LETTERPRESS INK - oil or rubber?

From what I've read it's a case of whatever floats your boat! Some people just prefer one or the other, I think I'll swing both ways and have a go with both!
Van Son Rubber Based inks dry mainly by absorption so it can be left overnight on the rollers and doesn't skin over in the tin, they can go very stiff in winter if kept a garage, if this is the case warming the tin is recommended but not adding thinners! Rubber based colours can be mixed together but NOT mixed with oil based.This ink sets rapidly on uncoated papers, but takes longer to dry on coated and metallic papers and dries to a matt finish. Rubber-based inks are not recommended for use with coated or non-absorbent paper.
Oil based dries by 50% oxidation so can't be left on the rollers overnight, in fact if left unattended it could dry within a few hours. Arrgghh! then you might need new rollers. It also forms a skin in the tin resulting in those annoying little lumps in your ink! This ink gives a glossier finish and can be used on any paper stock plus it sets quicker than rubber-based especially on coated and metallic paper. A anti-skin product is available from Gemini printers for use on rollers and ink tins.


I got all my ink (pic above) off eBay at a bargain price of £20 so it pays to keep your eyes open especially as they retail about £14 a tin! I've enough ink to last me my whole letterpress life, mainly all Van Son Rubber-Based and most are unused. I've got different reds, oranges, greens, blues, brown, purple, black, grey and silver the only thing I need is some Transparent White (mixing white) and Opaque White (printing white).

Gemini printers sell Van Son Inks both Oil and Rubber, they also sell it in small amounts, 120ml jars, as well as the 1lb tins, the prices are not on the website but they'll email you an up to date one if you ask. Lawrences sell traditional varying shades of black letterpress oil based ink in tubes or tins, no skinning over in the tubes which is good!

If I find anymore suppliers or if anyone knows of any others let me know and i'll add them to my list!


  1. A kind friend bought me some Adana inks which are in rather handy small tubes. I thought about the Van Son tins but knew they'd last forever and I have a bit of a space issue! J x

  2. Thanks for reminding me! I forgot you can buy adana inks from Caslon, cheers I'll add it to my list! Space issues, tell me about it with a husband, 3 boys aged 15, 13 and 4, a cat and a huge hamster set up and no out buildings oh and ever growing letterpress collection, my house is bursting at the seams! jax x

  3. Anonymous4.7.09

    This blog is wonderful! I am just getting into letterpress and all the resources and suppliers you are listing are so great. Thank you!

    I've bought some Caligo safe wash relief inks, they wash up really easily without white spirit - perfect!

  4. Thanks :) I'll keep em coming! Let us know how you get on with those inks and thanks for the info - can't wait to see what you do
    Jax x


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