Alcohol Ink Techniques and Recipes for Polymer Clay Artists

Alcohol Ink Techniques and Recipes

Some techniques for making your own alcohol ink recipes that will save you a bundle:

If you have been exposed to the crafting market for any length of time, you are probably already familiar with some of the cool alcohol ink techniques.

Alcohol inks are very concentrated and are sold in small squeeze bottles for scrapbooking, altered arts and of course, polymer clay bead making.

Polymer clay artists use alcohol ink to tint both the solid polymer clays, as well as the liquid ones. We also use the ink to dye the surface of raw and baked clays plus to use between layers in techniques like mokume gane.

If you love to use alcohol ink like me, you can go through a lot of it and the price really adds up! Here’s how to make the ink yourself.

Awhile ago I heard rumors of people making their own alcohol inks using 90% rubbing alcohol and fabric dye. Since that was all I had to go on, it took a little experimenting to come up with a recipe for making something that would work.

First of all you need the higher strength rubbing alcohol of 90% or more, not the typical 75% you usually see on the shelf. That one has a fair amount of water in it. I ended up finding 99% Isopropyl Alcohol at Costco (4 x 500ml) for around $7.

Next I found some small empty bead vials so I could store a few different colors of the ink. Being a ‘craft supply hound’ I just so happened to also have several different kinds of fabric dyes on hand.

I filled each vial about half full of fabric dye and topped them off with the rubbing alcohol. You could tell which ones were going to work and which were not because the alcohol started to change color right away. After stirring them for a bit, I let them sit for the day.

Some interesting things occurred.

The cold water batik dye didn’t work at all. The alcohol stayed mostly clear and the powdered dye just sat at the bottom.

Both the Rit and Tinex dyes worked very well but had quite a bit of particles that would not dissolve no matter how much you mixed it, that had to be filtered out. My guess is that these particles were salt. Salt is used often as a mordent to help ‘set’ the colors when dyeing fabric.

The last dye I tied was a Dylon dye. It worked but I found it a little ‘muddy’. Although it didn’t appear to have the salts the other dyes had, it contained a very fine powder that didn’t completely dissolve. Filtering it through a coffee filter cleaned it up though and made it quite usable.

I would like to try some of the Rit liquid dyes. I think they would work the best since the dyes are already dissolved. But haven’t seen it on my journeys and would have to make a special trip to the fabric store to find it.

There are a couple of drawbacks to these homemade alcohol inks other than being kind of messy to make.

The high concentration of the colors don’t seem to be there like they are in the commercial brands like Adirondack. Maybe the liquid dyes would help this or maybe more powdered dye and less alcohol would work.

Also it doesn’t seem to stick as well to non-porous surfaces as well as a name brand ink. I have seen some cool techniques where alcohol ink was used to dye silver spoons and glass jars, and this ink doesn’t seem to work for that.

Overall however, I think this was a great project and now I have a whole bunch of different colors that I can use any time the need arises. Also because these homemade alcohol ink techniques and recipes are so cheap, I don’t have to worry about how much I use to tint clays or antique beads.

Besides, it makes you feel like you are very clever! And who doesn’t want to feel clever every once in awhile!

Cindy Lietz SignaturePolymer Clay Tutor


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Comments

      • @magda: In the article, Cindy says she used 1/2 & 1/2. I’m guessing she never finished her experiments with the Rit liquid, since she went ahead and invested in the “real” Adirondack inks. I could be wrong, though… If you’re trying this, make sure you use the 90% or stronger alcohol (instead of the more common 70%) and let the water from the ink evaporate before mixing in your clay. Use the safety precautions Lynn Davis mentioned in her comment. Let us know how it turns out! (It would be great to have an inexpensive ink to use…) Have fun, ~Kat

    • @Cindy Lietz from Polymer Clay Pendants: Hi I make fairly large sculptures with polymer clay. I use super sculpey and lots of armatures. I’ve been using acrylic paints to color my clay if I’m working with difficult colors like yellow. I’ve never tried anything except paint. Would Rit dye work for fairly large quantities and are we looking at tint or a rich color? Thank you very much :D

      • @Marie S: That is a great question Marie! I have no idea on whether the dye would work, but it would definitely be worth testing it. Try mixing some dry dye into the clay and see if that works. (I’d definitely use gloves.) You could also try immersing the baked clay in the dye and see if it worked that way. If you try it, come back and tell us how it went. We would all love to know!

