I’m trying to get started in doing some letterpress and wanted to know were I can purchase Pantone ink for Letterpress.
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I am new as well and I interested in any responses. Thank you.
Since you are both relatively new, I assume that you will not be looking for large amounts of ink in PMS colors. The ordering/making of specific PMS can get very costly, even though you probably only require a pound or less.
What I have done over the years is to visit any local offset printers I can find and simply see if they won’t either give or sell you a small amount of ink if you simply ask them. Most of them should have shelves of partially used cans of ink that they needed for their commercial jobs. One of my sources actually saves small amounts of leftover colored ink in Dixie Cups and places a piece of wax paper over the top and seals it with a rubber band. They simply write the PMS number on the side of the cup. But most of them will have cans that have been partially used. You may get very lucky and find a place with your exact PMS number, or you simply may find something “close-enough”. A lot of these place will actually mix-their-own PMS colors as well, using established formulas.
This is the frugal way to get your colors. I have also scrounged a LOT of ink from printers going out of business, etc.
It has been my experience over 30 years that offset inks works pretty much just as well as “letterpress” inks. Have I committed blasphemy????. It is true. You may have to experiment with what you obtain this way, to see how they work on the stock you are using and if it will dry efficiently, etc. But the price is certainly right if you obtain it this way.
If you explain that you are a hobby printer, this will certainly lossen them up so that they will not feel that you are their “competition” for work. While you are there, also ask abou odd-lots of paper that they might have. Many printers often end up dumping or scrapping odds and ends of great stock that is leftover from jobs when they start running out of room to store it all. If you really push your luck, they might even cut it down for you into usable sizes!
I should mention that the ink in the old cans us usually scummed-over and hard on the surface, but if you dig down you should be able to find usable ink.
Rick von Holdt
The Foolproof Press
Thanks for the response. If I wanted to buy PMS inks were can I go, are their online stores?
Rick, that’s a great response. A Frugal Printer’s Guide to Finding Ink.
I just wanted to thank you, and the many others who have also written thorough responses here in Discussion. Your advice becomes a lasting part of the discussion archives, where it will help many others who arrive with similar questions.
Thank you from a beginner as well - valuable info!
If you do get your ink in odds and ends from commercial printers, you may still want to mix other colors which you don’t have. The easiest way to do this is to get a piece of plate glass (1/4 inch thick), which is at least 12 inches square, preferably larger. Tell the glass store to polish the edges. This smooths and takes away the sharp edges of the glass. Place the glass on a smooth surface so it doesn’t crack. Also get two ink knives or putty knives about 1 inch wide. You need two knives because you can’t scrape the ink off one knife if you don’t have another one. For instance, you can knead the colors together on the glass with knife #1, which will of course get ink on both sides of knife #1. Then scrape both sides of knife #1 against one side of knife #2, transferring all of the ink to it. Then you can scrape the glob of ink off the side of knife #2 with the end of knife #1. You will then have all the ink on the end of knife #1, from which it is easy to transfer the ink your ink disc. The glass and knives are then easy to clean with a little roller wash.
The more ink colors you have, and the more pure and brilliant (high in chroma) colors you have, the more colors you will be able to make. You should also try to get some transparent white, which is a finished ink but without any color in it. You can lighten existing colors with it, or you can mix a little colored ink with transparent white to make pastel colors. There is also opaque white (ink with white pigment in it), but you will probably find that transparent white is more useful unless you want to print a light colored ink on a substrate which is darker than the ink, or if you want to hide the color of the substrate. Then you will need opaque white.
A couple of color matching guidelines are: Start with the closest color which you have to the color you are trying to make. Try not to start with a dark color which you have to lighten, because it may take a large amount of transparent white or a light color to lighten it. For simplicity, try to use as few colors as possible in the new color. If you want to make a pure, brilliant color, use colors which are as close as possible to the color you are trying to make. The farther the base colors are from each other and from the color you are trying to make, the less pure and brilliant (lower in chroma), your color will be. For instance, if you are trying to make an orange and you have an ink with orange pigment to use, and can match the color by adding a little yellow to it, it will be higher in chroma than if you make an orange from red and yellow. If you have to add black to darken a color, be very careful not to add too much. If you do add too much, it will take a lot of the lighter color to bring it back to where you want it.
Great advice, Geoffrey - in letterpress or for any color mixing project!!
Great post, Halfpenny! After all this talk of ink mixing and where to buy pantone colors and the like, I snapped 3 shots when I was mixing PMS 349 last weekend and posted them onto flickr in hopes of showing people how easy it can be.
I use Vanson rubber based ink.
