Keeping Hands Clean

I’m not sure if this is something I just discovered, or perhaps common knowledge I didn’t know was common, but I have a new trick for keeping my hands clean.

Cornstarch! I rub my hands with cornstarch and it keeps me from getting my grubby prints on the nice cotton envelopes.

The discovery was made after watching the chickens take dustbaths. If it works for chickens, it has to work for me.

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A slightly similar use of starch to yours, has been used on many automatic fed presses for many years. The presses are equipped with starch spray units which spray a small amount of starch between the sheets as they are being delivered into the pile after printing. The printed sheets then rest on the starch particles between the sheets, rather than the sheets resting on each other. This is designed to prevent offset, or set-off, which is the ink from a lower sheet being transferred to the back of the sheet above it.

There are commercial starch preparations sold for this. Last I heard, it was common to use potato starch.

Sometimes if you slide your fingers on the printed area of a sheet with a lot of ink coverage, such as one printed by offset litho, especially if it is smooth coated paper or paperboard, it feels a little rough like sandpaper. That roughness is the starch particles on the sheet.

If the press didn’t have a spray unit you can put some spray powder in a rag, then fold it up and put a rubber band to hold it , then by holding this over the printed sheet and giving it a shake or slightly taping it you get some powder to fall on the sheet, the poor mans spray unit. Dick G.

Do you all powder/starch your prints?

On the Windmill, only solids, on a Platen press you can slip sheet it, place a clean sheet of paper between each print to prevent off setting

I’m currently adding a sheet of newsprint between each sheet, but it seems like my ink is taking forever to dry- it will still offset days after I print… I’m wondering if I should try the starch method…

I’m printing on a Poco Proof Press


You may need to add a bit of drier to your ink if it is taking that long to cure. That will allow you to print without worry of set-off or scuffing. There are a couple options, a paste drier or the more aggressive cobalt drier.


JHenry- What would you recommend for a paste drier?

(I’m currently using Faust’s waterbased and it’s not working too well for me, so I think I’m going to bite the bullet and get more Vanson Rubber based.)

Be careful with cobalt driers, you can create chalking of the ink, as I recall cobalt driers dry from the ink surface down. I’ve had good luck with Chinawood oil, which you can get from your ink supplier. Start with a very, very small amount and work up to what works for you.

The solution? Don’t print!

If you must, take pride in your soiled “handiwork.”

Chuck is coorect, the Cobalt driers dry the surface first, forming a hard surface, which assists in reducing set-off, but as he indicates, it takes only a very little to accomplish this.

With water-based inks, there are accelerators used in the Flexo industry, including a touch of ammonia which assists in drying.

Switching to a standard printing ink will alleviate the problem for you. I will check my paste drier for source. I have effectively used VanSon three-way Drier, which as the name indicates, is a mixed bag of solutions.

John Henry

Vroooom- A little ink smudge is not going to keep me from printing, and for the most part, I don’t really care- but If I’m going to try and sell something, or print something for other people… I’d like to give them the best I can.

JHenry- Thanks for the info- with the water-based do they just add a little ammonia? That’s a chemical I really would rather not deal with while printing!

Megan, i worked for a company that made rubber plates that were used to print on corrugated boxes, some were very large solids. We used a huge vandercook to pull proofs of these plates, all we used was oil based printing ink, sometimes the ink wouldn’t dry fast enough, we would powder the proofs then spray them with something (can’t remember what it was called) but the ink would be dry immediately. This only works for a few copies, i wouldn’t want to do a long run this way. J Henry is right, stick to regular printing ink and you will have less problems. Dick G.

With regard to adding ammonia to water based flexo ink, ammonia is one of a series of “amines” which are used to raise the pH of flexo ink. Most water flexo inks have to have an elevated pH or they will “kick out,” or what we would know as curdle, like what happens if if you pour orange juice into milk. If you use a fast evaporating amine like ammonia, yes it would make water flexo ink dry faster. (However, most water flexo inks have gotten away from using ammonia because of the smell. There are other amines which can be used). (That is the short answer. I was in flexo for 30+ years…..let me know if you want the long answer).

I’m not sure what this has to do with water clean-up paste ink that we might use in letterpress. (FYI, the ink makers call litho and letterpress ink “paste ink,” and flexo and gravure ink “fluid ink” because they are much thinner). I would be surprised if a water clean-up letterpress ink maker would recommend adding ammonia to make their ink dry faster. I don’t know what the chemical system in water base letterpress ink is, but doubt that it is very similar to water base flexo ink.

I just meant in regard to keeping your hands clean. My hands are usually covered with several shades of ink at any given time, but I don’t lose pieces from getting ink on my hands onto the paper. It helps to have a “clean hand” and a “dirty hand”, just like you would designate certain counter space in a print shop. You don’t handle finished work with the dirty one.

Alternately, baby powder does an excellent job of drying any ink you may have on you.

Also, I’ve never encountered offsetting from a pile.

There’s the option of curating prints after printing (fine grit sandpaper on certain papers will remove all traces of wayward ink), but obviously it’s less work to work cleanly to begin with.

It’s funny, I am much more used to working with oil-based inks… but I wanted to try out the alternatives- I’m glad I did, but I think I might just go back to oil-based.

Vrooooom- My hands frequently have ink on them, but I’m pretty good at keeping that ink off of my prints ;)

Thanks for the ideas and help (also sorry for over-running this nice post about how to keep your hands ink-free!)

I for one pretty much always have ink on my hands while printing. Will try the corn starch though, already am a big fan of the baby powder for cleaning up the tympan of accidental ink.

On another note, I do always seem to find ink on the underneaths of my forearms. Usually totally unnoticed until out at dinner with friends.

Bespoke, i too use baby powder, but i find i get some static from it so i try not to use it too much. Funny, that forearm thing, i always have something printed there, the other place is my stomache, all my t-shirts have things half printed there. Dick G.

I definitely have the forearms ink as well, sometimes my elbow too. But the best is usually the side of the nose or the ear.