A few months ago I started using alcohol inks on ceramic tiles with the intention of creating coasters. Each tile is individually painted using alcohol inks and is completely unique – a tiny square of original art on which to sit your favourite drink.🍸☕ Inking the tiles was the easy (‘ish!) part; the sealing process on the other hand, has been a seemingly never-ending learning curve!
I have researched and researched and researched and experimented with several types of protective spray. The alcohol inks sit on the surface of the non-porous ceramic tiles so sealing them is essential. Without sealing them, they are at risk of scratching off and discolouring. In the US all alcohol ink artists seem to use Kamar Varnish, Kamar Clear Glaze and Kamar UV-Resistant Clear Varnish. These three sprays however, are painfully expensive when sourced online (as currently nowhere in the UK seems to stock them!) so finding a cheaper alternative was a necessity.
After considerable trial and error and asking for suggestions in Facebook community groups for alcohol ink artists I found the answer!! Each of my coasters is now sprayed three times with Plastikote Clear Sealer, followed by three coats of Kamar UV-Resistant varnish. With this combination, the inks are sealed in and the colours remain gloriously vibrant! (Previous attempts with Rustoleum and Ghiant sprays DID NOT work for me. There was serious discolouration, especially with the pinks, and the deep magenta turned into an ugly shade of grey salmon.) After several distraught months and feeling hopeless, I found a solution and I was ecstatic!
Preventing the inks from fading however, isn’t sufficient for them to be used as coasters. They need to be sealed with epoxy resin too!! This in itself has been, and continues to be, a massive challenge for me. Every day’s a school day, so they say!
Resin is a viscous liquid which can be poured onto artwork to preserve it, as it hardens permanently to create a protective coating. It’s an extremely fiddly, messy and complicated process as so many factors can affect it. It needs to be mixed in the correct proportions (50% hardener 50% resin), stirred slowly so as not to incorporate air into it (thus creating bubbles – bubbles are the ENEMY!) and all done in a room of 23-25°C. It’s sticky, toxic and gloves are essential, but I still manage to get it everywhere! Resin is also really expensive, so mistakes are super costly. Like I said, I’m still learning!
What I’ve learned:
- Elevate the tiles, so the resin can drip off and not congeal underneath
- Tape the under side of the coasters with frog tape, as resin hardens and once it’s hardened it’s a nightmare to get off!
- Room temperature is EVERYTHING! The inks and alcohol isopropyl don’t work properly when they are too cold and the tiles are too cold – the coverage is dull, lumpy and lack lustre instead of beautifully vibrant and opaque. The alcohol also evaporates the ink in ugly patches, instead of blending the colours together.
- Use a blow torch to burst the little bubbles in the resin, but again, temperature is everything. If it’s too cold, microbubbles form in the resin and there’s no getting those out!
On one hand, this has been one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever done. At each stage there has been what felt like an insurmountable hurdle and I have often felt like giving up. Despondency used to be my default and I frequently have to fight those old thought patterns. Somehow though I’ve kept on keeping on and never lost sight of the end goal. I’m so utterly delighted with how these coasters look and can’t wait to start retailing them!