Roller Question

I was wondering if most people have two sets of rollers, one for dark inks and one set for inks that are light/pastels? I’m running into a problem, where jobs that I print in the lighter colored inks are getting “muddied” up and look grey. I use mineral spirits to wash up my rollers ( a no no) but will be buying some roller wash soon from xpedx. Any suggetions?

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I use a rubber revitalizer every once in a while. I use kerosene for regular clean up. I haven’t had any muddied colors but I do notice that when I use the rubber revitalizer that a lot more color comes off the rollers.

Erika E
Two sets of rollers is often advised.I use one set of form rollers for dark and another for light. Also separate form rollers for perf/number(even low plunger heads will damage rollers)

I always do a color wash. Put the ink color you want on then clean the dickens out of your rollers. Make sure you pull the rollers off and clean the ends throughly as that seems to be where alot of the pollution comes from. You might have to color wash a couple of times to get all the old ink off. I use press wash and then type wash to get them very clean.

Thank you all!
wildmh2000 - so before i run a job, run the press with rollers, then take them off - and clean with press wash and type wash - then run the job? Is that what a color wash is?

Yes Erika,
I usually wash up the rollers on press then take them off and clean them until the rag doesn’t show any ink, and the rollers are their orginal color. Take care to make sure the ends of your rollers are clean.Then put them back on your press.
The type wash I refer to is basically acetone (think fingernail polish remover), which you can buy at any hardware store. It is highly flammable, but drys quickly. This should not be used on some rollers.
The press wash I refer to has an oil added to it so it takes longer to dry. Call your local offset printing company and ask if you could purchase some from them, they usually get it in 50 gallon drums. Feel free to contact me if you would like more info.

Thanks wildmh2000! I really appreciate the tips!

I use a three rag clean up. The first rag to get the major ink off, second rag for the clean up, and third rag almost no ink visible on rag. If it requires a third rag then I’ll do another clean up.

Don’t forget to clean the ends of your rollers.

I use Mineral Spirits and have no problems.

If you run a dark ink or a metallic then often the best solution is to clean it up then put on Opaque White and let the press run distributing the ink for 5-8 minutes. Then clean the press.

It works for me.

Casey McGarr
Inky Lips Lettepress
McKinney, TX

I do exactly the same as Casey, but with turps or kero. If I have any muddiness when printing a lighter colour, it’s because I didn’t take the time to clean the darker colour off the rollers the first time.

If you thoroughly clean the rollers until a white rag shows no more colour, then you won’t get muddiness.


First of all, there is no more important factor in doing fine printing than having good rollers. Even when older rollers seem to be okay, new rollers improve the quality of the ink lay and your final product.

That said, I feel that one set of rollers could be sufficient for a small shop if the rollers are kept clean. I do keep old rollers around for number & perf jobs, but have also gotten by with one set per press for years.

When I go to a lighter color, I wash up, wipe down, then re-ink using opaque white. On the Windmill, I let the press run for a while to “mill” the ink down - until the white turns gray. Then I wash up and re-ink again. Only when white stays (almost) white after running a while will your light color be true.

On the hand press, (10x15 C&P) it’s the same process, but takes longer due to lower speed and differences between 3 rollers and an ink table on the hand press vs the rack of rollers and oscillating drum on the Windmill.

Same story on the Vandercook. Like the Windmill, it has a combination of steel and rubber rollers and is happy to run for 1/2 hour milling the white into the rubber rollers.

Sometimes, I’ll use Putz Pomade to really grind some grit into the rollers and extract old pigment on the Windmill (1/2 hour) and Vandercook (1-2 hours) but not on the hand press. In any case, I always follow up with opaque white as described above. The grit in Putz Pomade grinds the surace a bit and leaves a fresh velvety surface which the ink really likes. But the putz grit must be completely removed with an opaque white inking & washup before going to press with a job.

But, in any case, it’s only when all of the dark pigment is replaced by white that the rollers are ready for any light color.

As far as solvents. It all depends upon the material your rollers were made from. I have had great success for years using offset “Blanket Wash”. It’s made to be gentle - but effective - in cleaning the rubber blankets used on offset presses, and seems to be just right for my letterpresses.

I have used kerosene, but it seems to leave an oily film in my experience. I never used gasoline, but knew old printers in the 60’s who did. I sometimes use mineral spirits, but that’s really only good on fresh ink. I have used acetone to fight really tough old ink, and although I hesitate to recommend it due to its low flash point and high volitility - and my concerns that it might well shorten the life of my rollers, it sure does clean them well. My favorite has always been blanket wash, but as Stan points out, it could be rough on composition rollers.

Rubber rollers are tougher, though and although even the rubber compositions vary, they seem to handle a wide variety of solvents.

Some folks talk about using Crisco or cooking oil. I never tried that, but it if takes off the ink and does not leave a film, I see no harm in trying it.

In any case, I’d suggest discussing this solvent issue with your roller maker.

- Alan