black ink is not very black?

I seem to have a new issue where black ink (no matter rubber or oil based) is not coming out black when I print it. When I add more ink its just a mess. More impression is not the answer either.

I never had this issue before. Other colors may be printing a little light as well but black is of course the most obvious.
C&P ns 8x12, with 3 rubber rollers (from ramco, new a couple years ago). Old adjustable trucks (tires are old, threads are warn so they are hard to adjust)

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What type of paper are you printing on? Try dampening your stock and/or double hit if you havent already…

lettra typically, some coaster stock. I haven’t (yet) tried dampening it.

Old printer’s trick: to darken black ink add a little blue!

You say this is a new issue- is it colder in your shop than when your ink was behaving itself?

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

if the tires on the trucks are bad i think Ramco makes new ones. if your rollers are rubber i would try deglazing them, after many washups they get shinny and they don’t like to lay down ink, if this fails refer to Dan, cold will give you a really hard time. Dick G.

When I first started letterpress printing, this was always a frustrating problem. The dark inks, like black, always seemed to be printing, as I say, “peppery.” The black is not a nice solid, dark black - instead, it’s sort of sandy.

When all other variable such as roller quality and ink amount look fine, this is unfortunately something that is hard to remedy without either double or triple inking the form, or hitting the paper twice.

I often find that double inking the form can help a lot. If you are printing a surface area that is large, it may be necessary to double print. You need to make sure your registration technique is firmly holding the card in place if you try this. As you can imagine, if your paper moves at all after the first impression, the second will ruin your piece.

Regarding dampening your paper before you print: I have tried this and it works very well. However, if you are doing a long run, dampening every piece may not be possible. If you are doing a short run, it may be worth it to get a spray bottle with a very fine mist to spray each piece of paper as you feed it.

Does anybody else have any good dampening techniques?

Hello stewartdesign,

I vote for dampening, too. It’s magic. Here’s a photo showing a magnified image of 6-point type on both dry and dampened paper. The only difference is the dampening; everything else was exactly the same. Search in the archives here, for there have been many discussions on the topic.

In addition to the other suggestions, you also might try loosening up the ink with something like Setswell. This works especially well for large solids. You’re not supposed to use it for text, but I’ve broken this rule with good results.


Barb, what paper was that? It looks like a thick rag, but I suspect dampening would change the appearance. And how do you dampen? Quick pass through steam, or a set of blotter paper and a damp box?


Today I’m having good luck with Gans Rubber Base Black

What do you recommend for deglazing the rollers? And it has been warmer (but now its getting colder… so we will see what temp does.)

Putz Pomade

Hi Bob,

The paper is Arches 88. It’s unsized moldmade cotton, 300 gsm, I’m guessing about 0.020”. It’s used primarily for silkscreening and has a very smooth texture. Dampening does indeed change the texture; that’s unavoidable no matter which method you use but probably minimized by layering the paper with damp blotters. I used the method outlined in Lewis Allen’s Printing with the Handpress, which is basically interleaving dry sheets with sheets that have been sponged, keeping the stack under damp towels for a few hours, then weighting the stack and turning it every four hours for at least half a day. To keep his paper damp, Allen used beautifully constructed wooden humidors (there’s a schematic in the book), but I’ve gotten away with picnic coolers so far since I haven’t printed any large sheets yet.


Textured paper like Lettra is harder to get solid blacks on. Options are:

1. dampen (already suggested)
2. add more ink (sounds like you’ve tried this)
3. double strike (always an option, slows you down though, already suggested)
4. better makeready and more pressure which will flatten the paper better and “bottom” the ink for a more even color. (sounds like you’ve tried this too.)
5. Different ink.

There are hundreds of formulations of black ink, and your printing problem is partly the reason why there are so many formulations. I find I have about 8 or more black formulations in the shop that I switch between. Some are for office bond, some are for heavily textured, some are fast drying, etc… In my experience, there is no universal black ink.

For stock like Lettra, I’ve found that “dense blacks” which carry significantly more carbon black pigment, and perhaps a touch of blue pigment as well, in a slightly thinner ink tend to perform better than high tack/stiff inks like rubber or acrylic. Try Zipset GP-1 (about 12 bucks for 1 kilogram at your local printer’s supply). Also try one of the soy formulations which tend to run thinner as well. As Daniel notes, temperature may be a factor and a thinner ink will also mitigate this.

Any combination of the above might produce the desired results.

Good Luck.