Acrylic & India Ink: What's the difference?

Knowing the difference between inks is key to creating specific works of art. As a bonus knowing where to get these awesome inks is a HUGE plus too!

Hey there Artrepreneurs,

Before I get into it, as always, if you're in a hurry and don’t want to read all the details - I created a quick infographic for you to use if you’re just looking for the answers and not the fluff.

Next… I like to be completely transparent with my fans and customers and want to tell you up front that links may be located with this and future posts that pertain to affiliate links, unless it has been otherwise stated. Click here for more information on affiliate links and how they can help both you and I.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get started…

Recently I had a friend/customer (Joe) reach out to me with a question (see below).

Question from Joe

“Hey Matt, quick/random question for you. What's the difference between acrylic and India ink?” - Joe

Joe is experimenting with different techniques and has had some awesome questions regarding the different processes.

Because of that, when my main man, Joe, has a question - I’m here to help. I’ll even do you one better by giving you a little more detail on pigments, dyes and the like.

Let’s Dive In…

What's the Difference Between India Inks and Acrylic Inks?

First, let me answer Joe’s initial question so that he can get on with his life if he doesn’t give a s*** about the details of Dyes and Pigments. :)

Acrylic Inks vs.India Ink

Acrylic Ink -

  • MAKE - These types of inks are water-based and most manufacturers use high quality pigments to provide the user with a rich color.

  • USES - These inks are great for washes, abstract techniques and general coloring.

  • BEST BRAND TO USE - In my opinion, the best artistic ink’s hands down are Marabu Acrylic Spray Inks.

(Marabu is what I use 99% of the time)

  • WHERE TO BUY - You can buy these online through but I always pick mine up at Pat Catan’s because I have the patience of a small toddler.

  • ALTERNATE BRANDS TO USE - If I’m looking for more control I will use the Liquitex Acrylic Inks that come with the little eye droppers. These inks are thicker and this is also the brand I used exclusively before finding the amazing Marabu product line.

India Ink -

  • Dr. Ph. Martin's Bombay India inks offer powerful color in a convenient package. These highly pigmented India inks not only remain lightfast and permanent, but are also totally waterproof when dry. All colors are brilliant and transparent, except black and white, which are opaque and have excellent covering power. Each set includes 12 different colors in 0.5 oz (15 ml) plastic bottles and a custom mixing palette. Set 1 colors: yellow, red, magenta, green, blue, brown, black, white, violet, bright red, teal, grass green.

  • HOW ITS MADE - Initially, this type of ink was created using lampblack (apparently carbon soot - I have no idea). Nowadays they are made to appeal to artists and many manufacturers have made them waterproof when dry. Companies such as Dr. Ph. Martin use a shellac binder allowing the ink to have washes painted on top without bleeding.

  • USES - This type of ink can be found in pens and writing utensils. India ink is usually used when creating fine lines and more detailed and/or vibrant pieces of art.

(I rarely use this type of ink)

  • BEST BRANDS TO USE - Dr. Ph. Martin's Bombay India inks are one of the best to use however I must confess that I havn’t used many other brands of this type of ink since Dr. Martin’s did what I wanted. They adhere to nearly all surfaces and are non-clogging when used in pens.

  • SPECS - Lightfast, permanent, and usually waterproof when dry (check the manufacturer specs for each individual product to make sure). Inks can be diluted with water and used with brushes in traditional watercolor techniques or in dip pens, technical drawing pens, and airbrushes.

  • WHERE TO BUY - is where I’ve bought mine. The link above will take you to an page that you can buy these from. (Note: As of now, If you are reading this, I AM NOT using affiliate links on this site)



Dyes are something that you would add to another medium. (think of food coloring)

Dyes have more of a solid color base and are by nature more pigmented. They’re also fluid as all hell so if you decide to use them, take it easy.


Pigments are a small dust-like additive. When I think of pigments I compare them to something like baking flour. Pigments are usually added (by the manufacturer) to a medium that you would basically purchase ready-to-use.

Since pigments are particles, they can and do usually take a little longer to dry versus regular dyes.

Pigments can be extremely opaque or extremely transparent depending on what you want. They are also more lightfast than dyes.

Definition of lightfast - (of a dye or pigment) not prone to discolor when exposed to light.

(NOTE: When I use pigments I usually use Jacquard Pearl Ex Pigments and mix them with Liquitex mediums such as slow-dri, fluid, and airbrush.)

- Matt, Owner and creative artist at Artistic Guidance


Stay tuned for more blog posts from Matt and Greg! Questions are meant to be answered and striving to answer what you really want to know about art is what we intend to do!

(Clicking and buying something from one of the affiliate links I’ve provided will not cost you a penny more than you would normally pay through income earned allows me to create more awesome content for you so thank you in advance. If you don’t want to use an affiliate link then just go over to and do a quick search for whatever it is and you should be good to go. If you need help with finding something please let me know.)

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