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"Understanding Acrylic Inks vs Paints" Topic

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Pocho Azul21 Jan 2021 9:47 a.m. PST

I am trying to figure out the difference between acrylic inks and paints. My conclusions, so far are that while some products called inks are actually dyes completely dissolved in an acrylic medium many (most?) products sold as acrylic inks are actually pigments suspended in acrylic medium, just like acrylic paint, but with additives which affect the flow, surface tension and opacity.

Is this impression correct? If so, could I just as easily make my own inks by adding flow improver, binder and water to acrylic paint?

I sometimes find commercial inks are too strong, which is fixable to a degree, but sometimes weaker than I would like, which is more problematic. Also, I can't afford to acquire inks in every conceivable shade that I might want. I haven't gotten a completely clear picture from web searching, so thought I would ask.

Rakkasan Supporting Member of TMP21 Jan 2021 5:34 p.m. PST

You can make washes and glazes from paint or inks. Inks are preferred due to higher pigmentation to start with.
Here are three links you may want to watch:
YouTube link
YouTube link
YouTube link

BTCTerrainman Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2021 6:11 a.m. PST

I really miss all of the alcohol based inks that were once available.

Pocho Azul22 Jan 2021 7:12 a.m. PST

Thanks for the links--I tend to neglect videos as a source, have to try to correct that.

@BTCTerrainman I have been out of the hobby for many years. What was good about alcohol based inks and where did they go?

BTCTerrainman Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2021 8:13 p.m. PST

Pocho: I utilized a line of alcohol inks Letraset/Tria. They were for refilling ink pads and artist pens. They are no longer manufactured.

I was introduced to them by the late John Hill. They were great for painting buildings etc. 300+ colors and shades with cool and warm tones. Amazing flow qualities (worked great over a white basecoat) and very quick drying.

Pocho Azul23 Jan 2021 12:48 p.m. PST

OK thanks, too bad they aren't around anymore.

There is a lot of stuff I still don't get about inks, like what differentiates dye-based inks from pigment-based inks. I know what the technical difference is, but I don't know how the difference affects their behavior on a miniature. This article says to be sure to use the pigment-based inks and not the dyes, but doesn't mention why.

CeruLucifus23 Jan 2021 6:02 p.m. PST

I think this is right:

Inks are pigments or dye mixed with solvent. Dye permeates deeper into porous surfaces, like paper, whereas pigment deposits on the top layer. This permeability matters less with non-porous surfaces, like a painted model, but dye will be less opaque than pigment.

Paint is pigment mixed with binder, which can be thinned with solvent. The binder cures into a film in which the pigment particles are evenly distributed. Paint pigment doesn't have to be as fine as ink pigment.

Either ink or paint can have other additives, to improve flow, to retard or accelerate drying, to change light reflectance and thereby appearance, or to improve permanence by adding a film layer on top. Paint can also have additives to change texture.

If you take paint and add solvent, you are thinning the ratio of binder and pigment. If the paint is thinned just enough so it cures into a transparent colored film, this is a glaze. If the binder is so thinned it can't cure into a continuous film, the solution is called a wash; the solvent evaporates out of the thinner areas first, and surface tension collects the remaining binder into pools (typically in recesses on a model); these cure into a paint or glaze film. This is a technique to shade recesses without coloring raised areas.

Going the other direction, you can take ink and add binder to make paint. If you use it on models as-is, or with more solvent added, it behaves more like a wash, than a glaze.

With acrylics, the solvent is usually water. The binder is also known as acrylic gloss media, which is essentially gloss varnish. The finish can be changed to matte or satin by an additive that roughens the surface of the cured film and thereby changes transparency and reflectance.

So, if you have acrylic paint with fine pigment, and you thin with water into a wash, you *might* be able to apply it like ink. The test would be if it flows properly in a dip pen; if it doesn't clog the pen, and permeates nicely into paper or a similar porous surface, then it's a successful ink substitute. If it clogs the pen, then add solvent -- if a solution that flows properly is too transparent, then probably the paint pigment isn't fine enough to act as ink pigment. If you're applying with a brush onto a non-porous surface, it's more properly a wash since that is what it is chemically.

Pocho Azul24 Jan 2021 12:38 p.m. PST

OK thanks very much! So perhaps the reason to avoid dye-based inks is that, since they are intended for porous media, they may not behave as intended on non-permeable surfaces like a primed mini?

I am probably over-thinking all this, but since I am in the process of recreating a full set of painting gear from almost nothing, I am nervous about spending for stuff that turns out to be less than useful.

CeruLucifus24 Jan 2021 3:48 p.m. PST

Pocho Azul: … I am in the process of recreating a full set of painting gear from almost nothing …

Your original post sounded like you had paint but had an application for ink. Now it sounds like you don't have any hobby supplies and want to … I'm not sure … use ink now but paint later?

