Saturday, January 21, 2012

homemade alcohol ink with Sharpies

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I made some homemade alcohol inks.  I THOUGHT these were going to be amazing, and then I did a bunch of testing and thought they were a  complete failure, but then I did some more testing and decided maybe I have a place for them in my art after all.  And since living with a 5th grade boy makes me think and speak like a 5th grade boy, I sum up the experiment this way:

I first heard mention of this in a facebook group a few weeks ago and put it on my list of things I should look into.  Then I read about it again on TJ's blog and decided to actually do it. So I found this video on You-Tube (which I watched just enough of to get the basic idea of how to do it and then turned it off.  given my mixed results, maybe I should have watched the whole video and followed it up with her part 2 instructions)

The bullet points:

  • break open a sharpie and soak the inky insert in some rubbing alcohol.  
  • done
I bought cheap travel sized spray bottles and a big bottle of rubbing alcohol and raided my abundant stash of sharpies (many of which were inherited when my office closed a few years ago so I didn't pay anything for them)

It was quick and easy (and smelly and a little messy) and the colors were VIBRANT!

So then I set about testing them on a bunch of different surfaces.  I took a file folder and attached various papers and tapes and started spraying.  TOTAL DISAPPOINTMENT.  The colors were muted - some almost non-existent.  And the SMELL.  Man-oh-man it smelled like a hospital ward.  For hours. (Oddly the cat was fascinated by this and hovered near the smelly papers all afternoon).

Here are the results of my experiments:

Clockwise from upper left:  water color paper, cereal box covered in gesso, plain cereal box, book page, copy paper, card stock

 Clockwise from upper left: Tyvek (which has been ironed), masking tape, aluminum tape, clear packing tape.

I called it a day at this point and nearly dumped them down the drain in disappointment.
But I took up the cause again this morning and had better results.  I noticed that the colors were most vibrant on bright white, smooth, not-too-absorbant paper, so I started there.

Here's a test palette on some mixed media paper (with the corresponding sharpie color for comparison)

I tried it with some stencils on cheap copy paper.  Not bad:

Then I tried yellow, orange and red in a cheap sketchbook and filled it up with notes on what I'd learned.

dries quickly
easy to write over it
permanent - doesn't smudge when reworked
overlapping colors blend well
gives a nice effect with stencils

colors are muted 
bleeds through to the other side of most papers
beads up on plastic and metal surfaces.  it dries and leaves the color in little droplets
did I mention smelly?

Final assessment:  not what I'd hoped for, but if I can tolerate the smell I will use it to create some interesting background effects.

If any of you have experience with homemade inks leave me a comment.


  1. Very interesting! I watched the video and she said she uses one pen for each ounce of I have to go buy more pens because I want to try this.

  2. Love that you posted about this and showed the good, bad and the ugly. I was wanting to make this stuff to use on a few metal pieces, like washers to colorize. You mainly tried it out on papers and such. Wonder what would happen with metal.....

  3. Thank for sharing! One thing though, regular alcohol inks work best on glossy paper and aren't recommended for normal papers. Alcohol inks also work on any clean metal or plastic surface. That's what makes them so special! Maybe you should try your version out on one of those surfaces and apply with felt.

  4. huh. the colors are sort of wimpy. i was going to try this, but i don't want pussy ass pastels.
    (yikes. i hope your mom doesn't read this or anything)
    maybe i'll watch part 2 of the video and you tell me what is in part one and i'll tell you what is in part 2.

    okay. forget it. i'll just follow your instructions.

  5. Oh, my. This is a stunner. I'm putting this link on my blog today. I love this!!

    I can't wait until our guest leaves and I can smell up the house!!

  6. I was also going to try this, but i to like amy not so happy with the color, but i did find another how to , making washi tape which i might try here is a link,

  7. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Probably too messy even for me, and i would get it everywhere but good to know how you made out. xox Corrine

  8. Thanks for sharing :)
    I'd be stopped by the whole "break open markers" step. I love painty fingers...but inky ones, not so much....weird, I know ;P


    A while back I made my own inks/water colors by putting the guts of a crayola marker in water. It worked so well that I thought I'd try it with a sharpie, and it came out weird and unusable. Thinking of this when I read the tutorial above, I tried to make my own alcohol ink with Crayola guts. It worked great! I don't have a camera so I can't really take a picture, but the colors came out much more vibrantly than what is pictured above. And crayola markers are cheaper too.

    I have seen people have success with liquid RIT dye as well, which I would definitely do if I was trying to make a large amount of the inks. For my purposes though, a $1 pack of markers plus two $1 bottles of rubbing alcohol was the right price and the right amount to make.