You will need two small palette knives with springy blades around 150mm long, one with a round end, one a push-knife (with a flat end like a a high-class dec­o­ra­tors scraper). Also a small hand-roller, say 75mm wide x 25mm diam­e­ter, a flat ink slab 300 x 300mm or larg­er, turps and clean­ing rags-or kitchen roll. Some might pre­fer to work in rub­ber gloves.

Most print­ing ink comes in cans, of a size which many com­mer­cial print­ers use up in one job! Nev­er­the­less, such cans gen­er­al­ly have a close-fit­ting lid-don’t dam­age it! Inside a fresh can the ink is cov­ered by an ‘air­tight’ waxed-paper or plas­tic disc, care­ful­ly peel this back and skim a suit­able amount from the sur­face, using the push-knife with­out dig­ging down. A blob the size of half a golf-ball is suf­fi­cient for sev­er­al hun­dred cards or let­ter­heads. Smooth the air­tight disc back: be care­ful to avoid trap­ping any pock­ets of air. The air­tight disc restricts oxi­da­tion to a thin ring of ink around the wall of the can. If you’ve inher­it­ed a care­less­ly used can you’ll waste, not only time, but more ink than you can use, in try­ing to pick out bits of oxi­dised ink ‘skin’-hard insol­u­ble chips-well worth avoiding.

Even in warm con­di­tions, ink needs ‘work­ing’ to make it usable. Don’t spread ink beyond a patch the width of your hand-roller but, with the round-end knife, pum­mel, lift, fold and beat it vig­or­ous­ly. Fric­tion between the gran­ules of pig­ment and medi­um will warm and loosen the ink. Test occa­sion­al­ly by lift­ing the knife until the strand of ink con­nect­ing knife to slab breaks; each time you’ll notice the strand length­en before break­ing. When you can draw up a 100 — 150mm strand, the ink is use­able-con­sis­ten­cy sim­i­lar to gold­en syrup — how deli­cious­ly un-healthy!

Scrape most of the ink into a blob and push it out of the way to be your reserve. Roll your hand-roller back and forth over the remain­ing patch of ink, lift­ing the roller between strokes to ensure all of its cir­cum­fer­ence is even­ly coat­ed. Trans­fer, with the hand-roller, a coat­ing of ink to the ink-plate or disc of your press and, before clip­ping in the forme, work the press-rollers to and fro until they and the disc are even­ly coat­ed. Clip in the forme and, with grip­pers, etc. well clear of the type, work the rollers across ink disc and type forme sev­er­al times with­out actu­al­ly ful­ly clos­ing plat­en to bed. Now press down ful­ly and take a tri­al pull on the tym­pan (the card pack­ing on the plat­en) and exam­ine it carefully.

If the impres­sion is even, but under-impressed and under-inked, the thick­ness of a sheet of paper or card will improve it. Care­ful­ly posi­tion lay-gauges and grip­pers to locate the paper with­out hit­ting the type and try a sheet. If still under-inked, add a lit­tle more and try anoth­er pull; don’t over-ink, build up gradually.

An un-even impres­sion demands local pres­sure adjust­ment; weak at the hinge end of the plat­en requires more tym­pan pack­ing, weak at the open end requires less. One cor­ner weak, or heavy demands care­ful adjust­ment of the pres­sure screws behind the bed. If indi­vid­ual let­ters print too strong or too weak, check for and replace worn let­ters, plane it (again?) on a clean impos­ing sur­face and try again.

This guide kind­ly con­tributed by John R Smith of the Old Forge Press. Orig­i­nal­ly appeared in the newslet­ter of the Oxford Guild of Printers

Ink Additives

White Ink
White Ink (from Flickr)

Com­mer­cial print­ers used a myr­i­ad of addi­tion­al ingre­di­ents to make a dif­fer­ence to their inks.  When print­ers were using a great mass of ink the unit price was very impor­tant, and so cheap ink was com­mon.  A sur­vey of com­mer­cial print­ers showed that com­mon addi­tions at one time were —

  • French chalk
  • Paraf­fin wax
  • Lard
  • Coconut oil
  • Beeswax
  • Lubri­cat­ing oil

Work was done to reduce the num­ber of addi­tives (known as dopes) to a real­is­tic num­ber.  The list below should cov­er almost all changes need­ed to inks —

  • Heavy Var­nish
    will stiff­en the ink and also make it dry a lit­tle quicker
  • Medi­um Varnish
    will soft­en the ink, use­ful for print­ing on a soft­er paper
  • Reduc­er (‘Num­ber 1’ from a com­mer­cial supplier)
    this will slow dry­ing but reduces pick­ing: the action of the ink pulling the sur­face of the paper away from the main body of the paper
  • Super­mat­ting
    this addi­tive will help ink to dry when over­print­ing on a sur­face that will not allow ink to be absorbed, like plas­tic or met­al foil
  • Reduc­er (‘Num­ber 2’ from a com­mer­cial supplier)
    This helps ink soak in to the paper

While some print­ers had a ten­den­cy to add dopes to every ink, the rec­om­men­da­tion of the experts was clear: ink mak­er pro­duce inks that should work direct from the can.  Seek advice from your ink man­u­fac­tur­er about what is best for a par­tic­u­lar job and paper.