HELP - Rollers dissolving ink?!?!

My composition rollers are being weird! Bear with me here…

I only started printing with them this past weekend (2 runs on dark brown mixed with
warm red/green/black, one on Saturday and one on Sunday morning)
and that’s when the black specks turned up. These specs turn up after I clean the rollers and they are, in fact, little holes/divots in the rollers! It also seems like there are little air bubbles trapper beneath the roller surface. I had got some feedback that these air bubbles are common in composition rollers due to the way they are formed and should be ok.

However, when I went to ink the press Sunday night for a run with a red mixed ink (rubine red and a little black) the rollers seem to be eating away at the ink! It is as if
solvent were stuck either in those little holes or just soaked into the roller… and it just gets worse if I let the press it for 5 minutes. It got so bad that there were portions of the rollers that looked almost clean (after letter the press sit idle for 5-10 minutes)!!! Being an engineer and trying to isolate the problem (since it didn’t happen with the dark brown mixed ink), I thought it might be the ink and also that I didn’t let the cleaner evaporate enough between ink colors. I cleaned up the press and decided to give it a full 24 hours to “air out”. Last night, I mixed a new red using warm red/black (two colors I had used in the dark brown mix that worked well) and… it happened again! There theoretically shouldn’t be any solvent left on the rollers after airing out for 24 hours, so I am lost! Is it the rollers? I clean them with odorless mineral spirits as recommended by this list and/or BriarPress. Is it how I am cleaning them? I use shop towels (the blue ones) with a little mineral spirit and ink comes off really easily with little effort. I included pictures of the rollers “eating” the ink. These pictures are from Monday nights’ run (Sunday’s run was worse… much worse… those light spots in these pictures were complete bare roller color!).

I am so confused…


image: Roller eating ink while on press.JPG

Roller eating ink while on press.JPG

image: Rollers with ink dissolving.JPG

Rollers with ink dissolving.JPG

image: Another shot of rollers with ink dissolving.JPG

Another shot of rollers with ink dissolving.JPG

image: Roller - One clean with black specked holes shown and one showing roller dissolving ink before any cleaning.JPG

Roller - One clean with black specked holes shown and one showing roller dissolving ink before any cleaning.JPG

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I live in the midst of Iowa, and when the weather is good for the corn to grow, it contains a fair amount of humidity.
Composition rollers (particularly when new) are capable of wicking in moisture form the air, and can cause the problem you have described.

I have had this happen with composition rollers when humidity is high. A little bit of solvent (mineral spirits) on the surface of the roller should blend well with the ink, and would not cause what you have pictured.

Chances are good that the roller surface has absorbed some moisture form the air and is causing the ink to “back off” the roller as it rolls out on the surface of the ink disk. The ink has more affinity for the disk than the surface of the roller.

If I remember correctly, I resolved this when it happened by thoroughly cleaning the rollers with solvent, then when they seem dry, rub a bit of corn starch over the roller surface to absorb the moisture. The roller will appear dusty, but will not harm the ink when you run it up. If you notice an effect in your printing from the starch, clean the rollers once again with solvent and try printing immediately.

The better part of troubleshooting is to be there when the problem happens, but this certainly seems to be the problem and using a bit of starch will harm nothing, so I’d give it a try.

As the rollers season, they will become less able to absorb moisture, so will be less likely to give you headaches like this. I use kerosene as a roller wash, and it tends to leave a bit of oily film on the rollers which never gives me a problem with the ink, but keeps the roller surface coated so moisture doesn’t invade. I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but when you clean with a strong solvent, the evaporation of the solvent can draw moisture to the surface being cleaned. Screen printers face this all the time as they want to use strong solvent so they evaporate quickly, but don’t want moisture to gather in the emulsion of the screen.

Let us know if the starch works wonders.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

That is the exact reason I no longer use compo rollers…. ( except of course my own Gummy Bear Rollers) Here on the gulf coast the humidity is very high most of the time, and composition rollers are always sweating. To correct the problem, try wiping them down with mineral spirits and then immediately printing with them.

I’ve also seen this problem with folks who use Crisco to clean their rollers. It can leave behind enough contamination to prevent ink from properly sticking to it.

John & Winking,

Thanks for the suggestions! I will try to wipe the rollers down with mineral spirits and ink the up right away tonight. Will give an update tomorrow of my progress… wish me luck!



Well… I gave the corn starch trick a shot last night. I quickly wiped down the rollers with mineral spirits then sprinkled with some corn starch to help draw moisture out, but the same thing happened with the ink backing off the rollers. Luckily, this happens starting at the end and my PP plate was locked up near the middle of my form so I was still able to get my prints done for my deadline this weekend. The prints came out really nice! But it seems last night, the rollers got worse with more areas where ink is backing off the rollers. I might have to switch to rubber rollers…

Devils Tail Press - I think I may have just fainted seeing my rollers explode!


Elisa, how/where are you storing your rollers when not in use? Can the rollers be absorbing moisture from the air all the time you’re not printing? Would a relatively tight box and some dessicant help draw some moisture out of the rollers?

While I don’t know a lot about composition rollers (don’t use ‘em on my Multigraph) nor high humidity (living in relatively arid California), it sounds like this absorbing moisture thing may well be the problem — especially since you’re fairly close to that little puddle called Lake Ontario!

Dave (the Ink in Tubes guy)


When my rollers are not in use, I created a makeshift storage box for them out of a cardboard box with holes on either side to suspend the rollers inside. Maybe I could steal a few packs of dessicant that comes with new packages and stick it in the box with the rollers?

