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Controlling Chaos: Alcohol Ink Painting Guidelines

Updated: Mar 15

Alcohol Ink Painting Guidelines for Beginners

Original Alcohol Ink Painting

Welcome to the vibrant world of alcohol ink painting, a realm where colors flow with an almost magical fluidity to create mesmerizing artworks. Whether you're a seasoned artist looking to explore a new medium or a complete novice drawn to the allure of these vivid inks, these alcohol ink painting guidelines will walk you through everything you need to get started. Let's dive into the colorful journey of alcohol ink painting!

What is Alcohol Ink?

Alcohol ink is a vibrant and fluid medium known for its rich colors and unpredictable blending properties, which can yield stunning results. It is a dye-based, waterproof and highly pigmented medium that, when combined with alcohol, creates a captivating, fluid effect on non-porous surfaces. It’s fast drying and moisture resistant once dry. It is easy to reactivate alcohol inks with the use of isopropyl alcohol or blending solution.  Its appeal lies in its intense colors and the unpredictable, yet stunning results it can produce. Perfect for abstract art, landscapes, and more, alcohol ink allows for a wide range of artistic expression.

Basic Materials


The heart of alcohol ink painting lies in its vibrant inks. In the realm of alcohol ink art, the choice of ink brand can significantly affect the vibrancy, durability, and overall outcome of the artwork. Brands like Ranger Tim Holtz, Jacquard Pinata Colors, and Copic Various Ink Refills are popular choices that offer a wide spectrum of colors, including metallics and neon. In the selection of alcohol inks, artists should consider brands that are well-regarded for their pigment quality, color richness, and ease of use. Here are some of the top choices among alcohol ink artists:

  • Ranger Tim Holtz Alcohol Inks: Widely acclaimed for their vibrant colors and ease of blending, Ranger Tim Holtz Alcohol Inks are a favorite among artists. The brand offers a wide spectrum of colors, including metallics and neon, providing artists with a versatile palette for their creations.

  • Jacquard Pinata Colors: Known for their highly saturated and vibrant hues, Jacquard Pinata Colors are alcohol inks that work well on any non-porous surface. They offer exceptional brightness and color clarity, making them a popular choice for artists seeking intensity in their artwork.

  • Copic Various Ink Refills: Although primarily marketed as refills for Copic markers, these alcohol-based inks are highly pigmented and blendable, making them suitable for alcohol ink art. They offer the advantage of being refillable and are available in a wide range of colors.

  • Brea Reese Alcohol Inks: Brea Reese alcohol inks are noted for their vibrant colors and fast-drying formula. These inks are compatible with a variety of surfaces and are particularly favored for their effectiveness in creating rich, layered textures.

  • T-Rex Inks: T-Rex Inks offer professional quality, versatile, and fiercely vibrant inks and supplies for painting with alcohol ink.

Incorporating Quality Inks into Best Practices

When incorporating these top ink brands into alcohol ink art practices, artists should:

  • Experiment with Brands: Each brand has its unique properties and color palettes. Artists should experiment with different brands to understand how they interact with various surfaces and blending techniques.

  • Quality Over Quantity: Investing in high-quality inks from reputable brands can enhance the longevity and vibrancy of the artwork. High-quality inks offer a more consistent performance.

  • Safety and Ventilation: Regardless of the brand, it's important to follow safety best practices. All alcohol inks contain solvents that require proper ventilation and protective gear during use. Alcohol inks and Isopropyl Alcohol/Blending Solution are flammable so keep away from fire or heat.

    •  The use of a respirator mask with Organic Vapor/Acid filter cartridge or other VOC (volatile organic compounds) cartridge is preferred. 

    • Wear surgical or latex gloves to protect your hands. Alcohol inks stain your hands and it’s not easy to remove. 

    • Work in a well-ventilated area. You can use a fan to move air around or use an open window to help. Fume extractors are also an option as they come in a portable size, and they can remove dust, fumes and vapors from an area. 

    • Do not work with alcohol inks if pregnant and do not let children work with alcohol inks.


In the exploration of alcohol ink art, the choice of paper or substrate plays a pivotal role in the outcome of the artwork. Different types of paper and brands can significantly influence the behavior of the inks, the vibrancy of the colors, and the overall aesthetics of the final piece. Inks will absorb into traditional papers or canvas, but will move on non-porous surfaces like glass, ceramic and synthetic papers. Here, we expand on the types of paper and brands that are best suited for alcohol ink art, integrating this discussion into our broader framework of best practices.

