Soy Based Ink

Can you use Soy Based Ink with any of these old presses? I don’t know anything about printing presses but I’m trying to buy a fairly decent sized set up that will print with Soy Based Ink.

Thank you!!!


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Yes, you can use soy-based inks with any of the letterpress equipment you may find available. I would pay attention to the information Devils Tail provided. Test the soy ink and see if it does what you want. Remember that Linseeed Oil based inks are also available, and flax plants are just as renewable a resource as soya beans.

Linseed oil based inks have the added advantage of being the more traditional alternative.

Great! Thank you for he replies! I didn’t know Linseed was an option. I am just looking for the least toxic route.

AmyD- traditional oil-based inks are linseed oil based…. and have been for 400 years. They have always been a renewable resource. Soy-based inks are no more environmentally friendly, and in my opinion they do not print as well.

The REAL environmentally unfriendly ink is rubber-based. Most of the brands are not really based on rubber, but on modified petroleum oils. They also tend to use less light-fast pigments, and thus fade quicker.


“traditional oil-based inks are linseed oil based…. and have been for 400 years.”

Traditional oil-based inks WERE linseed oil based — but I read somewhere that around 50 years ago most commercial ink makers (i.e., makers of offset inks) went to petroleum oils rather than linseed oil.


Paul and Dave- you are right about commercial offset inks being oil / alkalyd based…. which is why I said “Traditional Oil-Based” in my comment. Commercial Offset Inks are not traditional letterpress ink, and God only knows what they are made of. I was referring to inks like Charbonnell or Newton which are still made the old fashioned way…. with linseed oil and high quality mineral-based pigments. They do cost more, but they are the best.


I’d agree that if you want to do quality work avoid soy, rubber-based, and as Paul suggests, oil-based etching inks. Best for the slow moving Vandercooks are oil-based stone litho inks.

Flint in LA has the old Sinclair Valentine formulas, by the bye, which were inks to die for. No encouragement needed; the “government” forbids the old formulas. Though a phone call and a no expense concerned interest shown, will get pretty good results, if you get the right person. Picked up some old formula collotype ink from Handschy that way a few years back.




Well, I’ve always thought letterpress would turn into “islands of the saved.” Problem is, there are still too many functioning presses around for that to happen. Twelve printers? Well, back before the first influx (mid-70s), that’s about all the really good fine printers that there were (trying not to be insulting).

Actually you are likely to get pounds (maybe minimum of 5) for not much more than the designer folks who spec out PMS colors; if you work the slide out correctly.

Never heard of Hurricane Drier before. Now you done it. Damn.



Back to oil content of commercial litho inks:

If you take a look at many of the MSDS sheets for oil based inks (rubber-based, too) you will find that there is still a pretty sizeable content of plant-based oils (linseed and or soya oil). The percentage by weight can be as high as 30% while the petroleum oil content is much less, around 10-15% by weight.

The companies are very careful not to release their entire formulations for inks in their MSDS information, but you can get an idea of the content from them. If you find a supplier of “Linseed Oil-based inks” ask them for an MSDS for it and see if there is absolutely no petroleum-based oils in the mix.

Graphic Chemical makes a 1920’s formula oil based relief ink, has performed well for me on my cylinder press’ as well as my platen press’ well for “the least toxic route”
wear gloves, and don’t eat the ink. best james



Hi Paul

I have the primary four color set of John Mandlik inks. I’ve never opened them. Same stuff Lewis Allen used. I was offered an obscene amount of money for them many years ago. I also have the Dampened Paper Letterpress Black, which I did open and tried. I was not impressed, similarly with the Hostmann-Steinberg Matt Black. Horrid. Currently I am enamored with Graphic Chemical’s Senefelder Litho Black. I don’t have the exact title of it at my disposal right now but it is a Great ink. The answer.

Yeah, I collect ink.