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10 ways to use Distress ink

10 ways to use Distress ink

The man behind Distress: Tim Holtz

In this blog, we'll tell you all about Distress! But before we dive into the world of this special ink, first a brief word about its creator. Tim Holtz is one of the five designers at Ranger Ink and a true icon within the craft world. His love for vintage has inspired him to develop the range of Distress products, Alcohol Ink, his Idea-ology line and many other craft supplies. Read more about Tim Holtz!

Distress ink

The Distress inks by Tim Holtz are a line of crafting inks that stand out. These water-based dye inks have incredible colour intensity and stability. Most dye inks, like Distress, are water-based. Distress ink loves water and, due to its unique composition, reacts to it! Water doesn't break down the colour but makes the ink spread across the paper, creating beautiful effects. While Distress inks are perfect for traditional ink techniques, their unique qualities also open a new set of possibilities.

Oxide ink

Besides the Distress dye ink, there is also Distress oxide ink. Oxide ink is a combination of dye ink and pigment ink. When the ink comes into contact with water, it oxidizes. The chemical reaction gives the ink a chalk-like appearance. This effect can differ for each ink type and paper colour.

Difference between Distress Ink and Oxide

There are several differences between Distress Ink and Distress Oxide. Distress ink is a little thinner and more transparent, as a result of which this ink dries faster and is absorbed quicker by the paper. With Distress ink, the background (whether that's a text or illustration) always remains visible through the ink. Distress Oxide, on the other hand, is opaque and dries more slowly because it is somewhat 'thicker'. Distress Oxide is creamy and - due to its unique composition with pigments - stays on paper or cardstock better. This makes it easier to blend this ink with another colour, even easier than the Distress Ink. The differences between Distress Ink and Distress Oxide are:

  • Distress ink is thinner and more transparent
  • Distress Oxide is creamy
  • Distress Oxide is more opaque
  • Distress ink dries faster than Distress Oxide
  • Distress ink is absorbed by the paper, while Distress Oxide remains more on the paper
  • Although both inks can be blended the unique properties of Oxide make it even easier to mix colours.

How to store Distress Ink

The Distress Inks are available in all the colours of the rainbow and new fantastic colours are added to the range regularly. It's fun to collect as many colours as possible, but how do you store all those Distress Ink stamp boxes? Fortunately, Tim Holtz has also come up with a solution for this. The Tim Holtz Distress Ink Pads Storage is a handy storage tin so you can organise and store 15 Distress and Oxide stamping pads. Storage tins are also available for other Distress products.

Distress Ink Colour Chart

Make your own Distress Oxide colour chart or a colour chart for Distress Ink by downloading the 'Distress Colour Chart' below. This allows you to preview what the ink colours look like on paper. With the Distress Colour Labels, you can print your own labels to stick on the sides of the stamping boxes. Not only useful when determining the right colour for your project but also for quickly finding that one colour among all your inks. Tip: Laminate the labels with some tape to prevent them from getting dirty or tearing.

Which paper?

Distress cardstock, watercolour cardstock, plain cardstock: each type of paper has a different absorption rate that affects how the ink reacts. Dye ink is less visible on dark paper while oxide ink has more pigment and is creamier. If the ink doesn't create the desired effect or reacts as hoped, try a different type of paper. Play around with it.


Distress inks stay wet longer than other stamping inks and continue to react as soon as you add water, even hours or days later. Distress ink is a true all-rounder and suitable for many different applications, such as stamping, distressing, blending, stenciling and water colouring.

In this blog we would like to show you 10 techniques to try out with Distress ink. Read along and be surprised by the versatility of Distress ink!


1. Stamping

Ink is used a lot for stamping. That also goes for Distress inks because they stamp well on porous surfaces and are compatible with all kinds of stamps. However, the stamped image is slightly less sharp than when using pigment inks. Use Distress inks for projects where you want to create a grungy, vintage and shabby chic look.

2. Blending

Distress ink is perfect for blending. Pick up the ink with a blending tool and apply it loosely to the surface in circular motions. By layering two or three ink colours together, you can vary the colours endlessly. Or, apply the same colour several times and get beautiful tone gradations.

3. Stenciling

Because distress inks are very suitable for blending and layering, working with a stencil is a logical choice. Place a stencil on your paper and apply the Distress ink using the same technique as you would use for blending. Repeat the same pattern with different shades of ink for a gradual effect or use contrasting colours for a bold background.

4. Embossing

A possibly surprising technique is the combination of Distress dye ink or oxide ink with embossing powder. Ink a stamp, for example, a clear stamp and make a print on paper. Sprinkle the image with transparent embossing powder (this way you will still see the colour of the ink) and shake off the excess powder. Heat the powder with a heat tool and see how the colour of the ink comes out beautifully, creating a grungy effect.

5. Reverse stenciling

With reverse stenciling or direct stenciling, you apply the ink directly onto the stencil. You then place the stencil with the inked side on the paper. This technique creates a negative print, i.e. a coloured background and shapes in the colour of the paper. Apply some ink to the stencil and mist with water. The Distress ink gives the stencilled image a watercolour effect.


6. Wrinkled Distress

In this technique, you first crumple up a piece of paper or cardstock. Straighten it up a bit and swipe the ink pad directly over the paper. Spritz the paper with water to activate the Distress ink. This creates a stunning effect of coloured lines and splatters on a sheet with an aged look. If you want to straighten the paper completely, you can iron it with a craft iron.

7. Direct-to-paper

Direct-to-paper inking (or DTP) is so simple that you might not even call it a technique! All you do is apply colour from an inkpad directly onto the paper and activate it with a mister or a wet cloth. Now you can go crazy with the ink: blending, smudging the edges, creating dripage and much more!

8. Watercolour

To watercolour with Distress ink, use a wet brush or a brush pen. First, stamp the ink pad on a surface or use a drop of ink from the Distress ink re-inkers. Then pick up the diluted ink with your (water) brush and you can start colouring! Be sure to try this technique with oxide ink as well - it's just like painting with real paint!

9. Photo tinting

Due to their unique composition, Distress inks are also suitable for colouring photographs. Print your favourite picture on matte or slightly glossy photo paper (e.g. inkjet photo paper). Apply by picking up the ink with a brush, sponge or cotton bud and then lightly applying the ink to the photo. Photos with a laminated gloss layer, which original or hard copy ones often have, are not suitable for this technique, as this layer is water and ink repellent.

10. Ink transfer

With this technique, you first apply the Distress ink to a non-porous surface (an acrylic block, for example) and mix it with water. Stamp on the material of your choice; watercolour paper is particularly well suited for this. The effect you get is a watercolour background that you can then use as a basis for all kinds of projects.

Buy Distress ink

Would you like to try out one or more techniques? Then take a look at all our Distress inks. Vaessen Creative sells all colours of Distress Ink and Distress Oxide. We also sell other Distress products, such as re-inkers (as a refill for your stamping pad or to achieve more effects), Spray Stains, Oxide Sprays and Embossing Glaze.


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