Ink drawing is one of the oldest forms of art making, and it’s a tradition that keeps even the most casual creatives in good company. The imitable Leonardo Da Vinci, for instance, kept careful sketchbooks with ink; modern drawers still make the most of this material—there’s even Inktober, a global drawing challenge that revolves around pen and ink drawings.
If you’re just getting started with ink, it can be daunting to pick what you’ll use. There are different types of ink that have their own unique properties—two of the most popular are India ink and acrylic ink.
What is India ink?
India ink dates back as early as the third century BCE. It was first known in China, and it has been used in India since the fourth century BCE; the ink earned its name from the English during their trading with India.
India ink comprises fine soot (or other pigments) that are combined with water. For black ink, there’s no binder needed, as the carbon molecules form a waterproof layer once dried. Other hues might use gelatin or shellac to ensure their durability.
How is acrylic ink different?
Acrylic ink is similar to acrylic paint—the different pigments are suspended in a polymer emulsion. Like their painting counterparts, they have more flexibility than India ink and can be used for watercolor effects as well as airbrushing and stamping.
Picking the ink that’s right for you:
Selecting the right ink is all about knowing what you’ll use it for. India ink is renowned for its drawing, in the more traditional sense—if you’re planning on just putting pigment to paper, try India ink first. But if you’re looking to combine media or try techniques like airbrush, acrylic is ideal for it.
Check out the best India ink and acrylic ink for drawing!
Speedball 2-Ounce India Ink, Super Black
Noodler’s Black Waterproof Fountain Pen Ink
Waterproof, bleach proof, lightfast, and archival, Noodler’s black ink is made for both vintage and new pens. To take advantage of its waterproof properties, make sure you’re working on a paper that’s not too thick—otherwise, it might not bind to the material properly and smudge.
Higgins Pigmented Drawing Ink
This ink has some serious staying power—Higgins has been widely used around the world since 1880. A non-waterproof formula, it has a glossy sheen and is considered “good for doing ink washes” that blots well, too.
Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star India Ink
Ideal for “technical and calligraphy dip pens,” Black Star is a lightfast ink that has a matte finish and doesn’t reflect light. Comic artists and illustrators love this ink because it doesn’t fade—even if you erase atop it time and again.
Dr. Ph. Martin’s Set of 12 Bombay India Ink Bottles
If you’ve decided that India ink is the type of ink for you, this is a great set that includes all of the colors you’ll need to create vibrant art. Featuring 12 one-ounce glass bottles, they come equipped with a mixing palette too. Like the Black Star ink, this set features lightfast and archival colors. They are said to work great with a dip pen or with a brush in a watercolor style.
Liquitex Professional Acrylic Ink, Primary Colors
Here’s another highly-rated set that’ll get you started inking. Called the “Essential Set,” this collection of six colors feature super-fine pigments that are water-resistant and made for drawing—as well as stamping and collage. Because the inks are more viscous than India ink, these acrylics don’t work as well with nibs.
Take your pen and ink drawing skills even further with online classes from Bluprint.
- Pen & Ink Essentials: Learn techniques for capturing the “values, textures, and contours” you observe from real life.
- Mixed Media: Pen, Ink & Watercolor: This class will help you understand proper pen and nib approaches to create a variety of marks and lines. Afterward, you’ll learn how to create washes, tones, and more.
- Sketching the City in Pen, Ink & Watercolor: Interested in urban sketching? Shari Blaukopf shows you how to bring out the character of building facades, windows, and more.