So maybe if you could explain what your project is, and what materials you are starting with, and what your budget is, maybe we could advise what to either buy or order?

If you have literally no supplies, then I would advise going with art supplies instead of hobby paints. The reason is art supplies say what their ingredients are, the customers are concerned about consistency, the manufacturers document how to best achieve specific results with their products, and there is a common technical jargon across the industry.

Also if you need inks now, but paints later, and have a limited budget, then I would advise getting artist-grade pigment-based inks for your current project. Then when you expand to paints, it may work to get acrylic media and mix that with ink to make some of your paints, and thin this to make washes. (I am guessing this would work; it's not something I've done.)

Pocho Azul24 Jan 2021 5:47 p.m. PST

At one time, 20 plus years ago, I owned my own paints, but they are long gone, so, although I have a fair amount of experience, if somewhat dated, with painting and mixing paints, I don't currently have any of my own.

I am currently using my brother's paints and brushes. He has a very large collection, but is focused almost entirely on FOW wwii figures. He has a ton of different browns, greens, tans and greys, and no inks. He has a small section of other colors, plus some metals, and a few prepackaged washes.

So, in one sense, I have lots of paints, in another, hardly any at all, except a couple I just purchased to plug gaps in my brother's collection.

I am putting together a shopping list including such things as sandpaper, files, brushes, paints, inks, as well as mixing stuff like acrylic medium, flow improver, and retardant. I am inclined to agree that getting artist inks and paints is the way to go, maybe with some specific exceptions.

When I was still painting before, inks were not so generally known as being useful for miniatures, and Citadel had begun marketing their own brand of inks relatively recently (at least to my knowledge. So inks are kinda new to me.

Pocho Azul25 Jan 2021 7:27 a.m. PST

Oh, forgot you asked me to describe my project. Currently it is just to improve my painting technique and speed. I am painting some pretty random stuff from my brothers backlog of unpainted minis (he has minis other than wwii 15s, he just hasn't painted any for a long time). Later, when I get my own stuff back from storage, I will be painting my own backlog (almost entirely old fantasy 25s) and maybe later build a historical army, depending on what the locals are playing.

jwebster Supporting Member of TMP25 Jan 2021 8:18 a.m. PST

Hi Pocho,

As other people have said, there are dye based inks and pigment based inks – CeruLucifus has a good description

Traditionally dye based inks have poor light permanence by design, in particular Windsor and Newton (the first ink I ever tried :( ). I haven't experimented to see to what extent varnish prevents the uv light from hitting the ink, which would, in theory, prevent it from fading

Pigment based (acrylic) inks are relatively modern, with the Daler Rowney FW inks being the best known artists inks. These differ from regular acrylic paint by having finer ground pigments, and the pigments are usually more transparent

To turn any acrylic paint or ink into a wash, you need to add binder as well as water, or the particles will tend to clump. Basic mix is 50% matt medium, 50% distilled water with a few drops of flow medium.


Black ink is particularly pigment dense (exactly what you want for normal artist use) so needs quite a lot of dilution. Inks generally dry with some gloss, which doesn't matter if you use matt varnish to protect your figure

I mix my own washes, mostly using FW inks, sometimes regular hobby acrylic paint. Secret weapon washes are good, based on Les Burnley's recipe (see above article). My painting style is to base coat with light, bright colours and then use washes to show detail – it's a speedy way to paint, although I am still a very slow painter

Good luck


CeruLucifus26 Jan 2021 1:16 a.m. PST

Thanks for explaining. I suggest make lists.

Artist paints won't have as many variant shades as hobby paints, so you will learn mixing. Get an artist color wheel to remind yourself, like this: link

I switched my hobby medias to the art brand Liquitex. I have prepared my washes and airbrush mixtures from their paints, so I can't speak to their inks. Other artist paint companies make comparable ranges.

Liquitex site:
Example resource: The Liquitex Acrylic Book: PDF link

The Liquitex Soft Body paints have their finest ground pigments, are supersaturated, and can be thinned for model painting and for airbrushing. Their Heavy Body range has less fine pigments. Their Basics paints are their low-cost student line and I would guess don't thin as far. Their Acrylic Gauche line is probably not suited for miniatures.

If you want to make Les Bursley's washes, here's his original post on Dakka Dakka: link .

Pocho Azul26 Jan 2021 1:56 p.m. PST

Thanks to you all for the info as well as the links. I will likely post some other questions about products for products that may be useful for preparing and painting miniatures in the future.

Pocho Azul27 Jan 2021 5:06 p.m. PST

Just ordered a basic set of Daler Rowney "Primary Colors" plus black and white ink, plus some flow improver, matte medium and drying retardant. Thanks folks!

CeruLucifus30 Jan 2021 2:42 a.m. PST


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