You've probably heard of many of these inks: pigment, dye, alcohol, acrylic, spray, India. Have any idea which ones are waterproof?

I know I didn't.

Seeking some clarity, I learned pretty quickly that finding good, solid information about ink is actually quite difficult, but I did some digging and now I can share with you some very helpful information about using ink.

What You Need to Know about Ink

The market is infused with all kinds of inks, which can be confusing. But I have good news for you. There really aren't that many kinds after all! In fact, there are just two kinds.

Only two!

Pigment Ink and Dye Ink

There are tons of brands and even types of ink,  but all of them—all of them—fall into just these two categories: pigment ink and dye ink.

So alcohol ink, archival ink, spray ink, acrylic ink, India ink?

Yep, they use either pigments or dyes.

What's the difference?

Well, as you can imagine, quite a bit. I made this handy dandy infoGraphic to explain:


So you see? Pigment is like mud and dye is like sugar. Mix each of them up with a water-like medium and you get two different kinds of ink.*

A word about waterfastness (my own made up word, I believe...)

As with any medium, it's important to know how your ink will react with water. Waterproof or not, you can adjust accordingly.

So did you see that at the end?

EITHER a pigment ink OR a dye ink CAN BE waterproof.

This is important to remember and look out for. Don't think (like I once believed) that one or the other resists water.

Waterfastness depends on the brand.


Because it's the medium that the manufacturers mix with the pigment or dye that makes it waterproof or not.

Always check with the manufacturer (it's often but not always indicated on the label) and/or experiment ahead of time to see how water resistant your ink may be.

So I hear a question. "Which kind of ink is better"?

The answer of course, is it's up to what you need for the project on hand.

Are you looking for an opaque ink color that doesn't fade (pigment ink) or do you want more transparency and bleeding color into the fibers of your page (dye ink)? 

How do you want to use it with other media? To sit solidly on top of another paint layer (pigment ink)? Or do you want your color to be transparent and allow the layer below it to show through (dye ink)?

Neither is better, just different for different purposes.

Understanding those differences makes—well—all the difference.


*I'd like to give a shout out to Ginger Davis Allman for her glass and water metaphor because that's when I finally understood the difference and now I hope you do, too. *