Let’s Think About Inks

Posted by Bethany Handfield on

With the growing popularity of mixed media applications being used in conjunction with encaustic, one of the hottest trends right now is the use of inks with wax.

I always go back to the basics when introducing a new art supply to my encaustic studio:

  1. Is it safe to use with encaustic – can I heat it?
  2. Is it archival – will it last over time?

So just what are people using and how can you use ink with your painting practice?

Let me start by saying that I am not an expert on inks and all of the information I have gleaned has been through researching the manufacturers websites. If you have best painting practice insights to share, please do so in the comments section below.

It is always best to go straight to the manufacture’s website when tracking down info on the products. Some ranges within a line may be suitable while others not so much. When a manufacturer makes a product, it must undergo rigorous testing for safety and quality. It also needs to pass Canadian regulations when being imported. Through researching this blog post I found out that one of my “go to” inks was not archival! A great lesson learned.

The two most common types of inks that you will encounter in the art supply market are dye or pigment based inks. They can both come in a wide range of colours, are easy to use, and perfect for many different creative applications.

But which fits best into the criteria above for use with encaustic? Let’s break it down together.

Dye / Alcohol Inks

Dye inks, such as alcohol inks, are a colourant mixed with a liquid – in this case alcohol and ether. They come as liquid in bottles or on stamp pads. Thought they are lovely and bright and give gorgeous transparent washes, they will fade over time and are not safe to use with heat. The alcohol and ether are both flammable and not safe to breathe when heated (or sprayed).



(Ink mono prints created using Ranger & Montana inks on encaustic A6 paper) 

Now if you have some of these lovely inks, you can still use them with your encaustic card stock in a well-ventilated room or as a top-level addition to a wax painting. Just never heat them and understand that the colour will fade over time – i.e. not archival.

Pigment Based Inks
Most artists are familiar with the luxurious depth of black India ink. This ink is composed of pigments suspended in a liquid, in most cases water or the more durable shellac, and creates an archival and waterproof material that is perfect for use with encaustic. Though black is the standard for this form of ink, it is now available in a broad range of colours as well. It can be found as a bottled liquid or in stamp pads.

India inks that are created using shellac will give you that gorgeous crackle effect that encaustic enthusiasts love so much. You can water these inks down for a watercolour effect, add them to a spray bottle for use with stencils, and use them with calligraphy and nib-based pens for various drawing and graphic styles.





(Whimsy Peaks IV created using black India Ink and a brush on top of encaustic)


Bethany’s Discovery!

Solvent inks, such as StazOn, are a form of dye based inks that are very popular with encaustic, but I have just found out that only the black version is archival. Due to being dye based, they should not be used with heat, but could still be used for craft or non-archival based projects.  I was shocked as I had always thought the StazOn brand was pigment based. You can still use the StazOn black in your projects as it is archival, but I would not heat it.

A better option would be the StazOn Opaque / Metallic or Versamark pads that are oil-based pigment inks that are lightfast and archival.

This journey through inks was certainly an eye opener for me with the vast amount of different combinations, ingredient blends, and colours available. With any art supply, be sure to handle safety in a well-ventilated room.  

Thank you to everyone on the Facebook Prowax Forum for the discussion on this topic. It is always a lively conversation over there.

(Quail Egg II - Bombay India ink used through a stencil directly on wooden panel with encaustic on top)


Links used when researching this blog post:







P.S. If you have further insight on working with inks and encaustic, please leave your advice, with links, in the comments. We learn by sharing and I appreciate your thoughtfulness. 

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  • I love Encaustic and wish we had classes in Peachland

    Anne Lundy on
  • Great reSearch And insight, Bethany. Thanks for all your hard work and investigation

    Shary Bartlett on

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