For a while now, I’ve wanted to try my hand painting with alcohol ink. Some of my favorite projects created by TaeEun and by Jessica Frost-Ballas are floral cards on which the alcohol-inked blooms lept out at me from the IG window and blew my mind. But, one of them uses a micro brush (the ones used to apply eyelash extensions) and the other tips the card this way and that way until the petal is covered with ink. Um…what? 😳
I had half heartedly thought through how I could attempt such a project in a way that would work for me. I even purchased the little swab-like brushes that Jessica used. Hoping that heat embossing would help to corale the very moody alcohol ink, I purchased all kinds of alternative Yupos (and man, are they expensive!), trying to find one that could really hold up to my heat tool on a large-scale flower image. In my mind, having bumbled my way through many alcohol-inked backgrounds (and having stained my desk, my clothes, my carpet, etc., etc.), I just couldn’t see how I could possibly replicate Jessica’s and TaeEun’s successes.
Then came a few IG posts by my talented Aussie friend, Aileen Ryan, wherein (did I just use the word “wherein” in my cardmaking blog?!) she discusses a new substrate that she had been testing and using. She indicated that it held up really well to heat embossing, was available in a really bright white, and, most importantly, alcohol inks of all colors can be cleaned completely off of the surface without any trace staining! After I purchased a few of these magical Grafix Dura-Bright Pads, I set about to attempt my own alcohol-ink-painted florals. And I MEAN painted. Like, with an actual paint brush!
In my first attempt, I had a few goals:
- I wanted to test the compatibility of heat embossing – to see the heat resistance of the material, making sure the Dura-Bright didn’t warp so much that I couldn’t paint on it without the alcohol pooling into big puddles of dark ink, devoid of any color.
- I needed to determine the amount of time the printer ink would stay wet enough to hold embossing powder.
- I wanted to see what type of brushes achieved the best effects, had the best control of the ink, and could be most easily cleaned.
- I wanted to know how much control is required to keep the alcohol from moving from one petal to the next.
- I also wanted to know what effects I could achieve with rubbing alcohol vs Ranger Blending Solution.
Before I share the results of experiments, please note that these are just MY findings. Your results may differ and you may disagree with me. Please feel free to conduct your own trials and find YOUR favorite products.
The Initial Experiment:
For these tests, I wanted a floral image with big enough petals, so that I could really see how brush strokes moved the alcohol and see how additional ink or another color of ink would interact within the heat-embossed perimeter. The image that I picked was Alex Syberia’s Sweet Magnolia digi stamp. I prepped the Dura-Bright panel with an anti-static powder tool and printed the selected digital stamp using my inkjet printer. (Just in case you didn’t already know, laser printer toner is a dry powder, so there’s nothing on which the embossing powder can adhere.) Since the Dura-Bright is non-porous, the inkjet ink stayed wet for a few minutes. I had enough time to walk the printout across the room, get the container of Hero Arts Brass embossing powder out of my drawer (OK, I admit it was sitting on my desk, but I had to find it under a pile of scraps and dies) and pour the powder over the prepped & printed panel. I let my Wow Dual Speed Heat Tool preheat for a full 20 seconds on heat level 2 (high) before bringing it to my image. I had no issues on the higher setting. As long as I kept the heat moving, there was not significant enough warping of the embossed surface that I felt the alcohol ink would pool in odd spots. There was a tiny bit of stray powder that stuck where I didn’t intend; however, since I planned to paint with alcohol ink, I figured that either the ink would completely cover the stray powder, or a bit of alcohol splatter would distract enough away from it that it wouldn’t matter.
So, onward with the painting!
I selected 3 ink colors from my stash and placed about 4-5 drops of each into individual wells in a plastic palette. I then added about an equal amount of Ranger Blending Solution into each well. I repeated this process, substituting 91% isopropyl alcohol for the Blending Solution. This process resulted in 6 wells of color that I could test. I also filled 1 additional well for each of the clear rubbing alcohol and the clear blending solution, just in case I needed to dilute any painted areas or needed additional amounts for blending.
I tentatively dipped a brush into one of the wells and applied my color selections to the embossed flower. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my more expensive watercolor brushes, so I experimented with older waterbrushes (empty ones) and with brushes from a Ranger Alcohol Ink Tool Set.
