Tutorial: Painting with Acrylic Inks


The latest huge new discovery of 2013 were acrylic inks (used to paint “Fog over Trasimene“). They’re quite similar to watercolours in many ways, but more versatile. They come in little bottles with eyedropper lids, just like the liquid watercolours I love to work with.

I’m working with three different brands here: FW Daler/Rowney Acrylic Artists Ink; Rohrer/Klingner Zeichentusche (drawing ink); and Liquitex Ink. The handling is almost identical to watercolours: I use them with my normal watercolour brushes, thinned down with water or undiluted. No changes there.

All the brands I use come in different opacity levels: from transparent like actual watercolours to opaque, and in this case, opaque is really opaque. I work with a selection of mainly transparent ones, to preserve my watercolour look, but have a few opaque ones, mainly light tones like white, for highlights. In order to keep them apart, I used small blue self-adhesive dots to paste on the opaque ones, so I don’t accidentally grab the wrong bottle. Like watercolours, different pigments have different lightfastness ratings. I’ve made sure only to buy lightfast paints. tut_acr1 The other huge difference is: when acrylic dries, it’s completely insoluble. When you add layers in watercolour, you will always slightly dissolve bottom layers. In acrylics, you can use completely transparent layers that leave all the detail work in place underneath. Whether you add dark shadows or light fog – I did both in the “Trasimene” pic linked above – it opens a world of opportunities.

With watercolour, you have to work from light to dark, for several reasons. You can’t paint light skin next to black hair; the black hair will run into your light skin. And you can’t add light colours atop dark ones. In acrylic, you have no limitations. You can put dark hair down and later add a light yellow across the whole image – nothing will run. You can add light highlights to dark areas – just use opaque paint.

The downside of that is: your palette. With watercolours, you can reuse, rewet, and clean palettes without problems. Liquid acrylics are pretty much there to stay. With tube acrylics, that’s bad enough; with liquid ones, you have the additional problem that you need a palette with small “pots”. My solution is a lucky one – in Germany, we have outrageously yummy sweets called “Toffifee”, which come in little blister packs. They’re perfect for liquid acrylic palettes. When I’ve completely mucked them up, I can just throw them away. So now I have a great excuse to keep buying Toffifees. Yay.

The picture is a commission for the wonderful Paul, for whom I’ve already done “A Sorrowful Meeting“. It’s his character Laerminuial, a Noldo jewel smith from Rivendell.


I haven’t arrived at the definitive paper for acrylic inks yet. I’ve tried around with Canson Montval and Schoellershammer – Montval tends to cake ever so slightly, but Schoellershammer has some really unfortunate speckling qualities, so Montval it is. Generally, I’m still working with watercolour papers, as I still want the overall feel to be more watercolour than acrylic.

In the photo below, the first light yellow wash is already in place.


I had one huge “PANIC!” moment connected to liquid acrylics: They speckle when wet. Dramatically. Most dramatically: Rohrer/Klingner Antique Gold Green.


When this happened for the first time – in the face, of all places – I did panic, and ripped up the whole thing. Later, after the ripped-up painting had sufficiently dried in the dustbin, I saw that the face was perfectly smooth again. And that even works with Rohrer/Klingner Antique Gold Green.

Lesson learned.

When the background wash had dried, I applied some basic wet-into-wet washes for the columns and shrubs, allowing the colours to mix on the paper. I did the skin in the same soft rosy wash.

This works pretty much like watercolour. Overall, the following steps all mimic my usual watercolour techniques.


I then proceeded to put down the basic colours for the dress and hair. For the dress, I worked around the ornaments the way I usually do – I can always go darker later, or lighter, to pull everything together. Right now, I just wanted to have the basic colours down. And watercolourist that I am, I still feel that leaving something light looks better than painting it light. :D


Now comes one of the wonders of ink.

In order to give a colour to the ornaments on her dress, I can just lay a wash over the whole thing. I can tint, I can darken – all in transparent ink; the paint underneath is left untouched and crisp. If I tried the same thing in watercolour, the layer underneath would blur.


More detailing to the shrubs, skin, lamp, and dress.


Below: More detailing (lamps, shrubs), deepening of shadows (background, columns, shrubs, dress) and tinting. Tinting is one of the greatest assets of acrylic ink. If a colour isn’t as you want it – add a wash of what you want. Acrylic ink, like watercolour, lightens as it dries, and also “deadens” a little. Overall, that’s like an inbuilt safety net, with unlimited correction possibilities, as you can always just add another layer as you find you need them. You can see I work in a sort of island hopping approach – deepening shadows in different areas of the painting as I feel necessary, to keep the overall thing coherent.


