Alcohol Ink vs India Ink? What’s the Difference?

by Stephen Hans

That answer boils down to one simple thing… Do you have to shake it first? India Inks are a lot like that hot cocoa you just had, there is a lot of sediment at the bottom. Whereas alcohol inks are more like Gatorade, bright and not in need of shaking.

How is Alcohol Ink different than India Ink?

If you look at the bottle of one of our alcohol inks you will see it says “dye-based.” Properly labeled alcohol inks are made using chemical reactions between colorful dyes and an alcohol solution. This creates a perfectly suspended ink where no part of the bottle is more pigmented than the other. Think of when you mix sugar in with your coffee, once you stir it, it interacts with the water in the coffee and becomes one.

How is India Ink Different than Alcohol Ink?

India Ink uses pigments, not dyes, to get color. Pigments are tiny tiny little grains of material with color. In the past, that used to mean using things like charcoal or zinc to get these colors, but now it is made much more professionally with precision control of colors. This is mixed with an alcohol solution as well but you must shake it before using it. Think of it like making a hot chocolate, you can’t just put cocoa powder in and have a good drink, you must thoroughly mix it and drink it while it is well mixed otherwise it settles to the bottom

When Should I Use an India Ink Instead of an Alcohol Ink?

Calligraphy! It is the ideal candidate for calligraphy. The body it has due to the pigments make the India Ink almost hover above the paper a smidge and it sets with body. As a resin artist, I also like to use India Inks to color my epoxy resins for painting. India Inks in resin work to intensely pigment the epoxy because of how much thicker they are than alcohol inks. So just a drop will compete with what alcohol ink could offer. However, for getting easy to control resin colors with a translucent finish, be it in a painting or in casting jewelry or sculpture, alcohol ink is the way to go. You don’t run the risk of sediment with alcohol ink like you do with India ink in resin. This is good to know because resin is both expensive and unforgiving.

When Should I Use an Alcohol Ink Instead of an India Ink?

For almost all of the alcohol ink art you see on synthetic waterproof paper (like Yupo, Nara, Terraslate, etc) use alcohol inks. It will blend and not run the risk of ending up with sediment blemishing the piece. Alcohol inks are also great for anything you want a measure of control or translucence for, like alcohol ink on glass (for a stained glass look), fabric dying, stamping, leather, polymer clay painting, wood staining, and a gazillion more. It is an everything tool.