Is Alcohol Ink Lightfast?

by | Aug 3, 2017 | Alcohol Ink, Alcohol Ink Basics, Laurie Williams, News

Are Alcohol Inks Lightfast?        

We get this question quite often in our Facebook groups and communities. Are alcohol inks lightfast and should I use them in my art? What can be done to preserve the quality and color in my artwork?  In this article, I share some useful information and tips on how to preserve the quality of your alcohol ink paintings.

What does lightfast mean?

Lightfastness is a property of a dye or pigment that describes how resistant it is to fading when exposed to sunlight.  Pigments and dyes that are not lightfast are considered fugitive, meaning the color fades to neutral on exposure to UV rays from sunlight.

Alcohol inks are dye-based and translucent by nature and therefore, if left unprotected in direct sunlight, will lose their lovely vibrancy over time and some will fade away completely. It is important to point out that fading occurs with many other mediums such as acrylics, oils and watercolors, as well – both pigment and dye-based.  Because of the translucent nature of the ink, the fugitiveness of some alcohol ink colors is greater than others. However, in independent testing by various artists, most alcohol inks colors remained stable if hung indoors outside of direct sunlight.

My personal experience.

I’ve been working with alcohol ink for five years as of August 2017. I had one instance where some domino pendants faded from sitting in sunlight at a show and I realized they weren’t sealed with UV protectant.  Other than that, I have original alcohol ink on YUPO and on tiles that show absolutely no signs of fading.  These have been either framed or placed in rooms with moderate sunlight and I’m not seeing fading.   I’m not suggesting that fading is not an issue with inks. I just wanted to point out my experiences.

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh

Lightfastness has been a concern in the art industry for centuries. Even renown artists like Vincent van Gogh struggled with the issue of lightfastness in his paintings. Van Gogh was obsessed with pigments and had a very thorough understanding of composition and chemical makeup of his paints. He also had a good understanding of the vulnerabilities to fading of some of his favorite colors, especially reds… yet he couldn’t resist!   Sound familiar?

In a message to his brother, van Gogh shared:

 “Paintings fade like flowers, all the more reason to boldly use them too raw, time will only soften them too much.” – Vincent van Gough

In other words, enjoy them now, in their glory, as time will dull their impact.  It’s interesting that chemists are currently studying the chemical make-up of van Gogh’s work and the fading colors in efforts to help us better understand the breakdown of “fugitive” pigments. This could perhaps lead to new technologies and methods for preserving art mediums for better longevity.   Since van Gogh used the same pigments as other late-19th-century European artists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir or James Ensor, it’s likely that many works from artists of that period have been affected by the same level of fading.

 

Considering giving up on alcohol ink?

Alcohol Ink Abstract Circles by Laurie "Trumpet" Williams

Alcohol Ink Abstract Circles
by Laurie “Trumpet” Williams

Are you considering giving up painting with alcohol ink?  I invite you to continue reading before you decide.

The vibrancy of the alcohol inks is unparalleled. The beauty of alcohol ink art and the spontaneous nature of working with the ink have us alcohol ink artists hooked.  This vibrancy and beauty bring so much joy to anyone who has the pleasure of viewing an alcohol ink piece.   If treated correctly, these paintings can hold their vibrancy for years to come.   

Additionally, the alcohol ink manufacturers are aware of this concern and continue to work to improve the lightfastness by formulating their inks using dyes that are more lightfast. They follow our community and seem willing, for the most part, to help us understand the boundaries of their products.   Manufacturers such as Ranger are formulating their newer colors with lightfastness in mind and continue to improve their inks by choosing dyes that are proven to be more lightfast. They are achieving great results!  Jacquard offers a limited selection of colors but claims usage of only the most lightfastness dyes in their inks.  We are also seeing some newcomers to the market that are promising lightfast alcohol inks, which is interesting and potentially exciting.  I’ll review those once sufficient data and feedback has been provided by those manufacturers. 

How to protect alcohol ink art from fading?

Comprehensive testing has been done on dye-based inkjet prints on the effectiveness of UV protectants. The inks used in these tests are dye-based and known to fade with time, much like alcohol ink.  Golden published a scientific test on the effectiveness of UV protectant and found that several products on the market, including their Golden® MSA Varnish , provided significant and promising improvements in the lightfastness of prints.  

