Which Ink is Right for Your Project

comments (2) June 16th, 2008     

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KhrisCochran Khris Cochran, contributor
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Dye-based and pigment inks are the two most common types of ink.
Nearly every other ink on the market is based on one or the other.

Dye-based and pigment inks are the two most common types of ink. Nearly every other ink on the market is based on one or the other.

Photo: Khris Cochran

One of my more embarrassing crafting moments came courtesy of a lovely little card I did for a swap. Relatively new to the stamping world, I signed up for an card exchange of with other rubber stampers in hopes of showing off my new skills and getting some inspiration from others. The group was working with cards made with transparency sheets.

I created a pretty layered card that had a stamped sentiment on the transparency that overlapped a floral print underneath. With a great amount of pride, I shipped my creations off to the swap hostess, and in return, she sent me a terse email telling me that all of my cards were smudged with black ink. They were totally ruined and couldn’t be included with the swap.

I had used a dye-based ink on the transparencies. Red-faced and determined not to repeat that mistake, I schooled myself in the finer points of ink. To help you avoid making similar mistakes, I’ve put together this quick ink reference guide that lists the types of ink, their characteristics, and their best uses.



Dye-based inks are water-based, and their colorants are dyes. They soak into the paper fibers, essentially staining them. They are fast-drying, come in hundreds of colors, and clean up easily. You can find them in most craft stores.

Best uses: Cardmaking, matte and glossy cardstock, non-archival scrapbooking projects, watercolor-type techniques.
: Tend to bleed on matte and textured/fibrous papers, will fade when exposed to direct sunlight, and because they’re fast-drying, can’t be used for heat-embossing


These are made from pigments suspended in a thick, glycerin-based substance. Their thickness boosts opacities and brightness.
Pigment inks are great for heat embossing and work beautifully on matte papers because the ink sets on top of the paper fibers instead of staining them.

Best uses: Cardmaking, embossing, scrapbooking (many pigment inks are acid-free and fade-resistant)
Drawbacks: Not good for coated or glossy papers or non-porous surfaces (transparencies, vinyl, glass), clean-up is a little harder than with dye-based inks, and will stain fabric, wood, carpet.


These are really great inks that dry to a chalking finish and can be used on dark papers and surfaces. Like pigment inks, they're opaque, and like dye inks,they dry quickly. They can be used in place of dye and pigment inks.


Embossing and watermark inks are essentially pigment inks without the pigment (some are lightly tinted). They are used for heat embossing and for adding a slightly darker imprint for a tone-on-tone look.


Similar in consistency as pigment inks, these are formulated specially for use on fabric. They will become permanent when heated, but will bleed or completely wash away if you don't set it with an iron or heat embossing tool. Fabric inks can be used in place of pigment or dye inks on most paper papers.

Best uses: fabrics, wood, most cardstocks


Truly one of the coolest ink formulations on the market, hybrids work on nearly every surface. They’re archival, fast-drying, and easy to use. The available colors are more limited than what you’ll find in dye or pigment inks, but that’s changing. Like dye-based inks, hybrids dry quickly, so they aren't recommended for heat embossing.
Best uses: glass, tile, paper, porous surfaces, fabric—anything!


You’ll find India inks in stationery, office-supply, and craft stores. They’re wonderful for their extremely quick drying time and durability. Black India ink is fantastic for outline stamps you plan to color in with markers or watercolors because it won’t bleed.


These nontoxic and washable inks can be dye or pigment-based; they're great to have around if you have crafty little ones in the house.

Drawback: Although formulated to wash off skin and fabrics, they may still leave stains


Permanent inks are solvent-based inks that dry by evaporation. They’re similar to the ink in Sharpie pens: they're very fast-drying, permanent, and works on a wide range of surfaces. Permanent inks will stain your stamps—and everything else they come in contact with. They require a solvent cleaner (use immediately after stamping) for easier clean up.
Best uses: heavy and textured paper, wood, glossy paper, ceramics, glass, shrink plastic, tile, terra cotta, metal, vinyl, fabrics, transparencies


These dye-based inks contain a special dye that will not run when exposed to water after it dries. Semi-permanent inks require a special cleaner to remove the ink from your stamps.
Best uses: most cardstocks, watercolor techniques

posted in: dye based, pigment ink

Comments (2)

Jen_W writes: Thanks for this! I'm just getting into shrink plastic and I remembered reading this a month ago and just dug it up to see what you recommended for it.
Posted: 3:41 pm on July 14th
Sister_Diane writes: This is super-helpful - thank you!
Posted: 10:30 am on June 19th
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