Do Printmakers Use Paint or Ink?

Cover image: Do Printmakers Use Paint or Ink

In art, paint and ink can often be used interchangeably despite their distinct differences. Printmakers usually consider various factors before selecting their materials for each print work. So, are paint and ink used interchangeably for printmaking?

Printmakers primarily use ink to duplicate prints. They can also use paint, but the results may vary due to varying characteristics. The choice ultimately depends on several factors, including the technique used and the printmaker’s intended results. The artist’s expertise level also counts.

Keep reading to learn more about this topic. I will comprehensively share the better medium for printmaking and highlight some pros and cons of using either medium. Also covered will be some environmentally friendly and cruelty-free alternatives for both methods. So, Do Printmakers Use Paint or Ink?

Paint vs. Ink: What Do Printmakers Use More Often?

Printmakers use ink more often than paint. 

The two types of ink primarily used for printmaking are water and oil-based inks. Each has pros and cons, and the artist should consider them before choosing. A fairly new option is algae and vegetable-oil-based inks, which are sustainable alternatives that are less harmful to the environment.

Let’s begin with oil-based inks.

Oil-Based Ink for Printmaking: Pros and Cons

Water-soluble, oil-based inks comprise the color pigment mixed into an organic solvent(or oil). They are thicker than water-based inks and are very similar to oil paints. 

Oil-based inks adhere by absorbing into the substrate, which makes it stick better.

Oil-based ink can be used in all printmaking techniques. Below are some of its advantages:

  • Easy to use
  • Adheres quite well to the substrate because it is highly absorbent
  • It has a vibrant pigment
  • Works great on plastic and metal surfaces (which can be hard to print on)
  • Works better when printing on larger sheets
  • Produces better results when printing light over dark colors 
  • More likely to produce error-free prints

Disadvantages of using oil-based inks include:

  • It tends to bleed through the substrate
  • Harder to clean
  • Petroleum-based inks are toxic to people and animals
  • Not environmentally friendly (except vegetable oil-based inks)
  • Take a relatively long time to dry
  • PVCs may leech when printing
  • Relatively more expensive
  • Some people are allergic to ingredients such as linseed oil.
  • It may have a pungent odor.

 As highlighted, petroleum-based inks are toxic and not environmentally friendly. Fortunately, there’s a safer alternative. Vegetable and soy-based inks are sustainable and eco-friendly options. They are equally up to the task and have the following benefits:

  • Have more intense colors, making for better color transfer
  • Fast-drying
  • Have good adherence to the substrate and are more resistant to rubbing
  • Bio-degradable
  • Reduce the emission of Volatile Organic CompoundsOpens in a new tab., which are common in petroleum-based inks
  • Relatively affordable
  • Recyclable

Water-Based Ink

Water-based inks use water as the primary solvent. Although it can be used for other techniques, it is most commonly used in screen printing and is ideal for printing on highly-absorbent substrates.

Here are a few reasons why printmakers prefer water-based ink:

  • It may be safer for the environment
  • It has less of an odor
  • Less likely to leach than oil-based paint
  • It dries quite fast (although this may also be a disadvantage)
  • Easier to clean
  • Relatively less expensive 
  • Unlike oil-based ink, it doesn’t leave oil stains on the substrate.

The disadvantages of using water-based ink include the following:

  • It doesn’t adhere as well as oil-based ink
  • The ink deteriorates with exposure to UV light
  • Dry quite fast, and it may clog the mesh when screen printing over a long duration when left uncleaned
  • May leave unsightly glops 
  • Harder to cure
Cinder Block StudiosOpens in a new tab.

Algae Ink – The Sustainable Alternative

Here’s an environmentally safe and cruelty-free option for printmakers: algae ink. The main raw material is algae cells, from which black pigment is derived. In many ways, it is a better option than carbon black, its more popular counterpart.

Developed in 2013 by Living Ink Technologies, algae ink has a wealth of benefits, such as:

  • UV Resistant
  • Negative carbon footprint
  • Sustainably produced and packaged
  • Safe for people and animals

Algae ink is suitable for printmaking and has been used for the following techniques:

  • Offsetting
  • Screen Printing
  • Flexography

Printing Paints: Oil vs. Acrylic Paint

When printmaking with paint, most artists prefer acrylic paint for these reasons:

  • It doesn’t adhere well to paper
  • It is pretty expensive
  • It may damage the print and paper when oil leaches from the paint.

Acrylic paint can be used for any printmaking technique. Here are some benefits of using acrylic paint for printmaking:

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Waterproof
  • Mostly non-toxic
  • Easy for beginners to work with
  • UV resistant
  • Creates vibrant paintings
  • Very durable
  • Moisture and humidity resistant

There are also some downsides of printmaking with acrylic paint, including:

  • It dries fast and may not be ideal for beginners. I have covered this further in this articleOpens in a new tab.
  • Difficult to clean off once dry
  • It doesn’t adhere well to non-absorbent surfaces
  • The color tends to darken when it dries off

Considerations When Choosing Inks and Paints for Printmaking

When choosing between ink and paint (and also between different inks), you need to consider the following factors:

  • Your expertise level: Inks dry faster. If you’re a beginner, you may want to choose slower-drying materials because they allow for more working time, then work up to using fast-drying ones.
  • Printing surface: Paint adheres better to non-absorbent surfaces.
  • Printing process: Different printing techniquesOpens in a new tab. have different ink requirements, so you need to purchase an ink specific to your technique. 
  • Environmental Impact: Consider using products that are sustainably manufactured and which don’t pose harm to people or wildlife. 
  • Cost: Students are better off using lower-cost products because they are more likely to go through more products during projects. 

Final Words

Printmakers can use paint or ink, but most prefer ink. They also have several options when selecting the ink to use because various ink types have different characteristics, which can be seen in the final print.

I recommend using sustainable and eco-friendly options whenever possible to reduce the carbon footprint and harmful effects of pollutants on our planet. Every artist has the responsibility to contribute positively toward creating sustainable art.

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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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