Ink Brands Used for Letterpress

I am putting together a simple ink guide for Letterpress printers and just wanted to put in a list of brands of ink which people on this list have found which are readily available and have performed well over the years for letterpress use.

With your comments, please include whether it is oil-based, rubber-based, or other. Also whether you generally add driers or other modifiers to the ink before it works well for you on press.

I am starting this thread because I have somewhat limited exposure to the inks I don’t use, and would like some comments by people who are actually using those other brands to good advantage.

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That’s an excellent idea, John!

When you gather the information, it might also be good if people indicated the name which the manufacturer used to identify that particular ink system. For instance, I’m sure some ink companies have more than one oil based litho ink system that they sell. This might be just as important in identifying the suitability of a certain ink system as the brand is.

I use Hostmann-Steinberg METALFX PROCESS INK(S), MFX Silver and MFX Gold. (It appears to me that they are probably oil based because they skin in the can). Why do I use them? - because I was given 1 kg. cans of them all. I also use Van Son CML Oil Base Plus transparent white and Reflex Blue. I mix the Van Son transparent white and the Hostmann-Steinberg inks with good results. It appears to me that the Van Son dries a little faster that the H-S, but they both work fine.

One other thing - - - it might be interesting to know what type of press the people are using when thay report liking or disliking inks. Perhaps, just as an example, the same ink may perform well for someone on a hand flatbed cylinder proof press, but not on a production flatbed cylinder press like a Miehle Vertical.

I’ll also be interested to see how many differences of opinion you get. Different people will probably like or dislike some of the same inks. And I’ll bet that many of the differences will probably be for some very good reasons depending on people’s specific sets of production conditions.


I know that ink is a fairly expensive proposition for people who are starting out with letterpress printing, and hopefully a listing such as this will help necomers decide where to start.

Those of us who have been printing for many years, get a comfort level with a particular brand or type of ink and if we don’t have difficulty, we stick with it. As most “tools” used in printing, ink works better with familiarity. The downside of this is we don’t often venture out and purchase anything new to test. Maybe this list will accomplish opening some horizons for experimentation as well.

John Henry

I’ve been using oil-based Lithography/Monotrype inks by Graphic Chemical & Ink. I stiffen up the ink with Magnesium Carbonate and don’t need/use any dryer. Primarily used on Rives BFK and Lettra papers printed on a Vandercook.

Gans Ink in Los Angeles makes a letterpress black which is pretty decent, unfortunately for the small printer they only sell it in 5 lb cans. I found their process colors to be quite runny, which is suitable for offset, but not so great for letterpress. I have tried some relief inks sold by Daniel Smith and have been generally satisfied with how the ink covers, however some of the colors seem too loose, and they don’t provide PMS colors for mixing. I haven’t purchased any of the inks offered by NA Graphics, but I’m sure Fritz is attempting to supply the best product he can. There are ink manufacturers in most major cities all over the country, and I have found the ones I have encountered to be very agreeable to experimentation (and occasionally one encounters an old-timer who knows exactly what is needed). Just don’t expect them to give you their formulas. I suggest you should shop locally if possible.

Trying to adapt inks that are designed for other processes can be difficult, but not impossible. An old ink-maker told me that they used to thicken ink with corn starch, but the industry uses a coated calcium carbonate. It would be better to re-grind the ink with an ink muller and a glass slab to break down the thickener and blend it with the ink. Older pressman’s guides recommend adding a small amount of #7 or #8 varnish. Letterpress had so many different kinds of ink for different applications, i.e. Job inks, Bond inks, Newspaper inks, Half-tone inks, Coated paper inks, Corrugated Box inks, Cellophane inks, &c…, to say nothing of different inks for hand presses, platen presses, and cylinder presses - it is often hard to make one ink work for all applications one might encounter.