Brayer choices

Hello all,

I am doing some work using wood type on a Vandercook, I would like to hand ink the form in a selection of colours to print in one pass. I only have one old and trusty brayer but would like to buy a few brayers so that I do not have to keep cleaning for each colour. Can any of you recommend a particular sort of brayer or particular weights, hardness or other attributes I should be looking for?

Thanks for any advice, Al

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Hi Al,

I have been doing this kind of work for decades. The most efficient and economical selection of narrow brayers can be found in most art/crafts stores. They are the Speedball brand brayers with the black rubber rollers. The rollers are fairly hard, but are perfectly suited for laying down the ink in selected areas on your form.

They come in various widths. Offhand, I think I have several
1” and 4” wide Speedball brayers in the shop, and there are probably other available widths as well. The diameter of the rollers is only around 1” as well, but a few reapplications will provide the necessary coverage for a fairly large a area.

I generally keep a glass plate nearby to use as a second-color ink plate.

It is a little slower to accomplish, but it does insure perfect register of your colors in one pass.

Thanks Foolproof, I think I know the ones you mean, the sort you would buy to ink up Lino. I wondered if they were too small and hard (compared to the one I have), but I’ll give them a go.


The Speedball brayers are affordable, but may not be smoothly finished. An open pore or rougher surface is fine for linoluem, but if you want to brayer smooth-surfaced plates, orange-peel mottling may result.
Finer and considerably more expensive brayers can be bought from McClain’s , Graphic Chemical, or from Lawrence .

check out the website of; lernen und drucken in Germany, they sell fantastic brayers and will send them worldwide. They have got a nice 5 cm (2 inch) wide one. Ideal for lettering wood type and a couple of lines.

image: brayer.tiff


Has any one tried the Inovart Pro-Roller Brayer? I have been advised to go with a hard rubber roller rather than soft.

Do you really think its worth it to pay $50 and up for a roller rather than $12? Is the quality that much of a difference?

I’ve got an old 6” or 8” vandercook brayer. Somehow the rubber stayed good for decades, being protected by a crusty layer of old ink, only washed off a year ago. I will have to get it recovered eventually. It is fairly soft as far as brayers go at probably 30 or less (Shore A), but it is by far the best one I’ve used, and in terms of price, probably the one that cost the most originally. The closest equivelent is Graphic Chemical item #50190.

If you are planning on doing a lot of printing that way, a really good brayer with good rubber is a deal at $100+, given the amount of time (most expensive component of letterpress) it will save you in the long run. No sense struggling with coverage issues with a small diameter too hard speedball…

…Though I don’t print for a living, just a hobby, so feel free to ignore me.

No you have a good point and most people that I have talked to agree with you. It is probably better to spend the money up front and get a good brayer rather than keep buying cheap ones that don’t give you the same quality. But saving money is always oh so tempting…

I personally would discourage the use of a brayer. Deer skin suede daubers have always been the best way to spread ink, especially animal-base inks. But if you must use the “devil’s rolling pin” I would advise making one yourself.

There was a discussion on making gummy bear rollers, seemed very interesting. I would think gummy worms would work better because of form fitting the skinny and sometimes tri-colour worms to a roller shape. I would also assume the temperament of worms vs. bears would be easier to deal with.

Printmaster, I have to respectfully disagree with you on the deerskin dauber being the best way to apply ink.

According to the Buddhists at the Printing House at Dege, who have been printing for far longer than us mere European derivatives, the only suitable material is Yak suede tied onto a small wooden block. These can be quite easily made, if one has access to a Yak tannery. One should be advised however, that raw yakskin or yak vellum is not suitable as it lacks the subtleness as Yak suede.

On the other hand, if one lacks a Yak then a bit of chamois will work almost as well…. but cannot be used for Spiritual Texts. I guess Chamois’ are not as high up the Holy Ladder as Yaks. (please note that I am talking about Chamois, not Sham-Wows. Beware of imitators.)

By the way, the best thing about gummy rollers is that you can eat them later….. but only if clean ‘em up well first.

Printmaster…your responses are amazing.

Personally, I prefer Chuckles. A large box of them can be had at the twelve-plex for about $4.99. Be sure to save a few from the brayer-casting process, because you can hot-glue gun a few of the hard ones to the outside of the brayer and achieve a wild stippling effect with the type.

winking cat - Yes, as a tantalizing snack after a long day at the press, I just love those gummy bear rollers! But as a precaution I always carefully shave my well-cleaned, used gummy bear rollers with a carrot peeler before ingesting them. Just watch out for getting little bits of the cord wrapped on the roller cores stuck between your teeth!