Types of Paper and Substrates for Alcohol Ink Art


Yupo Paper: Yupo is a synthetic, polypropylene paper known for its non-porous, smooth surface. It's one of the most popular choices among alcohol ink artists due to its ability to allow the inks to flow freely and blend effortlessly. Yupo paper does not absorb the ink, which results in vibrant colors and interesting textures. One drawback to Yuppo is that it is prone to staining. This means that where you place your inks is going to have a stain from the color left if you attempt to wipe it clean. 


Nara Paper: Like Yupo, Nara is another synthetic paper option that is specifically designed for alcohol ink art. It is known for its durability and ability to withstand heavy ink application without buckling or warping. Nara paper also allows for easy lifting of colors, making it versatile for various techniques.


Grafix Craft Plastic: Although not a paper, Grafix Craft Plastic is a clear, plastic sheet that offers a unique substrate for alcohol ink art. Its non-porous surface is ideal for vibrant artworks and allows artists to experiment with transparency and layering effects.


There are several other companies that make papers for alcohol inks including EVO papers, Beyond inks and TerraSlate.



It is possible to use Alcohol inks on canvas, but you typically need to make sure the canvas is sealed before use. There are several options to use for sealing a canvas.  Pre gessoed canvas will still need another level of sealant before using inks on the canvas itself. 

Some suggestions are to use Krylon Triple Thick Crystal Clear Glaze in several coats to make a smooth non porous surface of the canvas. 

However, the most recommended way to work on canvas is to prime it with Kilz 2 Latex Primer. It’s fast drying and water based, relatively inexpensive and seals the surface well. Applying one or two coats and allowing it to dry thoroughly before applying any inks to the surface. Even after the sealing process, you will find that alcohol inks will still absorb a bit more into a canvas than it does on non-porous surfaces. 


Recommended Brands


Yupo by Legion Paper: Yupo, produced by Legion Paper, is the leading brand for synthetic paper among alcohol ink artists. It offers sheets in various weights and sizes, providing flexibility depending on the artist's needs.


Nara Synthetic Paper: Nara specializes in papers for alcohol ink art, offering both white and black papers. The black Nara paper is particularly notable for creating striking contrasts and highlighting the luminosity of alcohol inks. Wipes clean without staining.


Grafix: Known for its Craft Plastic sheets, Grafix offers a variety of sizes and thicknesses, making it a versatile choice for artists who want to explore different substrates. Grafix Dura-Bright comes in 9x12 sheets which are great for beginning your alcohol ink journey. They are affordable and wipes clean without staining. 

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High-quality inks paired with proper sealing and varnishing techniques will ensure that the artwork remains vibrant and durable over time. Alcohol inks will fade over time if exposed to direct sunlight. Protecting your work from UV light is important to avoid the fading issue. 

Many aerosol sealers for artwork are alcohol based and will change or “ruin” your artwork. Krylon Kamar and Krylon UV Resistant sprays are typically used to seal and protect alcohol ink artworks. The standard practice is 3 light coats of the Kamar, letting the image dry between coats, and then finishing with a UV protecting spray. Winsor & Newton UV varnish is also recommended for a final step.

Pinata makes a varnish specific to alcohol inks for sealing. It is a high gloss, non-yellowing, self-leveling and non-toxic. 

I’ve also used Crystal Lac Brite tone to add a durable UV protective shine to some ceramic pieces and a few paintings. Brite tone is water based, so the Kamar step is not necessary. It is painted in thin layers, allowing each layer to dry before another application. In conclusion, the choice of alcohol ink brand plays a critical role in the creation and preservation of alcohol ink art. By selecting from the best brands and integrating them with the comprehensive best practices outlined here artists can achieve stunning, durable, and safe artwork.

Considerations When Choosing Paper and Substrates

Ink Behavior:

Different substrates will affect how alcohol inks spread, blend, and dry. Artists should consider how the behavior of inks on various substrates aligns with their artistic vision.Durability: Synthetic papers like Yupo and Nara are tear-resistant and waterproof, making them durable options for artworks that may be handled or displayed without glass.Texture and Absorbency: The choice between smooth synthetic papers and more textured options like watercolor paper depends on the desired outcome. Textured papers can offer interesting effects but may absorb more ink, affecting the vibrancy of the colors.

Environmental Considerations:

Artists concerned with sustainability may prefer certain brands over others based on their environmental impact. Yupo, for example, is fully recyclable, adding an eco-friendly aspect to its appeal.

