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Distress Ink Techniques

Professional scrapbook artist, paper crafter, and author. I have taught people how to make family memories into legacies for 20 years.


Distress Inks

Distress inks have been one of the most popular inks on the market. Because of their versatility they have become one of the most sought after ink pad.

They are manufactured by Tim Holtz at Ranger. There are 61 colors in the palette. They are acid free which makes them perfect for scrapbooks. They are considered fade resistant and water based dye inks.

The one thing that most crafters love about distress inks is that they are dye based and react with water. Dye inks are transparent and dry quickly. Technically, they are a hybrid ink, which means that they have more pigment ink, but also have some dye ink too. Their ability to dry quickly makes them one of the most popular inks on the market.

Their transparency gives you the ability to see right through them. That means that they will blend with ease.

The pads currently come in two sizes. The little mini pads are smaller than the full sized pads and are easier to store. The mini ink pads are 1" by 1". The colors in the mini ink pads match the color palette of the full size pads.Each pad is a raised felt ink pad. They stack beautifully. They are considered fade resistant.

The larger or standard pads are 3" by 3". They have a higher raised felt which makes them easier to use in direct ink to paper applications.

All colors have the coordinating re-inker available. I always suggest that when you buy the pad, you buy the re-inker at the same time.

What Are The Ways That You Can Use Distress Inks?

  1. Stamping
  2. Distressing
  3. Ink Blending
  4. Watermarks
  5. Stenciling
  6. Direct To Stencil/Reverse Stenciling
  7. Ink Transfer Techniques
  8. Direct To Paper
  9. Watercolor
  10. Photo Tinting

Distressed ink Products


The Difference Between Distress Inks And Distress Oxide Inks

They seem alike and yet they are different. Distress inks and distress oxide inks have their differences.

  • Distress inks fall into the category of dye inks. Distress inks are transparent and dry quickly.
  • Distress oxide inks are mostly a pigment ink, but it also has some dye ink too. That means that it is a hybrid (mixed ink ) formulation. That ink is opaque and tends to dry at a slower rate.
  • Both inks are available in 3" by 3" size. The distress inks are also available in 1" by 1"
  • Distress inks are brighter on white card stock than distress oxide inks.
  • Distress oxides are brighter on darker color card stock
  • Both distress and distress oxide inks can be used for water coloring
  • Both distress and oxide inks can be used for embissing

Distressed Ink Products

There are many variations to the distressed ink lines. Not only are there ink pads and reinkers, but there are also stains, spray inks and markers.

Distress Ink Sprays

Let's start with the distress ink stain sprays. They have a mist sprayer that is perfect to apply a quick coat of ink spray. This sprayer makes a mist of both large and small blots.

Distress oxide sprays are a dye and ink fusion that makes an oxidized effect when sprayed with water.

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Distress Ink Markers

Tim Holtz Distress® Markers are water-based inks for coloring, journaling, stamping and more. The dual tip markers are ideal for many coloring techniques. There is a fine nib that is perfect for using for coloring and journaling.

They come in multiples in canister sets. You can also purchase them as individual colors. The best thing about these markers are that they match the colors of the distress ink pads. The caps match the color of the ink, so you d not have to guess which color is which.

They are water based ink, so they will wash out of clothes and off hands. You can use them as a water color based medium. Just scribble a bit on a glass mat, Then add a bit of water and paint with a brush.

Denser and shinier paper works best. They soak into other papers and dry too quickly

The markers are more towards a vintage slightly muted color.

Distress Ink Stains

This is how Ranger describes it's distress ink stains:

"Distress stains are fluid water based dyes for paper and other porous surfaces. They can cover larger surfaces like backgrounds. Mist with water to lighten colors and create a mottled effect. You can apply multiple layers of stains. They come in all of the colors of the distressed ink line."

Just like other distress ink products, the stain is reactive to water.

Distress Ink Color Chart

Currently available color range for distress inks

Currently available color range for distress inks

It Matters What Kind Of Paper You Use !

Most of your distress ink techniques require blending. So the type of paper that you use matters !

Thin papers often do not work well. The ink may well go through the paper. And more than that the paper may rip as you work the ink in with the blending tools.

Paper color matters too ! You will see a difference between using the same colors on bright white paper verses a different color. Better to stick with brighter colors. Darker papers like kraft and black do not show the colors of distress inks at all.

Paper that has some texture in it will yield different results too. If you want to get a well blended result, you are better off staying with a white, smooth heavier paper.

There Are Several Ways To Use Distress Inks As Watercolors


Simple Method To Apply Distress Ink

Applying distress ink does not have to be a chore. It should be a comfortable , fun process where you actually enjoy the color experience. Here is one simple way to apply distress ink to your paper.


