Best Drawing Inks for Artists in 2021

This article is about the best drawing inks for artists, which are used for beautiful monochrome paintings, drawing and sketching, calligraphy, layout, design, and illustration, and a lot more. Let’s find out which artists ink you should get!

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If you are in a hurry, below is my quick recommendation for the best artists ink to get. If you have more time, then keep on reading …

Acrylic Drawing Ink

Daler Rowney FW Artists Series Liquid Acrylic Ink Bottle - Indian Black

Acrylic Ink

Daler Rowney - FW Artists Series - Liquid Acrylic Ink Bottle - Indian Black - 29.5ml


Indian Drawing Ink

Drawing Ink for Calligraphy

Alcohol-based Drawing Ink

All 87 Ranger Tim Holtz Alcohol Inks with New 2020 Colors

Alcohol Ink

Full-Color Drawing Inks Set

Complete Set with Alloys, Mixatives, Pixiss Blending Tools, Mini Blending Tools and Foams, Premium Brush Set for Alcohol Ink and Mini Mister


Table of Contents

I recently wrote an article and buyer’s guide on the best ink pens for artists, and since then I have been thinking a bit about the beauty and expressive power of pure black and white ink drawings and paintings. Sure, we can create amazing things with a full palette of colors and shades, but when you look at, for example, the ancient Japanese art of ink wash painting, or Suiboku-ga (水墨画), you realize that a different, and in many ways far more powerful, kind of artistic expression is available in monochrome art.

Sure, you can get excellent ink pens, like I recommend in that previous article and others, and like I use every day, but there is something elegant, powerful and, well, very, very different about dipping into a bottle of pure ink.

So let’s do just that, with this buyer’s guide for the best drawing inks for artists on the market today, and try to answer some of these basic questions:

  • What is the best ink for artists?
  • What ink do professional artists use?
  • What is the best ink for calligraphy?
  • What is the best ink for drawing and sketching?
  • What is acrylic ink?
  • What is India ink?
  • Is Daler Rowney ink the best available?
  • What is the best value art ink available?
  • What ink do you use for painting?
  • What is the best ink for fountain pens?
  • What is the best ink for dip pens?

What is Artists Ink Used for?

That’s the beauty of art ink, that it can be used for a thousand different things:

  • Drawing and Sketching
  • Illustration
  • Cartoons, comics, Manga
  • Ink Painting
  • Calligraphy
  • Crafting
  • Fabric Design and Dying
  • Writing and Journaling
  • Page Layout and Design Elements
  • Precise Technical Drawing
  • Simple and Spontaneous Gestures

I like that last one – simple and spontaneous gestures, because it gets at the heart of much of Asian art – which is one of the main genres or uses we associate artist’s ink with. There is something about the simplicity of single broad strokes, open, minimalist compositions, positive and negative space, and pure black and white in not just drawing, but in painting, that moves something inside us as artists, as well as moving us – pushing us, even – to new realms.

And, indeed, as I often challenge my students (or myself), limiting yourself to black and white can open things up inside of you – creative ideas and understanding, vision, technique and a lot more – that may lay dormant if we are always “limiting” ourselves to ordinary, conventional full color painting. Certainly, a kind of simplicity and directness affects our eye and directs our hand, and basic understandings of form, flow and open space can be developed to much higher levels.

Plus, painting with the best drawing inks is fun, meditative and direct, and can even be kind of cathartic – and the results can be so very beautiful.

But again, that’s just one part of the picture. Ink painting is lovely and a great exercise, but good inks, as well as beautiful ink brushes and dip pens, are brilliant for any kind of drawing or sketching, whether incredibly precise or rough, simple or complex, as well as beautiful lettering, illustration and illumination, character design, comics and cartoons, all sorts of illustrations, technical drawing, and on and on.

What Makes a Good Artists Ink?

The great thing about this is that an ink that is good for, say, Asian ink painting, tends also to be the best choice for calligraphy, for comic characters and panels, for drawing and even for fabric and other art and craft work. In other words, high quality ink is extremely versatile and useful.

The richness, solidity and permanence of the different pigments or soluble dyes – whether black or another color – and the flow and control afforded by the best drawing inks is as applicable to painting, rough sketching and spontaneous gestures as it is to precise and complex drawings.

There have been many different kinds of drawing inks used by artists over the centuries, from lamp black ink (hand-made by artists or writers by burning oils or resins by candle flame), to iron gall ink (made of iron salts, plant pigment and binding agents – the most common ink for maybe 800 years), to today, with our modern acrylic- and alcohol-based drawing inks – which admittedly may not be as romantic as burning pine resin in your artist’s garret late at night, as the icy wind howls outside and the meager fire sputters and slowly dies, but are far more stable, permanent, consistent and controllable.