Lastly, a bit of more detail work – the leaves, and some highlights on the figure.


19 thoughts on “Tutorial: Painting with Acrylic Inks

  1. Toffifeepalette!!!!! Best tip ever!!
    Sehr schönes Bild und hilfreiches Tutorial – vor allem den Schritt mit dem einfach drübermalen macht die Technik ja echt verführerisch

  2. Lovely tutorial! Though I don’t use such ink, it’s always useful to get a glimpse of new materials. Btw, I was meaning to ask you – do you have any tips on how to scan watercolors and to make the best of them digitally? I can never get the pictures look vivid, yet not over-saturated.

    • It helps if you know your way around with photoshop – sometimes, I have to do considerable postwork to make a scan look like the original again. A good scanner is essential (and good scanners don’t have to be expensive; I loved my old CanoScan Lide 90)!

  3. Pingback: # For sale online Corelle Coordinates Chutney 14-Ounce Acrylic Glass, Set of 6 | kitchenware gifts
  4. Could you possibly do some drawing tutorials, because the initial drawings you make before you paint are pretty dang good, and I want to know how you get your lines to be so varied in depth and so dark, like what kinds of pencils and such you use. Would greatly appreciate it.

  5. I have been getting into painting with these inks particularly the FW and Liqutex, I was using Zen watercolor brushes but found that they stopped behaving like brushes after a few uses. (have gotten stiff and less useful) I always rinsed them out well with water, but perhaps that is not enough. I also considered that perhaps I need to get a set of acrylic brushes instead or brush cleaners. Do you have any suggestions? I love working with these inks but want my brushes to behave like brushes!

    • Hm, you mean they became clogged up or stiff? The general rule would be to rinse them frequently and thoroughly, and maybe artists soap might help? I think I used that everytime I had painted with acrylic inks, and none of my brushes have suffered. Never let acrylic ink dry on your brush, obviously. :) If you don’t have artists soap and can’t get any, shampoo usually works well too.

  6. Very nice tutorial! Thanks very much for posting. I paint in regular acrylic paint using a Masterson Sta-Wet Palette- do you think this will work with acrylic inks? Cheers~

  7. I know this is like three years old, but thanks for posting this! I’m starting with acrylic inks for painting due to difficulty with watercolours and them fading when used over one another – so I’m hoping following your steps loosely will help!
    Thanks for posting!!

  8. Hellooo! From California, USA! Jenny – all your information here on your blog is sooooo absolutely invaluable–you are God-send! I am currently jumping back and forth from calligraphy/blackletter art to watercolour or acrylic paint/ink. I wish our lives lasted much much longer than what we have to work with today. I feel like our lives are too short and fleeting that I cannot dive into and master all that I am passionate about: everything art! I know it’s a bit crazy and absurd – Everything is too fun for me not to try and master everything! So, Considering that I am somewhat of an “advanced novice” [lol], your guiding words are like the North Star when I am lost. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and please keep up your brilliant work! <3 <3 <3

  9. Great site full of really useful information. I have been painting some small icons using gouache with white acrylic and copper acrylic inks. Now reading how you have used these inks has given me inspiration. Thank you so much and I love your painting.

  10. I know this is an old post but am hoping you can help. I want to create an 18×24 watercolor painting that has a dark indigo background. I would like to use acrylic ink for the background. In your example your first picture showed a beautiful, smooth, yellow wash over the entire painting. I would love to know how you achieve the smooth wash with ink. Is it wet on wet? Do you use a dropper and then smooth out with a brush? I’m worried about hard edges, especially since it will be a large area. I’ll mask the areas I don’t want to be dark. I just don’t know how to go about this and will be grateful for your advice. Kind Regards

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      yes, doing a background wash wet on wet means is will look smooth and unstreaky! If you mask off, do it before wetting anything, so the masking fluid goes on dry paper, and then let the MF dry completely before you wet. :) You can see a lot of what you’re trying to do with artist Chris Dunn – I recently saw him paint a a huge night sky all around masked off reindeer!

      • Thanh you so much for your quick and helpful reply. I will look up Chris Dunn. I do have another question if you wouldn’t mind. Do I apply the ink om the wet surface with a dropper and spread it out with a brush. If so what type up brush do you recommend? Thank you once again.

        • I wouldn’t eye-drop any undiluted paint directly on the paper, as that can leave permanent stains. I use them from palettes, and then do the first washes with a large, very soft brush.

          • Thank you so much. This is exactly what I need. I’m painting a gift for my daughter and this will be so helpful!

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