How to create Colorful Ink Paintings

Picture of Nina Garza
Nina Garza

Conservation Artist

Artwork Copyright by Nina Garza/Artsefact LLC

This year for Inktober I wanted to get a bit more courageous and use more colors instead of just black ink. I decided to purchase a set with a glass dip pen but ended up not liking how the pen felt. However, I loved the inks and didn’t want to waste them, so I figured, why not use them like watercolors? So in this article, I will cover what ink art is, different techniques, and what you need to get started. 

Quick Links

What is ink art?

Image by Mari77 from Pixabay

Inks are one of the most versatile paints I can think of!


I said paint, but is ink considered paint? 


This seems to be an ongoing debate, just as there is confusion as to whether it would be an ink drawing or ink painting. In my opinion, it depends on how you use it! 


Inks are traditionally colored water-based materials made from either pigments or dyes. The use of ink dates back thousands of years, from cave paintings to documentation of daily life and rituals, like in ancient Egypt, to sophisticated art forms in China.


Today, ink is used in many other ways as well, such as bold or intricate illustrations, ink washes, calligraphy, tattoo art, and printmaking.

What tools do you need for ink art?

Photo by Feng Zou via pexels

Depending on what kind of ink art you want to make, there is a variety of tools you may need. (You can find a list of what I use for colored ink paintings here)


pigment or dye-based (Not all inks are equal and not all inks will work well with every instrument!)

Things to consider when choosing ink for your project:

  • Archival: this means the ink is permanent and will resist fading and discoloration over time
  • Water-resistance: this will allow you to add wet media such as watercolors
  • Smudge/Smear resistance: this comes in handy when you did a sketch in pencil and need to erase
  • Ease of flow
  • Which instruments you can use with it
  • Finish: Matte or glossy
  • Drying time


  • Paint and ink brushes
  • natural as well as synthetic Brush pens
  • Water brushes


  • Bamboo and reed
  • Quill pen
  • Fountain pen
  • Dip pen (glass, wood, hard plastic body, and nibs made of either metal or glass)
  • Technical drawing pen
  • Rollerball pen and ballpoint pen
  • Felt-tip pen and marker

Other tools:

  • Sponges
  • Aluminum foil
  • Leaves
  • Paper
  • Fingers
  • Sticks or twigs
  • Stamps
  • Basically anything you can use to make a mark with



While you can use your typical copy paper, it’s recommended to use higher-quality papers for finished drawings.

  • Bristol pads or boards
    • Watercolor pads (especially if you are working very wet!) 
  • Illustration boards
  • Mixed-media paper
Does ink dry on glossy paper? Yes, but very slowly! You should give it about 24 hours to fully dry, even if it feels dry to the touch.

Ink Techniques

Image by HeungSoon from Pixabay

There are many ways you can use ink.


When talking about ink, most people think of tattoos or intricate ink drawings created with either a fountain pen, micron ink pen, or glass dip pen. These drawings are usually created using a variety of techniques, such as stippling, scribbling, hatching, and more.


But you can also use paintbrushes and create wonderful ink washes. Use little or no water and a dry brush and you can create very interesting patterns and textures. Japanese artists have long used these techniques in their paintings. Use a lot of water and move the paper around and let the ink find it’s way for a great abstract result. 


Another way to use ink dates back to the old masters, like Leonardo Da Vinci and Albrecht Duerer, who created etchings. These etchings were covered in ink to create prints. Even today we use inks for screen printing or even in our printers at home.


You can also use ink pens in black and white to create more depth to your colored ink paintings. This will give the painting an interesting texture and variety! Just make sure you let the painting fully dry before you go in with the pens so they don’t smudge! Depending on the overall style you go for of course. If you want the ink pen to bleed as an artistic choice, then go for it!


As you can see the options are nearly endless! While most ink drawings or paintings are created on paper (or skin), you can also create an ink painting on canvas. 


My personal favorite is the combination of pen and ink on paper. I use colored ink for washes and layer the colors to give a first impression of depth. The consistency of the ink is fairly similar to watercolors and so are the techniques. Just like with watercolors, you should work from light to dark, EXCEPT when you are using white ink!


White ink is extremely opaque and will shimmer through any darker colors you put on top. So, what you want to do is create your layers with washes, from light to dark, and then go back in with white to create more highlights. 


Once it’s dry I go back in with black and white ink pens to add more highlights and shadows, and carve out some more details.  

Want to learn more?

Why don’t you join me on Twitch, where I will start streaming art? I’d love the company and am open to chatting! Ask me all the questions you have!

Let me know if you’re interested in video tutorials and such as well!

I will also start offering in-person workshops in the Houston,TX area at the beginning of next year. The first workshop will be all about ink painting for beginners! 

Sign up for our newsletter here, so you don’t miss any news or updates!

In-Person Workshop coming soon!

"Aimful Wanderer" Copyright by Nina Garza/Artsefact LLC

And lastly, here is a list of everything I use for the colored ink paintings you see in this post. You don’t have to get the exact same things, this is just to give you an idea.


Below links are affiliate links to Amazon, which means if you purchase anything there, I earn a small commission.


  • A variety of different size Watercolor brushes:
  • Detail brushes.
  • Artist Tape to tape down the paper, to prevent warping. I use acid-free artist tape so the paper does not yellow in time.
  • Watercolor paper. You want to get watercolor paper, because it can retain a lot of water without getting destroyed! I tried Bristol smooth paper before, which is great for inking with a pen, but not so much for washes!
  • Black ink pens. I have a few different sizes for variety.
  • White ink pens for highlights. I have a few different sizes. These are great!
  • White ink. This one is quite opaque!
  • Colored inks. I got this set earlier this year and love it. The inks have a little bit of gold in them, which gives them such a beautiful sparkle. Make sure to shake them before you open them and I would recommend wearing gloves or using a towel to open the rubber plug. They stain!
  • Paint palette.