So we can say that the very best drawing inks have a few basic characteristics:

  • Solid, rich color – black or otherwise
  • Good flow and coverage
  • Good body and consistency (more controllable and precise)
  • Stability over time
  • Acid-free formula which won’t degrade paper
  • Consistency from batch to batch
  • Predictable and attractive appearance when dry

But rest assured that all of these important factors and more – including value – will be considered in this buyer’s guide for the best inks available for artists, designers, calligraphers, crafters and all kinds of creatives.

Alcohol Ink, Acrylic Ink, Liquid Indian Ink  – Which Is Better for Artists?

This is a seemingly simple question, and should have an equally simple answer. But in fact, based on either casual Google searches, in-depth research, formal education or even real-world experience, there are really no clear or reliable explanations about the difference between the various kinds of ink, or for that matter which is better or more suitable to artwork, be it painting, drawing, illustration, crafting or whatever.

All we can really do is talk a little about the qualities and characteristics of these three main kinds of ink so popular today with artists, and hope it helps you decide which is best for you – unless, of course, you just take my route and get and try all three!

Alcohol Inks

  • Dye-based
  • A huge variety of vibrant, beautiful colors
  • More absorbent, and the color will flow and bleed more into your paper, canvas, fabric or other material
  • Dries quickly, but can be reworked with alcohol
  • Works great with many different surfaces, even hard and non-porous ones
  • Very versatile and easy to use, and very popular among artists these days

Acrylic Inks

  • Pigment-based
  • Less intense colors (though still really beautiful) and a more opaque finish
  • Best to prepare (gesso) paper, canvas or other surface before use
  • Dries quickly and are less workable after drying
  • More light- and fade-resistant
  • Very similar to acrylic paints in behavior – very paint-like and easy to use

India Inks (Black Indian Ink)

  • Pigment-based
  • Intense colors – normally black, but now available in many different colors
  • Usually waterproof and very light- and fade-resistant
  • Dries slowly and is difficult to rework once dry
  • Good with various materials and papers
  • The oldest commonly used type of ink and most often associated with the traditional idea of ink painting, drawing, and writing

That’s about as clear and complete as I can be, and it still may not answer potential inkers’ real questions. And anyway, some of the characteristics, qualities and straight facts about each of these kinds of inks are not always true – India ink is not always water resistant, acrylic ink is not always opaque, etc.

So, let’s get down to usage.

Painting (Ink Drawing Skills)

If you are painting, all three are great, and the above descriptions will give you at least some idea of how they will behave. I love acrylic paint ink, and it is controllable and precise, and offers consistent results, but the incredible washy, absorptive effects of India ink are amazing. This is all more applicable to monochrome painting, like I talk about in the beginning, but if you want to do full color ink painting, alcohol ink is kind of the obvious choice.

Drawing (Ink Drawing Skills)

For drawing, again, all three will work, but most people think of a good India ink as the best choice. For full color drawing and illustration, especially when bold and intense colors are wanted, alcohol ink.

Calligraphy (Ink Drawing Skills)

For calligraphy, India ink is the preferred option – just make sure it contains no shellac, so it won’t clog or damage your nibs – but again all three can be used.

If you already love working with acrylic paints, acrylic inks are in many ways the most versatile and easiest to use, and are in fact my favorite. But, again, I think it is a wonderful idea – especially since none of them are that expensive – to try various kinds of ink on various kinds of paper, canvas and fabric. 

You may come up with a clear favorite, like I have, or you may find that you love using all kinds of different ink, and see clear advantages and beauties with each… uhm… like I have…

How Can You Find the Best Drawing Inks for Your Art?

Well, that’s why we’re here. If you want to try ink painting, beautiful old-school drawing, calligraphy or lettering, and this whole world of drawing inks is new to you, we will make sure you can find the very best ink for your purposes – whether you want the best of the best or the best value to start out with.

And if you are already an experienced inker, and may want to try a new brand, you’ll also find the information and recommendations you need.

I’m going to draw on my own experience – I have, after all, tried lots and lots (and lots and lots!) of different inks for different purposes – as well as the recommendations and feedback I have gotten from my colleagues and students, and from verified Amazon customer reviews. 

