inking problems

I have been having problems with my inking lately and it is maddening. I have always used VanSon Rubber based inks and sometimes Impreset from NA Graphics without a problem, however the inking is sploty and inconssistent on this job. I will get a few that are crisp and then some that are not. I have to tell you I have tried everything. I installed brand new rollers and trucks on the press, I have adjusted them so the roller doesn’t hit the polymer plate to much, I have purchased and air conditioner and am trying to keep the studio a good temp. I just can’t figure it out. I have also tried adding corn starch and putting the ink in the refrigerator. I am working on a C&P Platten Press 10 x 15 and to be quite honest if it didn’t weigh 1800 pounds I might throw it out the window!!!

I have read that oil based inks are used as well for letterpress printing, does anyone have any suggestions? Do oil base inks behave better?

Is there a life span to an ink? I have had some of my inks longer than others but they still seem to be fine.

Thank so much for any help you can offer.

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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but switching to oil based ink may not help. I say this because there seems to be quite a few messages on here lately with the same problem and setup, but with oil-based ink.

I have also had problems with inconsistent inking on my polymer plates, and also tried putting the ink in the fridge and various other things to no avail. The frustrating part would be that removing one layer of tape from the rails would fix the problem, but then you end up with sloppier prints.

This weekend I tried adding a layer of scotch tape to the rails, rather than another layer of electrician’s tape, which is thicker. It worked for that particular job, but who knows about the next one. You may want to experiment with a different thickness of tape on the rails - NA graphics sells several kinds specifically for this purpose.

Good luck. Hopefully soon someone will figure out a concrete reason why this keeps happening to everyone so we can sort it all out. I’d hate to switch to metal plates, because I like the service and convenience of Boxcar, but I’ll do it if I keep having this problem.

thanks for the tip. so nice to know i’m not alone. i have to say i have never put tape on my rails. i use the morgan expansion trucks and have never really needed to do that. am i missing something, does everyone put tape on their rails?

Parker -

Inking problems are indeed the most frustrating, but for 20 years, using rubber base, oil based, offset and letterpress inks of all colors in a commercial letterpress shop, I somehow managed to avoid the problems that so many folks here are encountering.

If you have Morgan Expansion Trucks - and they are adjusted to just a hair under the diameter of your rollers, and your rails are clean and dry, and the inner surfaces of your saddles are clean and oiled, that should do it. The only reason for tape is to make up for any difference in diameter between the rollers and the trucks. If you feel that you need tape for traction, there are other problems.

BUT just last week, I helped someone who had MET’s on an 8x12 C&P - but had not adjusted them!

So, at the risk of being redundant or suggesting the obvious, make sure that the trucks are adjusted properly for your rollers. Test different settings. Just make sure that your rollers are indeed rolling easily over the form and are indeed laying ink on the form - polymer, metal engraving, or type.

If you look closely, you should see a subtle image of your form on the rollers as they roll across it. Get some good lighting and look closely. Studying the rollers in action can show you a lot.

Oil based inks are ok. I use both oil based and rubber base, offset and letterpress and even have a can of ink I use that was new in 1952! And, I have a tube of new “finest letterpress” ink I bought just last week, and it does not lay as well as I’d like.

Age is not the issue. Original formulation is. An old can or a quickset or an oil based ink will skin, but if you can get the skin off and if the ink makes a pleasing “hiss” as the rollers run over the ink table, you should be okay. That hiss is an indicator of the tack of the ink, which is a critical factor.

Soupy inks are a problem and I have a green offset ink that I cannot make work for the life of me. If your shop is comfortable for you and not too humid, your ink should behave well.

You really should not have to refrigerate your ink, although I have heated ink to soften it in the winter… And I have heated my ink table in winter as well. (I’ll tell the ‘ink candle’ story another time) And I have tried refrigerating ink in the past, but I can’t say that it was really a solution.

Try other inks and see if the problem is the ink or something to do with the rollers or the press.

Also - be sure that there is no oil or grease on the rollers. You may have to use a volitile solvent (Acetone) or simply soap and water to remove all traces of grease and oil, but if that’s the problem, cleaning the rollers could be the solution.

And, a word to all - if you have Morgan Expansion Trucks on your press, adjust them as needed….

- Alan

hi alan - thank you so very much for your help. i will try again tomorrow. today i tried printing a different color on different paper and didn’t really have the issue. so i will try it again tomorrow. the ink was tackier so i really think it is the ink although i do get that great hiss sound with the brown i am having problems with, which by the way is the same brown i have used before with no issues. hmmmf! i will keep you informed of my progress.


Alan beat me to it. No sense repeating what he said. I agree with him on every item he mentioned. He knows an so do I. Listen to him. I printed on my first 10x C&P when I was 14. Never had the problems I hear out there today.
The only thing I would suggest is that you test for good perfect exact impressions using a different form in the press and not polymer plates. I never used them in my time. Try a form of
type, a line cut, a small solid cut and then print with either ink (I have used both and never had
these problems). If you get 25 good exact impressions then it has to do with the polymer
plates, etc. If it doesn’t work then you have to look further. I say this because I hear so many
fellow printers having trouble with these plates. Give it a try, nothing to lose.
Let me know how you make out. Been working with platens and cylinder presses for over
65 years.