I also found out (from Lou who restored my lovely press) my rollers are not the traditional composition rollers (the materials/ingredients are different) and that the rollers should be cleaned solely with lacquer thinner for best results. I will give this a try and also give it some time as some of the more experienced pressman suggest that the problem may go away as the rollers get seasoned.

This whole letterpress thing definitely is fun! I finished my first batch of prints, which was a 2-color bilingual invitations (one panel for each language) plus 2-color rsvp’s. My next feat is to print some business cards for my business, which started as a screenprinting and now will include letterpress as well (when I get better). I’ll leave you with some pictures of my first job…

Thanks all!

image: IMG_5524.JPG


Elisa….. I’ve never heard of rollers that should only be cleaned with lacquer thinner. (and I’ve been doing this for a long, long time) That’s a rather harsh solvent that you may not want to fool with each day. Find out from Lou what type of materials the rollers are made of. If they are not regular compo, then you’ll need to know what they are made of in order to care for them correctly.

By the way, your invitations look great!

Lacquer thinner is sometimes used as a type wash. I’ve never seen it recommended as a roller wash, though I have seen warnings against using it on rollers. Kerosene is the standard cleaner for composition rollers.
If they aren’t rubber or composition, what are they? vinyl?


The invitations look very nice. It must be great fun seeing it all come together.

I’m not certain anyone asked what ink you are using, but I assume it is just standard litho ink, and nothing special, am I right?

Lacquer thinner is a strange roller wash, but it certainly is worth a try. Open the windows when you do.

Thanks all for your kind words on the invitations! I am really happy with them, especially for my first run. There are things I would do different on my next run that I learned on this one which would help things move smoother.

John - I am using oil-based LP inks from Dave (Ink-in-Tubes guy). Does the ink make a difference? Oh, I also was wondering… does exposing your print to the sun cause oil-based inks to fade? I noticed the the top few prints of my stack (which were exposed to sun via my skylight for 2 days) faded pretty badly and had to be discarded. [Note to self: put prints away from sun…].


John, the inks are, like you assumed, standard litho ink. Elisa, when you find out from Lou what your rollers are, please let us know. We want to find out what’s going on with this situation — ink is supposed to stay on the rollers!

Ink color fading has to do with the pigments in the ink, rather than the “vehicle” (oil, etc.) that carries the pigments. Different colors will fade differently, and the “0” Pantone Basic Colors were introduced relatively recently (a decade or so ago?) with fade-resistant pigments. For instance, Warm Red is considered “not light fast” (it fades) while Red 032 is fade resistant, and Rubine Red is in between these in terms of fading. (And yes, I do have Red 032 available in tubes.)

Dave (the Ink in Tubes guy)

So I had this same problem with my rollers de-inking themselves when I first got my press, and didn’t have any problems for a while, and now I am yet again! So frustrating!

My situation is pretty much the same as weddingbellprints (Elisa): I have a Kelsey press restored by Lou, looks like the same rollers (Lou told me mine were rubber though) and use the same ink from Dave Robinson.

I have read the above posts and tried cleaning my rollers with mineral spirits right before printing. Didn’t work! :( I usually use California Wash. I dilute the California Wash a bit with water as it says this can be done (up to 50%) on the can. I do everything the same each time I print and sometimes I get beautiful prints and sometimes the rollers just don’t hold the ink…could it be a moisture issue then? I work upstairs out of my home in Omaha, Nebraska…maybe the temperature varies too much for my rollers?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!


This is very interesting. I had the same thing happen to me with rubber rollers on a Pilot press this summer. I took the press to a 4th of July community fair on an extremely humid day. I was using VanSon rubber base Rubine Red straight out of the can to print some cuts for the kids. After a couple of hours the ink started to separate just like in Elisa’s photos. I rarely use this press and I haven’t inked it since then so I don’t know if the problem still exists.

I do notice that the rollers now seem “sticky”. I don’t remember them being that way before, and the rollers on the other two presses in my shop aren’t like that. I don’t remember now for sure, but it may be that the day before the fair I cleaned the rollers with odorless mineral spirits for the first time (Klean Strip Green, the kind that looks milky). Wonder if that could have something to do with it. But I’ve used the same stuff on my other rubber rollers and they’re ok.

As soon I get a chance I’m going to ink up the Pilot and see if I can recreate the problem.


Well, I should be doing other things instead but I was too curious so I inked the Pilot, cleaned the rollers with the odorless spirits, then inked it again. It seems ok now. I still wonder if the problem was caused by a combination of high humidity and the Klean Strip?

I have the same inconsistent results! Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes it doesn’t! I’m almost tempted to just give up and order new rollers from NA graphics since I’m on deadline. I think I will try the lacquer thinner first on these as that’s what Lou, the guy I purchased the press from, recommended. I’ve been reading posts that it’s too harsh of a chemical to use, but I feel like I have no other choice!
Hopefully I’ll have some positive results to report soon!


Please be careful with the lacquer thinner. It’s extremely toxic and highly flammable. A spark can set it off.



what’s wrong with gasoline, thats what was used in the old days, at $2.50 a gallon it beats blanket wash at $18.00 a gallon. i mix gas with blanket wash, about half and half, seems to work for me. dick g.



Did you ever get your roller problem solved?

I too have the bright red rollers from Lou, and the rollers just lose their ink after 10-20 impressions.

I’m frustrated and not sure what to use…