Shortly after I started this blog (5 or 6 years ago now), I got my first set of alcohol inks. Ever since then, I've been inking up all sorts of things. A couple of years ago I even made a Getting Started with Alcohol Inks guide, but I still found that folks had lots of questions about the actual application of the ink. So I'm starting a beginner's series to hopefully answer your questions. I'm starting with ceramic tiles because I think they are the most beginner friendly. 4 x 4 ceramic tiles are cheap (like 15 cents a piece) and the glossy surface takes the ink really well. They also have the added benefit of being pretty easy to clean off with rubbing alcohol if you feel like your project looks terrible and you want to start over.
To start, you'll need:
parchment paper (not wax paper--the ink bleeds through) or a craft mat to protect your work surface
rubbing alcohol for cleaning up
In order to stamp alcohol ink onto a surface, you'll need an applicator. Tim Holtz/Ranger, the producer of the most popular brand of alcohol inks, sells an applicator, but I've also made my own. An alcohol ink applicator is just a small block of wood (mine and the store bought one are about 1 1/2 inches by 1 inch in size) with the hook side of some hook and loop tape attached to it. The store bought applicator has a very thin layer of foam between the block and the Velcro. I have a block where I glued the Velcro straight onto the wood block and one where I glued a layer of thick craft/fun foam between the Velcro and block. I like the one that has the craft foam on it the best--even better than the store bought version. To go with the applicator, you'll also need pieces of felt. The store bought stamper comes with little pieces of felt--you can also buy packs of them (stack on the left). I usually just buy sheets of white acrylic felt from Walmart or Michael's and cut them into squares to use (the pile on the right).
Once you've chosen your applicator, stick a piece of felt onto the Velcro and select your ink color. For the project I'm showing you in this post, I used 4 different shades of turquoise. The first color I chose was "mermaid."
I gently squeezed two drops of the mermaid ink onto the felt and started stamping. On a very slick surface like a ceramic tile, the ink will spread out a bit while it's wet. It doesn't absorb into the tile and the color sits on the surface.
I stamped a row of dots onto my tile and you can see how the ink shapes change slightly.
I then stamped over the existing row with another row of dots.
Then I turned the stamp at an angle and stamped again. And then I turned it and stamped yet again. As the ink begins to dry a bit and as you use up what you've dripped on the felt, the ink dots get smaller and more ragged along the edges. As you stamp over old ink, the new wetter ink interacts with the ink that's been drying and tiny cells or circles are created. As my ink was running out, I stamped one row above to mix with the next color (you'll be able to see it in a photo below).
Then I selected "turquoise" ink. Since I had only put two dots of the other color on the felt, I kept the same felt and turned my applicator around and dripped another couple drops on to the other side of the applicator.
I stamped a row of ink over the leftover mermaid color ink with the turquoise. It was a lot lighter than I expected. How saturated a color is doesn't match the label or bottle at all. Ranger even has a color chart (pdf color chart), but mermaid and turquoise look pretty much the same. You can use their drip it on yourself color chart (pdf of the do it yourself color chart) for better accuracy and to keep track of which colors you have, but even that isn't a perfect system since card stock or paper will suck up the ink differently than ceramic--but it should be pretty close even if there's always a bit of trial and error.
I continued stamping with the turquoise to fill in that row and then continued stamping in the next row up with whatever ink was left on my felt.
I removed my felt rectangle from the Velcro on my applicator and applied a fresh piece. Then I selected "clover" ink and dripped on two drops.
I overlapped the lighter row of turquoise, leaving enough room for another row of ink on the top and stamped my two dots on a few times before stamping a little in the last row of space so the colors would blend.
The last color I selected was "aqua." Aqua is from a pastel set, so I knew it would be on the lighter side. My color variation wasn't quite an ombre, but still turned out pretty with all similar colors. I dripped on two more drops of ink on the side of the felt that was clean and stamped away to finish off the tile.
The color mixing on this tile is pretty subtle since the colors are so similar. If you stamp with a larger variety of ink colors, they will mix and create even more color options--but they often tend to get brown pretty fast if you're not careful, so sticking to similar colors or colors close to each other on the color wheel (like red, pink, purple or blue and green) are good choices for beginner projects.
I think my tile turned out pretty cute using the most basic stamping methods with a single color at a time. This tile can be turned into a coaster (just glue a square of felt to the bottom) or an art piece that you set on a shelf.
If you like your design, you should seal your alcohol inks. Alcohol ink will react to any liquid alcohol that it comes in contact with even after it's dry. So hairspray, perfume, a cocktail, etc... could all ruin your pieces. The easiest method for sealing a tile is to let the ink dry for a day and then paint a thin coat of mod podge on the tile with a foam brush. Another inexpensive and fairly easy sealer is clear acrylic spray. But these can interact with the alcohol ink, and I've even had some peal off the tile over time (usually when sprayed on a bit thick).
So that's the basics of stamping. It's pretty simple--drip the ink onto the felt and stamp away. After practicing with one color, you can start to drip multiple colors onto the felt. I hope to add another beginner's guide that explores multiple colors and different stamping surfaces in the near future. Until then, let me know what your questions are in the comments!