Coloring Translucent Polymer Clay with Alcohol Inks

Learn about coloring polymer clay with alcohol inks. Article and tutorial by The Blue Bottle Tree.
Look what you can make with polymer clay that’s been tinted with alcohol ink. Even for a fairly opaque clay (this is Fimo), the color richness is just nothing like you can get with regular polymer clay colors.

Coloring Translucent Polymer Clay with Alcohol Inks

  • Because alcohol inks are brightly colored dyes, they can be used to make brightly colored polymer clay that still has translucent qualities.
  • Just mix a drop or two of alcohol ink with your polymer clay to create a new color.
  • Be aware the alcohol inks can fade with exposure to sunlight and/or heat.
  • Tinted translucent polymer clay makes great faux glass effects.
  • Alcohol ink can bleed out of unbaked polymer clay, so be careful not to store it in contact with other polymer clay.
  • You can also color translucent polymer clay with a variety of art materials as discussed in this article on coloring translucent Premo.

I get a lot of questions about coloring translucent polymer clay. For a color junkie like me, one of my favorite art materials is alcohol ink. Alcohol inks are an intensely concentrated dye dissolved in alcohol. They are permanent and once dried, are not water soluble. They come in dropper bottles in a wide range of colors from the most intense brights to the more subtle browns and grays and even black and white. Made popular and brought to general crafting awareness by the scrapbooking industry, alcohol inks have been around for a while. I bought my first set in 2002. Recently, however, there has been much interest in using them with polymer clay. You can use alcohol inks in a variety of ways with clay, but for today I’m going to focus in using them for tinting or coloring translucent polymer clay.

Alcohol inks are so much fun to use with polymer clay that I wrote an entire article about them. You can learn more about using alcohol inks with polymer clay here.

Why it works so well

Because polymer clay is also soluble in alcohol, the dyes in alcohol inks readily disperse into polymer clay making alcohol inks a perfect material for coloring translucent polymer clay. Translucent polymer clay doesn’t have pigment particles that block light transmission, that’s why it’s translucent. If you begin coloring translucent polymer clay with something that has pigment particles, such as oil paint, chalk, or colored polymer clay, at some point you are going to compromise translucency as you add more pigment and the intensity of the color increases. Alcohol inks, because they are dye based, do not have particles to obscure the light. You can therefore color the translucent clay quite intensely without reducing the clarity of the clay. There is a limit, however, and high amounts of alcohol ink will interfere with light transmission. Especially with the darker colors. Even so, coloring translucent clay with alcohol inks gives a richness of color that is unlike anything available with colored, opaque polymer clay.

What doesn’t work so well

Stickiness

There is a limit to how much alcohol ink that polymer clay can “hold”. It is a chemical additive and some clays, Kato Polyclay especially, can get quite sticky if you add a lot of alcohol ink. Also, some people have reported plaquing or mooning in the cured clay. Plaques are light areas within the clay, sort of like imperfections.

Bleeding

The dyes in alcohol ink travel thought the mass of clay quite easily by simple diffusion. In other words, the dye “bleeds”. If your mass of clay is all one color this poses no problem. However, two unbaked balls of clay tinted with two different colors of alcohol ink, if stuck side by side, will eventually mix together. Given long enough the color will diffuse from one to the other and mix completely. Always make sure that your tinted clay doesn’t touch any other color of clay when stored. Also keep this in mind when you use tinted clay in veneers and mokume gane stacks. This means you cannot use alcohol ink tinted clay in millefiori canes unless you are going to bake them right away. If you set aside your work for a while you will very likely come back to a homogeneous mess. Some colors bleed more quickly (due to the size of the dye molecule), so it’s more apparent. Others might not show a problem for weeks. I don’t see any signs of the colors bleeding in baked clay, though. So if this is a concern make sure you bake your project right away before the colors have a chance to bleed.

Comparison of diffusion of colors of alcohol ink through polymer clay. Article about using alcohol ink with polymer clay.
Alcohol inks diffuse throughout polymer clay over time. The top veneer of this amulet was cut from this sheet of polymer clay. The amulet was baked. The remaining sheet has been in storage for 4 months and the colors, originally on the surface of the veneer, have diffused. Note that mainly the orange has diffused while the green and yellow stayed in one place better.