In integrating these paper types and brands into alcohol ink art practices, artists not only enhance their ability to create compelling and vibrant artworks but also ensure that their work aligns with their personal preferences and environmental values. Experimentation with different substrates is encouraged, as it can lead to unique and unexpected artistic breakthroughs.

Basic Techniques

Painting with alcohol ink offers a plethora of techniques that can produce a wide range of effects, from ethereal and fluid to bold and dynamic. Here, we delve into a couple of distinctive techniques that artists can employ to harness the unique properties of alcohol inks. These methods not only showcase the versatility of the medium but also enable artists to explore new dimensions of creativity.

Dropping and Tilting

This foundational technique is pivotal for beginners and seasoned artists alike, allowing for the exploration of alcohol ink's fluid nature.Materials Needed: Alcohol inks, Yupo paper or another non-porous surface, dropper or pipette, and a protective surface underneath your work area.

Process: Start by applying drops of ink onto your Yupo paper or chosen surface using a dropper or pipette. The size and number of drops will affect the outcome.Gently tilt the paper in different directions, letting gravity spread the ink. The ink will flow and blend, creating organic shapes and gradients.

For more control over the ink's movement, hand air blower to gently push the ink in desired directions. This can help achieve more defined edges or patterns.Allow the ink to settle and dry before adding additional layers, ensuring that colors don't become muddy.

This technique is excellent for creating abstract landscapes or backgrounds. Artists can experiment with color combinations and the degree of tilting to produce varying effects.

Alcohol Drop

This technique allows for the creation of textured effects and can add depth to your work.

Materials Needed: Alcohol inks, Yupo paper, isopropyl alcohol (91% or higher recommended for best effects), and a dropper or brush.

Process: Apply a base layer of alcohol ink to your surface, using either the dropping and tilting technique or by directly spreading the ink with a brush.

Before the base layer dries completely, use a dropper or brush to apply drops of pure isopropyl alcohol onto the wet ink. The alcohol will push the ink away, creating circular, cell-like patterns or blooms. By varying the amount of alcohol dropped and the timing, you can control the size and definition of the blooms. Dropping alcohol into semi-dry ink results in more subtle textures, whereas dropping it into wetter ink creates more dramatic effects.

Layers can be built by allowing the initial layers to dry and then repeating the process, adding complexity and depth to the piece. The alcohol drop technique is particularly effective for creating textures reminiscent of natural elements, such as cells, flora, or even celestial bodies. It encourages experimentation with the reactive nature of alcohol inks and alcohol.

Incorporating Techniques into Artistic Practice

Both techniques serve as a foundation for developing a unique style with alcohol inks. Artists are encouraged to explore and combine these methods, experimenting with different tools, surfaces, and ink brands to discover new possibilities. Mastery of alcohol ink art comes from understanding the fluid dynamics of the medium and leveraging its unpredictable nature to create compelling, vibrant works of art. 



The simplest tool at your disposal is gravity. By tilting and moving your surface, you can guide the flow of ink to create organic shapes and lines.

Paint Brushes

For more controlled application or to blend colors subtly, paint brushes can be your best ally. They're also great for adding fine details to your pieces.

Hair Dryers and Ink Blowers

Blowers are used to spread and manipulate the ink across the surface, creating wispy, delicate patterns. Hair dryers offer a broad, gentle flow, while hand ink blowers provide more precision.


To ensure your artwork stands the test of time, seal it with a UV-resistant varnish. Framing under UV-protective glass further protects against fading and preserves the vibrancy of your colors.SafetyAlcohol ink painting requires working in a well-ventilated area due to the fumes the inks emit. Always wear gloves to protect your skin, and consider a respirator mask if you're sensitive to chemical smells.

Quick Start Guide

  • Set Up Your Workspace: Choose a well-ventilated area and cover surfaces to protect against spills.

  • Gather Your Materials: Start with a basic set of alcohol inks, Yupo paper, and a few painting tools like brushes or blowers.

  • Experiment with Techniques: Begin with the dropping and tilting technique to get a feel for how the inks behave, then try adding alcohol drops to create textures.

  • Play with Colors: Don't be afraid to mix colors and see how they blend. Alcohol inks are forgiving and perfect for experimentation.

  • Preserve Your Work: Once you're satisfied with your creation, apply a UV-resistant sealant to protect it.

Embarking on your alcohol ink painting journey is an exciting adventure filled with endless creative possibilities. By understanding the basics of the medium, experimenting with different techniques, and using the right tools, you'll soon be creating stunning artworks that capture the imagination. Remember to prioritize safety and preservation to enjoy your art for years to come.

Happy painting!

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