  1. Interesting post! I never knew dyes were used with PC before, and loved reading about the process. Thanks also for your comment on my blog the other day. We’re out of the fire’s path and very safe :-)

  2. I’m new to your site so I’m looking around and have a suggestion for the alcohol ink recipe. Mix the powdered RIT dye with a little boiling water first to make sure it dissolves and then mix it with the alcohol. Just use enough water to dissolve the dye.

    I read this on another site somewhere!

  3. Just a couple of thoughts about safety. Rubbing isoprophyl alcohol is easily available and as you noted, in high concentrations of 90% and even 99%. But did you know that it can be flamable? So keep away from open flames and anything that might ignite it, especially in concentrated doses like in tightly closed containers.

    About the idea of mixing with boiling water first – don’t try boiling the alcohol – same reason! safety hazard.

    And on mixing boiling water with the dye to dissolve it, it has the effect of causing the polymer clay to bubble sometimes if there is water in the dye, that’s why the alcohol works so well. It is volatile and evaporates, well before the time you put the clay into the oven.

    Can’t help myself, safety is so important to me, I just had to leave these comments. Do play and have fun with it, just be safe.

    • @Cindy Lietz from Bead Course Info:

      Would you know how an alcohol ink would mix with the ingredients in White Out Correction Fluid? Companies wide spread no longer manufacture green out and I need to make some for a large office. I was hoping the alcohol base, mixed with the basic White Out, would dry quickly on paper and with the traditional matte finish to write on when dry.

      • @Monika: Cool experiment! It might work, although the alcohol ink might give it a more “slick” look and detract from the usual matte finish. That’s just a guess, though…

        Do you already have alcohol ink, or are you trying to find out if it’ll work before you buy? If the latter, let me know and I’ll see if I have liquid White Out (I might only have the pen kind.) I could try this experiment for you—sounds kinda fun! ;D ~Kat

        • @Phaedrakat:
          Exactly KAT! Trying to avoid the cost of buying a 3-pack of the alcohol ink and finding a single bottle in my area is like a needle in a haystack. That would just be awesome if you have the color and could try it out for me before I continue with the expense. I just want to know that it mixes well, drys fast, and can be written on. Rock on! Can’t wait to hear. After doing so much research on the ingredients, I feel like I am a scientist at this point. : )

          • @Monika: Hi Monika, sorry it’s taken so long — been really busy lately. I finally found the liquid white out, shoved to the very back of my desk drawer. I’ve got it sitting on top of the desk now, along with the alcohol ink. I’ll give this a try it the first free moment I have tomorrow. Just wanted you to know I haven’t forgot about this! ;~)

          • @Monika: Hi Monika — it works! Mixes in fine, dries fast, has the same matte finish on paper, and you can write on it… Yay!

            I’m not sure what color green you’re trying to get, so I can’t tell you what color ink to buy. I used the color “Lettuce” from the “Farmer’s Market” kit; it’s a light green — looked pretty good! If you do get a 3-pk, which is how the inks are usually sold, you can probably use one of the other colors to alter the green a bit (as needed, to achieve the color you need…)
            Best of luck! ~Kat

  4. I have been playing around with food coloring. So far I have just tried the liquid, which which I am sure has water. I mixed it with denatured alcohol (flammable) but I figured it evaporates fast and then I added a few drops of Pearlescent liquid acrylic-Silver Pearl and it turned into beautiful, shimmery colors. I was dribbling into clear Xmas ornaments and I wanted some paint that would dry quickly, so I have not tried it with polymer clay yet and I know acrylic doesn’t bake well.

    I also have the food coloring that comes in little jars that are “cookie stamping” colors and it says it is highly concentrated, but it does show water in the ingredients. Then I have dye for candy and it does not have any water at all and the 1st ingredient listed is Propylene Glycol, except the black and it has hydrogenated vegetable oil (cottonseed, soybean). I also have some kind of foodcoloring gels but I would not try using that because it does list sugar int he ingredients.

  5. That’s cool Andrea! Yeah I wouldn’t try the gels, the sugar would most likely go all funny. The oil based one sounds promising though. Definitely let us know what kind of results you get if you try them!

    Thank you so much for your ideas!

