Should You Ink Before or After Watercolor?

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Wondering whether you should ink before or after watercolor? Learn more about when to use ink in a watercolor illustration.

You might also like this post about which pens are waterproof with watercolor.

pin image - collage of drawing with pen and painting with watercolor

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Should You Ink Before or After Watercolor?

As with most things in life, there is no simple answer. There are several things to consider when deciding when to add ink.

By the way, you might also find that you have a personal preference. Experiment with both and see which method you prefer.

hand-lettered watercolor cards that say "hello"

Reasons for Inking Before Watercolor

It’s Easier to Erase Pencil Marks

Adding ink first allows you to erase your pencil lines better. This is important because once graphite from a pencil gets wet, it’s permanent.

Make sure that the ink is dry before erasing. Microns dry super fast and are completely waterproof.

It Saves Time

Inking before watercolor saves time. I find that the ink from a pen dries much faster and I can add watercolor in just a few minutes.

However, waiting for watercolor to dry before adding ink can take a while.

It’s Easier and Neater

When you add ink first, it’s almost like painting in a coloring book. It’s easy to get perfectly filled shapes.

painting the word "Hello"

Personally, I find it really difficult to get perfect lines when I ink after painting.

Some pens have a hard time writing over watercolor, so this also causes a messier line quality.

Reasons for Inking After Watercolor

watercolor cards with the word "hello"

Some Ink Isn’t Waterproof

Recently, I tested a ton of pens to see if they were waterproof under watercolor. However, not everyone has 10 different pen brands to choose from.

If your pen isn’t waterproof, it makes more sense to ink after.

Some Colors are Opaque

watercolor swatches over ink showing opacity

Earthy colors and warm tones are often slightly opaque, which can cover the line work. If you’re using a lot of these colors, you might want to add ink after painting.

close up of slightly opaque watercolor colors

It’s Great for Adding Details

Inking after painting allows you to add details to your finished piece. I especially like adding details with a white pen.

watercolor "hello" cards

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watercolor lettering and drawing with ink

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