My Virtual Studio: Alcohol Inks

In this video, you’ll learn the basics of what I use for etheral alcohol inks!

Important notes about safety

  • “Breathing” is not an overrated activity – so PLEASE be careful. Work in a well ventilated area, and if one is not available, only use these inks for short time periods. You can become ill! If using a straw, be extra careful, as you’ll be placing your face close to the alcohol and solutions.
  • Aerosols – while you can put alcohol (and Copic blending solution) into a tiny spray bottle, DO NOT DO SO WITH RANGER’S ALCOHOL BLENDING SOLUTION. That contains other things that can be seriously dangerous to inhale. No techniques in THIS class require any sprayed alcohol at all, but I wanted to be sure to mention it.
  • “Mess” – lay out a huge sheet of freezer paper, slick side up! I found a 175 foot roll that’s available with Amazon Prime, or check your grocery store for a smaller roll.

Alcohol Inks

After testing, Ranger and Pinata Inks are basically equivalent in performance with a few differences:

  1. some of the Pinata colors are more “staining” than others (meaning they’re harder to lighten to white with alcohol) but are otherwise the same in performance.
  2. bottle nibs are different, with Ranger’s being more of a narrow needle-type point, but that doesn’t make any difference in use.
  3. Pinata inks have a smell to them even beyond what you’d expect from alcohol inks. Not illness-inducing or anything, but it’s different.

Noddway are most cost-effective, however the quality is not high – but they WILL provide decent results. Some colors are not as the name describes, though that doesn’t make them ugly, just makes them poorly named! A few colors are quite pale, but that can also be beautiful.



My recommendation for swatching – cut up some paper to swatch each color you have, including some WHITE open space on the sample, as well as part of it being very heavy with pigment, so you get a full picture of what that color can do. I swatched mine on transparent Yupo since I didn’t want to make art on it – and just put a little slip of computer paper behind it so I could see it against white. Then I put them all in pages. The Yupo folks make a fun pack of tiny pads that are almost perfect for this – they’re just a tiny bit tall and need trimmed to fit.

Alcohol to create flow

For my type of application on paper, alcohol seems to work best; the Ranger solution, I am finding, is better for using on metal, glass, etcetera. Some artists mix them.


Any kind of dropper can work, but this packet of 200 pipettes will last you…a century. LOL. Share with a friend.


For beginners – by all means get a big pack of inexpensive photo paper! The HP used throughout this class is cheap paper that came with toner, and the back side works wonderfully aside from having little tinted logos on it.

  • $8-$10 for 100 sheets of 4×6 = 8-10 cents per sheet (Epson or other brands)

Yupo is an artist-quality paper; once you’re feeling confident it’s an excellent paper to move up to. It comes in medium weight or heavy weight, priced accordingly of course.

  • Medium weight, 9 x 12 pad of 10 sheets (4 small paintings per sheet=40) = $13 = 32 cents per sheet
  • Heavy weight, 9 x 12 pad of 10 sheets (4 small paintings per sheet = 40) = $19 = 47 cents per sheet

Terra Slate works very nicely too. For the price it should! It comes in larger sizes than the 5 x 7, too.

Ranger Glossy Cardstock – this one was a big fail for ethereal alcohol ink art – but try it out with other techniques if you’ve got some, it just doesn’t move like what you’ll see in this class.

If you’re really wanting to play on something cheap – lay out a huge sheet of freezer paper, slick side up! Pick some up on Amazon, or check your grocery store for a smaller roll.

Blowy tools

Straws are the lowest cost, of course! “Bipple” straws have the bendy part that allows you to guide the air the best. However – be VERY CAREFUL not to inhale at all through the straw while it’s pointed at the paper. You’ll taste the ink! (Don’t ask how I know.) You’ll also possibly find your own saliva exiting the straw at some point, affecting your painting. You’ll also find out if you’re truly full of hot air. (Credit: my dad for the dad joke!)

  • “Bipple” or “Bendy” straws (no links)

Canned air did not work at all in my tests, but other brands of canned air might be fine. Test out what you have; can you control the exiting of air? Does liquid drip out after the air is used for a few minutes? Does it spit and sputter? If you find a good brand please do let me know and I’lll share it here for others to try.

  • No recommendation.

Ranger Blower Tool is awkward for ethereal color movement, as it has short bursts of expiration of air that doesn’t lead to elegant lines. With practice, puffs of air can create some nice effects though, and paired with gravity and a lot of alcohol, you can get some pretty results. Not recommended for those with arthritis; the hand motion becomes difficult over time.

A Handheld Airbrush is a reasonable option for mechanically-generated air. There are MANY options available so do check around. The Gocheer shown in the video and used in class has a USB power cord – very convenient! It seems to stay charged for a lot of artwork. It’s not terribly powerful, but paired with gravity can produce decent results. It can also be used with other inks to spray as airbrush, so a dual use makes it a better value than first impression!

The Copic Airbrush system has both power and control – the high pressure of an air compressor, and the fine motor control and sensitive touch, make it the perfect tool to achieve the results I get. You can find other ways to do it, and I’ll show you some tips to try them with other tools in class – but for the most part those do take much more time and effort than this airbrush system.

  1. Compressor try in-store and see if they sell it $20 cheaper without the kit. If you’re getting the Copic airbrush gun, you don’t need the kit – but you could use the kit for alcohol inks without the Copic airbrush too. It’s just a little harder to control.
  2. Cord, $8
  3. Airbrush gun – Either of these will work, it depends if you want to use it with Copic markers or ink in addition to alcohol inks:
    1. Copic airbrush gun, $35
    2. a regular airbrush gun $19