Ink skinning, ink in tubes

I thought I’d start a new topic as a follow-on to Winking Cat’s post about the Charbonnel inks. I use oil-based inks too (Handschy litho inks), and I seem to lose a lot of ink through skinning. I use an anti-skin spray plus a waxed-paper “ear.” I also coat the rim of the can with Vaseline. I’m wondering if it would be easier and even cost-effective to buy inks in smaller quantities in tubes. Has anyone tried oil-based inks in tubes, and if so, is there a problem with hardening? I know you can also fill your own tubes with ink. Has anyone tried this?



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I have tubes of Kelsey ink which are as good now as when first purchased; that being well over twenty-five years. And, prior to retiring from business, I filled cleaned toothpaste tubes with oil-based ink which to this day perform as fresh. For the hobby - or even small operation - letterpress printer, tubes are far less wasteful of oil ink. Some on this list might re-call when A.B. Dick (amongst others) sold tubed oil-base inks that were very popular with the smaller operations.Rubber-based inks largely eliminate waste but then, the pedestrian result of their dullness seems hardly worth the inking-up. A member on this list sells tubes of ink.

As forme mentions there is a member on this list who sells tubes of ink - his name is Dave Robison ([email protected]) and I have to say he is fantastic. I bought several tubes of oil based ink from him a few months ago and the tubes are much easier to work with than my other inks in cans and easier to mix pantone colors with because you can squeeze out equal parts of each color for more accurate color matching. Dave is quite generous too (I’m convinced he gives more ink than other suppliers as the tubes I bought from Dave came much more fully filled than the same weight tube from another supplier) and very helpful too. I’m convinced ink in tubes is the way to go! ;o)

Thank you, Candy, for the kind words. I started putting ink into tubes simply as a way of sharing smaller amounts of ink (from too-large cans) among local letterpress friends, and it seems to be appreciated. Obviously, tubes of ink aren’t necessarily best for everyone nor every situation, but for many of us doing short runs on small presses using small amounts of ink, tubes do seem to work well.

Oil-base inks dry largely by oxidizing, so eliminating air contact, whether in a can or in a tube (easier), pretty much eliminates the ink waste due to skinning. As forme indicates, old inks can print just fine; I have some 50-year old ink that works quite well.

Filling your own tubes can be a bit messy if you’re not careful, but Dave Celani has a nice web page ( showing how he does it, and it gets easier with practice. If you have specific ink you want in tubes and absolutely don’t want to do it yourself, I’m sure we could figure something out.

Dave (the Ink in Tubes guy)

We cover the tops of the cans with Saran Wrap - not the microwavable kind.

I mix a lot of special inks for my work, and store the excess in tubes. It keeps well that way… and is a lot easier to work with than cans. The only messy part is getting the ink into the tubes.

I get my tubes from a local Art Supply house for ~$1 each.

This is music to my ears. I have three ancient huge(1k) tins. One each of Magenta, Cyan and Lemon Yellow. As I use small amounts for each of my infrequent bouts of of printing lino and letterpress on my Albian Press, the contents of the tins has become a crisp and crunchy landscape with vestiges of ink far below.
Now, thanks to your ides and help I shall scrape those vestiges into second hand toothpaste tubes (even if it means buying some new ones) and then my precious ink may last me another decade or so. I even mix black with these three additive primaries.

Has anyone given reusable syringes a shot? (Pun absolutely intended)

I suppose it would have the side-effect of making your ink table look a bit like a mad scientist’s lab, but that might not be wholly unappealing to some.

ages ago i was in a letterpress shop and the owner/chief pressman put water on the surface of open cans of ink. tryed this with oil base offset inks and it reduces the skin to a very soft film. having shown this to other people in the trade most reacted with fear of ruining the ink but after trying it think it is a great time and material saver.


It actually makes a lot of sense. Any water that comes out of the can would evaporate very quickly on press.

I’ve been using rounds made from the protective sheet removed from photopolymer. Works pretty well…
I do like the tube idea though.
Seems like I’m seeing more inks only available in kilo cans - 2.2 pounds. That’s a lot of toothpaste!


I worked in a shop that had a leaky roof, we used to catch the drips in half empty ten pound ink cans. The water will make the cans rust, creating a whole ‘nother problem.


About 40 years ago, I recollect that you could get Van Son ink in a tube with a spout. These tubes were just like the tubes of caulk which you can buy in any hardware store today. You could use a standard caulking gun to squeeze out the amount of ink you wanted. I wonder why they stopped packaging ink this way.

I ‘googled’ ‘empty tubes’ and found that dear old Lawrence, sold three for a £ (in London, UK by post). SO I treated myself to a new roller while I was about it.
Filling the tubes wasn’t so bad with some judicious use of a pallet knife and a supply of rags and white spirit. Anyway I don’t mind having the noble mark of the ‘artist’ on my hands. Infact, having made an inky mark on the front of a Tshirt, I proceeded to do a rather fetching collection of coloured marks with fabric paints to join it and now wear my permanent ‘artist’s smock’ with pride.

Ink in tubes, good. Ink in soft-drink-cans, better! Since there is an extraordinary amount of ink thrown away by commercial printers, as “duct-scrapings”, who would bother to *buy* ink!
The photo will explain my way of storing more ink than I could ever use.
The open top of the soft-drink can is sealed with epoxy auto-panel filler and reverse-inserted back into the can, ready for the gun, or crimped over and sealed, for long-term storage. Die cut washers of waxed corrie-cardboard, paper, thick plastic, rubber, Al-offset-plates (with or without ears for removal) will prevent the skinning. Later, a hole made in the bottom, with another base as the cap. One squeeze of the gun gives enough colour to ink-up the Heidelberg platen. Soft-drink cans are easier to fill than toothpaste tubes and you can rip them open and recycle your empties when you’re finished.
Soft-drink cans also make good ‘Gummi-bear” /”Silicon-sealer” brayer-roller moulds, just tear them open, when they’re set, the laquer inside has a good “release” factor. Two together should just fit the t-platen.
Coke cans good, Red Bull cans, better!