Guide to Drawing Inks
Walk into any artist’s studio, and you’re sure to find a bottle or two of drawing ink. Inks are an invaluable tool to artists, due to their dark color, permanence, and their versatility and compatibility with a wide variety of drawing tools. But inks are not limited to professionals: students, hobbyists, and even those who just enjoy the feel of using ink straight from the bottle all can enjoy a good bottle of drawing ink.
Properties of Drawing Inks
Choosing an ink that works well for your needs is critical. Knowing ahead of time if your ink is waterproof or marker-proof, will fade with erasing or sunlight, or has any other issues can save a great deal of headaches for artists later on. Below is a breakdown of the major properties many artists and calligraphers look for in their ink. All images below can be magnified.
|Ink Property||Definition and Testing Methodology||Photo Examples|
|Feathering||Feathering is when the ink spreads out, creating blurry and indistinct lines. While feathering can also be caused by the paper or the nib, the ink also plays an important role.|
|Darkness||Not all black inks are created equal, and darkness is a key difference. Some inks are specifically formulated to be extra dark, while others can appear almost grey.|
|Gloss||Gloss refers to the shine an ink has once dry. An ink can be glossy, semi-gloss, matte, or anywhere in between.|
|Drying Time*||While ink applied with a brush generally dries faster than ink applied with a nib, some inks simply dry faster, which means a high resistance to smearing and smudging. When we tested each ink, we smeared each after ten seconds and one minute, first with a nib, then with a brush.|
|Solubility*||Some inks can be reactivated by various solvents such as water or alcohol. It is important to know ahead of time if you can use your ink with materials such as watercolors or markers.|
|Appearance Over Pencil*||Because of binders such as clay or wax being used in pencil leads, some inks will resist drawing atop them, creating greyed out lines due to the pencil beneath them.|
|Lifting*||When an ink becomes visibly lighter due to erasing, this is called lifting. Nothing is worse than erasing a finished drawing only to find that half of the ink has come off too.|
* Please note that these properties can change depending on both the paper and how the ink is applied to the paper, and that we recommend giving inks 24 hours to properly cure. For our tests, we used a drawing nib on Deleter 135 g/m2 paper.
Finding the right ink can be a long and costly process for many artists. We’ve simplified the process by highlighting some of our top performers. Comprehensive test results can be found at the end of this article.
Please keep in mind that all of these tests were performed on Deleter brand 135 g/m2 comic paper, and some results such as drying time and feathering may differ on other papers.
Dark inks are great for scanning and digital coloring, as they scan cleanly and little editing is required to get crisp, clean lines. These inks are the darkest they come.
The Deleter Manga Ink Black 4 lives up to its Extra Dark name and was the darkest of the inks tested (though not by much). The Black 1 and Black 2 were also very dark; while Black 1 dried faster, Black 2 was slightly darker and glossier.
Kaimei Drawing Pen Ink was also incredibly dark, and while it is not water-safe it is marker-safe.
The Kuretake Manga Pen Ink lifted slightly more than the other darkest inks, but was still one of the darkest.
Inks with a Gloss Finish
These inks convey a sense of quality and professionalism with a beautiful gloss finish.
The Kaimei Drawing Pen Ink had a beautiful glossy finish on the paper we used.
Deleter Manga Ink – Black 2 had a wonderful gloss finish even when applied with a brush. It is also marker-safe, though erasing does dull the gloss finish somewhat.
In addition to being very dark, the Kuretake Manga Pen Ink also had a beautiful gloss shine when it dried.
Inks with a Matte Finish
For artists that prefer a matte finish, several inks stood out as a beautiful velvety black. While many inks can appear glossier when applied with a nib, the following inks retained their matte quality regardless of how they were applied.
Speedball Super Black India Ink had a deep black color with a beautiful matte finish, and was completely waterproof.
Kaimei Manga Pen Ink was a beautiful velvety black, highly resistant to water and completely resistant to marker.
Higgins Eternal Ink was slightly grey with a cool undertone, but was completely marker-safe and appeared slightly dappled when applied with a brush.
Waterproof and Marker-Proof Inks
When adding color to your drawing, you’ll want to know ahead of time if your markers or watercolors are going to ruin your beautiful ink lines. These inks are safe with both water and marker, making them some of the most versatile inks around.
In addition to its waterproof name, the Deleter Black 4 ink is also marker-proof. The deep glossy black color is highly resistant to lifting from erasing, and dries fairly quickly. This ink was one of the top overall performers in all tests.
The J. Herbin Dip Pen India Ink performed admirably, with no smearing at all when water and markers were applied. While it lifted very slightly with vigorous erasing, the incredible deep black color and semi-gloss finish make it a personal favorite.
The Kaimei Manga Pen Ink did not bleed when exposed to water or marker, and has a gorgeous matte black finish.
Pencil and Eraser-Safe Inks
Inks that bead up or turn grey over pencil lines are a nasty surprise. It’s also frustrating when you go to erase those pencil lines – and your ink erases too! These inks stayed black over both blue and regular graphite pencils, and didn’t budge when erased over.
The Kuretake Sumi Calligraphy & Comic Ink wrote well over both pencil and blue-lead pencil, and showed no visible lifting. It is also completely marker-safe and was water-safe when used with a brush.
The Speedball Pigmented Acrylic Calligraphy Ink had no issues over pencil or blue lead pencil, and actually became slightly glossier when erased over.
Smudging and smearing can be a real problem, especially for those who rest their hands on the paper. Fear not, as these fast-drying inks will help keep your hands – and papers – smear free.
