Watercolor Before or After Ink | What to Choose?

Watercolor and ink are two popular mediums in the art world, each offering unique textures and effects. When combined, they can create stunning pieces that showcase the best of both techniques. However, knowing whether to apply watercolor before or after ink is crucial for achieving the desired outcome

Watercolor before ink allows flexibility in creating base colors and shapes, while ink before watercolor ensures clear lines and better control over the final outcome. Both techniques have their advantages; choose the approach that best aligns with your artistic preferences and desired results.

In this article, we’ll explore the advantages and tips for each approach, helping you find the perfect balance in your watercolor and ink creations.

Watercolor Before Ink

Applying watercolor before ink has several advantages that can enhance your artwork. One key benefit is the flexibility it offers in creating the base colors and shapes.

By laying down watercolors first, you can build a foundation for your piece, experimenting with various hues, gradients, and forms without the constraints of ink lines.

This approach allows you to focus on the overall composition and color harmony before committing to the finer details.

Another advantage of using watercolor before ink is that it minimizes the risk of ink smudging.

When you apply watercolors over ink, there’s always a chance that the water will cause the ink to bleed, resulting in a messy, unintended outcome.

By starting with watercolors, you can ensure that the ink remains crisp and clean once it is applied.

Watercolor Before Ink
Picture Credit: Lynette Clark on YouTube.com

To achieve the best results when using the watercolor-first approach, consider the following tips and techniques:

1. Choosing the right paper and materials

Watercolor paper is essential for a successful piece, as it is specifically designed to handle the wet medium.

Look for cold-pressed or hot-pressed paper with a weight of at least 140 lb (300 gsm) for optimal absorbency and durability.

In addition, selecting high-quality watercolors and brushes will also contribute to the overall outcome of your artwork.

2. Allowing proper drying time

One of the most crucial aspects of working with watercolors is ensuring that each layer dries completely before proceeding to the next step.

This is particularly important when applying ink over watercolors, as attempting to ink on damp paper can cause the ink to spread and bleed.

To avoid this issue, be patient and let your watercolor layers dry thoroughly before moving on to the inking stage.

Here you can read a helpful article on Time Taken by Watercolor to Dry Completely to ensure you’re being patient enough.

Ink Before Watercolor

Choosing to apply ink before watercolor also has its own set of advantages that can elevate your artwork. One significant benefit is the ability to establish clear lines and details from the outset.

By inking your piece first, you can create a well-defined framework, allowing the watercolors to enhance and complement the existing structure.

This approach ensures that your inked lines remain sharp and prominent, adding depth and dimension to your work.

Additionally, using ink before watercolor provides better control over the final outcome.

With a detailed outline in place, you can carefully apply watercolors within the confines of the inked lines, preventing unintentional color mixing or muddiness.

This method also enables you to plan and visualize the overall composition more effectively, as the ink serves as a roadmap for your color application.

Ink Before Watercolor >
Picture Credit: Marc Kompaneyets Studio on YouTube.com

To make the most of the ink-first approach, consider these tips and techniques:

1. Selecting the right type of ink and pen

The choice of ink and pen can significantly impact your artwork. Opt for waterproof or water-resistant inks to prevent smudging or bleeding when watercolors are applied.

Using high-quality pens or fine-liners with varying tip sizes will allow for a range of line thicknesses and details in your work.

2. Ensuring ink is waterproof or water-resistant

Before applying watercolors over inked lines, it’s essential to test your ink’s resistance to water. On a scrap piece of paper, create a small ink drawing and apply watercolors over it.

If the ink remains intact and doesn’t bleed, you can confidently proceed with your main artwork.

Combining Both Techniques

Merging watercolor and ink techniques in your artwork opens up a world of creative possibilities.

By embracing a layering and mixed media approach, you can achieve unique effects and emphasize texture and depth in your pieces.

Start by applying a watercolor wash to establish the overall mood and color palette. Once dry, use ink to add fine details and outlines, creating a strong contrast between the colors and lines.

Experiment with different application methods, such as using watercolor on top of ink to soften lines or add subtle shading.

Alternatively, try incorporating ink splatters or loose strokes to add energy and movement to your watercolor background.

Playing with the order of application, as well as the intensity of both mediums, can lead to unexpected and visually captivating results.

Experimenting and Finding Your Style

Art is a deeply personal and individualistic endeavor, and finding your unique style is a journey filled with experimentation and self-discovery.

As you explore the use of watercolor and ink in your artwork, don’t be afraid to try both techniques and see what works best for you.

Each approach offers its own set of benefits and challenges, and understanding how they align with your artistic preferences is key to developing a style that resonates with you.

For instance, some artists may gravitate toward the watercolor-first method due to its focus on color and form.

This approach may suit those who enjoy the spontaneity and fluidity of watercolor, and who appreciate the ability to build up layers and create depth.

On the other hand, artists who prefer clean lines and precision may find the ink-first approach more appealing.

This method allows for better control over the final outcome and ensures that the inked details remain sharp and intact.

As you experiment, don’t hesitate to incorporate personal experiences and examples into your work.

Reflect on how different techniques have influenced your artistic growth and consider what elements resonate with you the most.

For example, you might discover that using watercolor washes with loose ink strokes creates a sense of movement and energy that you enjoy, or that the contrast between detailed ink work and bold watercolor shapes provides the visual impact you seek.


Both watercolor-before-ink and ink-before-watercolor approaches offer distinct advantages and creative possibilities.

While the watercolor-first method provides flexibility in exploring colors and shapes, the ink-first approach ensures better control over the final outcome with clear lines and details.

Ultimately, the choice between these techniques comes down to personal preference and artistic style.

By experimenting with both methods and embracing your unique vision, you can create captivating and expressive artwork that truly reflects your individuality as an artist.

Mehak Verma

I love creating both traditional and digital watercolour art. Why? As a kid, transitioning from sketch pens to paint brushes and water soluble colours was a big deal. Hope you find what you're looking for on my website.

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