Wednesday 3 July 2024

2024 Topic 5 : Ink Pads {on the PaperArtsy Blog} Topic Introduction

Hi everyone, Dounia here

As we head into a new topic over on the PaperArtsy Blog (Ink Pads),  a reminder that the current theme that over-arches the next round of topics is HIDDEN. Secrets and surprises to explore! Perhaps covering part of project and revealing it later… or not!  It can be as subtle as secret journaling or as interactive as moveable parts. The interpretation is vast and we left it to our amazing blogging team and their muses to channel this in a way that resonates with their creative style!

It's time for a more technical topic: Ink Pads! 

As stampers, finding the right ink for a project is crucial. Nowadays, there is more choice than ever, and it is not always easy to understand the differences and specifics of all those inks. Of course, the colour palette of a brand can attract us more than another, but a lot more goes into choosing an ink. 

On the practical side, it has to be compatible with the substrate and work well with the other media used. On the more artistic side, it has to 'look right': opacity, shininess and bleeding potential all play a role, as well as so many other properties. 

In this topic, we aim the to clarify the commonly used descriptive terms for inks, and explore the different properties you may need to take into consideration when choosing an ink. Hopefully it will give you some tools to make an informed decision for your projects.

We are not affiliated with any ink brand and, while some will be named as examples, we are not trying to rank them or promote one over another. Nor is this an exhaustive list of available inks and their properties.

Colour is obviously the fist thing we see of an ink and an important criteria when making your choice. There may be dozens of turquoise inks on the market but we certainly all have a favourite! However the colour of an ink may come from different ingredients, which have an impact on the properties on the ink and its uses.

Pigment Inks

As the name implies, the colour in pigment inks comes from pigments: these extremely fine coloured powders are mixed with the base and do not dissolve, thing of them as lots of spheres of colour suspended in a liquid. Once the ink is applied, the pigment is 'glued' to the substrate by the base liquid holding those spheres. The strength of that glue determinates how well the colour stays in place. 

Pigment inks once dry tend to be permanent, and when wet, have a long 'open/wet time' so these can be a good ink to use if you wish to also use an embossing powder.

Pigment inks are basically very fluid paints. Because of the tiny particles of (generally) minerals, pigment inks tend to be opaque, and all opaque inks are pigment inks. This may allow you to work on dark substrates, or layering of light colours over darks. 
The pigment particles also can influence the texture of ink, making it more creamy. Because the colour is in the particles, which are big compared to the structure of paper or other substrates, pigment inks tend no not bleed much as the particles cannot travel through the substrate.

Examples: Antiquities by Ranger, ColorBox Chalk inks, Versacraft and Versacolor by Tsukineko, Izink Embossing and Izink Quick Dry by Aladine, Harmony by Spectrum Noir, all white inks

Dye Inks

The colour of dye inks come from colorants. These compounds do not stay in grains but totally dissolve in the base. Instead of clumps of colour suspended in the base, the colorant molecules separate and mix with the molecules of the base. Think of brightly coloured soft drinks for example. Once the ink is applied, a chemical reaction happens between the colorant molecules and the substrate molecules, creating chemical bounds. The substrate is then dyed. The strength of the chemical bonds determinates how well the colour stays in place.

Because there is no solid in dye inks, they are transparent. You can only work 'dark on light' with them because they lack the viscosity and opacity of pigment inks. They can also be more fluid (thinner) than pigment inks, so they might bleed through the paper you are working on, but they are likely to dry fast. Dye inks can be permanent or non-permanent.

Examples: Distress Inks or Adirondack ink by Ranger Industries, Catherine Pooler inks, Memento by Tsukineko, Prism by Hunkydory, Dye Ink Pads by Stamperia, Izink Dye by Aladine.

Metallic/Pearl/Glitter Inks

Sparkly inks contains special powders to give them their shine: microscopic metal flakes for metallic inks, mica powders for iridescent inks or extra fine glitter (generally plastic) for glitter inks for example. The ambient light reflects on these particles, creating the desired effect.