How to Seal Alcohol Ink Art

Several coats of UV protectant is highly recommended to help combat fading.  But applying the UV protectant directly to alcohol ink will cause the inks to activate and move. This is because many UV varnishes and protectants contain isopropyl or acetone. For this reason, it is essential to apply a sealer  that will not reactivate the inks. In my trials (and I’ve tried a lot of them), I have found that Krylon’s Kamar® Varnish  works great in “setting” the alcohol ink.  It’s important to note that Kamar® Varnish is UV stable, which means that it isn’t broken down by UV exposure.  However, this doesn’t mean that the art behind Kamar® is UV protected… hence the need for the second step of UV protectant.

Step 1.  Krylon Kamar® Varnish.

krylon kamar Varnish for Alcohol ink artStart with thoroughly dried alcohol ink art. Allow at least 24 hours or more for best results. In a well-ventilated area, spray artwork with 2-3 light coats, about 12-14 inches away from subject, allowing 30 minutes to an hour of drying time between layers.   After final coat, allow Kamar® to dry completely before proceeding to step 2.   The Krylon website states that it takes about 2 hours, but I find it takes longer depending on humidity levels. I typically wait at least 24 hours.   If you are spraying outdoors, bring the artwork in doors where the humidity level is less after a couple of hours.  Also, it is recommended to cover the artwork during drying time, with a plastic bin or lid that doesn’t touch the artwork, to prevent the accumulation of dust and lent particles in the air.

Step 2.  UV Protectant  (Krylon® UV-Resistant Clear Coating, Golden® Archival Varnish with UVLS or other)

Outdoors or very well-ventilated area, spray 2-3 light coats, allowing an hour drying time between layers.  Humidity will play a role in drying time. Note: In the testing done by Golden, they used 6 coats of UV spray!  I stop after 3 layers.

Step 3.  Finishing (optional)

If you are working with tile or artwork on board, you may want to finish the art with a gloss medium to add shine and additional protection.   Some common choices include Americana® Triple Thick Gloss Glaze, Krylon Preserve It® Spray, Gloss Finish and Art Resin™.  Make sure that the artwork has had sufficient time to dry and cure after steps 1 and 2 before applying a finish.   NOTE: Art Resin & Preserve It® Spray offer additional UV protection.

An Alternative Solution…

If you are concerned about the longevity of your original alcohol ink artwork, a great alternative is to sell prints.  Retain your originals and store in a safe environment.   The technologies in the printing industry with giclée printing as well as laser printing, offers an excellent alternative with advances in archival inks that are estimated to last over 100 years!  Alcohol ink art looks amazing as prints, especially on glossy or a luster paper.   Plus, you can resize small originals into large prints and print onto a number of substrates including canvas and metal, allowing you to charge more for print sales!

Create once, sell many!  

 

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Other factors that affect fading…

Lightfastness is a concern, but I’d also like to point out that many other factors can contribute to fading (or not fading) of artwork –regardless of medium.

These include:

  • Humidity
  • Temperature
  • Substrates Used
  • Blending or lightening mediums

Studies have shown that humidity and temperature have caused fading in tests and this is true for most mediums.   For alcohol ink, some folks have found that paintings created using significant alcohol or blending solutions tend to fade much more dramatically than those that use little to no blenders.  I personally use blenders in my art and haven’t noticed the effect, but thought it was worth mentioning.

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Alcohol Ink Manufacturers Speak:

I’ve reached out to a number of alcohol ink manufacturers for their input on the lightfastness of their inks.   I’m sharing their responses below.

From one of the owners at Ranger (Tim Holtz)

“I wanted to let you know that we love what you and others in the community are creating with our inks.  Over the past few years, we have switched out a lot of the dyes to ones that have much better light-fast properties.   We feel that most of the colors now provide good results, but we realize that many different substrates are used and all environments are different so individual results can vary.   I always suggest that artists test colors and substrates together and see what works best for them.  Of course, UV varnish and UV protective glass does help.  We are committed to always improving our products and we want to support the work you create.  “

From Spectrum Noir

“We do not claim our inks are archival, as the nature of the inks makes it a challenge to ensure they are acid free and light fast across all colors.