I ran out of blended ink and had to make additional solutions along the way. Honestly, I tried to test way too many things with this one bloom. Once I was done, I couldn’t remember how the alcohol ink moved with the rubbing alcohol vs the Blending Solution!
Here’s what I do remember:
First off, when I was done experimenting, I had a bunch of petals that had been painted with 1 of the 3 colors that I had chosen. It looked so cartoonish! So, even knowing what I know about alcohol inks moving aside for one another, rather than building on top of one another, I still attempted to do some blending. The picture below shows what happens when I tried to add pink to purple petals. I tried doing it several ways & it all ended up pink and ugly and streaky.
Yeah, not attractive! Let’s not try that again!
Secondly, it was much easier to clean the color out of the waterbrushes than the Ranger brushes. The Ranger brushes also became much stiffer after cleaning with alcohol and weren’t able to retain their point enough to continue painting. That’s just my personal opinion. You might prefer to try other brushes. So, for future projects, I might need to sacrifice an additional waterbrush, so that I don’t have to clean the a single waterbrush each time I want to switch colors. Each time I stopped to clean a brush and switch colors, whatever ink is already on the petal dried and was no longer blendable. It seems that the only way to get one color to bleed into another without a harsh line is to ensure that both are diluted about the same amount and both are at the same level of wetness or dryness. Also, cleaning the brushes left a bunch of rubbing alcohol on the brush that ended up diluting the inks too much for my liking.
As for cleaning or “erasing” on the Dura-Bright product, it performed as advertised. It really did allow me to erase some random blobs caused by dropping my brush and some ugly colors that turned up on my project. I simply scrubbed away the areas I didn’t want with clean alcohol. After 2-3 scrubbings, I actually ended up with the same white of the original bare surface! No noticeable permanent tinting of the substrate!
Lastly, the alcohol ink was really no harder to control than watercolor on a black-line image. I think it just takes practice. And more practice. There were a few areas where I was a bit careless and slopped ink around a bit too much, so I completely “cleaned off” a few petals using alcohol ink and started over. I also ended up with ink on top of my gold embossing in some areas.
At the time that I painted this flower, I had no idea that I would start a blog, so I didn’t take process pictures. Here’s a picture from a different project on which I had the ink pooling on top of the embossing powder:
See? Not too too bad, but definitely worth a clean up. First, I tried to dampen my waterbrush with a smidge of alcohol to brush the excess ink off of the gold embossing. Nope! That tiny bit of alcohol ran like crazy and basically erased any ink for about a 1/4″-sized area around it. So, rather than fight the alcohol bubbles or freckles or whatever you want to call those, I dunked my brush into clean alcohol and splattered the flower with it, just so that my attempt at cleaning the ink off of the embossing would look intentional. After that, I waited for my fauxpas to dry and just used a my gold Sakura Gelly Roll Metallic Gel Pen to touch up any embossed lines that were still overun with ink. Here’s the before and after:
Easy peasy, right? (what exactly is a peasy anyway. I mean I know what a pea is, but I don’t know that it’s easy. If you know, please inform me on this! Please leave a comment below!)
OK. Back to my original pink flower.
After the clean up was completed and dried, I decided to fussy cut my pink bloom, since I had no idea how to create a background on this surface without destroying what I had already painted. During the cutting process, I noticed that if I bent the Dura-Bright a bit too much, some of the melted embossing powder did crack and flake off of the project. The resulting note to myself is that I should always use an embossing powder for which I have a matching pen to fix not only the embossed lines that got covered up with alcohol ink, but also any areas where the melted embossing powder flaked off the project! Other than that, it was really easy to cut and maneuver.
I foam mounted the fussy-cut bloom to black cardstock and cast about a few sequins. It’s been a few paragraphs since you saw the picture, so here it is again:
A few days later, I decided to attempt to concentrate on how the painting the alcohol ink with rubbing alcohol only worked. No Blending Solution. I used the same digital image and followed the same procedure to heat emboss it. This time, I used only used 2 colors of ink, to try to determine how to blend colors within a single petal. I was pretty happy with the color movement on the petals this time; however, I was still not happy with the blending of the 2 colors.
