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Waterproof India Inks and Shellac-based Primers

21 thoughts on “Waterproof India Inks and Shellac-based Primers”

  1. awesome you answered my puzzling question why sennelier inks smudged, but now I also realise they have such stunning transparent colours due to non lightfast dyes no archival pigments I’m not using them now

    Does this means I can’t draw acrylic (no shellac) ink lines over HFA ? I need to dip my nib in black HFA instead?

  2. Hi Sarah. I’m not a big user of inks at this point but am interested in exploring Zinsser shellac based primer for sealing/priming wood–so I’m pleased to read that it is highly regarded. Thanks for an interesting article!


  3. Ammonia NH3 will change PH and therefore Rheology of ink.
    Ink to me has to be
    Pigment based
    PH 9.2 there abouts
    Work without hesitation in a fountain pen.
    Best ground if not a 300 lb Fabriano
    True Gesso – Thompson’s recipe.
    Look at work of Reginald Marsh.
    Can draw underdrawing for egg tempera on the spot on a street or Coney Island. Most illustrators from turn of last century all used The same India ink like Marsh.
    I love acrylic ink and heavy body acrylics – using GAC and airbrush medium on mylar. And for dissolving dried ink,paint on Mylar — Vodka for drawing into and clearing areas.
    India Ink though does not exist in production like it did 25 years ago.
    Therefore have to make myself. I have a great recipe if any one wants it.
    Besides egg tempera over ink drawing – liquid acrylics thinned with air brush medium really sweet to work with and then sealed with gloss gell..
    Want to add more shellac to ink use water based shellac.
    Blank marker pens not fast enough for drawing or have the action a pen nib has. Acrylic ink wonderful with brush on Mylar.

    • Hi Doug – Thank you for such a detailed response, especially in terms of your own process. If you are willing to share the traditional India Ink recipe you mentioned I am sure many people would be interested. Certainly many traditional art materials have changed over the years and so it would be fascinating to learn about how it might have been made in the past. Again, thanks for your comments and if there is anything else we can do, just ask!

  4. What I have figured out
    Shellaque recipe found in old carpentry manuals.
    Gellatin solution – is good for tempera and once used buy set painters in theatre – especially summer stock.

    The Gelatin Solution
    600 ml. distilled water
    200 ml Ammonia solution (Amex-store bought clear no perfume about 30%
    20 packs of Knox gelatin 1pack =7 g
    Idea to hydrolyze 20 packs of gelatin and have PH about 9.3-9.5

    Mark pot-bring back with 50% Amex and 50% distilled water
    Use double boiler- put broken glass in bottom – cover-weight on top- try to get as hot as possible.
    Check buy dropping a drop (use eye dropper) into beaker of ice water
    Stir –drop –should disappear before hitting bottom
    Disappears in the swirl.
    Clear golden

    Putting it together

    Distilled Water – 870 ml – heat to 140 F – use about 1/3 for “mixing butter” must
    cover head of mixing wand
    Camphor – 20 ml (10% Life Brand) –goes milky in warm water
    Borax- 16.0 gm 20 Mule Team Borax
    Carbon Black-40gm Degussa deluxe Printex-U -ONLY!!
    Shellaque Flakes-18 gm-from Lee Valley
    The Gelatin Solution-40 ml-keep in fridge do not freeze. I do not add fungicide-
    Too dangerous -seems to be OK if solution and ink kept in fridge –do not
    Add rest of water after “steaming” and changing sound of mixer.” Dentist sound”
    Filter through coffee filter-let decant for 24 hours

    • Thanks SO much for sharing this Doug – it is a really wonderful find and will definitely be appreciated by those wanting to explore and experiment.

  5. It may be worth pointing out that Zinsser’s shellac primer is not wax-free, and that may adversely affect the acrylic medium at some point. more in terms of adhesion I would think. General wood finishing advice is to not use a water-borne product over shellac that has any wax content. Zinsser has another shellac product called Seal-Coat that is labeled wax-free, but it’s clear, not a primer.

    • Hi David –

      Thanks for your expressed concerns. While we agree there is a cause for concern when using waxed vs dewaxed clear shellac-based sealers, especially under polyurethanes where most of the adhesion issues seem to be reported, the same does not appear to be true of the pigmented white shellac primers such as BIN, which has a very long history as an almost universal primer under both oil and water-based systems. It might be that the wax levels are just so small that in a pigmented system it becomes insignificant. Also, in looking into this question, I came across reference to the patent that Zinnser uses to give their shellac-based primers longer shelf life ( https://www.google.com/patents/US6348217) – a problem they were among the first to solve and a major issue in any premade shellac products. As a side effect of that process the wax content is brought down from a 2-6% range to a 0 -.5% one, so that in itself might be the major factor. That said, short of a chemical analysis or more information from Zinsser, it is hard to claim what the exact range of the current product might be. In the end, the high pigment load of the product certainly appears to provide ample mechanical adhesion for acrylic coatings and using BIN under latex topcoats is both common and recommended. We also could not find any reported issues of adhesion failure between BIN and a commercial latex housepaint or an artists acrylic.

      Again, thanks for raising this issue. I will see if I can reach out to Zinsser to get additional information on this and if I hear back would be happy to pass it along.

    • Hi David –

      Wanted to follow up on my earlier reply to your concerns about the adhesion of waterbased paints on Zinnser’s shellac-based primer, and specifically whether BIN used a dewaxed shellac or not in its formuulation. I did reach out to Zinnser’s tech department and got a fairly prompt reply – so kudos to their service. According to them, their BIN Shellac-based primer does indeed use a dewaxed shellac, so it can be safely painted over using waterbased topcoats. Hope that helps clear that up and provides some assurance.

  6. Thank you for the follow up, Sarah. I greatly appreciate the info that BIN uses dewaxed shellac. Since their labeling on that product doesn’t say so, I assumed otherwise. Good to know.

  7. Hi! I have a painting made with India ink on a primed panel. I sprayed it with Lascaux varnish, but I may have done too thick a coat. It looks clear when viewed straight on, but kind of dusty when viewed from the side, I was thinking about painting the Sennelier colorless ink over it, to bring back the gloss. Do you have any idea if India ink can be painted over a varnished surface?
    THANK YOU!!!!!

    • Hi Lisa –

      Thanks for the question. We are not really familiar with these products and so cannot really speak to whether this specific combination will work. That is testing you might need to do on a test piece to see if you get satisfactory results. We can share that we would hesitate to ever put a shellac product over a work of art. Especially a clear one, as shellac will yellow and become more brittle with age. As an ink, or a ground on a solid panel, those things might not be critical, but as a final ‘clear’ layer, we would generally not recommend it. Since it looks fine except at an angle, we would suggest seeing if you are able to live with the results as that of course would be easiest and safest. Outside of that, any additional coating you apply – without doing tests – could make things worse and be more difficult to correct.


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