  • Card stock
  • Distress inks
  • Foam ink blending tool ( avoid felt pad tools)
  • Heat tool
  • Craft mat
  1. Lay the craft sheet on your work surface.
  2. Load the foam blending tool with a generous amount of distress ink. More is better than less. Press the applicator into the ink.
  3. Press the inked tool onto the craft mat so that the ink is deposited on the mat.
  4. Place the paper on the mat where the ink is so that the ink is transferred onto the paper. You are pulling the ink from the mat onto the paper. Use a circular motion with a light touch. Doing this will help you omit any lines and give you a clean blend.
  5. Work in layers, drying each layer with your heat tool between each layer. Start with the lighter colors and then build into the darker colors. remember to dry between each layer for best results.
  6. If you see any blotches or bad blends, apply the color mustard seed. It is a terrific way to cover any problems.

Aging Paper With Distress Inks

This technique is perfect for tags, mats, card edges, and embellishments. You can age paper by simply taking a blending tool or a sponge and adding ink to the edges of the paper Try applying ink to the edges and some of the surfaces of a paper using a sponge or a blending tool. The brown palette of Distress Inks gives the most natural look, but experiment with soft colors as well. Gives dimension to any project

How To Age Paper With Distressed Inks

  1. Apply ink to the edges and some of the surfaces of a paper using a sponge or a blending tool.
  2. Apply the ink in small repetitive motions that will color just the edge of the paper.
  3. You can also wrinkle or tare the paper for a stronger effect and gently go over the ridges with the sponge adding a light touch of color to them.

Stamping With Distressed Inks

Though stamping with distress inks does not give as clear an image as other inks, you can stamp with it for a shabby chic look

How To Stamp With Distressed Ink

  1. Load your stamp with distress ink. The best stamps to use are less detailed because the ink is not as bold as regular ink.
  2. Stamp a paper or any other porous surface.
  3. You can add simple stamping techniques, such as spritzing the inked stamp before stamping to get a watercolor look.

Where You Can Use This Technique

Start by thinking about background stamps for greeting cards and journal pages. You can stamp on greeting cards, Bible journals, Bullet journals. Art journals and junk journals. Create tags for your projects.

Tools To Blend Distress And Distress Oxide Inks

Having the right tools to blend your distress inks makes all the difference in your results.

You can use cosmetic sponges if you have them, but it will take a lot longer and a lot more effort to get a good blend. The cosmetic sponges have edges that will show on the paper.

So, shape matters! Anything with hard lines will cause you to have an uneven blend

Sponge daubers are round. They go over your finger so that you can have complete control over the pressure that you give the ink. So edges or harsh lines show, so you get better coverage. You can rise them if you would like, but most people keep them in a box and reuse them. You can add a label around the base of the dauber and then store them for later use.

Cosmetic brushes are another option to consider. They are soft brushes that come in different sizes and shapes. They are washable. They give you a very blended-use. They can be used over and over again.

Stencil brushes continue to be popular when applying distress inks. They have a pointed tip that helps apply the ink where you want it to be.

Round Ink Blending Tools

Blend it For A Background

Blending distress ink is so much fun. When I do it, it reminds me of playing with finger paints in kindergarten. The colors are very vibrant. You can use these backgrounds for scrapbook pages, tags, and greeting cards, just to name a few ideas

Use two to three colors to make a seamless blend. Use a blending tool or sponge. Ink up the pad or sponge. In a circular motion apply the first color. Apply the next color with a pad for that color. Apply the color blending it with the first color. Apply as many colors that you want using a specific pad for that color.

Start with the center of you paper or project. Add saturated ink from the center and pull the ink out, gently pushing and pulling the ink outward. If you want the top to be dark and fade out to the bottom start with the darker color at the top and work downward.

You can store the pad that you use for that color on the underside of the ink container with a piece of Velcro.

Sunset Blending Recipies

If you want to create a sunset background here are the distress inks that you can use to create a flawless design. They are listed from the top of the paper to the bottom.

Sunset Background #1

  • Dusty Concord
  • Fired Brick
  • Ripe Persimmon

Water Coloring With Distress Inks

One of my favorite things to do with distress inks is to watercolor with them. Even if you do not consider yourself an artist, you can get results better than you can imagine.


  • Distress ink reinkers
  • Watercolor brushes
  • Water
  • Watercolor paper
  • Plastic paint palette or plastic paper plate
  1. Drop a drop or two of the ink from the reinker on the plastic palette or dish
  2. Dip your brush into the ink
  3. Paint as you normally would
  4. Add water with your brush to achieve the effect that you would like and apply

If you are coloring a stamped image, remember to use ink that is resistant to water like Stazon.

