Ink drawing is a great medium for making bold illustrations, ink washes, line drawings and calligraphy. It is a fairly versatile medium that can be used to draw or paint with, as artists also use ink in printmaking applications and in conjunction with other mediums, like watercolour and coloured pencils.
Ink drawing is beginner friendly and it’s relatively cheap to get started. All you need is a pen and piece of paper to start drawing.
In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about ink drawing. From the best supplies to tips on how to improve your drawing skills.
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What is ink drawing?
Ink drawing is the process of using ink as a medium to create an artwork. There are different types of ink that can be used in fine art applications that have different properties. The ink medium isn’t as versatile as paint, it has a low viscosity and cannot be altered with the same range of mediums that paint can, to change the working properties. This means that there are fewer varieties of techniques and application methods when working with ink compared to paint.
Ink is applied using brushes, pens, or other implements to create stunning illustrations and calligraphy pieces. Unlike pencil or charcoal drawings where it’s possible to erase mistakes, ink drawings require careful planning and precision. The medium also has its own unique effects—due to its fluidity and water solubility. It allows for smooth gradations and blending of lines with the addition of water. However, if you apply it neat to the page, expect to achieve solid, block lines.
Additionally, ink brings with it a certain timelessness and elegance that sets it apart from other forms of drawing. It’s an accessible medium for beginners, but it takes skill and patience to bring drawings to life.
Types of ink
There are multiple types of ink that have been used by artists throughout history. However, these are the most common types of ink used today.
The carbon based pigment lamp black as been used in drawings since the renaissance period. Lamp black is made by burning pine resin to create soot. India ink is a type of pigment ink, that uses Lamp Black, or other stable pigments mixed with water to create a runny, permanent and water soluble medium. No other binder is necessary to make the ink and the carbon creates a waterproof layer after drying. However, some India inks may have gum arabic, or shellac in them to change the working properties. Shellac creates a waterproof layer when dry and adds gloss to the ink film. Winsor & Newton India ink, a popular brand, comes in multiple colours. The coloured inks are dye based and the black ink is pigment based.
Alcohol inks are dye based and are diluted with alcohol as opposed to water. This type of ink is fast drying and can be blended to create smooth gradients. Alcohol ink is commonly used in marker pens, which have signature vibrant colours.
Acrylic ink is created by mixing acrylic pigments with an acrylic polymer emulsion. This type of ink dries quickly and has a glossy finish, with high pigment concentration for strong colour saturation. Acrylic ink is waterproof when dry, so you can paint with separate layers without worrying about the paint reactivating. Airbrush ink is a type of acrylic ink with a low viscosity that provides even coverage and flow when using an airbrush nozzle.
Intaglio is a type of printmaking where ink is applied to the recessed lines of a metal plate, and then pressed onto paper to create an impression. This type of ink is thick and resistant to drying on the printing plate, which allows for fine line work in printmaking.
The best supplies for ink drawing
Opt to get a bottle of ink and a dip pen or a brush, or get a reservoir pen. Although you don’t need many supplies to get started with ink drawing, you will need to choose your application method, for example whether you will draw with a pen, or dip a brush into an ink bottle to paint with.
When it comes to ink drawing, pens are crucial tools. There is a huge range of pen types available, each with their own particular characteristics that affect the outcome of the drawing.
Here are some of the top rated supplies for ink drawing:
For ink wash painting, get some watercolour paper and a set of round brushes or dip pens. India ink is water soluble, however you can find water resistant India ink, that has shellac in the mixture.
Winsor & Newton India inks are water resistant and come in 26 different colours. The white, black and gold colours are pigment based rather than dye based and are therefore lightfast. However, the rest of the colours are dye based, which means that they are not lightfast and made fade with exposure to sunlight over time. However, dye based inks are great for creating artworks and illustrations that you intend to scan and create prints from.
These inks are fantastic for creating abstract pieces, drop them on the page using the pipette on the bottle to create transparent and fast drying colours. The alcohol inks from Brea Reese are excellent quality and easy to control. They come in a rainbow of colours, so you can choose the ultimate colour combinations for your project.
If you opt to go down the route of getting a bottle of ink, you’ll need some dip pens or brushes to apply the ink to the paper.
The best brushes to use with ink are soft haired, short handled watercolour brushes. Sable brushes are a wonderful option for those who want to spend a bit more to get a quality brush. The brush fibres taper to a point and hold their shape, allowing you to vary pressure to create thick and thin marks. Brushes like the Winsor & Newton series 7 brush offer excellent control and precision when drawing with ink.