These powders can be intrinsically coloured, like glitter, and provide both tint and shine. Some rather are a neutral light tone (silver or off white) and colour is created by adding a pigment or colorant to the mix.
In all cases, sparkly inks contain a powder and therefore tend to have characteristics closer to pigment inks than dye inks. The metallic powders often add an opacity to the product, and the same colour can therefore look quite different on dark or light surfaces. 

If these products come in a spray formulation, it is the glitter or mica particles that can cause a spray nozzle to clog; usually once the ink dries and the metallic or glitter particles then remain stuck (dried) in the spray-hole.

Examples: StazOn Metallic or Delicata by Tsukineko, Shimmer by Spectrum Noir. Liquid examples: Glimmer mists by Tattered Rose, Dylusions Shimmer sprays by Ranger Industries, Tim Holtz Metalllic Distress Spray stains by Ranger Industries.

While pigment/dye is a crucial distinction, the two do not exclude each other. Hybrid inks mixing the two features of course exist, including the famous Oxide Inks by Ranger, or Duet Ink Pads by Crafter's Companion.

While the colour is an essential element in how the ink will look, the base is the main factor in how the ink will behave. It is responsible for most of characteristics discussed in the following parts, like the ink permanence, its viscosity or its drying time.

The base does not however impact the type of colouring: any base can be used to make a pigment, dye, or metallic ink pad.

The type of base not only describe the ink main component but also what to use to dilute them when wet. Inks actually contain many things other than the named base to give them their properties. For example, pigment inks need components to help suspend the powders or to act as the glue with the substrate. Dye inks generally will have additions to help the reaction between colorant and substrate or to adjust the texture of the ink.

Water-based Inks

The name says it all really! Water is generally the main component of water-based inks, mixed with many other add-ons to adjust and preserve the ink: you do not want to develop mould in a warm wet sponge, nor do you want an ink pad to dry out too fast.

A water-based ink will dry by two possible processes: either the water (and other possible solvents) evaporates (this is often called air drying), or it penetrates and diffuses in the substrate (this is called permeation). In both cases no liquid remains on the surface, leaving behind the colour and other components. Generally, depending on the formula and the substrate, one process drives the majority of the drying.

Depending on the formulation, once dry, the ink may either stay water-reactive or be water-resistant.

Water-based inks have the advantage of being easy to clean when wet, just use water! You often can also dilute them and use them for other techniques. You do not have to worry about fumes and their toxicity is generally low.

Examples: Most inks on the craft market are water-based. Both the Distress Inks (dye) and Distress Oxides (hybrid) by Ranger are water-based. By Tsukineko, VersaMagic is a water-based pigment ink, while Memento (the original) is a water-based dye ink. Duet Ink Pads by Crafter's Companion are water-based hybrid inks.

Oil-based Inks

Again, the clue is in the name! As oil cannot evaporate like water, the only way for it to 'dry' is permeation into the substrate which can be a slow process. To help the speed of drying along, oil-based inks will often contain other more volatile solvents that will evaporate to reduce the amount of liquid faster. You may now understand why a heat tool helps to speed up drying time of some inks, or why the same ink will dry faster on a porous surfaces compared to a non-porous surfaces. All these inks are considered permanent , especially once heat set.

As oil and water do not mix, oil-based ink will be water-resistant.

Oil-based inks will need a specific cleaning solution, especially when dry. Their composition and texture will generally allow them to offer a solid coverage on stamps, even bold ones. This can be more difficult with some water-based inks and some stamp materials.

Examples: Versafine and Versafine Clair, as well as Encore! by Tsukineko are oil-based pigment inks, while Versamark is an oil-based colourless ink. Archival Inks by Ranger are oil-based dye inks. 

Both water and oil-based ink need to penetrate the substrate in order to 'stick' to it. What ink do you therefore use when penetration is not possible, as with the infamous non-porous substrates (acetate, glass or metal for example).

