6 of the Best Drawing Inks for Calligraphers, Artists, and Beyond

India Ink Pen and Ink Drawing

Photo: Kira auf der Heide
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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

India Ink Pen and Ink Drawing

Speedball | $4.28

One of the most well-reviewed inks, Speedball is said to dry quickly while flowing evenly and smoothly. If you use nibs in drawing or calligraphy, this ink won’t jam them or make them gunky.


Noodler's Black Waterproof Fountain Pen Ink

India Ink Pen and Ink Drawing

Noodler's | $12.50

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

Ink Drawing

Higgins | $4.61

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

Acrylic Ink

Liquitex | $29.39

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.

India Ink Pen and Ink Drawing

Take your pen and ink drawing skills even further with online classes from Skillshare.


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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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