Color Fidelity

Another factor to be aware of is that the color on the bottle of ink, and the color that it creates on paper is not necessarily what you’re going to get. For instance, Ranger Purple Twilight is a nice grape purple in the bottle and on paper. But mixed with translucent polymer clay, it turns sort of a light plum color, or even a fuchsia. Piñata Passion Purple, on the other hand, appears nearly cobalt blue on paper but colors the clay a nice grape purple. Some colors may change even more when the tinted clay is baked. I don’t consider this a problem. It’s just one more challenge you face when learning about a new medium.

Comparison of how alcohol ink colors are different on paper, in unbaked polymer clay, and finally on baked poly clay. Article by The Blue Bottle Tree.
Comparison of how alcohol inks can be very different on paper, in unbaked, and on baked clay. The top row is Piñata Passion Purple. The bottom row is Ranger Purple Twilight.

 Brands of Alcohol Ink

There are two main brands of alcohol ink on the market. Tim Holtz® Adirondack® Alcohol Inks made by Ranger come in 48 colors that are grouped into Earthtones, Lights, and Brights. You will most likely see 3-packs of bottles in your local craft store. Ranger inks certainly come in a wide range of colors but vary in their intensity greatly from one to the next. The Bright range tends to be the most intensely colored.

Piñata Alcohol Inks by Jacquard come in a smaller range of 19 colors which includes black, white, silver and gold. I have found that Piñata inks are much more intensely colored and require much less ink to color the clay. On the other hand, they also seem to be more sticky and don’t dry as readily. Piñata inks are commonly available in your craft store in an “exciter pack” which has 6 colors, extender, and clean-up solution.

As alcohol inks are merely a dye which is dissolved in alcohol, there are people who make their own. I have read of combining Rit clothing dye with regular drugstore Isopropyl Alcohol to produce an ink that rivals the commercially available products. While this is a decent solution for use on paper, it will not work on polymer clay. Clothing dyes are not the right type of dye to stain polymer clay. The colors will wash right off the clay.

Another fantastic source of alcohol inks are the alcohol ink marker refils. Copic and Spectrum Noir are both good ones to try. You usually have to order the refils by mail order as they’re not usually found in your local store. But it does increase the color range that you can choose from. Keep in mind that with markers, lighter colors are just more dilute, so for our purpose with polymer clay they would just be duplicated, less concentrated colors.

Working with Alcohol Ink

Alcohol ink can be very messy. It’s a dye and it doesn’t wash out. Make sure you’re wearing old clothes (ask me how I know) and that your work surface is able to get messy. Even better, use a non-porous work surface like a glass cutting board or a ceramic tile. Why? Because even though alcohol ink is waterproof and permanent, it’s very easy to clean up. It’s soluble in alcohol! Just use regular rubbing alcohol (we have this in the US), or go to the pharmacist (chemist) and ask for Isopropanol. It sounds scary but unless you’re drinking it (don’t!!), and in the small quantities you’ll use, it’s harmless. (Alcohol inks have limited solubility in vodka, though. I just checked it. I think you need a higher concentration.)

Coloring Translucent Polymer Clay with Alcohol Ink

Here’s how I use alcohol ink to tint or color translucent polymer clay.

Learn how to color translucent polymer clay with alcohol ink. Article by The Blue Bottle Tree.
Getting ready to color this translucent clay with “Bottle” alcohol ink.

1. Make a thin sheet of translucent polymer clay. The more surface area you have, the better. The alcohol ink will dry faster if it’s spread out more.

Drops of alcohol ink are being spread over the surface of polyclay.
Place 4-6 drops of ink onto the translucent polymer clay sheet. Spread thinly.

2. Squeeze drops of alcohol ink onto the translucent polymer clay. The more you use, the more intensely colored the resulting clay will be. Don’t add more than 4-6 drops for a 4 x 4″ (10 x 10cm) square at first. It takes too long to dry. You can always add more later.

