Which papers do you usually dampen?

Hi printers!

I recently printed a run of pro bono business cards on some scrap paper left over from other projects.

Despite having enough ink and packing, I was getting very salty prints on scraps of Reeves BFK. I usually put this paper in a damp pack when I make intaglio prints. So I soaked the sheets briefly before printing.

HUGE DIFFERENCE. I was really impressed with how lovely and crisp the results were. And with business cards that measured just 2x3.5”, I didn’t even have to weight the job afterward — I stacked the cards and they just dried flat.

So, for those that print with dampened paper: which papers do you routinely dampen? Are there any papers that you never consider printing dry? Do you find that jobs printed on damp paper usually need weights to keep the paper from warping? How do you usually make your damp packs? (Different at all for letterpress than for intaglio?)

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Hi India,

I like to dampen any textured, mould made paper, BFK, Arches, Waterford, etc… I don’t dampen machine made, highly sized, smooth surfaced papers. Highly textured/rough papers have trouble “bottoming” the ink, e.g. getting ink all the way down and eliminating the saltiness, so dampening helps eliminate that.

I usually use these papers on the hand press, so dampening is a natural part of the process. When printing damp on a platen jobber (C&P for example), it is best to put a thin sheet of mylar on the tympan to prevent the tympan from becoming damp and warping. Adjust packing accordingly.

I dampen by lightly misting each sheet, front and back, with a dahlia sprayer, stack carefully, put between two pieces of lexan (plexiglas) put in a large size ziplock. (they make ziplocks in sizes big enough to hold a sleeping bag these days!) Dampen the night before, print the next day. After printing, spread them out to dry (I make my bed and then spread them out in short stacks of 3-4 pages over the surface of the bed, I’m a hobby printer and don’t have a drying rack.)

I wait until they are very nearly dry, then put them back in a careful stack, back between the lexan boards, and into a nipping/copy press overnight and they come out very nicely smooth.

You will find many methods discussed for dampening (sponging, plunging, damp blotters, spraying, etc…) and some disputations about whether to press and how soon after dampening… whether you should turn your stack, etc… All are valid and all have their adherents. Also, refrigeration can stave off molding if you have to keep damp more than a day or two…

One thing I recommend watching out for, particularly with letterpress printing, is that you don’t over-dampen and end up with overly wet pages. Ink will creep or “bloom” around each character if the page is too damp. I can usually dampen 35 sheets of 10x15 BFK with less than a pint of distilled water in my dahlia sprayer and it is plenty damp and pliant for printing.




Thanks so much for your thorough reply!

Putting a sheet of mylar on the tympan is a great tip. I also appreciate knowing that you get by with so little water. I could see how it might be difficult to work with a sheet that’s overly saturated.

Misting with a sprayer and damp packing seems like a lot less hassle that soaking, blotting, and damp packing, which is what I’m used to. Plus, you wouldn’t have to have a clean shallow pan for soaking or clean towels for blotting.

I happen to have a drying rack but not a nipping press! Funny how that works.

Thanks for your help and input!


Hello India,

You should check the archives for information on paper dampening. There are many threads that refer to the process, and a few dedicated to it:


What you want to achieve are sheets that are slightly more limp than the paper when dry, and a little cooler to the touch, best judged by pressing the sheet to your cheek or neck. The moisture should be distributed perfectly evenly throughout every square millimeter of every sheet, which can be achieved only through the systematic introduction of water followed by even pressure across the stack for enough time. Methods are covered in the referenced threads.