Ink Additives

Letterpress: Printing the Blue Plate
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.