Best oil-based letterpress inks?

Hello, I’m getting all my ducks in a row before purchasing my first press and have been researching inks. Have pretty much decided to go with oil-based and will likely get all the colors required to mix my own pantone colors. So far I’ve read many ink-related posts, but am wondering if anyone has a specific brand they would recommend? I’m leaning towards Van Son, but am puzzled by all the different types of oil-based inks they carry and am not sure which type would be best for letterpress. Any suggestions out there?

Thanks so much!

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Good for you. Research is great!

Well, it sounds like you’ve made up your mind to go with oil based ink. I’m going to toss in our recommendation for soy based ink though, as we’ve been very happy with the results so far. We’ve been printing with the photopolymer plates, and the soy-based ink spreads evenly and prints very well. We’ve had a little trouble with ghosting, but it seems that is the fault of the rollers rather than the ink. (Our roller trucks are pretty worn out.) We were originally attracted to soy based ink, as it seems more “green friendly” than others. Supposedly you can use vegetable oil rather than press wash to clean up, which seems healthier for humans over the long run. We have yet to try the vegetable oil though. We get our ink from “Gan’s Ink”.

Their site is:

Btw, apparently the “greenness” of soy ink is somewhat debatable as people have pointed out that ink companies apparently still use the same heavy metal components (cadmium and such) to produce the pigment that gives the ink its color. Going soy still seemed like a step in the right direction though….

Good luck!


Thanks so much Ken! I found a truely great resource for purchasing inks in 1/4 lb. tubes (I think he may even have some soy inks available), his name is Dave Robison and he’s really helped me out alot… his contact info can be found in this post:

I may try out some soy inks. Thanks for telling me about your experience, it helps to know specifically how well the soy works out. Great info! What a great resource BriarPress is, I’ve learned so much through my obsessive researching… and I can’t get over how helpful everyone is! ;o)

Thanks again,

Thanks for the tip! I’ll check him out…


I’ll make finding my contact info easier: Ink(at)

As I mentioned to Candy, I’m not sure these is such a thing as a “best” ink, the best for a specific job may depend on the press, the job, the paper, and the weather, in addition to personal preference. In the Van Son line, I think most of us would be using the CML Oil Base Plus. There is almost no such thing as “letterpress ink” nowdays, but the bottom line seems to be that almost all seem to work well for letterpress, especially for the typical small letterpress. This includes the oil base inks made with soy or other vegetable oils, and the rubber base inks, and acrylic base, etc. - just don’t use the wrong ink for a specific job (rubber base on non-absorbent stock, for instance).

As far as brands of ink, after three decades of using a variety of inks on both small offset presses and hobby letterpresses, I’m not convinced there is any huge difference from brand to brand. All ink manufacturers have a variety of formulas depending on a number of factors (one well-regarded local company has around a hundred formulas on file for black inks alone!). I put ink from an assortment of companies into tubes, including Van Son, Gans and others, oil, soy, and rubber base, and it all seems to print just fine on platen presses and my Multigraph letterpress.