Reviewing 5 Inks for Drawing

A bottle of ink.

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Ink is available in a variety of types, not all of which are suitable for fine-art drawing. Make sure you choose a pigmented lightfast ink, not a dye-based illustrator's ink which fades over time. I prefer a basic Indian Ink, which dries waterproof, flows well, and doesn't tend to clog. Indian ink can be thinned with distilled water (tap water will make it separate), but I prefer watercolor for washes. Many companies make Indian ink, most of which will be acceptable for drawing. The buy direct links in this article are to online art supplier affiliate Blick Art Materials.

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Winsor and Newton Black Indian Ink

Winsor and Newton Black Indian Ink.

This is your standard Indian Ink or Encre de Chine, made from carbon black with a Shellac medium that provides its water resistance and glossy sheen. (This can also make it a bit of a pain to wash up). The manufacturer says it has a "bluish undertone" when thinned, but I found it rather neutral. My bottle of W&N Indian Ink has the standard screw cap, but this one-ounce bottle at Blick comes with a built-in eyedropper — great for adding controlled amounts to a wash.

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Winsor and Newton Black Liquid Indian Ink

Winsor and Newton Black Liquid Indian Ink.

This rather oddly named ink is a non-waterproof ink made from Chinese ink sticks of Lamp Black. It has a noticeable brown undertone which I really like — it's warm and appealing. A more watery consistency than true Indian ink, the pen doesn't hold as much and it bleeds more on fibrous paper. For these reasons, it's a good idea to try this ink on a sample of your paper to test its performance and to get used to its slightly different handling. If ordering through this affiliate link, be sure to find 'Drawing Ink... LIQUID Indian' on the order form.

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Dr. Ph. Martin's Bombay India Inks

Dr. Ph. Martin's Bombay India Inks.

Need color? Try these gorgeous inks. These are intense, pigmented color inks, with excellent lightfastness (less so for the Violet and Magenta). They flow well from pen or brush and can be used anywhere you'd use watercolor — making them ideal for all art and craft work. They are relatively quick drying, so be sure to wash up promptly after use.

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Do-It-Yourself Old-Fashioned Inks

A pen and a bottle of ink.

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Check out Evan Lindquist's collection of old-fashioned ink recipes. Take note of his safety warning — some of them are dangerous! I used to enjoy tinkering with archaic paint mediums, although it's not generally a pastime I recommend because commercial inks are so reliable. However, if you enjoy doing things the hard way or if you're a history reenactment fan needing an extra bit of authenticity for your SCA event, Evan is your man.

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Yasutomo Sumi Ink Sticks

Yasutomo Sumi Ink Sticks.

Sumi-e ink sticks are lovely to use and quite inexpensive. You'll find sets with stones, brushes, and sticks at many art shops as well as Asian importers. The lamp or carbon black used in these sticks offers a lovely, velvety black. Because you're mixing the ink manually, it can be tricky to get a consistent proportion of pigment into your ink, so you'll want to test your ink before you use it. It can be nice to actually emphasize the natural variations that are possible with this ink for a soft and organic quality in the work. These inks are intended for use with brushes, rather than dip pens.

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Fountain Pen Inks

A fountain pen.

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I don't personally use fountain pens much — I prefer dip pens. One thing I do know about fountain pens is that you must not use shellac-based waterproof inks in them because they clog the pen (sometimes permanently). Buy specialist fountain pen inks that are designed to flow smoothly from the cartridge. The Pendemonium website has loads of advice on inks, with a list and comments on many brands and colors.