Learn To Watercolor With Distress Inks

Distress Embossing Ink

Free Distress Ink Tools And Charts


Ink Blending Combos

You chose the blending tool that is right for you/

You chose the blending tool that is right for you/

One of the best properties of distress ink is the ability to create stunning ink blends for all of your projects. Once you have found the right color combinations that work for you, create color cards that show your preferences. Keep them handy when you need a quick reference for the best colors for your projects.

Here are a few of my personal favorites

Recipe 1

  • Wilted Violet
  • Twisted Citrom
  • Carved Pumpkin
  • Hickory Smoke

Recipe 2

  • Worn Lipstick
  • Stormy Sky
  • Splattered Straw
  • Shabby Shutters

Recipe 3

  • Pine Needles
  • Cracked Pistachio
  • Evergreen Bough
  • Iced Spruce

Distress Ink Storage Solution

I love storing my distress inks in these handy containers made for them by Ranger, They fit in nicely and the lids stay put.

I love storing my distress inks in these handy containers made for them by Ranger, They fit in nicely and the lids stay put.

More Distress Ink Combination Ideas

Resist Distress Technique

This resist distress ink technique adds a lot of interest to any of your projects

What You Need

white cardstock-you need to use a heavy paper at least 80 lb.

stamp of your choice

versamark ink

clear embossing powder

blending tool or sponge

heat tool

How To Do It

  1. Using Versamark ink, stamp your design
  1. Sprinkle clear embossing powder over the images that you have stamped
  2. Tap off excess embossing powder
  3. Heat set the image
  4. Using a soft swirling motion, apply the distress ink over the surface of your embossed image with a blender or sponge
  5. Continue to add and blend your distress inks till the surface is covered
  1. Use a slightly damp cloth to remove color off the surface of the embossed image

Water Drop Technique With Distress Inks

This technique is especially rewarding for beginners. Generally you will want to use two colors of distress inks, but there is no limit to the color combinations that you can achieve,

  1. Tap the color from two distress inks pads side by side on a non stick craft mat.
  2. Lightly spritz water from a misting bottle onto the ink.
  3. Place your paper onto the ink puddle
  4. Gently press the paper to transfer the ink onto it
  5. Allow it to dry or dry with a heating tool

Distress Ink Sprays

Distress Spray Techniques

Iron Off Resist Technique

  1. Blend one or more distress inks on the surface of a tag or paper
  2. Leave some areas untouched or make masks for the areas you want to stay white.
  3. Apply versamark ink to the stamp or stamps you have chosen
  4. Stamp the image onto the surface of the tag or paper
  5. Sprinkle clear embossing powder over the stamped image
  6. Heat set the embossed image with a heat tool
  7. Add an additional layer of distress ink over the embossed image.
  8. Place a sheet of paper over the paper or tag
  9. Iron the surface with a very hot dry iron
  10. The image is now smooth, but still appears on the tag

Selective Embossing With Distress Inks

This is a technique where you select the areas that you would like embossed.

  • Stamp an image with the versamark or stazon ink
  • Allow to dry
  • Using an embossing pen, apply embossing ink to the areas of the image you want to emboss
  • Sprinkle with clear embossing powder and heat set
  • Blend the distress ink of your choice on the project

The embossed areas will remain the original color of your paper

Creating Clouds With Distress Inks

Create clouds with DIY cloud stencils

Create clouds with DIY cloud stencils

Cloudy Sky Technique


  • Twisted Citron and Mermaid Lagoon Distress Ink Pads
  • Tumbled Glass Distress Inks
  • Ink Blending tools or brushes
  • 5" by 7" white card stock
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Craft mat or paper to cover your work surface
  • Sunray stencil (optional) or Post It notes
  1. Create a cloud stencil. Take a piece of white cardstock and draw round puffy designs to mimic cloud tops. Create several different stencils for variation.
  2. Cut out your stencils
  3. Place the first stencil at the top a little below the edge of the 5" by 7" paper.
  4. Start inking the paper with the mermaid lagoon and or the tumbled glass ink in a circular motion. Use a light touch. You can always add more ink later.
  5. Now take your next stencil and place it about an inch below the first image.
  6. Apply the ink again.
  7. Keep working all the way down until your entire piece is covered.
  8. Allow drying time.
  9. Place two post-it notes slightly apart in the upper right-hand corner.
  10. Create a sunray by inking with the citron in between the post-it notes.
  11. Create short and long sun rays to your project
  12. Allow drying time.

Using Distress Inks Reinkers

One of the finest technique in using distress inks is their ability to be used as water colors. For this technique, you will need to use the re-inkers of the colors that you want to use.

