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Using Adirondack Alcohol Inks on Fabric
Finding inspiration in a non-traditional surface

Adirondack alcohol inks are a transparent, acid free dye product intended for use on glossy, slick  or other non-porous surfaces.  If you want to add color to dominos, metal, glass or plastic these are the ideal solution.  What they're usually not is a recommended product for fabric.  An article in the May/June 2009 issue of Belle Armoire however, describes using the inks in just this manner.

I happened across the article while perusing the issue when it arrived and was immediately fascinated.  I love color and the inks are available in 48 of them, divided into lights, brights, and earthtones.  Additionally, there are 4 other inks, metallic mixatives, that can be used to add metallic shimmer to the 48 transparent colors. 

One of the more unique qualities of the inks is their drying time - 5 to 7 seconds on non-porous surfaces.  They dry quickly on fabric too, but the time is considerably longer than 7 seconds.  Humidity, how much ink you apply to the fabric, whether the fabric was dry to begin with are all factors that affect the time it takes.  You'll discover how all of those things factor into the drying time as you experiment.

We prepped the work surface by spreading plastic and then covering that with sheets of newsprint.  The inks are permanent on slick surfaces and seem to be permanent on fabric too.

Jess and I spent some time messing with them using Pimatex Prepared for Dye 100% cotton fabric.  First with me playing with the inks and her taking photos and then we switched places.  The images that follow are some of the results from that play session.  These are not intended to be art or pretty, they were nothing more than experiments using various techniques to see what would result.  I hope that you find them useful and that they inspire you to try alcohol inks on fabric!

Safety Note: The inks, blending solution and isopropyl alcohol all are fairly strong smelling.  Use common sense and work in a well ventilated area... and keep all of this stuff away from anything that can cause a flame or spark!

RESPIRATOR REQUIRED: If you choose to spray blending solution or alcohol from the mini misters you MUST wear a respirator!

This is what we started with.  Lots of colors of ink and metallic mixatives, blending solution, mini misters filled with both ink and blending solution, alcohol from the drugstore, fillable markers, and an alcohol ink applicator.  We never did get around to using the ink applicator or fillable markers.  Maybe next time!


Sample 1

Pimatex PFD straight off the bolt.  It's totally dry and all I'm doing is dripping ink on the fabric.  I'm using aqua ink.


Dripping more ink in a circular pattern.  The bottles don't require a lot of pressure to drip or squirt the ink out of the bottle.  You'll easily get the hang of it.


Adding a second color, this time wild plum over the top of the aqua ink.  If you look toward the top you can see that the wild plum ink hit a spot of damp aqua and some bleeding and blending occurred.


Both the blending solution and isopropyl alcohol can be used on slick surfaces to blend, lighten or remove the inks.  They behave quite differently on fabric.  If you look at the photo above you can see what happened when I used the mini mister filled with blending solution and spritzed some over the top of both colors.  Not only did it lighten the inks, but it also caused a bit of additional bleeding in the spots where it was more heavily applied.

SAFETY NOTE: Wear a respirator when using the blending solution in the mini misters!


If a little blending solution is good, then a lot must be better!  Here I squirted it directly from the bottle over the ink.  That's the squiggle at the bottom.  The dots at the top were just drops of blending solution. 


Sample 2

This too is dry Pimatex, but this time I started with copper metallic mixative and dripped it over the fabric.


The metallic part of the mixatrive pools on the fabric and whatever it's suspended in spreads outward from it, with a halo like effect that I really like.  So much so in fact, that the merest beginnings of an idea popped into my head.  I didn't have time to do anything that day, but the next did get to expand on it a bit.  It does take longer for the mixatives to dry, so allow a bit of extra time. 


Sample 3

It was time to switch gears a bit and so for this sample we wet the fabric with blending solution.  It wasn't dripping wet, but close.


You can see how differently the ink acts when it's dripped on fabric that's got blending solution on it.  As soon as it touches the fabric it bleeds and spreads away from the initial drop. 


Adding more ink - this one is wild plum.


Here I've added stream ink, just dripping it here and there.


After the stream ink, I added drips of pool and twilight purple.  And then for some more fun, I dripped copper metallic mixative over the top of the others.


Wetting the fabric with blending solution first makes a huge difference as you can see.  The inks run and bleed, causing some really cool effects.  Interestingly enough, the metallic mixatives don't move all that much.


By now the blending solution had begun to dry out so I added more over the entire piece of fabric.


And then it was time to have some fun with more color by spraying sunshine yellow over the entire piece.


It's done now and I'm ready to lift the piece off of the paper and discovered...


That the newsprint under the fabric had taken on some of the ink and patterning.  It makes sense to use cardstock or other paper under your fabric so you end up with two items to use for the same effort it took to make one.


Sample 4

Deciding it was time to try something different again, this sample begins with Jess applying blending solution sprayed on top of the plastic.  You need to apply enough to wet an area the size of the fabric you're coloring.


Once the blending solution is down, Jess began to drip ink on top of it. 


She used sunset orange, watermelon and...


raspberry to create the pattern of ink on the blending solution.


Once the ink is down, grab your fabric and lay it down in the puddle.  The ink and blending solution will immediately begin to absorb into the fabric.


You can pick it up and move it to other areas to add color to other sections of the fabric.


Here's the piece once it was dry.  The colors ended up spreading more than I expected and some of the patterning was lost as a result.  Less blending solution might slow that process.

Final Thoughts...

The Belle article talks about using isopropyl alcohol and doesn't mention blending solution at all.  We found that the alcohol was good for cleaning the inks from the plastic, but I didn't think it worked as well as the blending solution to help the inks move and bleed.

Jess and I chose not to wear gloves and found that blending solution helped remove the inks from our hands.  I don't mind a bit of color on my fingers, but if you prefer not to have a rainbow on yours, wear gloves!

The blending solution absolutely changes the hand/feel of the fabric, causing it to stiffen somewhat.  While not so stiff that it can't be used, you'll probably want to wash yours before doing anything else it.  The inks appear to be permanent on fabric with no additional treatment.  I washed sample 4 the next morning with Ajax dish soap to see if it would change the hand.  While some color did come out of the fabric, it wasn't enough to make a difference in the overall piece and there was a significant change in the hand, with it feeling softer and less stiff. 

As I noted in the beginning, all of this stuff smells.  A drop here and there of alcohol ink is no big deal, but when you're spraying blending solution, inks, and then using alcohol to clean with, it gets a bit whiffy.

This is the barest beginning of what you can try the inks on.  I never even got to try applying inks to the fabric with the applicator tool or filable markers.  We dribbled and dripped them, sprayed some of the time too, but ran out of time before we could try anything else.  I'm sure the markers would be fantastic whether you want to color with the brush tip or write with the other. 

We brought out soy silk and silk cocoons, but ran out of time to get any meaningful testing done.  I did try spraying blending solution on the soy silk and then dripping ink over it, but ended up making a mess.  Same thing with the cocoons... I hurriedly dripped some ink on them, but the effect wasn't anything like I was hoping for.  Maybe next time when I can spend more than 2 minutes trying to see what can be done with them! 

Supplies Needed: Alcohol inks, blending solution, mini misters, fillable markers, ink blending tool, and isopropyl alcohol.  Go here for the individual bottles of ink, here for the 3-packs. You'll find the blending solution, fillable markers, and ink applicator tools there too.  Go here for the mini misters.  You can see the Pimatex PFD fabric here.

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