Dusting powders

We have obtained a quantity of dusting powders. We initially thought they were theromography powders, however we have tested on our virco, and they certainly are not! We have compared them to thermography powders, and these dusting powders are quite metallic in appearance compared to the virco powders which are quite dull. How and where would you use such powders? They do not seem to adhere to wet ink straight off the press.

Any ideas??

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Hi, BespokePress—
Well, I seem to recall some info like this: before foiling, metallic colors were applied by dusting a metallic powder on the printed sheet. I think ink would probably work, but I believe the powders ordinarily were applied to a varnish supplied with them. A piece of fur, I think was the approved applicator; the metallic powder was applied by hand while the piece printed with varnish was still wet.
The varnish would probably be long gone, but the powders might be found at the back of the ink shelf in older shops. I would be a little cautious myself about inhaling metallic dust from a bygone era.
Perhaps somebody else knows more about this. I, like you, found some old powder a while back, and tried it once for the heck of it, but don’t really remember much about it.
Regards, Brian

I use gold powder together with ink, and the powder works well on the printed surface.

You can see some photos of the process here http://www.flickr.com/photos/27498201@N07/sets/72157607219684371/



I do work with gold and silver powders like Jens. I print using a varnish, mixed with some yellow for gold, red for bronzes and black for silver. I print the sheet, dab some powder on, using a small ball i make out of cotton wool, leave the sheets to dry overnight and next day wipe them carefully with an old-fashioned artist’s tool, a wing of a bird. Probably the latter is not sold anymore, but a very soft brush would have the same effect. The powders I use come from a traditional Dutch windmill, they use different metals like copper, brass, and aluminium to grind them. I don’t think there is much danger at all in using them. I reckon we breathe in more rubbish by just walking in the street.

Do you think you could add the powder to the ink prior to printing, or sprinkle on the ink disc? We dont have any varnish here, and the powder just doesn’t stick to our Van Son Rubber based once printed!

Sprinkling it on the ink disk will result in a messy disk, rollers and won’t at all give you the effect you want to achieve. Mixing it in will have a similar effect. You could of course metallic inks, but that’s a different story all together. Have you not got any oil based inks at all?

We do have a scattering of them around, but do mainly use Rubber based, as we do long runs on our non motorised C&P oldstyle press (We are crazy I know!)

I wasn’t game to try sprinkling it on the ink disc as I was worried it would all just fudge up and make a mess of the rollers and ink disc. Seems that was a good idea not to try!

Seems I might need to get my hands on some varnish. What sort do you recommend?

I use Gold, Silver and Red Dusting Powder when I print Letterpress Invitations etc. applying directly on wet ink as soon as I have printed the stock. Would like to know where I could puchase some as my stock is getting low.
Can anyone help?

Mike, check out the internet for sign painters supplies, a traditional supplier usually carries these items, though not made for the printing industry they work just as well. They are usually call bronzing powders. I recall mixing mixing metal flake (for car paints) in varnish for a special effect on an offset project several years ago, sure was a mess to clean up.

The best varnish I have found to use with these powders is actually a very tacky litho varnish- a mixture of #3 and #5- which can be bought here:


Another thing that works is “Bind and dry” varnish, but it only works for so long- it is what it sounds like, a binding, drying varnish- so it has to be a pretty short run or a 2 person job (one person feeding/removing, another picking/dusting) for any expedience or efficiency.

I think you’ll have a lot of trouble with Rubber based ink because it’s too tacky and it sets too quickly!

Having a compressor on hand to blow the powder off (Outdoors of course!) would be very helpful, as well.

I’ve also done this bronzing/dusting with screenprinted inks, as well- it works supremely well with TW brand graphic screenprint ink, specifically their overprint clear! If you run it through a very coarse mesh, a large deposit that dries pretty slowly will accept a lot of powder. Tint it a little with other colors for unique effects.

I have a few cans of ancient bronzing powder that I have used on exceptionally rare occassions to good effect. I have always used a red or orange ink as the wet-base to CAREFULLY apply the powder to. Those base colors really punch-up the gold look.

There is a reason that this is not done commercially anymore. The stuff will probably harm you if not used with extreme care in a well ventilated space. It is so fine that even applying with great care and rubbing off the excess (when dry) with a cotton ball or other things, will still create an amount floating around in the air which you certainly don’t want to be breathing-in. This becomes obvious if for instance you have some bright light filtering in through a wondow and you can see the sparkles floating around in the air.

When it was done commercially they used to have a long conveyer belt with enclosed housing and exhaust ventilation to try to capture the airborne particles.

