Date: 01-02-2021



 Inks are highly liquid colours that can be used with a variety of tools. While traditional inks, such as India ink and watercolour dyes, are mostly used for drawing and colouring on paper, new acrylic-based inks can be used on a wide variety of surfaces and have expanded the possibilities of drawing and painting.


Drawing inks are mostly associated with illustration, sketching, and design rendering. Three types are watercolour dyes (left), India ink (middle), and alcohol-based dyes (right).

Watercolour dyes: like the Pebeo Colorex, these can be thought of as pre-diluted watercolour, and are excellent for achieving flat, even colour areas that reproduce brightly and cleanly, so they are favoured by illustrators. They use dyes as a colourant, not pigment, and although this gives them their very even and brilliant hue – they are not lightfast and will fade quite quickly.

Most watercolour dyes can be used with a brush, dip-pen, or even fountain pens, as they remain water-soluble when dry. Winsor & Newton Drawing Inks contain shellac, which makes them dry water-resistant with a pleasing sheen, but are suitable only for brush and dip-pen.

Alcohol dyes: alcohol-based inks have been used in marker pens for design-rendering for many years, and are now in demand for various craft trends. Although, like the watercolour dyes, they will fade quite quickly when exposed to light, alcohol-based inks interact in delightfully random ways to create brilliantly coloured effects, especially on synthetic papers such as Lana Vanguard.

India ink: a black made from carbon that comes in both waterproof and non-waterproof varieties. Most commonly used for pen and wash techniques. Good quality India ink is highly lightfast and will dilute to a series of neutral greys. It is commonly used with dip pen or brush.


Acrylic inks are concentrated colours that offer multiple applications for drawing and painting.

Acrylic inks: waterproof and highly lightfast liquid acrylic paints like Golden High Flow and Schmincke Aerocolor are extremely versatile. Made with the same pigments as artists’ acrylics but ground extra-finely so they can be used in precision tools such as airbrushes, these colours can be used for fine detail, wide areas and watercolour-type effects. They can be used with brush, dip-pen, refillable marker, airbrush or directly from the bottle. Acrylic inks can be mixed into acrylic painting mediums to alter their viscosity too.


The high colour absorption, flex and durability of Cosmotop-Spin brushes make them perfect for acrylic ink painting.

The luminosity of acrylic inks is hard to beat. Mixing colour through glazing (left) offers an unlimited palette of nuanced and brilliant hues. More opaque areas can be achieved through adding a few drops of opaque white to your acrylic ink colour, or using the Aerocolor Total Cover colours. Da Vinci Cosmotop-Spin synthetic brushes, like this pointed filbert (left) and Rigger (right) have great colour capacity and elasticity which makes them perfect for use with these inks.


 Every drop of Aerocolor delivers a burst of vibrant colour to almost any surface, from canvas to plexiglass.

Schmincke Aerocolor is the most highly concentrated liquid acrylic, supplying an intense colour and excellent adhesive qualities that lend it to mixed media work. The standard colour range is supplemented with Effect colours, opaque Total Cover and highly transparent Candy colours. Just one drop of Aerocolor goes a long way!

Aerocolor can be used on paper, canvas (primed and unprimed), plastics, and metal. Additives are available when working on non-absorbent or unusual surfaces, such as leather, or with heavily diluted colour on gesso, to increase adhesion.


Dropping acrylic inks into wet surfaces creates dynamic blossoming and bleeding colour effects.

The Aerocolor pipette portions very accurate measurements for mixing, and can be used to drop colour onto wet surfaces for blossoming effects.  Notice how the Aerocolor flows differently on the wet 300gsm Fabriano Disegno Hot Press paper (left), to the wet canvas surface (right). You can also prime paper with gesso to reduce the absorption, allowing longer working times and brighter colours, as well as the possibility of working over with heavy bodied paints.


Acrylic inks are the perfect partner for other paint media, offering complimentary effects and styles.

Acrylic inks like Aerocolor and Golden High Flow make great partners for other painting techniques. On the left, a refillable Aerocolor Liner marker is used for drawing lines and areas the watercolour can wash over without disturbing. The painting on the right uses an Aerocolor underpainting to provide brilliant colours under the oilcolour layer on top. Acrylic inks dry fast and without the ridges acrylic paint can leave.


Specific application often calls for specific ink: both lettering and airbrush techniques require ink that flows freely and does not dry in the tip.

Some inks have been developed with very specific purpose. Cretacolor Calligraphy Ink is a special lettering ink that offers a dense black line with excellent body and flow for dip pen techniques. Lamy manufacture all their ink and ink refills for their fountain pens and writing pens, to ensure the perfect flow from nib to page. Golden High Flow and Schmincke Aerocolor have the right qualities to perform with the finest airbrush without blocking or drying in the cup.

For the best results, your surface is also very important. Some papers provide for a smooth flow of ink much better than others.


Your choice of paper will affect the working properties of your ink and determine the end look of your work.

Bristol board is a super-smooth surface that is perfect for pen and ink work. Bristol is used in the drawing on the left with Aerocolor Liner markers, and the one on the right using Molotow Brush pens – their flexible shaped tips give a natural variation of line width for looser drawing styles. Bristol is available with inexpensive pads from Fabriano or a more versatile quality in sheets from Hahnemuhle.

Usually smooth papers are used with inks, as the surface offers no resistance to the fluid colour. Popular smooth or “Hot Press” papers include Hahnemuhle Bristol, Fabriano Artistico, Fabriano Disegno, and Fabriano Watercolour. Sometimes though, a little texture is necessary to add interest and depth to your image. Our most popular matte or “Cold Press” surfaces for inks are Britannia Matte, Fabriano Designo Cold Press, Bamboo and Harmony.




  • Date: 09-05-2019
    Sally Hollis-McLeod

    Excellent information on acrylic and other inks and surfaces.
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