Acrylic ink vs India Ink

These are bottles of ink I've received from Renesans, an art supplies manufacturer from Poland, during the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Amsterdam a few months ago.

There's Indian Ink, acrylic Ink and black ink with shellac. When I choose black inks, I only care whether they are waterproof or not since I use watercolour over ink, and whether they can be used in fountain pens since I use those pens often. So what are the differences between acrylic ink and India ink? Is one better than the other? Better in what sense?

Acrylic ink is made with pigments suspended in acrylic resin binder or polymer emulsion.

Acrylic ink is more fluid and flows better. Think of it as the more fluid version of acrylic paint, and it can come in many colours. It can be used with dip pens, brushes, airbrushes, markers and stamps. It's waterproof but can be lifted off with alcohol so you don't use these with alcohol markers.

India ink is made with carbon or lamp black pigment (I'm referring to black ink) mixed with water, but sometimes with varnish, gelatin or varnish is added to make the ink more durable or waterproof when dry.

India ink may or may not waterproof. They can be used with dip pens and brushes. They are also available in different colours, such as those available from Dr Ph Martin's.

There are certain things to test for when using such inks. Whether they are waterproof, are they matte when dry and how fast do they dry.

The ink needs to be waterproof if you use water media, such as watercolour. Some inks will dry with a sheen and that may affect the look you expect. Fast drying inks can be difficult to use with brush as the brush hair will become solid and when ink solidifies it's difficult to wash off completely.

These are the sketches I drew with the three inks.

This was drawn with the acrylic ink.

It looks quite matte.

This was with the Indian ink which is Sepia coloured.

This with the shellac ink.

The shellac ink has sheen at areas where the ink is concentrated.

The acrylic ink is completely waterproof. I sprayed this with a mist bottle and the water collected into droplets.

This bottle of Indian ink from Renesans is very water resistant. I do see some parts that were soluble.

But for the most part it's waterproof.

The shellac ink is a surprise because it's not waterproof. Shellac is supposed to form a protective coat over the ink to make it waterproof but for some reason it doesn't work here. Yes, I did shake the bottle, well, I shook all three.

All the inks can be thinned with water.

If you want to use such inks with dip pens or brushes, it's better to get bottles that have a large opening unlike the tapered opening here.

And make sure to clean your dip pens and brushes immediately after use so that the ink doesn't form a thin coat which will make it difficult to clean and for the ink to flow for subsequent use.

Ultimately, regardless of the ink you use, always test them first.

To sum up this post. Acrylic is waterproof but don't use it with alcohol markers. India inks may or may not be waterproof. Both types of inks are very lightfast and suitable for use on artworks that require permanence.

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Hi ! You just answered my questions. I was wondering just yesterday what was the difference between Indian and Acrylic. I am looking for an ink to do inktober. I have Carbon ink ( that you reviewed a while back ) and it is amazing. I am now on the look out for a good colored one.

But none of these inks is for fountain pens, right? What is the difference to fountain pen ink?


In reply to by Arnd (not verified)

Most fountain pen inks are not waterproof as they are made of dyes. They are made for writing. And because they are made of dyes, they will fade eventually with exposure to light. Even black will fade.

There are of course waterproof fountain pen inks but you have to read the bottle's label carefully. Such inks are usually pigmented and the purpose of using such inks for writing is for archival purposes, where you need the ink to last.

The inks in this articles are made for artists to make art. Typically artworks are for display, under light, hence they need to be pigmented so that the colours will not fade.

I wonder whether there is any substantial difference between acrylic inks and acrylic paint? Seems to me that at least for use with a brush, instead of using acrylic ink you might as well just use acrylic paint, thinned to a suitable consistency. Or is does the ink have characteristics lacking in the paint?

Thanks for this very useful info! I typically use India ink for my illustration projects, but it gets thick very easily and find I have to wash my pen nibs too often. I'm hoping the acrylic ink will flow more smoothly. Thanks again!

Hello, am using Art Spectrum PiGmented Ink to ebonise some timber. It is acrylic.
After a few days curing time, could I coat this with shellac or with sprayed lacquer to give it a hard wearing finish.
Or would Danish Oil be better suited ( a weak mixture of polyurethane)
Kind regards,

In reply to by Jill Barnes (not verified)

@Jill Barnes
I'm not sure about coating wood. You'll have to research other sources.
But the pigment ink should not react with those surfacing agents.

BUT test first before you use it on the wood.

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