Is this Ink still good? Help.

Hello — I’m brand new here and brand new to letterpress. I purchased a press recently and in the auction I also got a rather large lot of inks and such. It is close to 100 cans of ink — mostly the 5lb size. Most of the ink is Braden Sutphin. I am wondering if anyone can tell me if it is still viable and useful? From what I can tell, many of the cans have a very thick crust that has formed, but when punctured, still have viscous ink below. I know the press was working when the shop closed down, but not sure how long the ink has been sitting. Right now it is in a warehouse my dad has and I need to make a decision on whether to let him dispose of it (safely) or take it home with me.

How do I know if it is still useful? Any help or direction would be great. I’ll attach some pics.


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it won’t let me upload my pics. I’m not sure what i’m doing wrong.

Odds are it is still good ink under that “crust”. 5 pound cans are a bother. I would suggest repackaging into smaller cans (metal or waxed paper—not plastic). Placing the open cans under a heat lamp will dramatically reduce the amount of good ink you lose when skimming the dried crusts off.

Remember ink is running from $10 to $30 a pound, so enjoy your windfall! Also buy a few good ink knives to make handling a much easier issue.

kind of lift part of the crust up, get the ink you want then lay it back down. it will make a direct, no air gap, seal to the rest of the ink, keeping it fresh.

It sounds like you really got a great deal on the ink, I’d save as much as possible. It’s probably oil base which will work on most substrates. What kind of press did you get?

I have a lot of old cans still in use. Wearing gloves to keep the ink off yours hands cut the skin all round the edge. Lift the skin out and scrape off ink under the skin back in the can. Place the lid on a piece of paper and draw round the edge. Cut out the circle of paper, soak in boiled linseed oil and cover the ink in the can so that it is airtight. Dispose of the skin safely. I do this every time I open up an old can. I check the colour first by sampling using an old nail I push through the skin and dab test the ink on the paper I am going to use. I prefer using ink out of the skinned cans.

Over the years I’ve accumulated a good amount of old ink in cans. A good amount of it is in half-used 5lb cans, either from Braden Sutphin or Van Son. In nearly every case it’s perfectly usable unless the can is only about 1/4 full and the skin goes all the way to the bottom. I actually like the constraint of working from the “shop colors” and rediscovering / reusing the old stock. And usually the colors that I’ve been given are less common, hence harder for print shops to use (i.e. metallic green or metallic purple) but these are actually much more interesting for small run personal projects.

When I want to use the ink from a can I’ve never touched - I pull the skin off entirely and transfer the contents to 3-6 tubes. Ink in tubes never skins. Yes it’s an investment of time, but subsequent uses of the same color in the future are then quick and easy. Plus you’re left with tubes you can share / give to other printers. I buy the tubes from Dick Blick. And I learned the approach from this website:


FWIW, a few days ago I did a few small jobs with some Kelsey ink that was in a lead(!) tube, must have been 50 years old. The ink was fine but the tube didn’t survive opening and wasn’t worth saving for what was left.

Seconding Mike- unless you’re going to cruise through the rest of the can in under a year, it’s worth the time and $ to move it all into tubes. Tubes are available from many sources, shop around. (We’ve also transferred ink into 4 oz jelly jars; still can skin over but it’s easier to manage.)


I agree with all of the above. One note of caution: when removing dried ink from the tops of cans, be careful not to get any particles of dried ink in the wet ink you are going to use. The dried particles don’t re-wet and if they get on the ink disc and then the rollers and the plate, they can cause printing defects which will show up as a small printed spot surrounded by a small unprinted area. These defects used to be called “hickeys” but I don’t know if that term would be socially acceptable any more so I won’t call them that.

One thing I found out lately: around 5 years ago I had some small amounts of leftover color matched ink, maybe about 1 to 2 teaspoons each (enough for a short run on my Pearl #3). I put it in some aluminum foil and then wrapped it in about 3 or 4 layers of foil. Just lately I opened some of it and it was fine. An added bonus was that when I opened it, the blob of ink separated in the middle, exposing good, wet ink on both sides. If there was any skin, it was stuck to the foil and I didn’t have to deal with it when I scraped the ink off both sides of the foil with a small, flexible ink knife.