What Is The Difference Between Paint And Ink?

The basic science behind art revolves around the application of pigments to material to form images. The process and effect then depends on the way we add those pigments. Some artists only use paint, others love to work with ink. But what is the difference between paint and ink and is one any better than the other?

The Difference Between Paint and Ink

Ink is typically a liquid of dissolved pigments that can be used to stain a material. It is thin so as to flow from a brush or pen with ease and then seep into the paper for the desired effect. Artists can work with the flow of the ink to create images or for writing and calligraphy work. Paint, on the other hand, is a much thicker substance with pigments added into it to create the desired color. The body of the paint will vary depending on style. But, they tend to provide a coating of color on a surface, such as a layer of oil or acrylic on a canvas.

What is Ink and How Are Inks Best Used in Art and Crafts?

Let’s start by looking at the properties of ink vs paint and some of the options available. Ink is very watery as you have pigments in a water-based solution to add tones to paper for monochrome images. This wateriness means that you can work with different fluid mark-making techniques with brushes, or something more intricate with a good pen. The liquid will react with the material, which is why you need to match the ink with the right base. Paper that is too absorbent for a thinner liquid could see inks bleeding all over the place. They will also have little effect on a water-resistant canvas. Depending on the type of ink used, you can also adapt the consistency for different intensities and reactions.

The Pros and Cons of Ink

One of the benefits of using ink is that it is quite accessible with a few different forms to play around with. Kids can get an idea of the properties of ink through markers and stamp sets. Ink pads are helpful tools as long as they don’t dry out. Adults and teens can then move onto ink for writing pens, calligraphy, or Asian-inspired ink painting.

A downside is that ink doesn’t tend to come in too many colors. Black is the most common across the board, with blue close behind. You may find other options in ink sets or blocks, but there isn’t the range of something like acrylic paint. There is also a level of skill to some ink-based techniques that can be off-putting for new artists. 

Some of the Best Ink Products to Test Out

If you are interested in playing with ink, you could try some Quink or Chinese ink. Quink is an ink that you can add to a refillable pen or a quill set. It is easy to use and fast drying for writing, illustration, and more. It is fluid but also deep in color for strong images. Chinese ink sets use blocks of ink, mixing trays, and brushes for authentic art. It is a fun skill to try and learn as you adjust the consistency of the ink and create images with the thick brushes. 

How Does Paint Differ in its Properties and Applications

Paint typically has a different consistency and texture for a alternative approach to image creation. I say typically because of the exception to the rule below. While the thin liquid of ink seeps into the paper, paint forms a layer on the surface. You can build up layers on a canvas in both oil or acrylic paints. In both cases, there is a thick paste that you can adapt with water as needed that then dries on the surface. Oil paint works great on canvases and boards if you are patient with it. Acrylic covers all kinds of materials including wood and stones for fun designs in a shorter space of time.

The benefit of paint, especially a multifunctional acrylic is that you can use it in more projects. Ink is more limited to monochrome illustrations and text while acrylic paint adds decoration to almost anything. There are also far more colors – either pre-made in tube or through mixing paints together. 

A downside of acrylic is that it can be too bold, fast-drying for all applications, and hard to get off. Ink allows for a more relaxing approach with more subtlety in the final image. However, this isn’t true for all paints.

What About Watercolour Paint?

This is where we see that exception to the rule. Watercolor paint is somewhere between ink and acrylic paint in terms of its properties and benefits. You have a range of colors for and can mix the paints together with ease because of the pigments in the blocks. However, you also get a very thin liquid that you can manipulate on watercolor paper in a similar way to Chinese ink. It also permeates the paper like ink to dye the fibers, rather than forming a layer over the top. Watercolor makes for great DIY Christmas card, check out our guide here.

Ink Vs Paint: is One Better Than the Other?

It may sound as though paint is the better medium after reading this. There are certainly more applications if you have a wide selection of paint types at home. Oils are great for long-term projects on canvas, acrylic has that versatility and bold effect, and watercolor mimics oil with a wider choice of hues. However, there is a lot to love about ink when you take the time to test out its potential. A good deep black quink is an easy illustration tool while Chinese ink painting takes users in a completely different direction with a fun and meditative skill. 

Therefore, I recommend that you work with both ink and paint in different capacities and have fun experimenting! You can expand your skills as an artist and find new ways to capture images. Ink may be perfect where you once struggled with paint, and vice versa.