add tag

Tags you are adding:

A Defining Moment in Understanding Inks


A Defining Moment in Understanding Inks

cave painting

Inks are the oldest mark making materials known and have become a means of visual communication from the first cave paintings to our modern inkjet printers. Inks are simply defined as fluid colorant.  Make it thicker and it is elevated to the status of paint, but we are going to concentrate on that fluid colorant we call ink.  It has come a long way since the first person stained their hands with some organic material.  I am certain that first material was earth, perhaps a red or yellow clay or even black soot from the fire pit turned fluid by recent rainfall or perhaps it was the stain from the juice of wild berries.  The problem faced by these early mark makers was the separation of the clay or carbon particles from the water over time.  The problem was solved by adding what we today call a binder.


Ink Binder

In my book, Making Art: Materials & Techniques for Today’s Artist, I define the binder as “…an important ingredient that binds the pigment particles together and subsequently to the ground.”  The ground being the surface on which you make your marks.  The earliest binder used that is known was hide glue.  The Chinese used this binder and ground it with a black pigment to create India Ink.  This form of India Ink was used in a dry form.  To use it they simply added water. 

As time progressed other binders were developed such as shellac, which held the pigment particles in suspension to produce a liquid ink.  Today, polymers such as acrylic are a common type of binder used in inks.  Of course, this was not necessary for inks made of dyes since dyes, when mixed with water, stay in suspension.  Hence, there are two types of inks, dye-based and pigment-based.


Dye-based and Pigment-based Inks

Dye-based inks are a solution of a dye and a vehicle such as water or alcohol.  They are available in liquid form and also in markers.  Dye-based inks are also suitable for use in fountain pens and sketch pens.  Just to clarify, alcohol inks or alcohol-based inks are dye-based inks.  Alcohol or water can be used to dilute these inks.  Alcohol allows the ink to dry faster.   Dye-based inks are not waterproof.  If you have used one of these inks in a mix media piece and wish to prevent it from bleeding, spray with several light coats of workable fixative.


different types of inks and markers

On the other hand, pigment-based inks are a suspension of pigment in a binder.  The binder also acts as a glue for the pigment on the surface making them waterproof.  Acrylic-based inks go by many names and unfortunately manufactures do not always identify the binder.  A simple test is to mix the ink with an acrylic medium.  In fact, mixing acrylic inks with a gloss medium, liquid or gel creates a beautiful saturated transparent glaze.  

Note:  Alcohol-based inks should not be mixed with pigmented-based inks, because alcohol will break down the binder.


pigment based ink pigmented ink

Mixing acrylic inks with a gloss medium, liquid or gel creates a beautiful saturated transparent glaze.  

Unfortunately, dye-based inks are not lightfast meaning they will fade when exposed to the ultraviolet rays in light.  The fade resistance or lightfastness of pigments depends on the pigment.  Carbon, Lamp, and Bone Black are very lightfast as well as many other pigments.  Always check the manufacturer's ink specifications or color charts for the lightfast rating.  Some pigmented inks produced from lake pigments are not lightfast.  To protect and prolong fading, it is recommended to use a fixative with a UV inhibitor and frame under UV glass.  Beware of the term, “permanent”.  It has a variety of meanings when applied to art materials and usually means that it will not wash off, rather than not fading. 

From the information given above you can see that not all inks are not the same or even compatible.  It is always important to know your art materials.  I recommend separating the two types of inks from one another.  The best information on inks is the information you ask for.  Visit the manufacturers' websites and if there is any doubt, email their customer service department.  Assume nothing.  Know and avoid wasting your creative time and money.

For more art materials tips and techniques, visit

For additional product information visit our websites:

Chartpak Inc. is affiliated with Thalo, LLC