The “Printers Parts Store” is a good place to buy ink. Phone: 1-800-543-1117 or probably NA Graphics punch them in on the web.
hey guys :-)
i have been trying to make light coloured oil based from my large stash of vintage inks. so far i have used the transparent white and a tiny squidge of color but was dissatisfied with the results. so while i was at my local utrecht art supply store i talked to a saleswoman who has done art prints and her advice was to use a basic titanium white oil based paint. she suggested windsor and newton(tube about the size of a toothpaste tube was only $7) and it works beautifully.the drying time didnt seem to be altered. try it out and let me know what you think. i used my usual white gas(kerosene) for cleanup.this in on my lovely vandercook#1 rigid bed proof press.
Thanks for all the great info. Jason’s flickr illustration was particularly helpful. My background is in design and I am used to spec’ing color with PMS numbers and swatchbooks. I never stopped to notice the recipes on the swatches before. As a total novice letterpress printer, I’m curious if there is a standard number of colors that make up the basic pantone palette and allow you to mix all the colors in their swatch books. Do any of the ink suppliers sell these base colors as a set? Or does anyone have a recommendation for “essential” colors to mix from?
Since we seem to have branched into general ink info, I’d like to add another complication to this. Does anyone have experinence with resin-based inks? Graphic Chemical and Ink Co. sells a line called “Pro-Line PPI Ink.” According to their catalogue the benefits are that the pigment “remains at the surface diving a denser color” and a “reduction in ink used.” Also it “will not dry on the roller and will not skin in the can yet the impression will dry fast on paper.”
I am more experienced with fine-art printing than with letterpress and will probably stick with oil-based inks because that’s what I’ve become used to, but I’m would be eager to learn something new if anyone has used these inks.
I have been using Van Son Infinity Acrylic inks only because a local print shop gave them to me as they were changing to oil based ink. It seems to work well. Dries quickly on paper, stays open on the rollers and in the can. I don’t print on coated paper so I can’t say much about that. I am not sure if this ink is laser printer or copier safe.
I have printed with many types of ink but my choice on letterpress is Gans polyacyrlic inks. They perform like an oil base, that is, better color than rubber base but they don’t skin in the can and their tack level is a little thicker than oil base inks and that works well on my press. Another nice thing about acrylic is that it stays “open” which means that it doesn’t skin in the can overnight so you don’t have to deal with skimming the dried ink off the top when you start working—better for the environment as more ink gets on the paper than in the trash can.
Unlike some of the sources mentioned here, like Daniel Smith, Gans provides the complete line of mixing Pantone colors and can also mix for you. To print well you need to control the variables, particularly ink, and just picking up ink willy-nilly from various print shops is ridiculous if you are serious about producing the best quality printing possible from your press.
Whatever your choice, picking an ink and sticking with it will bring you experience that makes each job better, easier, and better-looking.
I purchase all my letterpress ink from Graphic Chemical & Ink Company 630-832-6004. I used Pro-Line PPI ink which is a unique printing ink based neither on oil nor rubber. Resin based which allows the pigment to remain at the surface giving a denser color. It will not dry on the roller and will not skin in the can. You can get it in standard colors or order specific PMS colors. Some PMS colors are going to cost you between $17-$35 for a 1lb. can. Hope that helps
I read Halfpenny Press’s comments about the oil based ink and oil based paint. You mentioned using oil paint as a colorant in oil based inks because they are so closely related- how do you go about this? I assume by mixing the ink and the paint together a little bit?
I ordered the assortment of tubes from NA Graphics but the colors I need are a little more vibrant. I have a few tubes of Winsor and Newton oil paints that I could add but I don’t want to harm the rollers or plates without knowing what to do. I’d love any help anyone can offer!
Not meaning to change the topic. Ink is the topic. But thursday my boss decided to clean out the old ink shelves. This is a small offset printing shop. He does not like oil base ink. Anyway, when he bought out my small shop 2 years ago he got all of my 5 lb. cans of oil base ink. Maybe 25 or 30 cans. Some not even opened, some half full or better. Most PMS usable colors. I told him just set them out & I will get rid of them. They are at my small home shop now. Black, Reds, Blues, Browns, Greens, Grays, Maroon, Teal, etc. I’ll never have to buy ink again, unless its a special color. Now to just get my shop operating. Bob
Oh, I forgot to mention. I mix PMS color at work all the time. I use triple beam scales. The colors work out the same from batch to batch if you follow the formulas. I also picked up some used scales at a auction a while back for my home shop.
Good luck on you inking adventures.
If you are just starting out you certainly don’t need to know anything about PMS color work or formulas.
In fact, I don’t think you ever will. The Pantone color books are for offset printing, not letterpress printing. Colors are easily matched simply through intuition. The Pantone swatches are useful as guides, and for satisfying the annoying demands of the occasional graphic designer client, but otherwise, hardly worth the investment.