If you prefer using synthetic brush hairs, as opposed to sable, Da Vinci Casaneo brushes are springy, soft and absorbent. They offer similar properties to sable brushes, but they’re slightly cheaper.
To use dip pens, you will also need to pick up some nibs and drawing ink. Different nib shapes and sizes offer varying line width, so experiment with different types before settling on one or a few favourite options.
The J Herbin Glass dip pens are hand blown and have a spiral tip which acts as a reservoir for ink. The spiral provides a large enough reservoir for the artist to draw across the whole page without needing to top up on ink.
The Kaweco Special Al Dip Pen is a dip fountain pen with a fine and flexible point. This means that you can vary the line width slightly by applying pressure. The pen has a sleek, matte black design, with an aluminium nib.
Ink marker pens like Copic Markers are a favourite amongst graphic artists, illustrators, comic book artists and more. The colours are ultra vibrant, blendable and a joy to use. To use Copic Markers, work from light to dark, finishing with the deepest shadows. These markers work best when used on ultra smooth paper, like Bristol Board.
There are several different types of Copic Markers, Copic Ciao are smaller in size and cheaper, with a dual sided design. On one end there is a brush tip, which is great for creating fine or thick lines and blending. The chisel side is perfect for filling in large areas of colour. Copic Sketch markers are larger, come in 358 colours and come with a brush and chisel tip. Due to the large size, the Copic Sketch markers last longer than the Copic Ciao.
The best fountain pens for ink drawing are those that are lightweight like the Lamy Safari Fountain Pen. It has a replaceable nib; choose the medium nib to create thicker lines, the fine or superfine nibs will enable you to create thin lines without any scratchiness.
Sakura pigment ink liners are budget friendly, lightfast pens that offer smoothness when drawing. They come in multiple different sized nibs, including a brush pen. With Sakura pigment liners, there is minimal bleed through the paper.
Copic Markers are one of the most highly rated alcohol based markers with a brush nib. The brush is easy to control and they come in a huge variety of colours. If you’re looking for brush pens on more of a budget, Winsor & Newton brush pens are cheaper and water based. They are also odourless and low bleed. These two are great options for those looking for coloured ink brush pens.
If you’re looking for a black calligraphy brush pen, the Pentel Pocket brush pen is excellent for contour drawing and line art. The nib is flexible, so it may take some practice to master controlling the stroke width, if you’re a beginner.
Ink drawing paper
When working with alcohol based markers, like Copic Markers, make sure to get an extra smooth paper with minimal tooth, so that the pens glide across the paper. Small details will show up better on smooth paper, rather than the alcohol markers pooling in the paper’s tooth.
One great options is Strathmore 400 series marker pads. This paper is ultra smooth, has minimal tooth and is heavyweight, so it will hold multiple layers of ink.
For artists who want to create ink washes with India ink, watercolour paper is the best option due to its absorbency and ability to handle washes. This type of paper will naturally have more texture to it compared with regular ink marker paper. The Arches Aquarelle Watercolour pad is archival quality, made from 100% cotton fibres which increase the strength of the paper, it’s heavyweight and comes in hotpressed variety which is smoother in texture and excellent for detail work. With more textured, cold pressed paper, you can create interesting effects like the dry brush technique.
Hahnemühle sumi-e ink paper has been specially developed for Sumi-e ink painting. The paper is thin, at only 80gsm, but it is highly absorbent, so the ink will stop flowing across the page before the water. The results are sharp lines and delicate details.
Having a palette for ink drawing isn’t necessary, but it may be useful for artists who work with India ink to create washes. Palettes made for watercolour painting, like ceramic palettes work best for ink painting.
This rectangular porcelain palette is heavy, sturdy and smooth, which makes it perfect for mixing in the studio. Porcelain palettes are easy to clean, however they will be too heavy to take with you for drawing and painting outdoors.
Ink vs paint: what’s the difference?
Ink and paint have many similarities, being that they are both used to add colour to a surface. However, there are some key differences between the two media.
Pigment concentration: Ink has a higher pigment concentration, giving it a strong and saturated colour when applied to paper.
Drying time: Ink dries quickly, while some types of paint can take longer to dry completely.
Texture: Paint can create textural effects on the surface it is applied to, while ink typically has a smooth finish due to its low viscosity.
Overall, both ink and paint offer unique qualities to a drawing or painting, so experimenting with both can lead to dynamic and interesting artwork.
History of ink drawing
Ink drawing has been a popular art medium for centuries, with ancient cultures such as the Chinese and Japanese using ink to create beautifully detailed illustrations. Artists have used ink to create studies in many different art styles, across art movements such as Renaissance, Mannerism and Post-Impressionism.
