Ink That Will Not Stain, Washable Ink from Syracuse Stage

by From Jessica Culligan
in Props
Syracuse Stage’s Washable Ink Recipe
Syracuse Stage’s Washable Ink Recipe

Jessica Culligan is a Prop Artisan at Syracuse Stage. A recent production of Pride and Prejudice, called for a bit of stage business that potentially would be a prop headache. The Lizzie Bennet character spills ink on her dress and the prop department was tasked with coming up with an ink solution that would wash out of the dress. A dress that first stays on stage long enough for the stain to begin drying and letting the ink solution soak into the costume. We asked Culligan to share the recipe of their washable ink with our Stage Directions readers:

We needed to find an ink that wouldn’t stain her light purple dress and, as the actress stays on stage for a while after the spill, also wouldn’t disappear too fast, which is what we discovered when we first tried commercially available disappearing ink. Costumes actually created an insert panel for just the bodice that could come out easily and get washed every night, so they didn’t have to scrub an entire dress. Now, granted, this is liquid so who knows where it’s going to go, but for the most part, it falls on the insert area.
The Ingredients

Trial and Error
We went through numerous variations; including washable paint and different kinds of food dyes. We tried just about everything and finally decided on this mixture which uses beetroot powder. The great thing about beetroot powder is that, somehow, when beetroot juice is turned into a powder, and then you turn it back into a liquid, it loses its staining properties. That is why companies use it in makeup, because it won’t permanently stain your skin. 
Beet Root Powder Mix

Fine Tuning the Color
We first discovered beetroot powder, because for previous shows we needed to have a red liquid that if spilled on a white shirt but wouldn’t stain it. So, I decided to try it with this, but of course we didn’t want the ink to be red in color so we mixed it with blue dish soap, and just a few drops of the blue dye. First I mix the beetroot powder back into a liquid. When mixing up the beetroot liquid, I had to strain it twice, because the pulp can quickly turn brown. I try to get as much pulp out as I can by straining it through a yogurt bag that you can get at any grocery store. 

The Magic is in the Mix
The Soap Mixture Two Bottles To Mix

We also found how you mix it makes a big difference. We discovered that if you don’t mix it up fresh every time, less than 24 hours later, all the red will disappear and you lose the color you need. If you put some isopropyl alcohol in there, it helps keep the red fresh, but that means that the stage crew must mix up two parts fresh every night. I say two parts because the separate ingredients, the beetroot/alcohol and the soap/color mixes each have a shelf life, but not once combined together. That’s the only pitfall of this solution. So, they’ve got one bottle of soap mixture, which is water, soap, and the blue dye (we found green food coloring didn’t wash out completely), and one bottle of beetroot juice and the isopropyl alcohol. I gave them two plastic squeeze bottles. They just mix them together every night until they get the right color and and fill the inkwell. Again, depending on how thick or dark you make your beetroot juice, depends on how much you need for your mixture. Our crew mixes it to just about half-and-half. 
The Ink Well filled with the Washable Ink

Our little inkwell holds about four teaspoons of liquid and we have 30 shows, so we made up probably a good three cups, if not more, of the soap mixture. We did go through an awful lot of soap experimenting with this. One time the mixture got a little too watery, and then it was getting erratic. You’ve got to stick to the recipe, or else it just goes everywhere. You can, however, actually write with this ink I discovered. 
The Ink Remover is A. L. Wilson’s QwikGo® - Protein Stain Remover

I worked closely with costumes when we were trying to get the right consistency and have the washability. Because they don’t have time to wash it right away, they were leaving it to sit in a bucket to soak. To clean the ink stain out of the bodice’s insert panel, we used A. L. Wilson’s QwikGo® - Protein Stain Remover, which removes organic stains. That takes out the last little bit of pinkish tint that is left on the fabric; it washes out nicely. You do have to use a little bit of elbow grease. I accidentally let it sit for six hours the first time and it still came out. So even if it dries fully, it’ll still come out, which is nice.  
Out, Out ... 

Syracuse Stage's Washable Ink Recipe:

Bottle One: 
2 Tbs Blue Soap (Dawn Ultra)
2 Tbs Water
3 Drops Blue Food Coloring (Use more if needed after adding Beet Root liquid) 

Bottle Two:
1/8 Cup of Beet Root Liquid (2 Tbs Beet Root Powder + 1/2 cup water. Strain through a yogurt bag 2 times) 
1 Tbs Rubbing Alcohol

Mix thoroughly. Use within 12 hrs.