Using a palette knife to spread alcohol ink over translucent polymer clay.
Use your palette knife to spread the alcohol ink evenly over the surface of your clay sheet.

3. Spread the alcohol ink over the surface of the sheet of clay. I use a palette knife for this because it doesn’t soak up any of the ink like a Q-tip or paintbrush does. And I can clean my knife with alcohol between colors.

4. Let dry. Yes, this is the hard part. You really should let the ink dry completely because wet alcohol ink makes quite a mess on your hands and pasta machine.That being said, I tend to be awfully impatient and often try to mix it up before it’s dried. Sigh. I am so ME.

Alcohol ink has been used to tint this green lump of polymer clay.
Mix the clay completely until the alcohol ink color is evenly distributed.

5. Mix the clay until the color is evenly distributed. If you’re not happy with the intensity of color at this point, it’s easy to roll out the clay to a thin sheet and add more color. Repeat as needed to get the color you’d like. Not sure what color it will be when baked? Here’s a quick tip. Pinch off a tiny bit of clay, lay on a separate ceramic tile or heat-proof surface, and “cook” it with your heat gun. This doesn’t cure the clay completely (and often singes it slightly if you’re not careful) but it does give you an idea of how the clay will look once baked. Keep testing as you add more color to your unbaked clay until you get a color you’re happy with.

Balls of unbaked polymer clay tinted with alcohol ink are compared against baked clay to show the color difference.
Balls of unbaked tinted polymer clay compared with circles of baked clay. You can see that some colors change more than others with baking. All of these clays are Pardo Translucent Art Clay with the exception of the light green on the top row. It is Kato Polyclay.

Inspiration

When you use alcohol ink to tint translucent polymer clay, the result is rich and intense. You can create color effects that are impossible with regular opaque polymer clay colors. Here are a few things I’ve created recently. I particularly like to use Translucent Pardo Art Clay because it is so much more clear than the other brands that I have tried. It is so clear, in fact, that you can easily read through thin sheets of it. If you’re excited about what you can create with translucent polymer clay, you can get more inspiration on my Pinterest site. I have a Pinboard specifically for creations made with Translucent Pardo Art Clay.

Are you looking for projects that you can create using translucent clay tinted with alcohol ink? My Graduated Colors Tutorial shows you how to make these lovely Rainbow Disc Bracelets and this Translucent Blue to Clear Lozenge Bead Necklace. And if you love working with alcohol inks and translucent polymer clay, check out my Faux Glass Effects Tutorial for making faux Czech glass, sea glass, and Roman glass.

Learn about coloring translucent polymer clay with alcohol inks. Article and tutorial by The Blue Bottle Tree.
Two rainbow disk bracelets. The bottom bracelet is made with translucent Fimo and the top one with translucent Pardo polymer clay.
Graduated Colors necklace featuring translucent Pardo art clay tinted with Alcohol Inks.
Made from Translucent Pardo Art Clay, this lozenge bead necklace is the first project in the Graduated Colors Tutorial. You could use any clay or any color for this technique.
Blue tone squares cascade earrings made from Pardo translucent polymer clay and alcohol inks. Learn more at The Blue Bottle Tree.
Pardo Art Clay was used for these earrings and the colors used to tint it were Stream and Meadow by Ranger Inks and Sapphire Blue and Passion Purple by Piñata Inks.
Read the article on coloring translucent polymer clay with alcohol inks by The Blue Bottle Tree
Magic Circle Necklace made with Translucent Pardo Art Clay that’s been tinted with alcohol inks.
Delicate necklace with flakes of translucent clear plastic arranged on a thin cable. Tinted with alcohol inks and explained in this article.
Tinted polymer clay was combined with untinted clay in a Skinner blend to create this Flake Necklace from Translucent Pardo Art Clay.
Cobalt blue bracelet made with Pardo Translucent Art Clay.
This cobalt blue color was created using Translucent Pardo Art Clay colored with Sapphire Blue Piñata Alcohol Ink.
Blue striped polymer clay pendant made from SCDiva's Controlled Marbling Tutorial
The cobalt blue stripes in this Controlled Marbling Pendant are created by coloring polymer clay with alcohol ink.