  6. Hello I am new to working with polyclay and have not really tried a whole lot of things but have really been trying to research alcohol inks with polyclay for quite a few day but I am not finding a whole lot of info… So pretty much i guess my questions would be for making your own alcohol dye how thick should the consistency be? And when using the alcohol dye are the colors vibrant as with the store bought? As well as… is there a site with a list of ideas for polyclay beads and alcohol ink? I am sorry to just kind of ramble but i am so interested in doing this because I already make jewelry and would love to say that I made the beads on them as well. Thank you for creating this site though it has given me quite a bit of the information i was looking for already.

  7. Well MnMs, the consistency of the homemade alcohol ink is not really any thicker than the rubbing alcohol itself after you filter out the salt and sludge (if any).

    As far as whether it is a vibrant as store bought… not any of the stuff I’ve made. Haven’t tried the liquid Rit dye though.

    When adding alcohol ink to polymer clay always let it dry before mixing into raw clay or baking.

    Hope that helps!

  8. How did you know I had alcohol inks on my list to buy today? Now I’m going to wait and try some of your ideas before I give in. Thanks again Cindy. You are always a fount of ideas and suggestions!

  9. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for your wonderful site. I love the recipe for the alcohol ink and will probably give it a try right away. My favorite is the ink in Future as I have been seeking a “detail Solution” to add to sculpted or high relief designs.

    Sincerely,
    Penni Jo

  10. Hi Cindy, Someone in our online clay group forwarded your information about making alcohol inks. This blog was dated May 22, 2008. I am wondering if you ever did try the Rit liquid dye and if you did, how did it work? This was very interesting. I would like to know how your experiment went, before I try it myself. Thank you!!

  11. Thanks girls for your great comments! No, I haven’t tried the Rit liquid yet. I haven’t seen it in any of the stores around here, so haven’t tried it out. If I do hear more about whether it works or not, I will let you know.

  12. WalMart carries the Rit liquid dyes. I picked up a bottle of Scarlet. They also had Denim, Navy Blue, and some others. Since I really don’t know anything yet about using inks, I have not tried making any. I do have 91% alcohol which sounds like it would work. Now all I need to do is find out what I do with the ink once it is made. I noticed that you used it on your pear – but so far I do not have that video. Woe is me … I really do need to invest in more of your past videos. I’m like someone trying to learn with one arm tied behind my back and the other dangling in a sling! Eventually I will catch up!

  13. Yeah I know what you mean about wanting to catch up Carolyn! There never seems to be quite enough time to do everything we want, as quickly as we would like. But as you say… eventually it will happen :)

    Thanks for the tip about Walmart carrying the Rit Liquid Dye. I’ll keep an eye out for it in my store.

  14. Dear Cindy;
    Thank you so much for your polymer clay e-mails. I’ll check out more of the website and subscribe.
    Jane Harland
    David Rashaw

  15. You are welcome Jane and David. If you are thinking about subscribing to the members library (the cost is really minuscule at $3.32 per month), you may want to do that before the end of the month (Dec-2009) to be able to take advantage of the back issue special. You can follow the link by my name for more info about this special offer.

  16. Cindy, you had a group rate for something like 30 some back videos, is that sale still going on and where do I find it, want to get it for my daughter membership ! Thanks Tina

  17. @Tina – Perhaps you are referring to my Polymer Clay Basics Course… $37 for 39 videos. The link by my name will take you to the page with more info. If this is not what you are thinking of, let me know.

  18. Never EVER heat fabric dyes in a Microwave oven. Fabric dyes contain heavy metals. No matter how well you clean up your oven, even if nothing spilled, vaporized metals will remain. And that’s why one of my last Microwaves burned up. I know that RIT has instructions for tie dying by putting the garment in a plastic bag and then in the Microwave. I will not be doing that.

  19. I recently ‘heard’, that Rit Dye fades. So I made up home-made alcohol ink.The Scarlet fades !!! I put it out in the sun (Tucson summers are really hot 100 degrees and up). Within 3 days it had faded ! Boohoo -I had hoped it would work, oh well. So I bought some Tim Holtz alcohol inks.

    Actually, considering the cost of Rit Dye ($2.78 at wal-mart) and the 91% rubbing alcohol ( $2.99) added up. So , for my use, I’ll stick to the Tim Holtz inks. Just my experience -yours may be different………..patt

  20. Another great source for dye is dharmatrading.com. Also, they have wonderful dye stock items, mostly in white cotton, so I order most of my summer clothes from them. Their products last and last.

  21. Oh this is wonderful news! I can’t thank you enough, Phaedrakat, for going to the trouble of trying this experiment for me!