Remember, earlier, I had indicated that using 2 brushes would allow me to blend the inks better? – I wouldn’t have to stop and clean the brush every time I wanted to change colors; thus (1) the first color wouldn’t be drying on the project while I was cleaning the brush and (2) I wouldn’t be picking up additional rubbing alcohol on the brush (from the cleaning), which would end up diluting my colors too much.
Well, I forgot. 🤦🤷♀️! All that means is that I would have to experiment one more time! Before doing so, I cleaned up my brass heat embossing on the bloom using my gold Sakura Gelly Roll and splattered a bunch of alcohol bubbles onto the bloom. I then fussy-cut the bloom and chose a gorgeous piece of cardstock from the Altenew Enchanting Washes 6×6 Paper Pack to use as the background panel. After I cut the card panel down to 4×5.25″, I added a bunch of leaves and buds from the Altenew Engraved Flowers set using the same Hero Arts Brass Embossing Powder as I did on the bloom. I foam mounted the fussy-cut flower onto the finished panel, added a sentiment from the Pinkfresh Blooming Bouquet stamp set to the panel, then adhered the finished panel to an top-folding A2-sized white note card.
Now, for all of the reasons I mentioned previously, I still needed to do an experiment using 2 waterbrushes to help me blend the colors. For this project, I elected to use a clear stamp instead of a digital image so that (1) I can see if the Dura-Bright can withstand being heated twice and (2) I can avoid that whole Gelly Roll clean up process.
Also for previously-mentioned reasons, I still needed a large bloom with large petals. This time, I wanted a sketchier look to the flower, so that it worked better with the moodiness of the alcohol ink’s movements. I chose the larger of the two flowers in the Altenew Inked Flora stamp set. I used the same Hero Arts Brass Embossing Powder, (because it was already on my desk and I was lazy. Oh, now, don’t act like you haven’t done the same!) and heat embossed my selected flower and a few matching leaves onto the Dura-Bright.
I left my clear stamps in position on my stamping platform, since I knew that I’d be re-stamping and re-embossing after I finished the painting process.
I was pretty clear on how rubbing alcohol moved when being painted from my last project; therefore, I chose to work with the Ranger Blending Solution this time. And YES, I did! I did remember to use two waterbrushes! When mixing my colors in my palette, I remembered that the Blending Solution didn’t dilute the colors nearly as much as rubbing alcohol. From my first experiment (the bright pink flower on the black background), it also didn’t move as fluidly as rubbing alcohol, so I opted to use a 2 to 1 ratio in mixing this time, to give the petals a more etheral look than I was able to get with the pink flower. I chose a turquiose and a purplish navy for the colors. I also mixed a well of Pinata Rich Gold and Blending Solution, which I planned to add sparingly to a few spots using a small pipette that I found in my stash.
Then I started painting, alternating between the brushes and adding a second color to a petal before the first color had a chance to even think about drying. I dropped in a bit of the gold whenever I had a petal with a smidge of excess ink in it. It’s interesting, when coloring in a conventional way & using two colors, the darker color usually dominates. When using alcohol ink, whichever color has more Blending Solution dominates and pushes aside the other.
Once I was done with the flower and cleaned up my brushes, I mixed a green solution for the leaves and decided to add a bit of the leftover turquoise of the flower to the green leaves for interest. Since I only have two waterbrushes to use for this project, I cleaned up the brush with the purplish navy to use for the green.
To properly clean out the brush, I soaked it in a little jar of alcohol that I had been using since the first project. After a few minutes, I unscrewed the waterbrush assembly and flushed every part with clean water – inside the water channel and the water well, and the brush. (For some reason, after painting for a while with alcohol ink, the waterbrush started to suck up any excess ink into the water well and to redispense it back down into the waterbrush whenever it felt like it! Usually, this happened when I’d started to use a completely different color on that brush!) Then, I dried the cleaned waterbrush with a paper towel.
Once I finished painting all of the elements and allowed them to dry, I prepped the entire surface with an anti-static powder tool, placed the Dura-Bright back into my stamp platform, and re-stamped all of the images with Versamark. I was pretty nervous that the stamping wouldn’t line up perfectly after all of that work, but, after applying the same embossing powder and heating it….it was lined up! But the embossed lines were looking a bit like me – like perhaps they had eaten a few too many cookies! 🤭😂😂🍪🍪🍪!
