Light fast inks anyone

Does anyone have any thoughts on the relative light-fastness of inks? I’ve read a post which rates Charbonnel but that’s difficult to find in the UK. Instead I’m using Graphic Chemical Lithographic inks which are marketed as “archival” – anyone got experience of those?

I’m assuming Van Son Rubber-based designed for the offset market are less resistant to fade?

Thanks in anticipation

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I would say that inks designed for commercial offset applications are not going to be very lightfast or “archival”.
Commercial printers tend to be rather price sensitive, so ink manufactures must provide an effective product for a low price. The features most offset printers want are inks that stay open in the fountain, inks that flow smoothly at high speed (10,000+ sheets per hour), inks that set and dry quickly, and are earth friendly.
If you want archival inks, you should look for inks designed for printmaking. I think inks for etching work well.



Ink color fading has to do with the pigments in the ink, rather than the “vehicle” (whether oil base, rubber base, etc.). Different colors will fade differently, and the “0” Pantone Basic Colors were introduced relatively recently (a decade or so ago?) with fade-resistant pigments. For instance, Warm Red is considered “not light fast” (it fades) while Red 032 is fade resistant, and Rubine Red is in between these in terms of fading. You might search online for Gans Technical Bulletin #159, which specifically lists a number of Pantone colors that are “semi fast to light” as well as many that are not light fast and a relative few that are “fast to light.”

Dave (the Ink in Tubes guy)


Textbooks for artists in oil colors often have tables giving the properties of various pigments, including toxicity, permanence, drying times, strength of skin, and cost, and giving alternate common or trade names for the same pigment. Ink and paint are similar in formulation, and these tables are a good way to learn something about the various grades of “professional” and “student” colors.

Most printing is ephemeral, and cost is a consideration, especially in long runs with high coverage. So most inks (and especially reds and yellows) are made with pigments that are less expensive and not too lightfast.

You could try working with the ink manufacturer to mix inks using cadmium pigments, for instance—but it would be expensive. Protect the printing from light if possible. Try inks made for outdoor use, for posters, or that are formulated to withstand exposure better. I’ve sometimes added artists’ permanent colors to printers’ ink to attempt to make it more permanent. Artists’ oils are very buttery and do not flow like printers’ ink, and do not dry as quickly nor with as much gloss. Color schemes based on earth pigments may be longer-lasting too, as Devils Tail Press remarks.

It’s hard to know for certain without having some means of accelerated testing. Good Luck!


I contacted Graphic Chem and thought I’d share some of the things they had to say:

“One word of caution on the commercial inks available (ie offset)… sometimes when asked they will respond positively to the question ‘are these inks permanent?’ They will in all honesty tell you that they are. Usually, however, this means that they are commercially permanent which is something like 120-180 days. The better question is the one which you asked me earlier – are they lightfast?”

“Just about the only thing that you can do to effect light fastness is to add copious amounts of tint base to our inks.”

They went onto say light fastness is related to pigment load – recommending their Perfection Palette range of etching inks as suitable for letterpress:

“Standard etching inks are also, less highly pigmented. An etching ink is designed to achieve its color in a thick film. Relief type inks, including letterpress, are designed to achieve their color with a very thin film, hence they are more highly loaded with pigment.

There is a significant difference between a standard etching ink and a Perfection Palette ink. The latter will work reasonably well for letterpress because as crossover inks, their pigment load is similar to any relief ink. When they are used for traditional etching, the colors will print darker than they do for relief because of this load. The former, traditional etching inks are not good prospects for the letterpress technique.”

I’d be interested to hear what people using etching inks have to say about this – anybody using the charbonnel etching inks for example like to comment?

The vast majority of my work requires archival quality, lightfast inks, so I am very conscious of the types of ink I use. However, it’s not difficult to find out which ink is lightfast and which is not.

Lightfastness is strictly related to the type of pigment in the ink. Many, if not most, ink manufacturers list the actual pigment type on the label….. even consumer grade inks like Speedball. The lightfastness of these pigments are a known quality, and they are rated in numerous reference books for artists, paint manufacturers, and so forth. I use a small book “Pigments for Artists” in my shop. You can also find a pigment’s lightfastness rating on the Internet. All you have to do is take the time to look them up.

BUT one must always be aware that very few inks are 100% lightfast. Only carbon black, and a few mineral pigments can claim that quality. Even the best chrome pigments will fade if left in direct sunlight long enough.

If they do not list the pigments on the label, I don’t consider them to be lightfast / archival.

About etching inks:
The above quotation provided by John Christopher is correct when using standard or student grade etching inks. The one’s provided by most art stores are rather weakly pigment loaded, and are a bit too greasy to work well with a self-inking letterpress.

However, this is not the case with Charbonnell Etching inks. These are actually the same formulation as their old, now discontinued, relief printing ink. They are a rather simple linseed oil base with a heavy pigment loading. In fact, it appears to be a heavier loading than most relief / letterpress inks currently on the market.

I use Charbonnel for most of my hand-inked work. it IS however, a bit thinner than I like for platen-press printing.

Finally, about the NEED for lightfast inks:
While I agree that much of what letterpress folks print is of a casual / temporary importance, much of it is important enough to warrant the use of lightfast inks.

Consider the Wedding Invitations that many Briar Press folks print. Don’t we want them to last a lifetime? Wouldn’t it be a shame for our customers to dig through their momentos when they are 95 years old…. only to discover that they have faded to a nasty purple-blue color? I don’t print wedding invitations, but if I did I’d make sure that they were as bright and beautiful in 100 years as they were the day they were printed.