In these situations, you need a solvent ink that dries completely by evaporation. The solvents used are very volatile, to speed the process along as much as possible. Consequently, solvent ink are extremely fast to dry on porous surfaces, but will need more time on non-porous ones. Just like permanent (smelly) markers, solvent inks are water-resistant when dry and need a specific cleaning solution.

Solvent inks do produce fumes (that is apparent as soon as you open the pad!) so be sure to work in well ventilated area and to close your pad as soon as you are done working with it. It will also prevent it from drying out. Some of this kind of ink come with a plastic cover for the ink pad, keep this in place, it helps the ink pad stay wet longer.

Like with permanent markers, solvent inks will work on pretty much an surface. However be aware that the solvents in the ink can interact with the substrate and potentially deteriorate or weaken it. Same with your stamps! If you working on a piece you want to last, using a solvent ink must be a well thought through choice.

Examples: The different StazOn inks by Tsukineko are solvent-based ink pads. The regular StazOns are dye inks while the Pigment, Opaque and Metallic versions are pigment inks. Be aware that Tsukineko advise to clean your stamps as soon as possible and that clear stamps may deteriorate when used with StazOn, depending on the material. in other words, solvent ink can damage clear stamps. Rubber stamps however are extremely durable, even when used with a solvent ink. 

We might be more or less precious about our creations, but we generally want them to last at least a little bit! In this section, we explore the different criteria that make an ink able to resist the test of time, but also determines their compatibility with other media. These proprieties depends a lot on the formulation of the base but also on the quality of the pigments or colorants used. 

Water resistance test on Urban's blog

Resistance to water and/or other solvents

The question is whether or not the ink washes away, and whether or not you want it to. This mainly depends on the composition of the base and how well it traps and protects the colour once dry.

Having a water resistant ink is crucial if you plan to work with water-based media on top of it and want your stamped image to stay put. This includes playing with watercolours, acrylic paints or other inks. If the ink is not water-resistant, your stamping will bleed, blur, pale or even disappear, which is not ideal for a nice colouring or sharp layers.

Look for the words 'waterproof', 'water-resistant', 'compatible with watercolours' or equivalent. By nature, oil-based inks will be waterproof but a lot of water-based inks also become waterproof when dry. Some might need to be heat set to be completely waterproof. The level of water resistance needed also depends your project: the ink on a card will not need the same waterproof qualities than on a textile meant to be washed!

Examples: Versafine and Archival as oil-based inks, Versacraft, Izink Textile, Delicata as water-based inks.

On the opposite scale, having an ink that starts moving again when in contact with water, even after drying, can be an advantage for multiple techniques, to lift colour, create textures, blend together or mix with other media. You then need to be careful when working on top of it as the non-permanence of a layer might cause you problems (or not). The  effects can be magical. The usual descriptor is 'water reactive'.
If you live in a rather humid climate, you however have to think about how well your pieces will last being in quasi constant contact with water. It is of course not the same as being washed with liquid water but, over a period of time, normal exposure to air might be enough for the colours to move or wash out. Do you need to seal your work?
Examples: Distress Inks and Distress Oxides, Catherine Pooler Ink Pads, Duet Ink Pads by Crafter's Companion

Resistance to other solvents can also be important. In particular, if you like to colour with alcohol markers (or other alcohol media), you need an ink that will not bleed when in contact with alcohol. This requires a different formulation than water resistance but generally, alcohol compatible inks will also be waterproof. These inks will generally be described as 'compatible with alcohol markers'.
Examples: Memento and Memento Luxe, Finesse by Spectrum Noir, Lawn Fawndamentals

Light fastness test on Bister inks by Amity Parks

Light Fastness

Exposure to light tends to discolour objects. We have all seen plastics, clothes or even hair been 'sun-bleached'. Historically, linens were whitened by spreading then in meadows to get maximum sun exposure. We are regularly cautioned about the danger of UVs for our skin. Well it is the same for other materials: UV rays carry more energy than visible light (which is why they are 'ultra'!) and when they hit a material, this energy can break the bonds inside molecules and denature them. For a pigment or colorant, just a slight modification of the part responsible for the colour often results in a total loss of that colour and the material becomes paler and paler.