I fussy cut the images and set them aside to work on the background panel. I tried a bunch of panels that I had pre-made. All of them seemed too busy, and a solid panel sucked the life right out of the blooms. I ended up ink-blending, with a very heavy hand, Distress Squeezed Lemonade, Mustard Seed, Spiced Marmalade, and Carved Pumpkin on bright yellow cardstock. I think the brightness of the cardstock amped up the vividness of the ink. Once the ink blending dried, I determined the placement of the fussy-cut elements, so that I could nestle a quick hello between the petals of the bloom. I stamped the sentiment in VersaFine Clair Blue Belle, but found it to be a bit too royal of a blue to work well with my focal flower, so I added a second stamping of the same sentiment in VersaFine Clair Fantasia. I sprayed the background panel liberally with a water and Perfect Pearls Perfect Gold solution, added a few quick dots around the perimeter of the panel with my gold Gelly Roll pen, then foam mounted my alcohol-ink-painted bloom and glued the leaves behind the flower, tucking them in a bit.
Something was still not quite right. I added some gems and some Nuvo drops. The panel still did not seem quite finished off. I finally found a piece of purplish blue cardstock that had been included in some card kit or another and was not part of my colorized and organized stash. Once that was in place, the project looked finished!
You’d think I would be done with the experiments!
But, I had one more thing I wanted to know – do I actually have to heat emboss every image that I wanted to paint with alcohol ink? Isn’t there just a dark, dark black ink the I could just stamp images with and paint away? Surely, with all of the Copic-friendly ink pads out there, one would be able to stand up to rubbing alcohol or Blending Solution?
I tried the hybrid inks, amalgam ink, and Staz On. Everything smeared the second the alcohol ink touched it. I guess the alcohol ink itself has a enough alcohol in it to break down those black inks. I didn’t even have to apply rubbing alcohol or Blending Solution before each of the inks that I stamped with smeared.
I thought I had found a winner in Archival Ink, so I stamped the Picket Fence Studios Botan Peony twice to get the dark dark black that I wanted. However, when I painted the first petal with the Raspberry ink, the details in the petal (the wrinkles in the petal and the lines the artist included to denote shading) started to break up. As I watched, the ink spread further and hit the petal outline. The beautiful petal turned into a black hole. 🥺. It’s a good thing that I was using the Dura-Brite rather than the Yupo. This meant that I could clean up my mess without leaving any traces or stains from my mistake.
My conclusion on the Archival Ink is that, while it looks amazing stamped on TOP of dried alcohol ink, it will dissolve if stamped UNDER a layer of alcohol ink.
After I cleaned up my black hole, I waited a day for everything to fully dry, then stamped the peony again in Versafine Onyx Black and heat embossed it with clear embossing powder. Yes, I was giving up on the stamping without embossing thing.
I was able to maintain the full strength of the alcohol ink colors (Raspberry, Watermelon, and Poppy Fields) by using the same 2-brush/Blending Solution method that I used for the previous card.
After I finished the bloom & allowed it to dry, I fussy cut it, again trying to keep embossing powder from flaking off the plastic substrate and taking the black ink with it. I couldn’t avoid it completely, so I covered any bare spots in the floral outline caused by the flaking by using a black Sharpie.
To assemble a card for this huge peony, I cut a 4.5×4.5″ Square out of Strathmore 300 Bristol Smooth cardstock and dry embossed it using an old Cricut Honeycomb Embossing Folder. I ran a gray crayon out of an old box of Crayolas that I had in my stash and ran it over the hexagonal pattern. Only the raised areas picked up the gray color, giving me a bit more interest than a simple white on white background.
Since this floral stamp did not come with matching leaves, I sketched a few with a black Sharpie and fussy-cut them out. I glued everything to a black 5″ card base and added a sentiment strip covered in Glossy Accents and a bunch of Tonic Nuvo Crystal Drops in Ebony Black to match the freckles already on the petals of the stamped peony image. The card still looked a bit unfinished, so I used a white Uni Posca Paint Marker to sketch a few lines on the card base that would border the edges of the hexagon background panel.
My conclusion? Yes, I can paint with alcohol ink! I just have to heat emboss it first and sacrifice a few waterbrushes to the task! It was fun and was actually pretty quick!