Higgins Black Magic Ink was the fastest drying of all of the Inks, and was dry almost immediately. Additionally, it is both water and marker-safe, and resists erasing very well.
The Kuretake Manga Pen Ink also dried quickly, with only minimal smearing after ten seconds and none after a minute. It has a deep glossy black finish and is completely waterproof.
The Deleter Manga Ink – Black 1 dried quickly, though surprisingly smudged slightly more with a brush than with a pen. It is marker-safe and erasing-safe, and writes over both blue lead and pencil well.
Other Interesting Inks
The J. Herbin Dip Pen Authentic Ink is an Iron Gall ink, made with traditional methods that use iron shavings and plant galls. Because of its acidic nature is not an archival ink. When applied, the J. Herbin Authentic Ink creates a beautiful dappled effect along with interesting ghosting. It is a must-have for historical recreations and an amazing ink to work with.
Drawing inks come in a wide variety, with many different qualities. While many artists develop favorites over time, some drawing inks are better suited for specific purposes. What kind of ink do you prefer? Tell us in the comments below!
|Ink Name||Darkness||Gloss||Drying Time||Price / PPML|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 1 (Drawing & Painting)||Dark||Semi-Gloss||Fast||$$ / $$|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 2 (Erasing-Safe)||Very Dark||Very Glossy||Slow/Mixed*||$$ / $$|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 3 (Waterproof with Matte Finish)||Dark||Matte||Slow||$$ / $$|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 4 (Waterproof & Extra Dark)||Very Dark||Matte||Moderate||$$$ / $$$|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 5 (Glossy)||Dark||Semi-gloss||Moderate||$$ / $$|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 6 (Fast Drying)||Dark||Glossy||Moderate||$$ / $$|
|Higgins Black Magic Ink||Light||Matte||Very fast||$ / $|
|Higgins Calligraphy Ink||Light||Matte||Fast||$ / $|
|Higgins Eternal Ink||Light||Matte||Fast||$ / $|
|J. Herbin Dip Pen Authentic Ink||Very Light||Matte||Moderate||$$$$ / $$$$|
|J. Herbin Dip Pen Calligraphy Ink||Dark||Semi-Gloss||Fast / Mixed*||$$$ / $$|
|J. Herbin Dip Pen India Ink||Dark||Semi-Gloss||Moderate||$$$ / $$|
|Kaimei Drawing Pen Ink||Very Dark||Glossy||Slow||$$$ / $$|
|Kaimei Lettering Pen Ink||Dark||Matte||Moderate / Mixed†||$$$ / $$$|
|Kaimei Manga Pen Ink||Dark||Matte||Mixed*||$$$ / $$$|
|Kuretake Comic Black Ink||Light||Matte||Mixed*||$$ / $|
|Kuretake Manga Pen Ink||Very Dark||Glossy||Fast||$$$ / $$|
|Kuretake Sumi Calligraphy & Comic Ink||Dark||Glossy||Mixed*||$$$ / $$|
|Pilot Drafting Pen Ink||Dark||Semi-gloss||Moderate||$$ / $$|
|Speedball Pigmented Acrylic Calligraphy Ink||Dark||Matte||Fast||$ / $$|
|Speedball Super Black India Ink||Dark||Matte||Fast / Mixed*||$ / $|
|* The Deleter Manga Ink – Black 5, and J. Herbin Dip Pen Calligraphy Ink, Kaimei Manga Pen Ink, Kuretake Comic Black Ink, and Kuretake Sumi Calligraphy & Comic Ink dried quickly when applied with a brush, but significantly slower when applied with a nib pen.
† The Kaimei Lettering Pen Ink dried quicker when applied with a nib pen than with a brush.
|Ink Name||Feathering||Water- / Marker-Safe||Appearance of Pencil Beneath||Lifting|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 1 (Drawing & Painting)||*|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 2 (Erasing-Safe)|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 3 (Waterproof with Matte Finish)||†|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 4 (Waterproof & Extra Dark)|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 5 (Glossy)|
|Deleter Manga Ink – Black 6 (Fast Drying)|
|Higgins Black Magic Ink||‡|
|Higgins Calligraphy Ink||§|
|Higgins Eternal Ink|
|J. Herbin Dip Pen Authentic Ink|
|J. Herbin Dip Pen Calligraphy Ink||§|
|J. Herbin Dip Pen India Ink|
|Kaimei Drawing Pen Ink|
|Kaimei Lettering Pen Ink|
|Kaimei Manga Pen Ink|
|Kuretake Comic Black Ink||¶|
|Kuretake Manga Pen Ink|
|Kuretake Sumi Calligraphy & Comic Ink||¶|
|Pilot Drafting Pen Ink||\\|
|Speedball Pigmented Acrylic Calligraphy Ink|
|Speedball Super Black India Ink||**|
|* The Deleter Manga Ink Black 1 and the Pilot Drafting Pen ink were highly water resistant when used with a brush, but bled considerably with a nib.
† The Deleter Manga Ink Black 3 was marker-resistant when used with a brush, but bled considerably with a nib.
‡ Higgins Black Magic Ink bled with marker very slightly with a nib and none with a brush.
§ The J. Herbin Dip Pen Calligraphy Ink and Higgins Calligraphy Ink bled with markers when used on a nib, but was marker-safe when used with a brush.
¶ The Kuretake Sumi Calligraphy & Comic Ink was water-safe when used with a brush, but not when used with a dip nib.
\\ The Pilot Drafting Pen Ink was more resistant to both water and marker when applied with a brush.
** Speedball Super Black India Ink was not marker-safe when applied with a nib but was marker-safe when applied with a brush.