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I run a library makerspace, and one of the things we have available is alcohol inks. They are not available in large quantities, the projects being made are generally about the size of a post card.

Recently, someone told me that alcohol ink is extremely dangerous and shouldn't be touched without good ventilation, gloves, and a respirator. Upon further research, I've found that there are a lot of people saying to use these measures, but almost nobody actually exemplifying it in any tutorials.

I suspect that patrons inhaling small amounts of alcohol in one-off projects is probably well within the limits of personal liability, but either way I need to be clear about any potential risks or opportunities for litigation.

To loop back to the main question: Are alcohol inks safe to use in a public makerspace? How much is too much, how much is safe (if any)?

Currently it's a fairly large room, decent ventilation, with small amounts of ink in use.

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When you say "alcohol inks", do you mean those small dropper bottles, that are sold in packs of a dozen different colors in craft stores?

The short answer is, yes, they are perfectly safe.

You can probably stop reading here, but I'm going to need to write a longer answer because that's what's expected on this site.

The alcohol inks that are sold in craft stores contain an extremely dilute form of alcohol, with only a small quantity per bottle, meaning that there is very little of the active ingredient to aerosolize or evaporate during use. So the fume risk is minimal close up, and negligible at a distance of more than about a meter.

Evaporation data (not identical, but a near enough equivalent for what you are doing).

The small opening at the top of each dropper bottle also minimises evaporation.

This means that an individual can safely sit with them for an extended period of time in a room with only moderate ventilation and no respirator or mask, as the active ingredient will never reach a volume that would be harmful to them.

You would only be at risk if you had people using them in a small room with no ventilation, and you were using them in a way that deliberately aerosolized them and they had their face inches over it. For example, if you were airbrushing them in the cupboard under your stairs.

Even then, it would likely only give you a mild headache.

The warnings mostly apply to industrial or commercial use, where you have hours of exposure to highly concentrated inks. Such as in a print studio.

I personally use them to dye resin, and have been doing so for some time. They are mostly alcohol in name only, the biggest problem is them staining things, not from the fumes.

It goes without saying, don't drink them.

On the issue of safety data sheets. I deal with them on a daily basis in a processional capacity, for industrial chemicals that pose a danger to health, and I have the appropriate training to do so.

For crafting inks, safety data sheets are a statutory requirement and are there to limit liability, not to serve as guidance for use. They don't cover volumes, dilutions or use cases.

The same safety data sheet is used for a dropper bottle as for a 50 gallon drum. In the same way that a tree and a toothpick are essentially identical as far as statutory documentation is concerned, but having one dropped on your foot would have a very different effect from the other.

Or, to put it simply, if you're using alcohol ink in an industrial quantity then apply industrial safeguard. If you're using it at home, then crack the window open and stop using it if you start to get a headache.

Or, to put it even simpler, it's perfectly safe, so long as you don't repeatedly sniff directly from the bottle.

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  • Thank you. I think I'll still warn against directly inhaling from the bottle or getting it in ones eyes just to cover the bases, but we do have personal liability waivers that should suffice for this. Jan 8 at 17:44
  • @LibrarySeph As it says alcohol I would check whether it is ethanol (the same alcohol as in drinks) or methanol (which causes blindness when drunk). Of course ink should never be drank but people do stupid things if they read the word alcohol on a liquid.
    – quarague
    Jan 22 at 17:55
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There's no simple yes or no answer. It depends on the specific product and on the amount you're using.

Please consult the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) that should be included with the inks. If you don't have a physical copy, search for "safety data sheet [product name]".

I've looked through a few random Safety Data Sheets for different alcohol inks or related products. Only a single one (JACKSON’S ALCOHOL INK) hints at their product being safe to use without a fume hood or respirator:

A system of local and/or general exhaust is recommended to keep employee exposures below the Airborne Exposure Limits. Local exhaust ventilation is generally preferred because it can control the emissions of the contaminant at its source, preventing dispersion of it into the general work area. Use explosion-proof equipment.

All others mandate "use under ventilated conditions" or use "with local exhaust ventilation". All data sheets warn against getting fumes or splashes into your eyes. In case of skin contact, all products recommend washing the skin thorougly with water.

You should keep in mind that these SDS assume an industrial setting with a person working with their product for 8 hours. It's basically the manufacturers' legal protection against compensation claims. If you only use a few drops of ink in a craft project for an hour at most, you can be more lax about those precautions. But no manufacturer will tell you exactly how lax you can be.

In your specific setting I would first require a short safety instruction before any person is allowed to use the inks. Put a physical copy of the SDS, as well as an abreviated version of it in easy language, in the same storage container as the inks. Provide gloves and eye protection for anyone who wants to use them (typically they'll collect dust, but now it's the liability of the user).

An abbreviated version of the SDS is a good idea for any tool in any maker space. It should list the name of the tool or material and general instructions for safe use like "WARNING flammable", "wear gloves and eye protection", "open windows during use", etc.

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