Of course, we would prefer for colour to last in our projects! However the required longevity is not the same for one time use projects than for cherished heirloom pieces. Also keeping a piece in a drawer, displaying it as is or displaying it behind glass will make a big difference! This is why it is important to considered light fastness when choosing supplies. 

There are two main factors to a product resistance to light: the quality of the pigment/colorant and the potential addition of a UV protective compound to act pretty much like sunscreen. 

Art grade supplies will have a grading system informing you of the light fastness of each colour. For craft supplies, look for the words 'Long lasting pigment', 'Excellent light resistance', 'Light Fast', 'UV stable' or variations of the same. You can also test your inks by comparing samples exposed to light (stuck to a window for example) to a control keep in a dark space. The results might surprise you!

From Small Town Papers

Stability: Acid free / pH Neutral

pH is a measure of acidity, going from 0 to 14 in water. Theoretical neutrality is a pH of 7. Then, below 7, the lower the pH, the more acidic the solution and, above 7, the higher the pH, the more alkaline the solution is. Both acid and alkaline can attack and deteriorate materials. 

In particular, paper is quite sensitive to acid. It tends to yellow, become brittle and easily deteriorate if it contains acid or is in contact with acidic products. Keeping a project completely acid free is somewhat utopic, as human skin itself tends to be acidic (around pH 5.5) but if you want a project to last, using specifically formulated paper might be considered, as well as suitable ink, paint, glue, etc. 

In art and crafts, a common descriptor is 'acid-free'. This generally means that, when wet, the products have pH of 7 or even a bit higher, which will partially prevent the deterioration of paper and other substrates.

pH neutral is term used more generally. It is a relative notion and does not necessarily means the pH of the product will be 7. It basically refer to the fact that the pH of the product is in the same range as the pH of the substrate it is supposed to be used on. For example, pH neutral soap will be around 5.5, close to the natural pH of skin. For inks, pH neutral should mean around 7 or a little higher, like paper.

Finally, as explained earlier, these notions mainly apply to water-based products, or products that can be mixed or in contact in water with water. Therefore, as oil and water do not mix, they generally cannot be applied to oil-based products, so do not worry if you do not see these characteristics mentioned on your favourite ink!

Let's now discuss two recurrent terms used to describe the resistance of inks: Permanent & Archival. As far as I can tell, these terms do not have a official, quantified definition for arts and crafts products and are more globally accepted marketing words used to give the consumer an idea of the product resistance.

Permanent of course carries the idea of 'it will stay' and 'durable'. It generally implies good light fastness and resistance to water and maybe other solvents.

Archival literally means 'of quality good enough for archives'. This is a mix of good light fastness, good stability, and low risk of deteriorating the substrate, generally with the implied notion that it is water-resistant. Archival can therefore be considered 'stronger' than permanent.

For this part, the aim is to explore the different other characteristics that will make an ink unique. We hope this gives you some criteria to select inks for your projects. This list is not meant to be exhaustive (you probably have your own priorities) and is in no particular order.


An important property of ink, that we generally do not see directly but has a lot of impact on the stamping experience, is viscosity. Viscosity describes the texture of the ink: is it quite runny, is it thick, is it creamy? It has a hand in how the ink will apply or grab onto a stamp, how it will transfer from the stamp to the paper, as well as a lot of the other properties on this list.

