Thursday, December 1, 2016

So, You Have a Question about Letterpress Inks?

I got an email from a book artist who recently bought a press. She had a question about inks.
So, can you let me know what kind of inks your books are printed with?  I'm wondering if oil-based is best for little books.
Someone had recommended rubberbased inks. I dislike rubberbased inks, but they have their purpose: if you are doing a long run of hundreds of something or want to come back the next day and print (!) They do stay open quite a while, and for that reason you cannot stack the prints or they will offset onto each other and sticking together and leaving marks. They are also good if you are teaching a six-hour studio class and need to keep printing. The rubberbased inks don't skin over, so you can use every drop.


I still prefer oil-based inks. Oil-based inks dry very quickly, and I have found I can stack the prints, even immediately after printing (but only if the print area is light or small like business cards or postcards or lines of regular text not bold or wood type). For linoleum reduction cuts, like the ones in my artist's books, She Is the Keeper and Tree, for example, I had to let them dry without stacking. If you are layering inks at all (like reduction cuts), oil based is the way to go. Printing on glassine or Mylar should only be done with oil-based inks. I use a piece of marble tile for my inking/mixing slab.



The only downside to oil-based inks is that the ink dries in the can, forming a skin that must be removed before use. Otherwise, the dried bits get worked into the rollers and leave spots here and there as they stick to the type and are printed. There are various sprays and barrier papers you can try. When I use my inks I just cut around the edge as if I were removing a cake from a pan, then lightly skim off the dried ink skin. It's true this is less economical than using rubberbased inks, but so be it.


Whatever you use, the finished works should be kept out of direct sunlight. I’ve had some fading issues, primarily with gold and silver, which are only available in oil.

Clean up has been going well these days. Much more quickly and less toxic as I’ve been cleaning the press primarily with Crisco: a tablespoon or so loosens up the ink. Just keep working it in and wiping it down with a shop rag or clean diaper rag. Wipe down with odorless mineral spirits at the very end to degrease.

Although Van Son no longer makes small 1 lb. cans (only the 1 kilo/2.2 lb), you can get Victory relief inks from NA Graphics. I've been gradually replacing with these, and they work very well. Keep a screwdriver handy, though, the lids are tight.

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