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.