Ink: A Comparison

So, after letting the “Shit / I’m sorry” cards dry for a while I’ve decided to take a closer look at the performance of the water based ink vs. rubber based ink. Here are some closeups:

I must admit that I’m not 100% sure the card on the left was printed with rubber based ink, because I printed at The Evanston Print and Paper Shop before I had my own presses. It could have been oil based, but the two look very similar when dry so I’m not sure it matters much except in the cleanup department. Anyway, here are some points for comparison:

1. Workability: How do the inks distribute on the rollers? Does the ink begin to dry as it sits on the press? What about the contents of the can?

Water Based Inks: Since I haven’t had these too long it’s hard to say if any crust will develop in the jars, but I’m going to guess not. It’s a nice consistency coming out of the jar, and is very spreadable in the ink disc. Starts out a little glommy on the rollers but eventually evens out and is nice. I noticed no drying while it sat on the press.

Rubber Based Inks: Develops a top crust while in the can, and is very tacky going on the rollers. Doesn’t seem to dry out when on the press.

2. Cleanup:
How easily to the inks clean off the press? What sort of materials are required?

Water Based Inks: Most of the ink comes off with a dry cloth before using any solvent at all. Vegetable or baby oil can be used for final cleanup, though I found even after this step the rollers still had a little bit of ink on them. The cleanup process is great for avoiding toxic inhalations, but requires a bit more patience towards the end.

Rubber Based Inks: Requires a fair amount of elbow grease, even when it has been loosened using Crisco. Mineral spirits are the best way to get everything completely clean, but do produce toxic fumes.

3. Print Durability:
Do the prints smudge when dry? How long does it take to become fully dry?

Water Based Inks: The prints did withstand the “cat test,” meaning a brief scramble of paws across the top. So it’s not like the ink is running all over the place, and normal handling didn’t produce any visible smudges. However, if your hands are the least bit damp it definitely smears the ink. Seemed pretty dry within 24 hours.

Rubber Based Inks: Once it’s dry, it’s not going anywhere…even if you are a sweaty monster. Initial drying goes pretty fast, and complete dry within 24 hours.

4. Print Quality:
Does the ink bleed? What’s the coverage like?

Water Based Inks: In the end, print quality will really determine whether a particular ink is viable or not. Unfortunately, I’m just not won over by the water based inks’ mottled appearance. As you can see if you click the photo to enlarge, it just seems a little…blobby. The edges seem like they are bleeding out just slightly, and it’s just not particularly crisp. It’s possible the mottled-ness might be remedied by using a less textured paper (the photo is Luxe from Waste Not Paper), but I feel like a good ink should hold up to this type of paper.

Rubber Based Inks: Obviously these are one of the standard letterpress inks because they print well. The edges are crisp (minus the, ahem, slight over-inking spooge on this particular print), and the coverage is consistent. At this magnification some of the same mottled appearance is visible, again likely due to the paper, but it’s not as significant as the water based ink.

Well, it looks like my search for a non-toxic ink with non-toxic cleanup and good print quality will continue. Still to try: soy inks, rubber based inks with non-toxic cleanup, oil-based inks with non-toxic cleanup, acrylic inks with non-toxic cleanup. Cleaners to investigate: baby oil, California wash, Ivory soap. Are there any other ink types or cleaners I’m missing that should be tested?

Pulp & Press Soundtrack 3/20/09: Black Hearted Love (PJ Harvey & John Parish).


About Nina

I am a design consultant, writer, letterpress printer, nature enthusiast, and lover of local/organic food...with a dash of rock and roll. Also, I want to be a cowboy.
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3 Responses to Ink: A Comparison

  1. Eva says:

    have you tried gans soy based inks and nature wash?

  2. Eva,I have not tried soy based inks yet. I’ve read a lot of conflicting information on whether or not soy inks are actually environmentally friendly or not, ans I’m not entirely sure about their VOC content either. As for nature wash – I’ll look into it.Thanks!Nina

  3. Eva says:

    I’ll be interested to see what conclusion you come to.

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