Using Alcohol Inks to Color Translucent Polymer Clay

Polymer clay test beads colored with alcohol inks
Polymer clay test beads colored with alcohol inks

The reason I made all of those alcohol inks from Sharpies was to color translucent polymer clay. Now it’s time to put them to work.

I had no idea how much ink to use in proportion to the clay, other than hints online that it didn’t take very much at all. The translucent clay was also new to me and I wasn’t sure how translucent it would get. So…it was time to call on my inner mad scientist.

Coloring the clay

To add the ink to the clay, I referred to the YouTube video below by Sandy Huntress about making faux sea glass and a  tutorial from The Blue Bottle Tree blog for helpful hints.

If you’re only interested in the coloring, that info is from about 1:00 to 2:30 in the video.

What was different with the homemade inks?

One part of the process I wouldn’t have thought of was the need to let the ink dry before mixing. If nothing else, it keeps your hands cleaner.

The homemade inks apparently aren’t as strong as the Adirondack inks, so I had to spread the clay out and use enough to cover the surface (maybe 8 drops to 10 grams of clay).

Rather than cleaning my hands or a palette knife over and over, I spread the ink across the glob of clay with toothpicks to speed drying time. Then I stick each one in the clay I used it for while it dries, in case I need to use it again. In general there’s a lot of cleaning involved with both the inks and the polymer clay, so the less the merrier.

To get some consistency and be able to repeat the results (good job, mad scientist), I used the same amount of ink for (almost) all of the examples.

A few of the inks were really weak and the color was barely visible, so I doubled (or in one case, tripled) the dosage. The markers didn’t come with names on them. I called on my childhood crayon name fascination and made these up.

One ink (teal) was made from an older partially-used marker, so it’s the weakest. You could probably predict the other weak colors by looking at the ink. Even though I wanted subtle colors, mango, cornflower, light pink and coral all needed a boost.

Three of the colors were extra strong – deep electric blue, yellow-orange and amber. The first two are just deep colors, but the amber was a mix of two markers, so it wasn’t as dilute as the others. See the charts below.

Baking the clay

The 1/4″ and 1/8″ pieces were baked according to the package directions – 275ºF for 15 minutes. Since I was a bit worried about burning the thin samples, I baked those at the same temperature for only 10 minutes. (I later learned that the time isn’t as much of an issue with burning as the temperature.)

They were all placed in an aluminum pan, sitting on paper (to prevent shininess), with another aluminum pan as a cover (to prevent burning and dispersing fumes).

Making a sample chart

Polymer clay and alcohol ink color tests with 1/4" and 1/8" chips
Polymer clay and alcohol ink color tests with 1/4″ and 1/8″ chips

I decided to make test pieces for a few thicknesses of the clay and see how that affected them.

From the same batch, there were 1/4″ (.63 cm) and 1/8″ (.32 cm) chips.

There wasn’t enough clay to make 1/16″ (.16 cm) samples, so I colored a new half-sized batch, using the same amount of ink as in the first batch (not thinking too clearly, obviously). At least, it showed what the clay looks like using twice as much color.

Let’s look on the bright side. Most of the thinner chips came out much darker than the thicker ones, so it shows you the range you can get with the same ink.

Polymer clay and alcohol ink color tests with 1/16" chips added
Polymer clay and alcohol ink color tests with 1/16″ chips added

Was it worth it?

Definitely! This chart comes out to play every time I color clay. It not only helps me remember what the difference is between coral and melon, but it helps in my design thinking when I can see the end color in front of my eyes instead of in the less reliable recesses of my mind.


This experiment was also about translucence. I hadn’t worked with Sculpey III before, and that’s what they had at my local craft store when I was anxious to get started.

pc_translucencetestFrom the chart, sitting against paper, it doesn’t look very translucent. Against the daylight, though, you can see what happens at 1/16″.

It’s certainly not glass, but it does let a reasonable amount of light through.

The beads in the intro photo are the result of this session. I love the soft, somewhat frosted look after it’s baked.