Oil based ink shelf life and tack reducers

In general, does oil-based ink have a “shelf life”? I recently acquired some oil-based inks. The cans were being sold as “new,” but when they arrived, I looked at the date on the can and saw they were mixed in 2005.

They are not printing as well as my other oil based inks which are really new. The ink looks “splotchy” and not as crisp when I print. I thought a tack reducer may help, but am not sure as I’ve never used one. Any suggestions?

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Brand of ink?
I have used oil-base ink that is 40, even 50 years old, mostly Cal Ink brand, and other than needing removal of hickeys and maybe adding fresh drier, it is just fine. Maybe your ink needs to be worked with an ink knife on the slab, especially if the vehicle and pigment have started to separate. It used to be a recommended remedy for mottled ink to add cornstarch, to absorb excess oiliness.
Linseed oil based ink should be workable far longer than rubber or acrylic or soy inks, not sure about the other multiveg inks. But then in 2005 linseed oil may be a smaller component.

It is Vanson Ink. I will try working with it a little as you suggested.

have five pound cans of Flint ink
that are over 30 years old
still print like new

A slow stirring of the can may also help along with a good going over on the slab. This would make sure you aren’t just pulling binder off the top of the can but also getting the pigment which my have settled to the bottom. If properly sealed and stored ink can last decades.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

I would really love to see someone stirring a can of oil-based ink. It would be a mistake to even attempt do so, because it would distribute hard bits of dried ink throughout the can, making it basically worthless. Inks don’t separate like salad dressing. The only problem I have ever encountered with old ink is the evaporation of drier. I have inks that are 40 years and still in very good shape. I have one can that is 80 years old, but I don’t want to break the seal on it. If you are worried about the ink not being mixed well you will have to remove all of the ink from the can, work it on a slab of glass, and put it into a new can (unless you want to clean the inside of your existing can).


I have had to stir more than one can of old ink. I had one can of unidentified gold that was totally separated. Dark red translucent binder on top and particles of metallic pigment at the bottom. You have to be careful, yes, but on a platen press without a fountain small bits of hardened ink aren’t really a problem. You just remove them from the platen or roller with the corner of your ink knife while the ink is distributing.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Paul, is that 80 year old can of ink the first can you bought?? sorry I couldn’t let that one go by

No Dick, It’s the one I found on a back shelf of your shop when I was in knee-pants. I think you told me that you had bought it with a hand-full of beads from a traveling ink peddler four-score and seven years before.