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99 thoughts on “Coloring Translucent Polymer Clay with Alcohol Inks”

  1. Hello there!
    I am toying around with Fimo lately. I was wondering if, aside from the alcohol inks which I don’t have, I could colour the clay using something else. I’ve heard of pastels, but I lack those too. Is acrylic paint any good? What about coloured chalk or wax crayons? Has anyone tried including these in polymer clay? I have no idea how they behave together and I was hoping to find out…

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      1. Thank you so much Ginger. Thank you for all the info you are collecting, testing and sharing. It is really valuable.

  3. Ginger, I can’t find it now but didn’t you write about not using any ammonia around alcohol inks? Don’t remember where but I usually go to you for info (see how wonderful you are?) Can you give me any info re: it? I’ll keep looking but I believe it was one of your posts. Thanx kiddo,
    Betsy

  4. Hi Ginger, I am very new to polymer clay, that being said. If I use transparent clay and add the inks like you did, is the color going to fade over time like in the picture? I don’t want to make a piece if the colors are not going to last. I may be confused, but could you please help me understand? Thank you for your help in advance. Also, I’m wanting to make fun attractive sheets to wrap say around pens. Canes work somewhat, but do you have information as to how to get decorative sheets? Thanks

    1. Alcohol inks diffuse (bleed) though raw polymer clay very readily and will appear to fade because ink that’s placed on the surface will begin to diffuse through the entire mass, essentially diluting it. Alcohol ink does not do this in baked clay. It is stable in baked clay. However, some colors in some clays can fade over time due to light instability. But that’s different from the fading you’re seeing in the picture in the article.

  5. Can i ask you please is alcohol ink does not wear off? I mean for how long do they last on surfaces like glass, polimer clay, metal?
    Is is any technic or trick to apply what would made them more durable ?
    Thanks a lot! Suzan

    1. Hi Suzan, Alcohol ink that’s mixed in with raw clay and then baked does not wear off at all. Alcohol ink on the surface of clay will stain it to an extent, but can still be removed with alcohol. Alcohol inks are waterproof on all non-porous surfaces and will not come off with water. They are fairly durable and won’t easily scrape off. But they’re not bulletproof and can come off it you scrape hard enough. To make alcohol inks permanent and durable, you can coat them with a sealer, but be aware that many sealers will cause them to run. My favorite way is to give them a very light coating of PYM II followed by several coats of Varathane. You can also use Liquid Kato or perhaps resin such as Envirotex Lite.

  6. But don’t you have to seal alcohol inks to make them permanent? Otherwise a spray of perfume and the color runs, right? Could the sealing be done by making the bead and covering with liquid clay before baking?

    1. Not if you mix the ink into the raw clay and use it to tint the clay, as in this article. The ink is fully incorporated into the clay and does not come off, even if you scrub it with alcohol after baking. But when alcohol ink is used on the surface of baked clay, yes, you are absolutely correct. And that’s why I’m not fond of using that technique for jewelry and beads. Yes, you can seal it, but know that many sealers also dissolve the alcohol inks. That being said, however, there are lots of ways that you can use alcohol inks in a more subtle manner on the surface, like antiquing and such, that can more easily be sealed. But large expanses of ink, or perfectly-placed ink drawing can go all wrong when you try to seal them.

  7. Grate tutorial dear ginger
    the post made me so excited i just wanna buy transcluent clay and adindrock inks before i die
    i have some questions i hope you see them and answer me quickliy
    if i am on a tight budget which colors for alchol ink can be more useful or necessary for begin ? can you tell 4 colors first i buy
    and also i have seen in anarina anar items on etsy there are some black points in texture i wanted to know what are them becaz sh dont answer to technical questions ! Thanks a lot

    1. Hi Lucia, you can buy any colors of ink that you like and that go together well. I’m partial to the blues, I so like those. But there are so many wonderful combinations. If you’re only going to get a few, I would recommend the Pinata brand of inks because they are very intensely colored and the colors are brighter and more “true”. The Ranger inks tend to be more dull, muted, and diluted. Don’t get me wrong, they have a great effect, too, but are less versatile.

