Alcohol ink is my newest obsession. This will shock no one, but I really love making things! I hope that excitement comes across in my DIY tutorials, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: behind the scenes, sometimes I get really frustrated when my DIY plans go awry. DIY often ends one of two ways: a euphoric high because my nutty scheme worked out (yay!), or a frustrating feeling of grrrrr, because I ended up covered in concrete at midnight with nothing to show for it (true story).
Alcohol ink art elicits neither of those feelings because it’s practically foolproof. Watching the ink flow is so mesmerizing that I just feel totally totally relaxed with this DIY – I don’t even care if it “turns out”.
I’m so smitten with alcohol inks that I’ve already tackled some gorgeous DIY alcohol ink projects and I can’t wait to share them. If you’ve enjoyed any of my watercolor-inspired projects (like my DIY ice dye pillows, watercolor stained plywood floors, or nail polish marbled pumpkins) then you’ll love these new projects too!
But before I get too carried away with my exciting alcohol ink ideas, I wanted to share some alcohol ink basics because after I shared a sneak peek at what I was making on my Instagram Stories, I got a ton of feedback asking for a crash course. I’ve shared a lot of easy DIY art tutorials over the years (like my black and white painting, the colorful DIY abstract art I kept reworking, or the more recent abstract pair I painted for the bedroom) and each project has garnered lots of interaction from readers. Some people have felt inspired to make something (that’s my goal!), but many others have written to tell me they’re still too scared/intimated/worried to try. I get that feedback more than you might imagine and it always makes me sad because making things can be so much fun. I am definitely not an artist – the only thing that separates me from the next person is that I’m fearless! I’ll try stuff, I’ll experiment and I’m willing to (accidentally) produce ugly things or have my project blow up in my face in the pursuit of creating.
When I stumbled across alcohol ink art, I kept thinking about those people who wanted to try DIY art but didn’t. I wanted to share this post for those people especially, because I promise you: alcohol ink is a truly easy medium to work with – even for someone who is a complete art or crafting newbie!
With only a little coaxing and the right supplies, alcohol ink travels around in beautiful ways. The most difficult part is choosing which colors of alcohol ink to use – something my Mom learned the hard way, after inadvertently creating some designs I kept saying looked like certain body parts (careful mixing those peaches and browns in circular shapes!).
So, What Are Alcohol Inks?
Alcohol ink is a quick drying, richly pigmented, and acid-free medium that works well on non-porous surfaces. These inks easily glide around a non-porous surface, allowing you to manipulate them into swirling shapes. Because they dry so quickly, you can layer colors easily – or use an alcohol blending solution to blend them together. The result can resemble marbling or tie dye and you can create areas with less or more pigmentation for a really “watery” effect. They also come in metallics, which I cannot wait to try – especially because some of these pieces really look like malachite and other stone, just begging for a little shimmering “veining”!
What Supplies Do I Need for Alcohol Inks?
Alcohol ink is sold in small bottles and often you can buy a multi-pack. Here’s a shopping list of everything I bought for my first alcohol ink art experiments – including the exact colors I got:
- Alcohol inks (I bought two 3-packs: this one (Mariner-Indigo/Mermaid/Teakwood) and this one – it’s called Lakeshore)
- Alcohol blending solution
- Yupo synthetic paper (it comes in different sizes)
- Paper drinking straws
- Rubber gloves
- Drop cloth to protect surfaces (I used a black garbage bag)
You can use alcohol ink on many different surfaces (wait until you see what I painted!), but to start you can buy a pack of special synthetic paper. Yupo is a waterproof material that comes in a nice bright white. It’s durable and super smooth, which makes it perfect for alcohol inks.
How Do I Use Alcohol Inks?
I watched a few tutorials on YouTube but honestly they didn’t help because you can’t try to recreate something you see someone else make, you have to just go with the flow and the best thing to do is just play with alcohol ink! My Mom came over and we spent an afternoon just moving the inks around and that experimentation was the best way to learn about alcohol inks.
We began by dropping the ink onto the Yupo paper and then blowing gently with a straw. You can coax the ink around the Yupo by blowing on the straw and it’s such a fun way to make designs and shapes. The ink has a mind of its own, especially when you add some drops of the alcohol blending solution (which helps slow the drying process). It will flow really nicely and you can even pick up and swirl the Yupo around. Something as simple as blowing gently, or giving the ink a big puff of air, will change how the ink moves.
There’s no wrong way to do this.
There are other, different techniques to try with the alcohol inks, but I still haven’t gotten bored with the basics. Experimenting with letting the alcohol ink dry and layering colors, as opposed to letting colors touch and mingle, or switching between adding the alcohol blending solution before or after the ink, produces so much interest and depth. Even the amount you blow, and how much that spreads out the drop of ink, impacts the final design by creating more sheer areas of color. Like ice dyeing, by using a single color of alcohol ink you’ll see undertones pop up – a bright fuchsia appeared from the blue I bought and seeing these new colors emerge was part of the fun.
Can you believe that’s all it takes? Just dropping some alcohol blending solution, some alcohol ink, and blowing it around with a straw! Once you have that down, just keep adding drops of ink and blending solution and let that ink move around the yupo.
The best tip I can give is to cover your work surface and also wear some thin rubber gloves. Alcohol inks STAIN and it took a few days for my hands to fade back to my natural skin tone.
Can I skip the Alcohol Blending Solution and Use Rubbing Alcohol?
The alcohol blending solution is expensive and we went through almost an entire bottle in an afternoon of experimenting – but I did also tackle quite a few DIY alcohol ink projects at the same time. The alcohol blending solution contains ethanol, glycol ethers and isopropanol, whereas rubbing alcohol only has the isopropanol. The blending solution has a stickier feel and also leaves behind a sheen.
We tried using regular rubbing alcohol also and it works, but the pigment comes out of solution a little bit with rubbing alcohol. If you try both, you’ll notice a difference but honestly it’s not dramatic, and so if you’re planning a big craft night and trying to keep costs down, then a big old bottle of rubbing alcohol works too. But for your first time experimenting with alcohol inks, spring for the alcohol blending solution at least once – we ended up toggling between the two, and using the solution and rubbing alcohol for slightly different techniques.
You can also find alcohol blending pens, which would really help create more controlled pieces with more advanced techniques.
If you try painting with alcohol ink, let me know! I love when people tag me on social media (I’m @danslelakehouse everywhere) to show me what they made.
Or if you’re already a pro, share your advice – or links to you masterpieces – in the comments.