I like mixing PMS ink colors. But I guess you could print like Henry Ford’s car colors. “Any color you want, as long as it’s black”. I guess I just have access to a lot of ink. Acrylic, Rubber Base & Oil. (Offset inks, but it works for Letterpress) The PMS or Pantone Books need to be replaced every year or so because they fade. As far as pleasing graphic designers, I won’t even get into that discussion.
I mainly purchase PMS ink for jobs, and I have found that the colors are not as vibrant as some printed pieces you see on the internet, and some pieces I have bought. Is there something that can be added to the ink to make it look more solid, and cover better?
Make sure that you are using the correct Pantone book i.e. coated or uncoated.
If you are using uncoated paper make sure you are mixing/ordering from the uncoated Pantone guide not the coated guide.
If you use a PMS color intended for coated paper on uncoated stock it will be muted and look off.
(at least that’s how I remember it when I worked in pre-press)
I guess what I meant to say is that (for example) Pantone 300 on coated stock looks quite a bit different than Pantone 300 on uncoated stock.
So, if someone is not getting the desired result from a pms ink (whether purchased or mixed on site), they might want to double check what book they are picking the color from.
alncarter said, “To print well you need to control the variables, particularly ink, and just picking up ink willy-nilly from various print shops is ridiculous if you are serious about producing the best quality printing possible from your press.”
This is a very close-minded statement. I thought it was a great suggestion. A lot, if not most, of people buying and using old platen presses today are using them in creative pursuits. For artists It’s good to know how to mix well from a few colors, but it’s also convenient to have a color in a tube that is close to what you want. And in most cases creative use of color is entirely subjective anyway. The same goes for on the press.
Just because the ink used came from a dollop left in the bottom of an offset printers can doesn’t necessarily lessen the quality of the print job. It could, but probably not. If anything having a wide assortment of colors on hand would improve and enhance the work and use of color from a creative standpoint.
I’m new to letterpress, but it’s immediately obvious that there’s deep a chasm in ways of thinking between the old printers here and the younger folk. The old printers have a lot to share, especially with regards to operation, maintenance, fine tuning, etc…, but they seem pretty stuck in their ways after so many years of printing business forms, tickets and what not.
While a lot of new operators are looking to do deep impression wedding invitations, there’s also a lot of people buying presses today for use in mixed media art applications. I doubt hardly anyone buying a platen press today is putting them to use in a traditional print shop setting, and if they were they wouldn’t be asking questions here anyway.
Thus, color mixing for many is taking on more of an artistic element rather than the pantone order taking a production printer is used to.
So I think the advise on color collecting is great.
contact the ink in tubes guy here on the site.
Contact Sal Zampino, [email protected]. He sells 1/4 lbs PMS rubber base and oil base inks.
hi the pantones are very easy to mix together you just need a digital precission balance you will have the proportion to mix 100 gr for shrt jobs you can mix 50gr.you can either use the pantone formula guide that costs around 100 usd or take the proprtions from coreldraw or similar software.
offset ink will do just fine its true that they dry faster but you can be cutting your work the same day.
and the ink is not that expensive the client is the one paying for it anyway.
Hello, can someone tell me where to get glitter ink,,,I need white glittery ink.
I’m new to letterpressing and dont know if that is the name for it, but it sure looks like glitter on the cards I have seen
Mayra, could you try to capture what you are looking at, in a picture and post it here? Then perhaps we would have an easier time trying to figure out how to get the effect you are after. It may have been achieved by a process other than letterpress or offset, it may have been applied after printing, it may have been incorporated into the substrate before printing, etc.
Welcome to the world of letterpress, and letterpress printing!
@ Geoffrey,,thanks so much gor commenting,,I will try to find, but to give u an idea I see this mostly on christmas cards, used for snow images and it looks sparkly,,i will look it up to post a link to one
You might take a look at I McClain’s catalog or website (www.imcclains.com) — they offer a mica dust additive for inks to create a glitter effect, which they describe as a “shimmering elegance”. It’s called Konaunmo powdered mica on p. 35 of their current catalog.
Mayra, I think I know what you mean now. I think you may have to print a fairly thick, sticky layer of something like transparent white, or other very slow drying glue-like varnish, and then dust the “sparkles” on immediately after each print. You probably will be able to pile the sheets after dusting because the sheets will be resting on the layers of sparkles.
Any glue that you buy in a hardware store etc. will surely be too fast-drying, and would dry on the press. When anything is put on the press, it goes from being in almost no contact with the air in the can or tube, to being in a huge amount of contact with the air on the rollers and inking system. This will make regular glue dry too fast to be used on a press.
Personally, I would try a thick layer of transparent white, but perhaps someone can suggest a better substance that they have had experience applying on a press for your purpose.
The problem with a strategy of adding any particles directly to the ink, is that ink works best with extremely small pigment particles, and the glitter you would be adding would be very large, relatively speaking, and wouldn`t print well.