I second the advice that Sal and Alan are giving you.
I also must defend the photopolymer plates. I have been using them for years now, and have never been able to blame an inking problem on them. I have used both film backed photopolymer, as well as metal backed photopolymer and they always ink up beautifully.
I have also had good results running both oil and rubber based inks (Van Son), but you could always end up with a funny batch. I shouldnt think that refrigeration will help you much, and should not be neccisary.
Whenever i have inking problems in has to do with my press settings. Something that can be a problem is if the rails that your trucks run on get dirty or oily. This can cause the rollers to slide rather than roll, and that will slur your inking. make sure the tracks are clean and dry.
Good luck

Everyone - thank you so much for all your input. today i received a brand new polymer plate and the same inconsistancey happened. i of course came back to the logs on briarpress and found some very interesting thoughts on polymer plates (the deep releif kind that I use). after reading and reading and reading i decided i would try one of the metal backed polymer plates i used to use. wow what a difference, it is not a deep relief and i am hoping that that is the answer to all my inconsistent inking problems. i ordered some metal backed plates to get me through this problem and hopefully tomorrow will prove to be more successful. i hope so this is due on friday!

it is interesting to read the logs about plastic backed polymer vs. deep releif etc… i am thinking i may step away from the deep relief plates altogether, they have been kind of inconsistent for me.

i will of course let you know how it all comes out but thanks so so much for all your advice.


Parker - Could the one plate be thinner - or thicker - than the other? Have you tried building up packing behind the plate to see if that helps with the inking issue?

hi alan - the plastic polymer plate i use now is a K152 from boxcar and i use it with a deep relief base. i think the thickness of that is the problem. the metal backed plate i will get today is thinner. so i am hoping against hope that this solves my problems.

wish me luck.

well, the metal plate was a bit better. not much but it was less smooshy looking it got a crisper print. however the ink still varied a bit. i did end up taking off the 3rd roller and it worked better. what is that about? i am going to do some more experimenting while i still have this ink on the press, but with another old metal backed plate.

i am located in vermont, does anyone know of anyone that does turtorials in the north east on C&P’s? I have been printing now for 10 year but have never had “formal” training. it is times like this that i feel i am missing out.


Sorry to hear you’re still having problems, and I wish I’d seen this discussion earlier. I’m not surprised that changing the plate type didn’t help…I’m confident it’s not the plate that’s the problem.

Usually these issues are related to the rollers—be it the roller height, roller condition, the roller type, or some other roller-related oddity. It would really help to diagnose this with some visual aids. Could you post photos online of the problems you’re having? Feel free to email them to harold at and I’ll post them online for this discussion. I love trying to help diagnose and solve problems on press. If anyone ever has a problem printing one of our plates, call 315-473-0930.

Also, what type of rollers are you using (rubber, vinyl, composition, etc.)?

Okay, I’ll let my feelings be known….Right off the bat I’m going to say your printing will improve if you throw out the MERTs. These were useful in the era of composition rollers, which expanded and contracted with humidity. Solid trucks and (climate-stable) rubber rollers will certainly help your situation.

I hope that thing have improved since you’re last post, but if not I hope to hear from you soon! I’m confident that we can eliminate the problems without any modification of the base and plate you initially ordered.

Boxcar Press


Most any problems you have with a C&P are either caused by the mechanics of the roller mechanism or by platen adjustment rather than the type high material that are using. I’d think that would be fairly clear simply by reading through the various messages that are posted here.

Address those problems first. But yes, I would agree, throw it out the window. These presses were designed for one purpose, utilitarian job printing. Don’t expect any more from them. And if you get more, praise yourself, not the press.


Hi Everyone - Can’t thank you all enough or your input. I think I know what the problem is. I do use the MERTs and have noticed a flat spot on some of them when the press was inactive for a week or so.

Harold you spoke of “Solid trucks and (climate - stable) rubber rollers” NA Graphics only seems to carry the MERTS for my press which is a C&P 10x15.

I would be grateful to anyone that could tell me where to find these new trucks! I am so anxious to get them.

Thank you

I know this thread is old, but I’m hoping by posting here I can help other printers out there who have searched this topic.

As stated in previous posts, roller height is key to good print quality. This was driven home for me recently when I was encountering some really nasty inking problems.

I’ll set the stage by telling you I’m on an 8x12 C&P, using a Boxcar base with photopolymer plates, rubber rollers with delrin trucks. I’ve had to tape the rails on the C&P, and my story relates directly to that fact.

Over time, the tape on the rails will slowly deteriorate and compress, causing inking problems. In addition, the trucks can accumulate press wash/ink/paper lint. While the truck condition can seem minor, I now know it can also contribute to inking problems.

The image I’ve attached shows, top to bottom, the original problem, improved inking by thoroughly cleaning the trucks, and finally MUCH better print quality by replacing the tape on the rails.

Remarkable, when you consider the thickness of a strip of duct tape!

image: roller_height.jpeg


If you mean the common grey, fibered duct (“duck”) tape, no surprise it would beat down with use. The more professional silver duct tape might wear better; as there is nothing there that could be be compressed. Common “Duck” tape really does not age well.
Personally, I use combinations of .005” white drafting tape and .0025” clear Scotch tape for track levelling, and change them often. No reason to just coast on earlier efforts. Keep paying close attention.

Interesting and your top sample looks like the problem I’ve been having with inking. However, I got new rubber rollers fitted at Caslon on my Adana plus brand new nylon runners as well as a service so everything should in theory be set properly and not need packing up.

Thanks for the samples though!