OIL vs. RUBBER vs. ACRYLIC-based inks?

What is the difference between oil-based, rubber-based, and acrylic-based inks? Any suggestions/recommendations about which ink to use? I am extremely new to letterpress. (I have 8x12 C&P 1928). I appreciate any help and links to where can ink be purchased.

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The difference between each of these types of ink is the resin used to bond the pigment particles together, forming a film of color when cured.

Each has slightly different characteristics, and there is often a good deal of disagreement as to which is “best” to use.

I prefer oil-based inks myself as some of the things I print are later run through a laser printer, and rubber-based inks can leave residue on the rolls of the printer, even after months of drying. Oil-based inks generally dry “harder” than rubber-based.

I ldfind someone whose work you would like to emulate, and ask them what they use. That is always a good starting point for someone new to any business.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

Rubber base inks can be left on the rollers for a few days. You can tell newspapers use it after reading with black fingers. I will use rubber base inks for numbering, crash imprinting and proofs depending on the situation and the stock. Anything on glossy stock will require oil base. Obviously printing on napkins will require oil base ink. Also, any business cards or material that is to be handled a lot should have oil base so not to smear.

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I learned something about rubber base ink I didn’t know!
I looked at different web sites such as



Are these good places to get oil-based ink? How competitive is the pricing on these web sites? Any other web sites that I should check out to buy ink from?

Maybe i’m just lazy but i use mostly rubber base ink and leave the presses inked for a couple of days. All the info you have received is quite good, oil vs rubber is a personal choice as both are good, oil does dry better. There are so many printers going out of business and as the ink is considered hazardous waste you can usually pick up cans for free or close to free, only problem is you end up with a lot of odd colors. I bought a lot of ink from a place called Mix-Masters, in Lynn, Massachusetts, they have good prices and their ink is excellent, i think their contact info is in the yellow pages on this site, if you can’t find them let me know as i have it somewhere around here. good luck Dick G.

I’m with JHenry on this one….. but I must admit that I’ve printed with al sorts of inks, and even some materials that technically aren’t actually ink.

Of the inks you mentioned, both rubber based and oil based will work just fine on your press. Unless you specifically need the properties of one type or the other, then it’s more of a decision based on cost and availablity.

Personally I perefer oil based since it seems to have fewer inking problems on my presses.

Now about leaving your press inkied up for several days: I have no doubt that my old mentor….. Mr Kellog…. is ranting and cursing right now at dickg for his confession related above. It was his opinion that no good printer ever, ever left his press inked up ovenight.

I can still hear his rants……” What happens if the guy who sweeps the floor at night knocks up some dust? What if a bug lands on your inky roller? what if you get run over by a bus and wind up in the hospital? What happen then? Huh? Huh? Get in there and clean that press up, you lazy, no-good bum! You’ll never be a real printer with an attitude like that. [ insert explicatives here ] You just can’t get good apprenctices these days!”…. all said whilst thumping cigarette ashes into the running press rollers.

After hearing THAT for a few years… .every day…. I never ever leave a press inked up overnight…. rubber based ink or not. To this day, I’ve never dared do it. I have no doubt that if I do, i’ll be haunted by hte Ghost of Printers Past….. and shown how my life would have fallen into blatent decadence had I ever gone down the dark path.

I have a friend that repairs offset presses for a living, he stops by my shop a lot, the first thing he asks me is how long the ink has been on the press, if i tell him five days he has a fit, i always tell him that i don’t want the rollers to rust.

he must be a relative of Mr Kellog!

Actually in my view, as long as it doesn’t cause you any problems, it doesn’t matter.

Wait…. what’s that sound? Oh noooooooooo…..

The way I look at it, letterpress inks can “dry,” in two ways: by absorbtion into the sheet, or by oxidation-polymerization (absorbing oxygen from the air and forming a hard film).

ALL inks dry by absorbtion to some degree. There are lighter components in the ink which absorb into the sheet first, leaving the heavier components on the surface which, since they are no longer mixed with the lighter components, are then harder to smear and to transfer.

News inks dry entirely by absorbtion, and that is why they will come off on your fingers for a long time after they are printed.

Rubber base inks dry mostly by absorption, but they also have some components which will dry by oxidation-polymerization over a period of time.

Oil base inks dry mostly by oxidation-polymerization, but they also have a smaller component that dries initially by absorbtion.

prefer oil based inks

as apprentice was taught
never leave ink on standing press
for more than 20 min

could not sleep at night
with ink on a press

I remember way back when i worked in a linotype shop pulling proofs on a poco, all we did was pull galley proofs so the type could be proofread, then pull a corrected proof for our records and one for the customer. We always used newsprint, the ink we used was in a pint can and was very runny, i’m sure it had no drier in it, i can’t remember what it was called but it never dried on the plate or brayer, we only washed it off every 4 or 5 months. Sorry Mr. Kellog, oh boy, now he’s haunting me!!!!!!

Newspaper inks were not rubber-based. they simply did not have any drier in them. They were pigment and vehicle only thus they rubbed off when touched.

I prefer oil base too. But do not leave it on the press, especially the rollers. The ink vehicle will migrate around the ends of the rollers causing swelling and thus uneven inking at some point.

dickg the ink you are refering to I used in High School print class and was known specificly as proofing ink, again no drier.