Problem with black ink


I did a short print run tonight on my Vandercook SP-15 using “Black” Van Son’s rubber ink and from a photopolymer plate. The result I got was a very dark gray…not quite the black I was expecting. As I don’t have years of experience, I’m just wondering if anyone has any insight as to why this would occur. I feel I had enough ink on the rollers, and they were adjusted correctly. I printed on various color papers as well, including white. Thank you for any input!

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Hi Karen,

You might have been using a ‘mixing’ black and that’s why you had that result. I will usually add reflex blue to mixing black (VS310) to get a nice dark blue-black. Van Son also sells misc. blacks— VS101 and VS102 that print as solid black. Hope this helps!

Well, I am using VS101 so I suppose it should be printing darker. Perhaps I’m not using enough ink. For now, I’ll just mix in a little blue. Thank you!

Before you start adding color you need to examine what kind of paper you are using, often a mould-made paper will print grey unless dampened or printed with a little extra ink and extra pressure. You may also need to work the ink (stirring on a slab or glass to loosen the ink) before putting it onto the press. Sometimes a really stiff ink won’t distribute well on the press. I’m not sure if VS101 is a rubber or oil based ink, but it is possible that oils or varnish could have risen to the top of the can and you may have skimmed some off which would affect the color density of the ink.


I was printing on Crane’s Lettra and Crane’s Palette (color stock). I can try to dampen those, but I’m going to guess the problem is I need to work the ink longer or dig a little deeper into the can. Thank you!!!


Papers with a high cotton content like Crane papers often benefit from dampening, altho I can understand your reticence to do so. A good way to see if your paper would benefit from dampening is to hold the area you are attempting to print over a steaming cup or bowl of water for a few seconds, enough to soften the surface fibers (not enough to actually see moisture on the surface or enough to cause the paper to bend), then print and see if there is a difference. Some papers print better dampened, and it is just one of many tricks to better make an image transfer to the surface of the paper.


I am also facing the same issue.

I am using VS101 Van Son Rubber ink, and it is coming out as grayish instead of black. I am also using Crane Lettra.

I have tried the following:

1. More ink (did help slightly, but definitely not jet black)
2. Thoroughly mixing the ink before use (also used ink from middle of can)
3. Lightly dampened the paper
4. Increased pressure

The above all helped a little, but not to the extent that I was getting jet black.

Examples of the “gray” prints I am currently facing:

Photo 1:
Boxcar Press Sample

My own print
-VS101 Black
-Slightly Damped
-using the SAME paper as the Boxcar Press sample

Photo 2:
Crane Lettra
Enough ink for a crisp image
Vanson Rubber Black Vs101

As you can see, the prints I am currently getting are rather “light”. I have tried using another oil based ink, and results are better, however, still not as good as this:

Appreciate any help… Thanks :)

image: photo 1.JPG

photo 1.JPG

image: photo 2.JPG

photo 2.JPG

Hi sprockett,

One thing you should do is examine your work with a loupe to see how well the ink is traveling into the paper. Here’s an example of what you might see. If you see those “empty” spots, then the recommendations already mentioned should correct the problem — more ink, more pressure, and proper dampening — though of course you can get into worse trouble with too much ink, pressure, or dampening. For example, paper that is too damp will resist the ink, as shown here. If the ink is traveling well into the paper, such that there are no “empty” spots, then the problem could be with the ink itself and you could explore other kinds. (I use oil-based litho inks.) One thing I’ve done is to add a tiny bit of Setswell compound to the ink to “loosen” it. This is typically done for large solid areas, but if you’ve got big fat text it might work as well.


Poor inking is common with Lettra paper. I think if you would change paper your impression and inking would be fine.


looking at your photo #2, it looks like both your inking and your impression is ok. If it were me, I’d ditch the rubber-based ink, and try oil-based. VanSon Rubber Based ink is formulated for offset litho printing, and it never seems to print as well for me as good oil based ink.

Thanks so much for the advice :)

I’ve ordered some more inks and papers to experiment further. Will update again with the results.