When I make LTCs, I have a secret weapon. If I feel the need for a cool background, I use Ranger Alcohol Inks and I always get someone who asks, "how did you do that?". So I decided to try and write a little explanation as to how this product works and my experiments with it.
First of all, alcohol inks are a specific product made by Ranger, the makers of Tim Holtz products, Distress Inks, and Adirondack Ink pads. Alcohol inks come in a small bottle and look like a stamp pad refill inker. However, these little gems are much different. These inks are intended to be used on "glossy" surfaces, ie. non-porous surfaces. These are used like a paint/wood stain. You can use them on glossy paper, dominoes, metal tins, the plastic "ghost" images, even buttons. Alcohol inks come in a variety of colors as well as several "metallic mixatives" that allow a bit of a sparkle or shine into the finished project. These inks are generally found in packs of three bottles but some places do carry individual colors. (like this site, http://www.articusstudiodesign.com/id133.html) I found that purchasing a 3 pack was the best way to start since then I had different colors with which to experiment. But then I added on with mostly individual colors and a metallic mixative to see how those worked and what made them so special.
If you read any idea books or articles by Ranger, they have a whole line of stuff to use with these inks. They have a special applicator and felt squares. They recommend the use of their special craft mat (to which nothing sticks). But I didn't want to invest in all this stuff if I didn't like the ink or it was too much of a hassle to use. I like simple and quick techniques. I hate waiting around for stuff to dry! Man oh Man, did this stuff fit the bill!
So don't buy all the fancy crap from Ranger. All you need is a couple alcohol inks (whatever colors! I started with the Browns to get a distressed, worn look), blending solution, some cotton balls and your ready to go. The blending solution doesn't have to be used but it allows the ink to remain wetter for longer so you can smear it over large portions of your project before it dries. You will definitely need it when you use the metallic mixatives.
So here's how I started. I had my glossy cardstock all cut into the standard LTC/ATC size. I applied several drops of the alcohol ink onto a cotton ball and swiped it over the card. In seconds, the ink was dry and my card was now "stained" with the ink color. After drying, I applied a different color of ink (another shade of brown) and it layered over it but not in a way I liked. I discovered that by dropping both shades onto the cotton ball then swiping it gave me a much more dimensional effect and the colors seemed to stay more "separate". I then, experimented with different swirls, swipes, and brush strokes with the cotton ball. Each gave a different look. It was super fun and I liked the look of it but in the end, I felt that I could have done the same type of thing with watercolor or acrylic paint. I was still trying to figure out why these inks were different than paints or directly inking from a stamp pad!
So then I tried to play with the blending solution. I had mostly bought the stuff because it said on the label that it could be used to clean up after the alcohol ink...it would take it off your hands. But then, I realized that it should be used on the surface first. I think someone on the AQ boards mentioned it first then I saw it in an idea book on how to get started with the inks.
So I applied a generous amount of blending solution to the glossy card and made sure it covered the card by moving it into the corners with my finger. Then, I dropped the alcohol ink into it. I got big raindrop type circles of color. I tilted the card to move the ink around and I got watery streaks of color. I waited for it to dry.
Then, I tried to apply a second color. I had read that you should let the inks dry before applying a second or third color or the colors would muddy. So I did that and I didn't like the look. I was probably doing something wrong but I just didn't like the way the blending solution washed out the first ink and then the second ink looked so vibrant. So I broke the "rule".
I applied blending solution to my card then dropped one color of ink then another color of ink. I tilted the card around and swirled the colors. I tried not to get too many overlaps because the color did just run together. But I liked this effect better than the other way. My colors formed a watery line between them and when it dried the effect stayed. So the background looked like it was melting somewhat...it had a very distinctive "water" look or stained look. So I decided that this blending solution was much more than a simple cleaner!
Now that I was using the blending solution, the metallic mixative that I had purchased made more sense. I had invested in the pearl and am so glad I did. It gave my paper a steel look. In other words, it looked like my LTC had been cut out of tin then inked with color. The pearl lended the metallic look without compromising the color of the ink.
I applied blending solution to the card and smeared it around to get it to all the corners. While wet, I dropped a color of ink then some of the Pearl Metallic Mixative. Swirled around, the mixative practically disappeared into the colored ink and left it looking glittery. When dried, the sheen was impressive. It worked just as well with several colors!
I haven't yet experimented with the gold and silver that I have but they work they same way. I assumed, they will stand out a bit more with bits of gold and silver rather than the simple sheen of the pearl.
Do your own experiments with these inks. They are so fun! And so quick to dry that you can get those projects done in a flash. But here's a couple experiments that had good results for me so far.
Blue/Green: The denim blue and bottle green make a wonderfully watery, submerged effect. You can use the pearl metallic to make it a bit more grand but these two colors are great together. Swirl to your heart's content. (Great look for my Thanks LTC.)
Pearl/Pitch Black: I never thought I'd have a use for the Pitch Black alcohol ink. I mean, who wants stuff stained black? But when you add the Pearl metallic, you get a wonderful night sky look. It's the color of that hot KITT car on Knight Rider without so much black...it's hard to describe. When you throw in a third color like Eggplant or Denim Blue, you've got twilight and Meteor Shower night skies! You'll love this combination!(Used this for tags in my altered book, A is for Astronomy.)
Cranberry/Terra Cotta: You may think of Terra Cotta as a brown but in the alcohol ink, it is much more of a warm orange. It's not extravagant like a pumpkin but a nice warm friendly orange. When you swirl this with Cranberry, you get the flame-colored background that is perfect for fire, volcanoes, and explosions. It's a burst of color but not bright or loud. Even try adding a bit of Ginger, for that yellowy look. It works well without the metallic mixes but I can't wait to try it with a bit of gold! (I used this look on some of the Deadly Nightshade LTCs!)
Layered swirls: Without using the blending solution, apply Pitch black to a cotton ball and apply it to the top half of an LTC. Twist the cotton ball as you move it over the card making little swirls. Let it dry. Then, below the black apply Eggplant. Don't overlap the colors; just make uneven bands of swirls. Let it dry. Then, add Denim at the very bottom. It gives the background of space and it's what I used on my first LTC Music of the Spheres.
Wood stain: If you use either Ginger or Latte with the darker, what's it called, you can get the faux look of wood. Just apply a few drops of the lighter color to a cotton ball and apply to the LTC using long swipes. Try to make long stripes of color. You can overlap the same color and get a darker shade where they touch. After this dries, apply the darker color in a similar manner but don't cover the card. Just make a narrow band to offset where the background ink has overlapped. It gives a nice illusion of wood stain.
You can dream up your own combinations and I have plenty that I have yet to try.
I hope this helps anyone who was wondering about those backgrounds on my LTCs and gives you some info on where to start.