Double Tone Inks, Still Available?

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In the past, there were inks called double-tone inks. They were used for printing halftones and were basically comprised of 4 key ingredients:

1. carrier (varnish/burnt plate oil)
2. driers
3. pigment
4. oil soluble dye

Normal inks only contain the first three, but double tone inks contained an oil soluble dye that leached out into the paper after the halftone was printed, creating a haloed effect with the dye that made halftones look like gravures. The dye and ink were different colors (e.g. black pigment, sepia dye).

Does anyone know if these are still available? I can definitely see some potentially interesting effects from using these to do some printing. Alternatively, does anyone have a line on oil soluble dyes that you can add before printing as you’re mixing ink on a slab to create double tone ink in real-time?


Thomas , We ran a single

Thomas , We ran a single colour hit in say reflex blue and then a second hit with the toning on the plate in black as you said they moved the screen a little to . you had to dot for dot register of course but the angle change in the screen meant they would overlap as ooposed to overprint !
It is still used a lot today in offset litho. Not so common as in the past but it appears here and there.

I have never seen real

I have never seen real Duotone inks but I can achieve a similar result by mixing Green blacks, Brown blacks and Blue Blacks, simply by mixing colours by eye to a good black. They warm or cool and add a colour bias. I’m thinking Graphic Chemicals for photo Gravure and Van Son for Letterpress. You get a beautiful Brown black etc.

I have not found a

I have not found a manufacturer of these double tone inks, but I have found a supplier of oil soluble aniline dyes at The dye is supplied as a powder. I suppose I’ll order some, dissolve it in varnish and add a few drops to a black ink and give it a try.

hello peter luckhurst, do

hello peter luckhurst, do you mean dot on dot printing here, one pass with a black and a second pass with a varnish?

Thomas gravemaker ,yes you

Thomas gravemaker ,yes you are correct duotone is a two pass process one plate in a standard screen and standard dot strength and second pas with a screen as you correctlypoint out different angle of screen and often a wee bit finer dot you print on the black run . Have done much of it in my time , i just wondered if he was mistaking the terminology becausewe used a fast drying ink on the colour run (first pass) and a plain dense black for the tone over the top and the ink we used for the first run was always strong in colour and long in vehicle and dried like concrete if you left it on the press for too long . sorry to miss lead anyone !

No, not me. The John Henry

No, not me. The John Henry Co. of Lansing, MI is in the business of producing cards and tags for florists and nurseries, and I share my name with them, but have no stock in their firm.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

Speaking of duotones, John:

Speaking of duotones, John: today I looked at a book of offset duotone photographs, Karl Struss: Man with a Camera, printed in 1976 by a John Henry Co. of Lansing MI. Is that your work? It stands up well.

Harry Kriegel, of Superior

Harry Kriegel, of Superior Printing Ink discusses in his 1932 book “Encyclopedia of Printing Inks” what he calls doubletone or multitone inks:

“It may be stated that doubletone inks are composed of letterpress halftone inks mixed with 10 percent of oil soluble dye. The effect of this soluble dye is that it slowly spreads, after printing, along the borders of the screen dots, thus coloring the white paper at the intervals of the dots.”

He goes on to warn that the amount of the dye added must be limited or it will dilute the halftone ink itself. He also says that the effect is vastly different on different types of paper.

It might be interesting to go to your paint store and find a couple oil-based stain products and try mixing them with the black ink to see what effects you might garner. Halftone inks are generally lower in viscosity than standard letterpress inks, so adding a bit of oil stain might just give you better results if you mix it with a standard heavy-bodied ink.

Let us know the results of your experimentation.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

Peter, if I’m not

Peter, if I’m not mistaken, Duotone is not an ink, but a way of printing halftones images in a richer, deeper way. I’ve designed several books – printed in offset – with photographs, where we decide to use a black and a second colour (depending on what effect was desired) to print photos. The repro house would split the photo into two plates, a black plate and the second colour plate, with a slightly different dot angle. Once printed you would have a deeper, richer black. Pantone supplied a Duotone book with samples, but in theory you can use any colour, black and yellow, black and grey etc. Anther book I worked on, was done in Tritone, where we split the images up in one black and two grays, a cold one and a warm one.

Are you thinking of DUO-TONE

Are you thinking of DUO-TONE ink it was as runny as thin varnish?

I must admit that I have

I must admit that I have NEVER heard of such a thing. In offset lithography there is dot-gain on press and this is calculated and compensated for when the halftone dots are created on the film.

I would assume that if one used this ink and the dye leached out onto the non-printed surface, that something other than a normal halftone pattern would have to be used to to create your image so that it would adjust for this fact. Otherwise, logic would tell me that your image is going to be darker overall and fill-in in the heavier ranges.


Yes, please let us know if

Yes, please let us know if you find any more information about these inks. I have a box of halftone plates that have been waiting for something to call them into service.


did you find any??????????

did you find any??????????