We are exploring reformulating our inks as part of our ongoing commitment to provide the best possible colors and groupings possible and will be happy to announce those changes when completed. Please stay tuned, we have many exciting projects in the works to make the Spectrum Noir brand the best possible experience for art enthusiasts.”

From Jacquard Piñata

“Piñata Colors are made with dye based colorants, which is are less lightfast than the typical pigments you would find in an oil paint or artist acrylic—they will fade with prolonged exposure to sunlight. However, we have selected only the most lightfast dyes for these inks, so the fading in minimalized as much as possible. Our inks fade significantly less than our competitors’ inks do. Additionally, the Blanco White and Metallic Colors are made with pigments and these are completely lightfast colors that will never fade.”  (in response to a direct request from Janelle Johnston)

From Copic®  (Imagination International, Inc.)

“As you may know, Copic® markers and inks are hand-assembled by the craftspeople of the venerable Japanese art supply firm “Too.” Corp. This company has never conducted the testing to provide us with an official statement on the lightfastness of its alcohol Various Inks. 

However, I presented your question to our resident Brand Expert, artist Brandi York, and she provided the following response based on her decades of extensive use of, and experimentation with, our markers:”

 ‘I don’t believe there is an official answer to this question because it’s a very complicated one. It’s something I’ve been seeking my own answers to for some time, running some of my own experiments to see what can be done about the fade issues.

The good news is, with the right paper and proper care, a piece will last years without (or with very minor) fade. Direct sunlight will cause the color to fade more quickly (but to be fair, I wouldn’t put a watercolor painting in direct sunlight either.) However, out of direct sunlight or other bright, harsh lights (such as halogens), they will last a long while. I had a piece matted and framed, hanging in my living room for a good five years that never received direct sunlight. Out of curiosity one day, I took it out of the frame and mat and found it had not faded at all (much to my surprise.)

There are two other major factors we’ve discovered over the years are thickness of paper and use of colorless blender. I tend to use heavier papers (50lb at minimum) while our Product Manager often uses laser copier paper (20-24lb) that her line art has been copied onto. I believe the thickness of the paper helps to slow fading, even if a piece is exposed to sunlight, as the paper itself is just holding more ink. I had a piece that accidentally got sunlight exposure for some months (maybe an hour, peeking through a break in the curtains) and when I inspected the piece, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the fade was barely noticeable up close. I had to look for where a sheet of paper had been hanging over it (with intent to protect it from that exact situation). The paper was a 50lb marker paper, so I do believe that that has a lot to do with it being relatively undamaged.

The other part of this strange puzzle is the colorless blender. I tend to not use much of it myself, whereas our Product Manager uses a great deal for textural effects. We’ve discovered that her older pieces are fading in her portfolios where the blender was used heavily. The colorless blender thins ink out, allowing for effects and corrections to be made. I believe the thinning of the ink makes the color more susceptible to fading, especially on thinner papers.’

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Resources for this article.

 

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23 Comments

  1. Fran

    All that about alcohol ink fastness etc is very interesting but Krylon sprays are recommended to protect work. This is not possible where alcohol ink has been used on polymer clay as only the ‘PYM II’ spray can be used to protect polymer clay as almost all other sprays have something in the propellant that causes the polymer clay to become sticky. So how can the alcohol ink used on polymer clay be protected from fading?
    Fran

    Reply
    • Alcohol Ink Art Community

      Fran, good question. I’m not an expert on polymer clay. I know you said that the Krylon sprays can’t be used on the polymer, but have you tested the Kamar spray? I used to make polymer beads about 15 years ago, but its been too long to remember what worked. Also, the Golden MSA may work. But again, I haven’t tested them. It would be interesting to know, though. I’ll ask around and see if I can find a good solution.