And, to make this buyer’s guide for the best drawing inks as complete as possible, for the first three categories we will include recommendations for acrylic ink and India ink, and for the color sets we will include alcohol-based inks as well. For calligraphy I am going all purists on you, and only recommending the best of the best – Noodler’s Bulletproof – but I’m also going to throw in a really wonderful calligraphy set, which would make a perfect present for, well, almost anybody!

So, we will include the following specific recommendations in our 2021 art ink buyer’s guide:

  • Best Ink for Artists Overall – Acrylic Ink :: Indian Ink
  • Best Value Premium Ink for Artists – Acrylic Ink :: Indian Ink
  • Best Cheap Ink for Artists – Acrylic Ink :: Indian Ink
  • Best Ink for Calligraphy
  • Best Full-Color Ink Set – Alcohol Ink :: Acrylic Ink :: Indian Ink

And at the end of the article, in the Bonus section, we will talk a little about the best dip pen and brush. But now let’s get into the best inks for art and artists in 2021!

Overview: Best Artists Ink in 2021

Acrylic Inks

Indian Inks

Alcohol-based Inks

All 87 Ranger Tim Holtz Alcohol Inks with New 2020 Colors

Alcohol Ink

Full-Color Drawing Inks Set

Complete Set with Alloys, Mixatives, Pixiss Blending Tools, Mini Blending Tools and Foams, Premium Brush Set for Alcohol Ink and Mini Mister


Best Artists Ink Overall

Daler Rowney FW Artists Series Liquid Acrylic Ink Bottle - Indian Black

Acrylic Ink

Daler Rowney - FW Artists Series - Liquid Acrylic Ink Bottle - Indian Black - 29.5ml


The best and most popular acrylic ink available is dearly loved and highly recommended by anybody who has used it, Daler Rowney ink has a beautiful flow, superb colors and saturation, is long lasting and stable and always looks stunning.

I’ve offered two choices for best India ink, and really in my mind it’s a bit of a toss-up. Maybe the good Doctor’s ink has a more solid and attractive black color, if not by much, and maybe Winsor Newton drawing inks have a slightly better flow, but both are solid, long lasting inks that make creativity at the highest level fun and easy.

Best Value Premium Artists Ink

For the money it is almost hard to believe the enthusiasm people have and the positive comments they make about Amsterdam ink, but if you have tried it yourself you’d totally understand. It flows beautifully, has a gorgeous and intense black color and lasts forever – both on the page and in the bottle. 

Another favorite from Doc Martin (who has nothing to do with the boots), his Bombay ink is nearly as good as the Star ink above – which means it is fantastic, and wonderful to use – for significantly less money. A real value!

Best Cheap Artists Ink

A  big bottle of acrylic ink from the makers of some of the very best, highest quality and most beautiful acrylic paints on the market. Inside secret here – though this is a cheap ink, it is widely used by professional artists and illustrators, who love its flow and painterly qualities, its intense color and superb permanence.

Another inside secret here! Yeah, Dr Ph. Martin’s ink is better, but not by much, and Speedball is definitely more widely used in the commercial art world, where not just beauty and quality, but also consistency and control are of paramount importance. An amazing value in premium India ink, and it just gets better and better as the bottles get bigger!

Best Drawing Inks for Calligraphy

There is almost a cult of positivity and devotion around this amazing ink, which is called “bulletproof” because of its absolute stability, water resistant and fade-resistant qualities. An incredibly solid and beautiful black ink which works as well with dip pens as with fountain pens, Noodler’s Bulletproof is a superb product in every way, made completely in the USA – from, as they say, the bottle to the cap to the ink.

Plotube Calligraphy Pen Set – Dip Pen with Nibs, Brass Holder, 7 Ink Bottles

Includes Wooden Dip Pen, Antique Brass Holder, 11 Nibs, 7 Ink Bottle and Beginner's Manual (7 colors)


Ok, so this cool set doesn’t have as good of ink as Noodler’s, but the inks provided are actually of surprisingly great quality, as are the pen and nibs. At any rate, it is a really fun and actually useful calligraphy starter set which would make an awesome present.

Best Full-Color Drawing Ink Set

Sure, we may think more of alcohol ink these days when considering a full color set of drawing inks, but I have to say that the colors of these Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay Inks are just fabulous – vivid, consistent and long lasting. They flow well and are superbly controllable, making these among the best drawing inks of any type I’ve ever used.