  22. Those are both interesting ideas. I could try both with a small piece of clay. I wonder if it would be safe to bake once dyed. I think it probably is but I know some things can be very dangerous to put in the oven. Things you wouldn’t suspect like certain plastics. If successful would be well worth it. I’m tired of making a mess squishing liquid paint into clay. Today I accidentally shot purple clay across my diningroom lol. Will update you as soon as I have a chance once I finish current project. :D Thanks for new ideas!

    • @Melissa G: I have no idea Melissa. I guess the best place to find out would be to talk with the company that makes the dye you use and ask if it is archival safe. Since the alcohol is pretty much the same thing as in commercial alcohol inks and they are safe, I don’t think that would be an issue, but the dye could be. Somehow I doubt the dye would be a problem though, since dyed clothing doesn’t seem to break down over time. But the only way to really know would be to ask the manufacturers. If you do find out, please come back and let us know. Now you have me curious!

  23. Hi, Cindy. I have a customer in Spain who purchased one of my polymer clay tutorials. She can’t find Ranger Inks and they can’t be shipped from the US to Spain, so we are trying to figure out if she could make her own. Does anyone know if you can use pure pigment, such that artists use, with alcohol?

    Thanks!
    Lynda

    • @Lynda Moseley: Hi Lynda, sorry I’ve been away from the studio for a few days and couldn’t get to your question when it came in. Although I haven’t tried using pigments in rubbing alcohol to make alcohol ink, it couldn’t hurt to try.

      Since pigments tend to be a little grainy, you may need to use a coffee filter or something, after the color has been infused into the alcohol… that is assuming that this will work in the first place.

      Fabric dye does work, and is readily available, so your customer may be able to use that. Another option to test would be inks.

      I think in a case like this, it will be a matter of doing a little experimenting, to see what works.

      If you guys do end up doing some testing, it would be great if you would came back and share your results… good or bad. It is so helpful to be able to learn from one another like this.

      Good luck!

  24. I’ve been tossing around the idea of using the alcohol inks for awhile, and now I am finally going out and buying them…I have 2 Michaels & a Hobby Lobby near me, so I am going out each day this week to all of them, using 40 & 50% off coupons to stock up on all the supplies. The one thing I cannot find is glossy card stock! I really don’t want to use the vellum because of the cost nor do I want to order Tim Holtz glossy paper for the same reason. Any idea where I can find some or something similar at a decent price? Thank!

  25. Right before I read your comment I just got an email from CreatForLess website saying they were having a cardstock sale. I checked and they also have Glossy Cardstock on Sale. Since I don’t regularly buy the stuff, I don’t know if it is a good deal or not, but I thought I’d pass along the link anyway. Hope that helps!

  26. Hi there, I came upon your site while searching for making your own alcohol inks.
    I just found a video on YouTube where a woman from Austrialia posted a little tutorial on
    using “Sharpee” pens, even suggests using “fake brand” “Sharpees” (named in the video)
    Anyhow, she showed by removing the ink tube from the pen (by cutting it with heavy duty cutters)
    then, slicing the tube open with an exacto knife and “pouring” the ink into a plastic cup (with the pieces of the tube-to be removed later) she was able to prepare the extracted ink from the marker and mix it with 91% alcohol in one of those plastic 2 ounce bottles. First you fill the bottle with the ink, then add the alcohol. It’s about a 2:1 ratio of alcohol to ink. She demonstrated the use on paper and the results were BEAUTIFUL!!! In fact, a rather dull color cap on the pen turned out to be a really nice purple. While I’m not sure if this wil bake well with polyclay, it worked wonderfully as an alcohol ink. I’ll try to find the name of the YouTube video and follow up later with the link.
    Hope this helps, I plan to try it asap, I’ll let you know that as well!
    Andi

  27. I just managed to salvage a message from my blog spam folder, with links to the YouTube videos (appended below) that Andi-Z (just above) was likely referring to. The person who made the effort to share this information posted anonymously as “SomeoneSpecial” … so unfortunately I don’t have a name to reference, but thanks anyway if you are still around. The videos are helpful.

  28. Cindy, have you ever tried the homemade alcohol ink dyes, with 90% alcohol and Ritz dye? And if so, how did it work out?

    • Yes I have Janice. They worked out OK. About a 6 out of 10. I prefer the concentration of the name brand alcohol inks plus the variety of colors. Can’t beat the price of the homemade ones though. If you already have the Rit dyes, then it would definitely be worth making some up to see what you think!

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