Mixing My Own Ink Issues

I print on a Washington style Hoe press. I print fine art woodblocks and have been mixing up my own ink and getting fairly good results using a linseed oil, pigment and Magnesium Carbonate. In order to get the ink thick, I end up adding quite a bit of pigment and Magnesium Carbonate. When rolling out the ink, after two or three runs, there will be a build up on the block. This wipes away easily, but if I dont wipe it away, it ink transfers un evenly. Any ideas on what to add to the ink mix?

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You may need to use a more heavy-bodied varnish. If you can find some Copal varnish (available at art supply stores), you might try adding that to give the ink more body, rather than adding an overload of pigment particles to body up the ink.

If the color is dark, you might be able to use a linseed oil which has been burnt to increase the body. Printer’s varnishes are rated in numbers which refer to the body or viscosity of the varnish. The higher the number, the greater the body. Find the heaviest vanish you can to begin with and add a thinner varnish until it gets to the “spreadability” you desire.

If the pigment is separating from the varnish, you may have varnish on the image which is rejecting new pigment, causing problems with multiple printings.

Grinding the pigment while suspended in the varnish will help as it will wrap individual particles of pigment with the varnish. Resins (like the copal) can be added to help with drying or body.

Keep us informed with your progress. Now you know what the early printers were up against as they developed their own inks for the new process.

John Henry

Thanks so much for the tips. It has been a fun challenge and adds to the creative process. I guess I make more work for myself than needed but, again, it seems to add to the whole process of creating my prints. Will go get some copal today and let you know how it works out.

Are you warming the oil up to add the pigment to it?
How are you mulling? Or are you simply mixing with a knife?

What are your ratios/Are you weighing in the ingredients before mixing them together to keep consistency?

It may be a good idea to add wax to the mixture as well as the varnishes suggested above- lots of inks have a wax content to them which improves their flow and tack when they are “worked up”.
Another thing to consider is warming the oil up before you introduce pigment, possibly with some sort of hotplate setup. We mixed ink when I was in school years ago and I used a hotplate set on really low to make sure the oils were really receptive to the pigments. It really seemed to help things mix and combine more easily. Also, we were mulling on glass and using a glass muller to do so.


It would be best avoid, linseed oil for fine art printing (archival purposes) as it can create a halo in the paper around the printed areas. We use plate oil and various # varnishes ( from Graphic Chemical or Daniel Smith) to mull a few special colors. Some pigments will benefit from adding alumina hydrate to help with the consistency, too much Magnesium Carbonate will reduce the tack of the ink. Otherwise mixing the hand made inks with a small amount of commercial ink will also help with the transfer to paper.


-Rob B

Do you varnish your blocks before you cut your images? I find that step being crucial to even inking and clean up with my wood blocks. I use Bullseye’s tinted varnish on my blocks, then sand to a smooth finish once dry. Good luck with your ink mixes.