      As for Anarina Anar (her name is Angeliki), I’m really not sure how she gets the effect she has created. I suppose you’d have to try a bunch of things to see if you can find an effect that you like. You might discover one that you like even better. Have fun and experiment!

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  9. Pingback: Using Alcohol Inks to Color Translucent Polymer Clay | ChirpHop Studio

  10. This is a great tutorial! I am curious though, you said to let the alcohol ink dry after spreading it. Can you give an approximate timeline for how long it generally takes for the alcohol ink to dry?

    1. It generally takes just a few minutes, depending on how much alcohol you used. If I only use 1 drop, it tends to dry as soon as I spread it, for instance.

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  12. Hi, All,
    Several comments:
    Making my own Alcohol Inks-I found, using liquid Rit dye, I couldn’t come close to the good colors and intensity of Ranger and Pinata.

    I buy Pinata inks in a 4oz bottle for about $8/bottle including shipping. The bottles just have a screw cap, so I found 4oz dropper bottles on Ebay, 12 bottles / $9, free shipping. Buy extras because 2 of mine had problems, but these are nice soft plastic bottles. This is a very reasonable way to buy Pinata inks.

    I usually clean my hands with lots of alcohol (91%), then soapy water. Did you know WD40 cleans many things off your hands? I usually have to take the clear nail polish off my fingernails-ink gets between nails and polish.

    I bought PYM to use with alcohol inks. I often want to control alcohol ink colors next to each other-you know what happens when the inks touch each other-black lines and bleeding. When I want ink colors next to each other (actual use, I was trying to put inks in lines (stripes) on metal leaf), they would bleed together or there would be black lines where the colors met. Now, I put every other stripe on the leaf, spray lightly with PYM, then put the stripes of ink in the spaces between the first inking. No bleeding or black likes.

    Another use for PYM-when using ink on metal leaf (on clay), you know how the ink likes to seep below the metal leaf? Just spray the metal leaf before you put on the ink and the ink won’t seep below the metal leaf.
    Conversation about ink seeping into clay? I tried a mokume gane block with just translucent clay, with metal leaf on the clay, with ink on the metal leaf. This was really dull and ugly. I set it aside for a year-both the rest of the block and some slices I made. When I got it out (to finally throw away), I was amazed to see that the ink had seeped into the clay, and the block and slices were beautiful.

    That’s it for me today. Clay Happy. Hugs, Boni

    1. Excellent information, Boni, thank you so much. I use alcohol inks a lot but have never even used up a single bottle, so gosh I’m not sure I’d use up a 4oz bottle…ever! But the price is good, I’ll admit. Great tips about using alcohol. I do love PYM for the same reasons you mention. It seems to be like this little invisible plastic layer and works to seal everything. And thank you for confirming that about the ink seeping into the clay. I intend to run a controlled experiment to test it. I suspect that some colors seep faster and further than others. I’m also curious about fading….but that’s another conversation entirely! Have a great day, Boni!!

      1. I just remembered another seeping type of effect with polymer. Buddy and I were using Kato translucent with copper metal leaf to make a mokume gane. She didn’t finish her project for a couple of weeks. When she got back to it, the copper had tarnished green into the clay. I used the same combo, and all was ok-for some months. Finally, it tarnished my beads also. And, I must say, it was really ugly. A year later, I checked everything I used copper leaf with, and much of it had tarnished to some degree. All had been baked, and used probably Future-that was what I was using back then. Now, if I use any leaf, I try to finish it quickly-within hours. I use resin on mokume gane now. I have never had a problem with silver leaf. I have not really run into anyone else who has had this problem. I do use a lot of alcohol inks, and Kato clay (until recently), so these might enter into the equation. Hugs, Boni

        1. Yes, I’ve had trouble with copper leaf oxidizing. And some copper paints. After all, that’s the whole point behind Swellegant and VerDay. I suppose sealing is the answer.

  13. Wonderful info. Thank you. I’m using Premo and i just take a piece of it when it’s rolled out and and use it to spread the ink. No fuss no muss. Also found Spectrum Noir by the bottle with a dropper….very easy. And a great range of colors. So much to explore and so little time.

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