Hi there,

I am very much a novice to letterpressing… I have done it before at university, but not at home.

I was wondering what key things I need… i understand that there are quite a few inks out there too. What is the best ink to buy? I have found these, but I might need linseed oil?


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The best ink is free, you should go to a local printer, they usually have a few cans kicking around they don’t mind parting with.

I would go with Dick’s suggestion above. Tell your local printer what you are doing, and when they find out you are not a competitor of theirs, they will probably be helpful.

If that fails, I would go with a commercial litho ink, like Van Son. A lot of letterpress printers use it, including me. I am assuming you are in the UK, so here is a link:

And by the way, when you describe what you are doing, please say that you are “printing by letterpress,” not “letterpressing.”

Thanks for the info guys… I just visited vanson, but the choice of ink is insane, what type of colours do I need?

I would start with black, i use rubber base ink, i like the van son 10850 black. Some use oil base ink, if i were you i’d stick to one or the other. Forget process colors, i keep a can of process blue, reflex blue, warm red, and opaque white. you can go crazy buying ink, start with a couple of colors, you can have them mix colors for you of buy the basic mixing colors and have at it yourself,

Thanks @dickg big help!

As a beginner, there seems to be a lot of ink. I am only printing some of my own wedding invites uncoated paper, so I believe the rubber inks might be suitable for that? I am printing a metallic silver and a light turqoise.

What other materials do I need? palette knife, and ink slab? If I want to mix some inks, would it be best to buy process and mix it my self?

Cheers again!


A good basic set should include: yellow, magenta, cyan, black, mixing white and transparent white. Some palette knives and a slab of glass or marble or perspex to mix your inks on. VanSon does small cans of ink as well. And if I’m not mistaken, Boxcar offers a complete starter’s set of their inks.

If you need metalic silver it will have to be oil base, they don’t make it in rubber, swing by my shop and i’ll give you a few cans to get you started, i’ll even give you some metallic silver. I’m only an hours drive from you, just hop on a plane to Boston, then rent a car and i’m an hours drive south.

Hawthorn inks are very good, but not for high speed work eg Heidelberg, more for hand press work,slower flatbed proofing presses etc

Even in a closed can, ink will develop a skin, just like paint left in a can for too long. Just dig beneath the skin to get the required dab of ink out (carefully avoiding getting any hard lumps with it - they clog type up badly). Do not remove the skin and throw it away - it protects the useable ink beneath from solidifying.

Rubber based inks seem to have a short life compared to others (too cold in the shed tonight to check what type the ‘others’ are I’m afraid) but they are great to use.

The problem with small scale and infrequent amateur use is that even a small can of ink can go solid long before you finish using it. Its not a major item of expense but it always seems such a waste…

You actually can’t find any decent silver or gold inks anymore. At least not sold as new. Though you might find older inks in printer’s shops or even on eBay. Way, way back you would want powders and varnish (the best), but if you can find pastes and varnishes, those will also give you unbelievable rich silvers and golds without the hassles (dangers) of the powders.

OT: Just get yourself a couple of cans of black, several cans of mixing white, the primary colors, and start printing.