  1. Ranger Alcohol Inks Set (50 Pack)
  2. Ranger Alcohol Inks Set (50 Pack)

    Alcohol Inks

    Full-Color Drawing Inks Set

    Tim Holtz Brand Alcohol Inks and 10 Pixiss Alcohol Ink Blending Tools for Alcohol Ink Paper


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. All 87 Ranger Tim Holtz Alcohol Inks with New 2020 Colors
  4. All 87 Ranger Tim Holtz Alcohol Inks with New 2020 Colors

    Alcohol Ink

    Full-Color Drawing Inks Set

    Complete Set with Alloys, Mixatives, Pixiss Blending Tools, Mini Blending Tools and Foams, Premium Brush Set for Alcohol Ink and Mini Mister


    Buy Now on Amazon

The Tim Holz Ranger line of drawing inks not only offers perhaps the widest range of colors available, it has to be said that every single color is really beautiful – solid, saturated and impactful. And the inks overall are great in every way, with beautiful flow, great mixability and amazing permanence. No wonder they’ve become among the most popular and highly recommended drawing inks in the world!

Wow, sometimes it really hits me just how difficult it is to decide! In this case, we have two incredibly popular premium art ink sets, with a perfect selection of beautiful and nicely mixable colors, and both are sets I have used and absolutely loved. They both flow perfectly and are so easy to use, and both are not only stunning when dry, but truly long lasting as well. Just do what I did, and get both

Bonus Section: Best Brushes and Dip Pens for Artist Inks

Evolve Artist Program

World’s Simplest Art Training Method with results guaranteed.

GET FREE ART SKILLS BLUEPRINT

We should close by talking about the best instruments you can use for applying art ink to paper, canvas or any other surface. And so basically we are talking about only two things – brushes and pens.

Furthermore, with pens we are only talking about one type – the dip pen. Now, to be clear, a fountain pen can be great for drawing and sketching, basic lettering and deluxe letter-writing, but it does not have the same spread-point nib a dip pen has, so it cannot offer anywhere near the range or control or expressivity – with, for example, line thickness or weight – that you can get once you master the beautiful art if the dip pen.

Fountain pens are also less flexible in terms of ink – you really should use an ink specifically designed for fountain pens, and lots of other types of art ink – including many we’ve covered here – will clog and even damage your beautiful fountain pen.

Faber-Castell E-motion EF Fountain Pen - Pure Silver

High-quality stainless steel nib in width M (medium)

Equipped with a cartridge/converter system



If you are wanting the best fountain pen for drawing or writing, I can easily recommend the absolutely superb Faber-Castell E-motion EF Fountain Pen, and the best refill ink I’ve ever used for fountain pens is Montblanc Bottled Ink. You may also want to check out my articles Best Drawing Pens in 2021 and Best Gifts for Artists in 2021.

So, what are the best dip pens and artist brushes you can get for ink? I will list my top choices here, in each case offering at least a couple of options in decreasing order of cost. All of these choices will offer really amazing control, precision and expressive flair, incredible and quite tangible quality in every way and a wonderful feeling in the hand.

Best Art Brushes for Inks

Generally, I would recommend water resistant brushes of the very best quality you can afford, and specifically a good basic set of round brushes in various sizes. Here are a couple of my favorites:

  1. Winsor and Newton Series 7 Four Brush Watercolor Set
  2. Winsor and Newton Series 7 Four Brush Watercolor Set

    My Personal Choice for Best Watercolor Brush Set

    100% Kolinsky Sable Hair Brushes for Watercolor Gouache Ink and More - Professional 4 pc Round Watercolor Brush Set Sizes 0 - 1 - 2 - 3


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Watercolor Five Brush Deluxe Gift Set
  4. Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Watercolor Five Brush Deluxe Gift Set

    Best Value Premium Watercolor Brush Set

    Deluxe Gift Set of 5 Aquarelle Artist Brushes - Assorted Paint Brush Sizes


    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. Princeton Aqua Elite Synthetic Kolinsky Watercolor Four Brush Set
  6. Princeton Aqua Elite Synthetic Kolinsky Watercolor Four Brush Set

    Best Value Watercolor Brush Set Overall

    Synthetic Kolinsky Watercolor Paint Brush, Travel Set of 4


    Buy Now on Amazon

Best Dip Pens for Inks

Yes, there is definitely some skill involved in using paint and ink, or in mastering the amazing expressive range of a true dip pen, but it is well worth the time and effort, and the results can be breathtaking! I hope you are inspired to push yourself a little, try out a new medium and a new style of art, and that the experience is truly rewarding. Please let me know how it goes?

Thanks so much for reading this latest article – Best Ink for Artists in 2020: A Detailed Buyer’s Guide to the Best Acrylic, India and Alcohol Inks  – and please visit my blog – Art Side of Life – for tons of otherinspiring ideas, resources, articles, buyer’s guides and a lot more!

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