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what I learned playing with inks in encaustic

Using Inks in Encaustic art

Disclosure: Chartpak, Inc. sent me a variety of Higgins Inks to review for this post.

Ink can be used to great effect in encaustic painting.  You can draw or write directly on the wax and either leave it on the final layer of a painting or you can add more layers of encaustic medium on top of the dry ink. Ink, when dry, is permanent.

Choose Pigment Ink over Dye-based Inks

I have used black India ink with encaustic in the past but Higgins inks are available in a variety of colours. They can also be mixed to create your own colours.

Higgins pigmented ink comes in 9 colours, as well as black, and white. Higgins dye-based inks are available in 16 colours. From my experience, pigment-based ink works better on wax surfaces.

My best advice is before you begin using ink on an encaustic painting, test all inks on a sample board. You may also wish to consult the Ink Specs as different inks have varying drying times and are recommended for use on different substrates. Two of the dye-based inks I used would never dry (orange and violet), a full seven days after I applied them to the surface of the wax they could smudge. The green dye-based ink, however, was fine. All of the pigment-based inks worked well.

India ink is archival so choose it over using alcohol inks.

6 ways to use ink on encaustic

  1. use a bamboo skewer (or a calligraphy pen) to add handwritten words to your painting
  2. use a rubber tipped encaustic scrapy wax mover to draw on the painting (see photo & link below)
  3. use ink on the top layer as I have done below, or add layers of translucent encaustic medium on top of the dry ink to partially obscure the ink
  4. if desired, lightly fuse the surface to break up the ink
  5. scrape into the dry ink to create scratch marks
  6. stain the substrate with ink before you begin to paint in place of encaustic gesso

Writing and mark making with ink on encaustic

In this painting, I dipped a bamboo skewer into black Higgins India ink and wrote the words “time for solitude” directly on the wax. I painted this piece during a weeks vacation— I took much needed time away from routine and from work to focus on making space for creativity in my life.

The trees were added to the painting with a photocopy transfer. This technique transfers laser printer toner-based ink onto the surface of the encaustic painting.

I extended the photo transfer drawing with the black India ink and then I hit the ink with a heat gun to break up the design and let it travel a bit on the wax surface.

I also added orange ink dots and dashes to the surface of the painting. This orange was a mix of two inks (magenta and yellow).

time for solitude - encaustic painting by Ruth Martin-Maude https://allthingsencaustic.com/staging

Drawing with ink on encaustic

I used one of these Scrapy Wax Movers to draw directly on the encaustic painting.

The soft-tip was perfect for using with ink. I dipped the rubber tip into the ink and then drew directly on the wax painting. The tip doesn’t mar the surface of the wax and you can wipe it clean with a paper towel before moving on to another colour.

Finally, I used a sharp pottery tool to scrape off a bit of the dry ink on the green leaves.

I thoroughly enjoyed the process playing with the ink.

Encaustic and Ink painting by Ruth Maude

Fusing ink on an encaustic painting

Fusing is not necessary but I usually gently fuse.

If you fuse the surface, the ink will travel. This can create happy accidents but it can also give you some unwanted results. Use a heat gun on low or a compact flame torch for best control.

About Ruth Maude

I enjoy experimenting with a variety of encaustic materials, techniques and tools. Everything I learn pushes my creative journey in new directions. I share what I've learned with other artists through my blog All Things Encaustic.

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14 thoughts on “Using Inks in Encaustic art”

  1. Hi . Beautiful article! Thank you so much! Can we use Inks from HP or Parker or Waterman in Encaustic? Do those inks fade away?

    1. You would need to contact the manufacturer and look at if they are dye or pigment based and what their light-fastness is. You can experiment on a test board with each and put it in direct sunlight for an extended period of time and see how they do.

  2. Can you use Speedball Water based block printing ink with encaustic? (Wasn’t sure if there was any acrylic involved with this product).

    Thank you for the helpful tips

    1. No Anne I don’t know but you can mix these india inks together to create a different colour. I would be concerned about how archival the ink is that you mix. Alcohol inks are known to fade.

  3. Hello Ruth,

    I have just started experimenting with encaustics and really admire the paintings with a spiderweb effect. Will pigmented alcohol ink produce that effect, or is there something else I can try?

    Thank you for any advice you can offer.

    Love your work, by-the-way.


      1. Thank you for your reply, Ruth. Yes, I have enjoyed seeing Alicia Tormey’s work and you are right, it is stunning. The “Pigmented Shellac” link you provided doesn’t really tell any details of the process, so I am still looking.


  4. Hi Ruth, thx. For these tips on using inks! I have started using alcohol ink to tint or color shellac before doing a shellac burn in encaustic pieces. Adds interest and layers to the burn! See some of this on my Instagram account.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jim. I have tried shellac once with PearlEx not alcohol ink. Alcohol ink is not considered archival as the color will fade. My understanding is that alcohol inks need a UV protective coating which you really can’t do with an encaustic painting.

  5. Thanks for sharing these tips. I didn’t realize the ink could be left on the final layer. I’ve always added a wax layer on top. Can’t wait to try this.

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