You will need:

A plastic paint palette or a styrofoam tray

A waterbrush

Bottles of reinkers in the color of your choice

Scrap paper

Stamped image, best to use water color paper

Drop some reinker on your palette or tray. Prep your water brush by filling it with water. Gently squeeze to make sure it's working. Dip your brush into the ink. Test your color on a scrap piece of paper before adding it to your project. Paint as you normally would, squeezing your brush gently to add water as needed. Allow your project to air dry. You can also use a heat tool to dry it.

Note-if you are using a stamped image, make sure that you use Stazon ink to stamp. Otherwise as you watercolor it, the image will run

Watercoloring And Distress Inks

Stenciling And Reverse Stenciling

Using Stencils With Distress Inks

It is easy to use distress inks with a stencil and the results are very rewarding.

  1. Lay your piece of paper on a hard surface.
  2. Place your stencil over the paper and anchor it down with some low tack tape.
  3. Pick up ink from Distress Ink Pad using a sponge or a foam blending tool. Working in circular motions, apply ink to the surface, blending the inks as you go
  4. Remove the stencil

Reverse Stenciling

Reverse stenciling is the opposite to stenciling with distress inks

  1. Apply distress inks to the stencil
  2. Mist lightly with water
  3. Apply directly to paper

You’ll get a watercolor pattern that is the reverse image of the stencil.

Adding a little tint to vintage photos make them stand out and speak to you.

Adding a little tint to vintage photos make them stand out and speak to you.

Photo Tinting With Distress Inks

Distress Inks have been formulated to tint photos — both originals on glossy or matte photo paper and copies made with ink jet, toner or laser copiers. Pick up color with a brush, sponge or cotton swap and lightly apply the ink over the photo.

Photo Distress Ink Techniques

More Distress Ink Techniques And Ideas


Distress Stain Sprays


Distress Resist Sprays

These sprays are truly the most unique product in the whole line. In essence, they are like a textured coating. It sprays like a sprayable glue, but it is not dry tacky. It seals the surface below and is kind of bumpy. It is waterproff.

The product goes on white, but dries clear,

Never use this product where you do not want it to stay on. Never stamp with distress resist sprays because they will be permanently on your stamp/

The great thing about this product is that it will stick to just about any surface. That means, if you are not careful using it, you may get it on other items.

A spray box is recommended for use. That is simply a cardboard box with one side cut out. Lay a piece of scrap paper on the bottom of the box

You can work with it two ways. You can spray it on the paper or other surface, or you can remove the sprayer and drop droplets on the paper.

Tip For Distress Resist Sprays: Always keep the top on the bottle when not in use. Wipe the nozzle off after use. Use a baby wipe to wipe the nozzle off.

Distress Resist Spray Techniques

Layered Technique

After allowing the resist spray to dry, you simply layer distress inks over it. AS you go, you can add more droplets of resist spray after each color is applied. Allow the resist spray to dry after each coat. Wipe off any excess spray. This is perfect to create a nite sky ! Where the resist is, they will look like stars;

Spotlight Technique

For this technique you need watercolor paper. You spray heavily in one specific area. Set it aside and allow it to dry. You can then apply any water colors or distress inks over the paper. What you are left with is a lot of color and one bright white spot.

Stenciled Technique

Use a background die make a mask out of scrap paper. This creates a stencil. Take the stencil that you created and tape it onto your card with low tack tape (like washi tape) Then spray over the card and the stencil in your spray box with the resist ink very generously. You then remove the stencil carefully. If you are very careful, you could reuse the stencil for another project. Allow to dry. Then apply distress inks.

You can use more than one stencil if you would like following the same directions.

You can use the same technique with words

More On Distress Ink Sprays

Storing Distress Inks

There are a variety of ways that you can store your distress ink pads.

My personal preference for my mini pads is the Ranger Distress Mini Pad Holder.

For any other container you should store the pads flat with the bottom side up. Or you can store them on their sides.

Distress Markers should be stored horizontally on their sides

If you glue a piece of velcro to the bottom of you ink pad, you can stick the blending pad right on the corresponding color and use them over and over again.

Organizing Your Distress Inks

It is super easy to tell the regular distress inks from the oxide inks. The regular distress inks have a black case while the oxide inks have a gray case.

Since the colors are similar, you could keep them together or separate them. That is up to you.I keep mine in a shelf built for them.

But you could also keep them in a drawer. Another option is a bag that is clear and just the right size. You could also use a hinged lid plastic box and place them on their sides.

I keep the sun off of them which keeps them a little juicer

Storing The Blender Ink Pads

You can store the blender pads for the distress inks right under the same color ink pad. Just use some velcro to attach the pad. Make sure when you attach them to place the side that you apply the ink is up.

That way you can use your pads over and over again.

More Organizing Distress Inks Ideas

© 2019 Linda F Correa

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