In Europe, 15th-century artists were known for their use of fine lines and cross hatching in ink drawings, while 17th-century Dutch artist Rembrandt used bold black ink washes to create dramatic contrasts in his portraits.
Today, ink drawing continues to be widely used by artists for both traditional and contemporary illustrations, with new developments such as brush pens and reservoir pens expanding the range of possibilities for this medium.
Ink drawing techniques
Ink can be used to create bold lines, delicate textures, and dynamic shapes by using a number of techniques. For a basic outline, using a pen or brush with a steady hand can create clean edges. To add variety, techniques like stippling or cross-hatching can add interesting texture to an image. Dabbing ink onto a surface and then using an absorbent material like paper towel or tissue can create expressionistic effects, while adding water to diluted ink allows for more fluid movement on the page. Experimenting with these drawing techniques can bring new life to traditional ink drawings. Whether you’re sketching finely detailed illustrations or making abstract patterns, these basic methods will enhance any artwork created with ink.
Ink wash painting
Ink wash is an expressive form of drawing. Wash painting involves using a brush to apply water-based ink to a surface, creating bold washes of colour and adding interest with layers and textures.
To get started with ink wash painting, you’ll need India ink and an absorbent surface, such as watercolour paper or watercolour canvas. Next, choose a brush with a fine tip for creating thin lines and details, and then experiment with different techniques to create interesting patterns and textures. Some common approaches include dry brushing, splattering ink onto the page, or adding colour accents using watercolours or other media.
Sumi-e ink drawing
Sumi-e, also known as Japanese ink painting, is a centuries-old tradition that uses fine brushes and ink washes to create beautifully detailed pieces. Artists rely on soft lines and delicate brushstrokes to produce images with gentle movement and graceful composition.
To practice sumi-e ink drawing, you’ll need quality materials, including finely-tipped brushes, high-quality ink and paper. As you start to draw, focus on making smooth lines and even strokes without lifting the brush from the page. The purpose of using black flowing ink in Sumi-e painting is to capture the essence and spirit of the subject, using bold marks or delicate lines to express dynamism or harmony.
Ink drawing ideas
Use fine liner ink pens to create a cityscape drawing of your favourite city. Ink goes hand in hand with architectural studies, due to the precise and angular nature of the buildings. Use the hatching or cross hatching techniques to create the impression of light and shadow in the drawing.
Create a portrait drawing and use the stippling or hatching technique for shading. Stippling is the technique of using thousands of dots to represent the shadow areas in a piece. It is often used for shading skin tones and will result in a beautifully realistic portrait.
Create an abstract ink drawing using fluid ink techniques. Use alcohol inks to create wonderful shapes and designs. Drop the alcohol ink colours onto the paper to create small pools of colour, then use a hairdryer on the cool setting to manipulate the shapes on the page. Metallic colours look fantastic when using this technique. You can always get an ink pen and draw details over the top after it has dried.
Another idea is to create a landscape ink wash drawing. Get some black India ink and a brush and create washes for the sky, trees and grass. For fine details, get a dip pen and outline tree branches or buildings on the horizon. Check out our drawing ideas blog for more ideas when you need some inspiration.
Ink drawing tips
First, consider the lighting and composition in your drawing and how it will affect the shadows and highlights on your subject.
Next, pay attention to the proportions and dimensions of your subject, making sure they are accurately represented on paper. Additionally, adding texture can enhance the realism of your drawing—try using different pen strokes or adding in small details like individual strands of hair or fabric wrinkles. Finally, don’t forget about colour! Incorporating a wide range of hues and shades will bring even more depth and realism to your artwork.
Can you erase ink?
You can buy ink erasers. The Tombow Mono Sand eraser sands away a layer of the paper you’re working on, thus removing the ink. Bear in mind that this affects the tooth of the paper. Therefore make sure that you only use this type of eraser on thick papers.
Additionally, try using a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol to remove small smudges of ink. Remember that erasing ink can cause the paper to tear, so try and avoid mistakes in the first place.
How to avoid mistakes
Draw your design with pencil first, then go over it with the ink pen. If you make a mistake, you can easily correct it with an eraser before putting down the permanent ink. This is a great solution for when you have more time to invest in creating a polished looking final piece.
Ink drawing is a unique and beautiful art form that anyone can learn with practice. With the right tools and a little know-how, you can create amazing drawings that look realistic and professional. We hope this article has inspired you to give ink drawing a try!