      Reply
    • Jeanne Rhea

      Fran, It has been quite sometime that I worked with polymer clay. I do know that a two part epoxy resin with a UV inhibitor does very well over alcohol inks. I never had to use anything to set the inks Before applying the Resin. I just waited for them to dry and they did not smear. However, I do know that Resin does not always work especially on some curved surfaces and Resin most often has a very high sheen that may not be desirable. I remember using Golden Polymer Varnish with UVLS and that worked well. Sometimes I made a spray in a pump bottle for a light first coat to seal. Then brush on was fine once it was sealed. My first exposure to alcohol inks was working with them on polymer clay. I’m behind on the latest with polymer clay products so can’t be of much help.

      Reply
  2. Jeanne Rhea

    Thank you for this post. I have been using alcohol inks for fifteen years. Except for a lilac or lavender color in two paintings and of one brand, I have had no noticeable fading. I have done exactly the same as you have done with removing paintings from frames to find no area that was more vibrant under the edge of the frame as one would expect. I think you have listed the most important conditions that affect the lightfastness of alcohol inks. Personally, it bugs me more to see people pay so much for a print and to see it fade. Many prints are no longer inexpensive. I think some inks are getting better for prints, but still I see them often that have faded to very strange colors. I had much rather take my chances with original work. I reply on discussion groups almost on a daily basis regarding the lightfastness of alcohol inks. I think I will send this link from now on. I am a fan of Golden products, but have found that I like spray Liquitex Soluvar Varnish for alcohol inks when I am not using resin. My oldest ink paintings still in my possession that have probably several coats are perfect. I love the satin like finish even though I used the gloss version. With the resins that have UV inhibitors, I have had no problem with fading of inks. My paintings tend to have highly saturated, vivid colors, so that probably helps. I always tell people who purchase my paintings that if there is noticeable fading, that I will give credit for a new painting. I love experimenting and trying all new products and cannot wait five or ten years to see if there is going to be a problem down the road. I had rather continue pushing for better products to work with.

    Reply
    • Alcohol Ink Art Community

      Thanks, Jeanne for your comments. The information and experience you shared are very helpful. I love the replacement guarantee idea!

      Reply
  3. Valerie Harris

    Living in England we do not have Krylon products, so can you suggest a good alternative. These items do not appear to be able to ship for some reason.

    Reply
    • Marilyn laugesen

      Used to use krylon when I lived in Canada great stuff.. just found it is available on Amazon cheap not .. but worth it

      Reply
  4. Rhonda Porzadek

    Wow Laurie, what a wonderful article and thank you for sharing all this info! I have found too the surface and surface prep do play a role in what inks fade. This is really great! thanks again

    Reply
  5. Molly Whitebear

    I am wondering about the light fastness of alcohol inks with encaustic. For instance, I have been experimenting with the Ranger alcohol inks painted on a layer of cooled encaustic (beeswax and damar resin), a layer of shellac and then burn with a torch to separate it all into a lacy pattern. After that, I put a layer of translucent wax/damar over that. Would that possibly protect it enough that those coloured burns not fade under lights? I never put an encaustic piece anywhere NEAR sunlight! It definitely will melt all over the place! 🙂

    Reply
    • Alcohol Ink Art Community

      I’m not sure if encaustic would protect the ink from fading. Do you know if it has UV protection in the wax? I do know that myself and others have not had fading issues on items that have not been exposed to sunlight. I would say do a few test on your end to see the results.

      Reply
  6. kimberly

    I work with alcohol ink and resin and want to avoid fading… If I am only using resin over top of my alcohol inks, would that be the equivalent to using the Kamar varnish and the UV resistant together? I am concerned I am going to loose the look of the resin shine after applying these two sprays, but if they are protecting the piece more I should probably do the spray instead. If the sprays don’t effect the glossiness of the resin that that option sounds way more affordable!

    Reply
  7. Gaston

    Thank you for this very useful article. What about Prismacolor markers? Has any experimentation been done with those, and are there notes from the manufacturer?

    Reply
  8. Nick C.

    Hello All.

    Under optimal conditions, does anyone know the shelf-life of Tim Holtz alcohol ink? I have bottles that are 3 to 4 years old. They are tightly capped.

    Thank You,
    Nick C.

    Reply
    • Alcohol Ink Art Community

      Great question! I reached out to Ranger Ink with your questions and this was their response…

      “It is difficult to determine the longevity of Alcohol Ink once the bottles have been opened and exposed to air, and other variables. Estimated shelf life is 12-24 months+.