It is possible that the mica dust Bob mentions in the post above, is small enough to be mixed with ink, and it might give a very nice effect. However, if you are after a glitter effect from rather big particles, I don`t know if you would be happy with the mica dust or not.
omg,,thank a whole lot guys, this is great…geoffrey thanks for taking the time to explain how the process works,I will put all this info into practice. again thanks a lot
I’ve been trying to get in touch with Dave Robison (the Ink in Tubes Guy) for a wee while now to see if he is still offering ink for sale, but unfortunately I haven’t heard anything back from him and need to get moving on acquiring some ink….
So I was wondering if anyone knows of another source for ‘ink in tubes’ or anyone else who offers smaller quantities than the usual 1lb cans…? The tubes idea appeals to me as I want to cut down on waste from skimming/drying in the can. Also, the smaller quantities and the lower price will allow me to stretch my ink budget a bit further and acquire a few more colours…
I am based in British Columbia, Canada and am looking for rubber based inks and vegetable based inks in a rainbow of colour options…
Any ideas or recommendations would be enormously appreciated!
Thanks very much,
No help for ink in tubes, but just an FYI that rubber based inks really will give you no trouble skinning. Expect for a 1lb can to last years before it will give you any trouble. I’ve got some cans I’m printing from now 20 years old.
I buy from Ernest Green and Son. I believe they have an office in Vancouver.
You can go to Etsy. I have had really good luck with Raven in a pinch. Check out:
Good Luck! Denise
Thanks so much Modernman and CabinPress… I will follow up with those leads and hopefully find what I am looking for… I really appreciate your suggestions!
If someone is looking for a fair priced quality printing ink, then I suggest they look at the R/B ink series from ZIPSET. ZIPSET has distributors nationwide and you really get your moneys worth. The R/B series was formulated specifically for letterpress printing. It’s made in Japan and the colors are clean and vibrant.
I’ve used the zipset GP-1 dense black with great success for letterpress work, beautiful dense black color and it performs well. I’ve never heard of their R/B line. Can you point me to a US distributor?
The ZIPSET Dense Black is really nice and intense. The R/B is similar but stays open indefinitely. Where are you located-im sure I can point you in the right direction.
San Francisco, CA. I checked out the zipset website but didn’t see R/B inks, only their pantone match inks which are available locally through Bay Press Services. is R/B a new formulation?
I found a list of their inks on the site and it’s well down the list but without the / — just RB, by 1lb or 5lb can.
Contact Kelly Paper on the West Coast-they carry a complete line and even do custom mixing of any colors. The formulation is new to the US but has been used for years in Japan. I think the standard packaging is 2.2 lbs but they have a full service ink lab that offers it in 1lb cans as well.
Wow, this is truly great advice. I’m just starting out and this answers so many questions.
Gio, I’m located in Louisiana and would like to check out the ZIPSET line. Know any distributors/shops offering it near by?
Thank you all for valuable advice. I have a letterpress studio in Mauritius. Special ink for Letterpress cost a arm and sometimes both legs :) I usually creates my own mixes from offset CMYK left over inks that I get from my work.
I just asked an ink question in the discussion group but these responses have been more than adequate. Thanks.
Has anyone heard from Dave Robison (the Ink in Tubes provider) recently? I placed an order and haven’t heard from him now since March 13th.
I know he does it part-time, and he did warn me he’d be away for one week, but it seems odd that he hasn’t replied to any of my messages since then, especially as I’m only asking for an ETA and not giving him a hard time!
Alternatively, does anyone know an alternative provider of fluoresecent inks in tubes - soy or oil based? I tried Letterpress Things already, they don’t have any stock. The Raven shop on etsy doesn’t seem to be stocking them right now either.
excellent inks from UK Hawthorn Printmakers suplies, 450 gms and 220gms, flourescents and metallics available , stay open, veg and oil based-good idea to use colour from high quality oil painting eg Windsor and Newton to modify colour a little, won’t hurt rollers .
MixMasters Inc. Lynn Ma. has no minimums and specializes in Pantone mixes. You can buy any special mix color for $24.95 a lb. Less for basic colors and blacks.
We also invented a software program that calculates ink formulas using excess inks. I know a lot of printers have a bunch of excess colors on the shelf. With our software it shows you what basic colors to add to turn that unwanted color into what you need today. I know this is a mix of old and new technology but if you are on this forum you have a computer. Go to www.mixmasters.com and download the MixMaster Jr. it runs for 30 days for free and if you want to e mail me I will open it up for you longer to really have time to try it out. My e mail is [email protected]
my number is 1 781 593 9321 for ink or software we are here for both to keep the printing industry alive.
I bought all my ink from MixMasters back in the 1980s and the prices are right and the inks they mixed for me were always right on, service was always fast, if i was still printing a lot i’d be buying from these guys. (hows that Frank, ps i miss those calendars) and i should mention just about all the ink i bought 30 years ago is still good today.