink and then embossed with an extra thick clear embossing powder (it’s white when you spread it and it turns clear upon heating) giving this lacquered rough finish. If you want a smoother finish, use a super fine embossing powder...
So I so hope that you enjoyed this article-reference guide and I do hope you all enjoy working with your inks because colours and textures are what make a project unique and that's what our world is made of!!!! It's the most exiting form of expression!!!! INK YOUR STUFF!!!! LOL