It is difficult to get an precise idea of an ink viscosity when it is in a pad, though the type of pad is often an indicator: squishy foam pads only work for thicker inks (a thin one would oose everywhere!) and firm, felt pads generally means thinner ink. Historically, pigment meant thick ink and a foam pad and dye meant thin ink and felt pad but nowadays, with the evolution of hybrid formulas available, it is not that simple anymore. 
Another way to get an idea of the viscosity is via re-inkers, as you then have enough free liquid to see how it moves. You might realise you prefer thinner or thicker ink, which might impact future purchases.


I think that with just a little bit of experience stamping, you know this one! How the ink is absorbed and travels in the substrate determines if the colour will spread from the stamped lines (feathering) or go through the paper to be visible on the other side (bleeding). Of course the substrate plays an important role and ink manufacturers will generally recommend compatible surfaces but some inks boast no bleeding even on notebook paper.
This is an important criteria is you want very crisp, detailed images, or if you plan on working both sides of your substrate.

Drying time

Depending on the project, the technique or even just our mood, we may want an ink that dries immediately or on the opposite, has a long open time. Fast drying inks allow us to keep working on a piece immediately, no need to wait in fear of smudging! Slow drying inks allow techniques like heat embossing, foiling, blending or water-colouring. Again, the same ink will have different drying times depending on the substrate. As a general rule, the more porous and absorbent the substrate is, the faster the inks dries: it will go slower on coated paper than uncoated paper, and faster on paper than on vellum or paint.

Aspect / Opacity / Coverage

Aspect refers to 'finish' of the formula: matte, satiny or glossy. This does not apply to metallic, pearlescent or glitter inks. The default for most formulations is a slight satin aspect, so, that effect is generally what to expect if no specific information is provided. 
Matte inks will often advertise by using the word 'Chalk' or equivalent. Bear in mind that oil-based ink will, quite logically, tend to be glossier.

Opacity is the capability of the ink to hide the layers below. As explained earlier, dye inks will not be opaque but pigment inks can be. This determines if you can work light on dark to create visible layers.

Coverage describes how well/easily the ink will add a full layer of colour on your stamp: How many times to do need to apply the pad to a stamp for a bold area to be fully covered in ink, and then print a solid image with no pale spots? This is less crucial with line stamps, but quite important for a homogeneous result on a solid image.

Substrate Compatibility

We already touched on this subject with solvent inks, but even considering only porous and semi-porous surfaces, not all inks are created equal. Some will only work on regular paper, some can also only be used on photo paper or vellum, some are OK for wood or ceramics...some on glass and acetate. Ink manufacturers will generally recommend compatible substrate the ink is designed for, but experimenting yourself before starting a project might save you trouble later!

Example: here is the Tsukineko 2023-2024 catalogue, at the end are compatibility charts for all their current inks.


Whether to preserve our stamps or to tidy up our work surface, being able to clean ink off you stamp or table might matter to you. It can be more (or less) easy depending on the formula and the base. Will your craft sheet be permanently stained? what about your hands? This is an important consideration if you need to appear professional, or if you are crafting with kids.

So there you are people! You ink information is complete!

I hope this post clears up a few things for you and gave you some tools to discuss and select inks. 

There are quite a guides and videos on Ink Pads if you want visuals. 

For more inspiration, you can also check on this blog: 2017 Topic #12: Hybrid Inks, and 2018 Topic #16: Reinkers.

For the next month, our fabulous team of bloggers will share their favourite ink pads and techniques so stay tuned!

If you want to create along with us we would love to see what you get up to! 

You could tag us on Facebook, Instagram @paperartsy , Twitter, or post in PaperArtsy People Group on Facebook. We really love to hear about how the blog topics have inspired you, so don't be shy!!


Kathi said...

Wow! What a great compendium of information! Thank you!

Mags said...

Fabulous and informative, thank you Dounia

Ellie Knol said...

That is a lot of info Dounia, well done.

Dakota said...

Wow! I hope I can remember all this. It does clear up a few questions. Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

A thoroughly informative and insightful post and excellent resource /reference point . Bookmarked ! Thankyou so much for sharing your knowledge , Dounia X AP