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.
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?
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.
Start 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!
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.
- 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.
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.’
Resources for this article.
- American Chemical Society – http:/ /cen.acs.org/articles/94/i5/Van-Goghs-Fading-Colors-Inspire.html
- The Enchanted Gallery Lightfastness Test – http://www.theenchantedgallery.com/lightfast.html
- Golden – http://www.justpaint.org/dont-fade-away-recent-testing-of-protective-coatings/
- Ranger Industries, Inc. – http://rangerink.com/
- Spectrum Noir – http://www.spectrumnoir.com/
- Imagination International, Inc. – https://imaginationinternationalinc.com/