Is there a site or a reference where I can get information on different types of inks (rubber based, oil based, etc), why people would choose one type of ink or another, how they are different, etc?

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Hi Rosy,

Im pretty new to letterpressing as well. I think the main difference between oil and rubber based ink is the drying property. Oil based inks dry alot faster than rubber based. Because of that, rubber based inks will last you longer. Over time, oil based inks develop a think layer of film that has to be removed in order for the ink to be “usable”. Both are suitable for letterpressing. I guess its just based on your preference.

If you really want to learn more about the inks, you can probably just call the ink manufacturer.

There is a lot of information on Van Son’s web site, and probably other manufacturer’s as well, but almost all will be directed toward offset printing.

For a lot of jobs, it really won’t matter much what type of ink you use - it’s how well you print with it that makes the difference!

The “best” ink for any given job will depend on the job you’re printing and your preferences & work habits. Rubber base inks are often good choices for classes and demos (where you’re actually doing more talking than printing) because rubber base ink won’t dry on the press (even if someone accidently leaves it overnight); also there’s no “skin” of dried ink to be removed from the can. But because it “dries” mostly by being absorbed into the paper, rubber base is a poor choice for coated or other less absorbent stock. Opened cans of rubber base ink tend to have a shelf life of around 5-10 years.

Oil base inks are more traditional, come in a wider variety of colors and formulas, and dry on almost anything - including your press if left overnight (don’t, it will ruin the rollers!). Inks made with more
soy oils than petrochemicals tend to be best for jobs that have to withstand heat, like letterhead that may go through a copier or laserprinter. Although oil base inks “skin” in the can, that’s not a problem with ink in tubes. In cans, under the skin, oil base inks will have a shelf life measured in decades rather than years.

If you have specific questions or would like a list of ink in 1/4-lb. tubes I have available, please feel free to e-mail me (Ink(at)


I found that just trying one of each was a good way to get a feel for what you will personally like more. I didnt mind the oil based but I can see that if you are learning and a bit slower at things the rubber based will stay open longer (dry slower!) I never leave the rubber ink on my press over night — still makes me nervous even though I know it should be fine.. I have had ink on it for 5 or 6 hours however..

I found that both the oil and rubber printed very similar.. I did however try ink from a can I had not used before last weekend and it wasn’t working that well, so there is a factor of is the ink good. I still haven’t figured out if the ink or me!