OK everybody whats the best, least toxic ink??

My sweetie and I have moved our small press into our new live/work space and just cant handle the fumes and clean up of our older oil based inks. We also would like to be using a more environmentally friendly ink…

So, we are looking into a water based ink? soy based? rubber based?
What is the best?
In terms of
-quality of print
-clean up

Thank you for all and any input!!

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I can tell you I haven’t been having much luck with Faust water-based ink… maybe others have had a better experience, but it doesn’t print detail very well and takes forever to dry… but clean up is really easy!

I think Milk and toast hits the nail on the head.

Any of the water soluble inks used I’ve just don’t print as well as oil/rubber based inks. (rubber ink is still petro-chemically derived so isn’t good for you)

You also don’t want to be washing up your wood type (if applicable) with water.

I’ve recently had to house my print stuff in my room in my flat (apartment in US terms) and I’ve been waking up with a soar throat when I’ve left stuff to dry over night. Not good!!

The VOCs in inks can cause nasty problems down the line. A soar throat will be the least of my worries.

You are right to be wary.
You face a compromise, but be aware just because something is water soluble doesn’t mean it is non toxic!
you could still be breathing in a lot of foul chemicals.

I’ll be interested with any recommendations on this topic too.

Are you really having problems with the smell (or whatever) of the ink, or is it just the cleanup? When we demonstrate presses indoors at shows, which we do regularly, there’s never been much of any objection to the printing and the odor of ink.

Cleanup, however, is a different story! We tend to use traditional (somewhat smelly) solvents for washing the presses, so we simply take the forms/rollers/ink disks, or the entire press if small enough, outside to do the cleanup. Depending on your press size, how much printing and cleanup you do, and where you are, that may be a possibility for you too.

Unless you’re really using quite a bit of ink, I doubt the type of ink used will have much environmental impact. Oil, rubber, soy/veg oil based inks all print well, all have at least a little smell, and tend to clean up pretty much the same. I would focus on finding the best cleanup procedure, both in minimizing the amount of cleaner used and in using a process that works well for you, your rollers, and the environment.

Dave Robison, San Jose Printers’ Guild

Gans Ink has Soy Plus and I’ve found their sales rep to be quite friendly to those of us printing letterpress.


If you want the sales rep contact shoot me an e-mail and I’ll send it to you.

As for cleaning up; I was taught to use crisco—by a converted user of kerosene.

The smell of ink is one of the major attractions to the printshop for me. I doubt if I’ll use enough in my lifetime to make any kind of impact on the environment. Since most of my ink is rescued ink from old printshops, I suppose keeping it out of landfills is much more environmentally friendly than the tiny amounts I actually use.

I’m assuming that most of the substances that will actually harm me have been removed from the inks (lead white, chromium yellow, etc.) by the ever vigilant respective government agencies. Again in small amounts, I have difficulty believing it will cause any harm in my lifetime. I’m more worried about a drunk driver prematurely ending my printing avocation.

Likewise the amount of roller wash is tiny and I’ve developed techniques for minimizing even that amount. Crisco works, but not as well as the water miscible roller wash NA Graphics sells. I use crisco at the universiity because the powers that be feel better about its use by students. But every now and then when I’m working by myself, I sneak in a bit of real roller wash and give the rollers an extra good clean. We use mostly black ink and you’d be surprised how much ink is left behind by crisco (and effectively removed by roller wash).

If your printing room has a window to the outdoors, I’d suggest installing an exhaust fan in the window. It doesn’t need to be very big, just capable of moving the indoor air out. Put your operation near the fan and I doubt if you’ll experience any smell of ink or roller wash. You could also install a conventional range hood exhaust system. I’d use rubber base ink and odorless mineral spirits for washup. It takes very little ink to print and very little solvent to wash up — I think for my 6x9 Sigwalt and my 7x9 Adana I use about two tablespoons of solvent, maybe less, for washup and a quarter of a teaspoon of ink goes a long way.