      Some general suggestions for storing opened bottles of Alcohol Ink would include, but not be limited to, making sure the bottles are tightly closed, protected against extreme heat, and stored away from direct sunlight and fluorescent lighting.

      We also recommend storing the bottles right side up, which allows the contents settle before using them. Except for Alcohol Metallic Mixatives, do not shake the bottles before use.”

      Reply
  9. Joni Hankin

    Do you think you could use alcohol ink on a window? I have been asked about this for a display of old windows in a garden. I would appreciate any help you could give. Thank you.

    Reply
      • Fay Lawrence-Grant

        Yes I was going to use alcohol ink on my garden table with tempered glass over the top, but now I’m concerned this will fade too?

        Reply
  10. Margriet Pronk

    Thank you for your article.
    Google brought me here, because I have used Pinata in Epoxy. I put a extra layer with epoxy with an UV blocker. It stood after a window where the sun sometimes were shining. Today I noticed that the colors faded away. . And that in only two weeks.

    I wish I had read this article sooner, it would saved me a lot of money, work and frustration.

    Hope that my reaction can help others.

    Reply
  11. Jeanne Rhea

    I would NEVER use alcohol ink for anything hung in a window–especially on glass, Plexiglas™, acrylic sheets or anything transparent. Transparency allows all the rays to pass through and quickly fade the inks. That said, if I were going to use any alcohol inks that I have experience with and are still available and not onto glass, I would use Piñata ink or Montana Black Alcohol inks. Montana Black has limited colors, and they work differently. Once diluted with alcohol, they may have colorfast issue just like the others.

    I just tried the Kielty (SP?) inks a week ago and their formula does not work the way that I paint. For those unfamiliar with my work, I am working with alcohol inks based on their chemical composition, viscosity, and their reactions with other inks, etc. I don’t care to try to paint realistically with alcohol inks. however, I am amazed at the realism so many get with them.

    I understand there are new alcohol inks on the market that I have not used, so maybe newly developed inks are more colorfast. I am using more acrylic inks in any paintings if I feel will be exposed to sunlight.

    I believe that part of the reason I have had less trouble with fading has been because I use the alcohol inks without adding extra alcohol and I use Ampersand Claybord™ for my substrate. This soaks up a lot of the dyes in the alcohol ink so I am not doing paintings that are pastel like or have little dye on the substrate. I go through a lot of ink! Also, some alcohol inks fade more than others and I avoid any that I have had experience with that are problematic.

    I have almost from the beginning added Jacquard Pearl-Ex powders and powdered pigments to my alcohol inks. These also help with the colorfast issue. I have done a painting now with Ranger’s Pearlescent inks, and it is exposed to daily studio lighting until I see how it holds up.

    I think there are so many conditions that contribute to fading so best to do anything we can to minimize it from the beginning. Still, I now have paintings 18 years old that show no signs of fading. But I used resin on my paintings from the beginning and also used Liquitex Soluvar Varnish to seal the inks before the resin. The varnish does not interact with the resin as long as resin was cured prior to applying. You can also add resin on top of this varnish with no problem.

    Good luck, but I would use the pigments or paints made especially for resin if going to hang in a window–and especially if on glass.

    Reply
    • Leza

      Can you use alcohol ink on metal? I’ve had a “vision” for a metal bistro table top, and suddenly, alcohol ink, which I’ve never used before… popped into my head. The bistro sits on my front porch, and only gets dappled light in the afternoons.

      Reply
      • Alcohol Ink Art Community

        If you seal it with Kamar (to set the inks), then resin, you’ll probably be fine. I would consider testing a smaller work of art first just to be sure.

        Reply
  12. Fay Lawrence-Grant

    Is it possible to buy the inks they use for the Giclee printing that last over 100yrs? I want to make glass garden tables with glass mosaic over the top so really need something lightfast! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Alcohol Ink Art Community

      Alcohol inks are dye-based, so they will never be 100% lightfast. You could try acrylic inks for India inks that are pigment-based. However, you will not get the same effects from those as you get with alcohol inks. The best advice is to seal according to the recommendations and use something like Art Resin that has a UV protectant.

      Reply

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