Oh yeah, don’t cough or sneeze when you are near this stuff. I usually wore a mask whenever I used it.


Yes. Do not underestimate the damage dusts and powders can cause to the lungs. We have very good natural protections against environmental dangers like dirt and pathogens. Those protection systems can often break down when they’re required to deal with non-organic threats, however.

Metallic and mineral powders are particularly dangerous and can cause permanent lung damage in the form of fibroids. These form when the lungs inner defenses are unable to break down the particles and instead form scar tissue around them. This fibrous scar tissue cannot process oxygen and nitrogen the way the regular lung tissue does, meaning your lungs’ capacity to transfer vital gasses into the blood is impaired. This is generally called Fibrosis with specific names such as Asbestosis or Silicosis depending on the specific cause. There is no cure or way to reverse this damage. In some cases, the fibroids can even be so damaged by the particles as to become cancerous, though this isn’t common.

Don’t play games with your lungs! They’re not exactly easy to live without or replace. Wear a respirator and work in a well-ventilated area.


Bronzing powders can still be found; generally in older print shops. They came in all sorts of colors, but the most common were the silver and various shades of gold. They are completely banned today. Don’t confuse these with contemporary interference powders, which lose their color quite quickly.

I have picked up quite a bit of this stuff over the years and use these for special projects. I spent a great deal of time looking at 19th century printer manuals on how this all worked. Jacobi is quite good. The powders were hand applied to a printed varnish. A carrier specifically mentioned was lamb’s wool. I put out a call on the net and a fellow from South Africa sent me a bunch of it, they apparently use it for everything. It worked well as a lay down and pickup but better for pickup is something they never had in the 19th century—compressed air. Best to do the blowing off outside though as this stuff is quite dangerous and will get on everything, everything. The bronzing manufacturers were the first in the printing industry to self-regulate in regard to health hazard. They required workers to drink a pint/quart (?) of milk a day. Didn’t help a whit though. Wear a dust mask at the very least. Old clothes, and wash this stuff off your skin as soon as possible. Gloves, by the way, won’t help in anyway. They will become contaminated almost immediately. It sticks on everything and is carried by the air throughout the shop. The surface of coffee in a cup twenty feet away will sparkle quite nicely. In its early manufacture the particles were pumped into a shelved room. After a day or two the powders were removed from the shelves. The higher the shelf the higher the quality of the powder.

I tend to use several colors at once to create patterns that foil stamping can’t do. An artist’s hair brush will actually work quite nicely in this regard as a lay down tool. I use a stone lithographic black ink rather than varnish as it gives a much brighter cast. The work is obviously very tedious but worth the effort.


to all re dusting powder:

If anyone knows a specialist medico dealing with lungs, ask about dusting powders.



I kind of doubt any doctor is going to give the go ahead with any kind of environmental air contamination; smoking cigarettes, inhaling powders, what not, what ever.

They sure don’t want to be the one who let it go and then got sued because of that. I had a doctor once tell me, sure, there are benefits to smoking but he refused to tell me what they were because he would be considered liable if a patient contacted lung cancer on his watch.


Gerald re dusting powders

I think I provoked the desired caution. Thank you. It took me years to reduce the effects, which may have come from passive smoking, to an acceptable level, after I retired.


I’ve a couple of thoughts on this one.

First, small lambswool swabs (1/2” swab mounted on a 3” wire handle) can be had at Tandy leather. They use them for applying dyes to leather, and they are disposable, therefore cheap. They would likely work well in this context.

Secondly, bronze is mostly copper. Copper is poisonous, taken internally. Using a mask is important, even if you are using compressed air outside. Metal dust doesn’t disperse like other dusts, and metals are generally very hard for your body to get rid of. So it is best to be paranoid.

You could look for an Emmerich Bronzing Machine!

“They apply the bronze, polish and remove the superfluous powder, and deliver the sheet, bronzed side up, at a speed of two thousand on the smaller sizes.”


At least I assume that’s what they mean by bronzing…

In the 1950s in the UK the rule was that the bindery ladies engaged in dusting gold or silver metallic powders had to be
given a third of a pint of milk twice a day. I was told the reason was that the brass bars ground up had to be a soft brass alloy containing arsenic. (!) With the resultant danger to health. Now the UK in the 1950s didn’t bother all that much with workers health (miners excepted), so I think one can assume it did then matter a quite a bit. Bronzing powder manufacture may well be vastly different nowadays, but I can say that all were glad when the better type of ready mixed ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ inks arrived on the scene.