Ink Buying Guide

Ink is an ancient medium developed around the world, in multiple cultures, for the purpose of writing, drawing, and painting.  With its smooth liquid texture, ink is ideal for illustrators, fine artists, and calligraphers alike.

With ink, price tends to accurately reflect quality. A higher price means higher quality and more refined materials are used, as well as a greater saturation of the pigment or dye.  It’s also important to note that the paper used will affect how the ink performs. If the paper is too absorbent, there is the risk of the ink bleeding; if the paper is too impermeable the ink may not dry properly and can smear. A few good general purpose papers for calligraphy or drawing are watercolor paper, block printing paper, and mixed media paper, and other papers specifically stated for use with ink.

Dye vs. Pigment

Dye based ink has been produced for hundreds of years. It is created with natural water-soluble dye-based ink combined with solvents to create a wide range of color.  Dyes are stronger and denser than pigments, but because they are traditionally suspended in a vegetable based medium they are transparent. Synthetic dyes can now be made such as Copic, which is sheer yet waterproof due to its ethanol base. Dye based ink can be very brilliant, but it is very sensitive to light decay, some colors more than others - reds more so than blue or black. Dye based inks are best for layering and color-mixing because they are transparent and water-soluble until dry. Artist grade dyes are pH neutral/acid-free.

Pigment can be natural (metallic or carbon) or synthetic (acrylic). A pigment never fully dissolves. Mineral based pigments are less sensitive to light than dye, and usually water resistant.

India Ink

India ink was actually first created in China and is also known as China Ink. Originally available only in black, it now comes in other colors. India ink has historically been made with carbon and contains varnish or shellac, which gives it permanency and makes it waterproof. Most India ink has a sheen to it, which is amplified on a smooth surface, lessened on a matte surface; Dr. Ph. Martin’s and Higgins make a matte India ink.

Acrylic Ink

Acrylic ink is derived from liquid plastic, which allows for the pigments to lay out flat when the water and solvents evaporate. One of the benefits of acrylic ink is that the color and the plastic are molecularly bonded, which makes its lightfastness rating the highest of all inks. Acrylic ink is waterproof, archival, pH-neutral/acid-free, and has the longest lifespan of all inks. It sticks to a wide range of surfaces, and with the exception of some whites, all colors are very opaque.

Black Ink

Black ink is the original and most widely used color, perfect for calligraphy, illustration, and more. Black ink can be India ink, acrylic, or dye, and this will determine the darkness of the black. Depending on the intensity of the black desired, one can choose a softer, transparent black or a starker, opaque black. consult our ink guide table online.

White Ink

White ink is a special category because there is no such thing as a natural white dye, and as a result it is a pigment based ink only. White ink can be so transparent that it’s difficult to get it to appear opaque. One important aspect when searching for a white ink is the viscosity of the ink; a thinner ink has a lower viscosity, which means less pigments. This makes a big difference with white.

Water-resistance/Permanency

There are several different levels of permanency with inks. Water-resistance is defined as mostly permanent, with some color lifting when exposed to water. Waterproof means the ink will be totally permanent with no color lifting when exposed to water. Natural dyes are water soluble, which can be a desired attribute for creating color mixing and layering effects. The paper also makes a difference: if the ink cannot permeate the paper there is a higher likelihood that the ink will not grab hold to the paper fibers. All acrylic and India inks are waterproof due to their chemical makeup.

Archivability

Archivability refers to the durability and longevity of an ink and is determined by three factors: water-resistance/waterproof, pH neutral/acid-free, and lightfastness. All inks carried by Flax are pH-neutral, which means they are neither acidic nor alkaline, like pure water (acid free). Lightfastness refers to how well the ink holds up to light. The light source does make a difference. Fluorescent and halogen lights are very damaging to inks, but the most damaging is direct sunlight. Incandescent lights are less damaging to ink and artworks in general, which is why they are traditionally used in galleries. LED lights are the least damaging. Acrylic is the most lightfast, and dyes are the most sensitive. Dyes in general are more sensitive than pigments. India ink is more durable than drawing ink, due to the varnish or shellac it contains.

Tools for Ink

Tools used with ink come in a wide selection such as calligraphy pens, brushes, nibs, and airbrushes.  Ink can be quick to dry, so be sure to take care of all ink tools to avoid rust, dried hairs, and stains.  Pen and brush cleaners should be kept nearby to ensure your ink tools will last.

The chart below lists all the properties of the different inks we offer:

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