Ink smudges if rubbed

Hi everyone,
I did a run of business cards last night that seemed perfect only to find out today that if I rub the print the ink smudges quite a bit.
I’m working on an 8x5 Adana, the ink is Gerstaecker cool black (oil-based) and I have tried to print on lettra (300 and 600gsm) and on the preferred paper that is Colorplan pristine white (540gsm). Lettra seems to smudge less but I prefer the Colorplan :(
The cards set for about 8 hours.
Being quite new to letterpressing I would really appreciate some guidance.
Many thanks in advance

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Your cool black, does it have letters after the number ? A letter U or a C ?
colourplan requires the minimum amount of ink to attain your colour ,if you are running up your ink you need to test on the stock you are running the job on , whilst you may not be using a stock marked as art board that doesnt mean the surface is unsized .
8 hours is a long time to dry on raw papers but sized stocks need time for the oils to be absorbed and the spirits to evaporate ,until these events occur the ink will be smudgey . some inks will still “rub” days later ,for instance golds and silvers coppers etc .
An ink that is rubbing is not necessarily wet but the inks ingredients like silver is aluminium and you can use a piece of ali as a pencil ! same with gold (brass) and copper.
Keep your ink to the barest amount to get your coverage , if you pile more on you just have to wat longer to handle it , as this fine weather is here you could lay them out in the sun for a few hours and let the air and U.V get at it for a while .
Another point is : if you have any form of moisturiser or oily skin you will make any ink smudge if you rub it hard enough .

Thank you for all the info Peter, I am taking it on board. The Gerstaeker i use doesn’t have a letter after the number indicating the colour or anywhere else. It says it ‘s based on linseed oil if that means anything.
I have been given a small amount of Goldeneye foil process black to try from a local letterpress shop and will try that on the colourplan paper. Hopefully it will set faster.

A drop or two of cobalt drier might help too.


can i get suggestions on which ink is preferred to letterpress with adana on colourplan 600gsm paper?

Try waiting 2 more days. then check it.

It’s quite likely the ink simply hasn’t cured yet. Most of us have that problem sooner or later. Oil-based inks are very similar to traditional oil paints and their drying times can be similar as well. It can sometimes take days. As Haven says, wait a couple more days and see if the ink is still smudging.

For future info, here are some things that can affect ink drying: thickness of ink laid on the paper, lack of separation of the pieces during drying, air movement, ambient temperature and ambient humidity. Too much ink will make drying times much, much longer. If the pieces are stacked rather than spread out on a drying rack, they can take longer to dry. Putting the pieces somewhere with little to no air movement while they dry will slow down drying. Cooler air and high humidity can lengthen drying times as well, though not so much as the other factors.

If you don’t have a drying rack, there are a couple of designs that are very easy to manufacture. A rack will improve drying time, especially if you put it in a room with a fan to keep the air moving and possibly a dehumidifier and/or heater as needed.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN
(where humidity and dead air are always a problem)

Gerstaecker inks are not really inks that are made for letterpress inks, but for linocuts etc. They’re not bad, but try using an ink made for letterpress (Lawrence in the UK does nice black letterpress inks) or a good offset ink. It also depends on where you’re based. A lot of people on this forum seem to be using VanSon inks, I use and VanSon and Epple inks from Germany. Sometimes I add a spot of drying paste to my inks, but one has to be extremely careful with that!

thank you all for the comprehensive replies! I shall try a longer drying time and some new inks as well soon.

what should i be looking for in an ink for an adana? rubber, acrylic, oil based?really no idea of the difference. The design of the dies I have for the business cards seem to come out better with thinner inks. I tried two gerstaeker of just different black and one was thinner than the other. Then I was given a goldeneye from a professional and the result was not too great.
VanSon has an acrylic and a rubber based. which would be best?

I think your ink will dry eventually. I’ve had this happen a couple of times, and the ink did eventually set. However, when I have had this happen, it was due to having too much ink on the press, and thus too much ink on the printed piece, increasing the drying time. The last time, I caught this after 20 or so impressions. I removed some of the ink off of my ink plate and was fine after. Those first 20 took 2+ days to cure, but the rest were cured after an hour or two. The cards with less ink looked just as good as those with the heavier coat.

Foil inks may set off easier than conventional / absorbing ink, this can occur as it dries only by oxidation ,that means in simple terms that none is absorbed by the material when printed on coated or foil stocks and dries purely by the evaporation of the spirits in it . When you get used to the different smells of inks you will learn what a foil ink looks like (usually much runnier) and the smell is different too .
i cant comment on acrylic ink as i dont think i have ever used it ,unless there is another trade name for it .
With an adana or similar machine its easy to spread the job out to dry so most inks should be no problem , it is not so easy on stacking presses to be laxadaisical on your ink choices, drying time is your only pain and as mentioned above the conditions you are drying in are important .

The drying of the ink is in direct relation to the amount of drier in the ink. You might want to check with the manufacturer to find out how much, if any, drier has been added to the ink. Gerstaecker does sell a relief ink, but if it is similar to the inks sold by Daniel Smith it takes a fair amount of drier to make the ink set properly. Driers can evaporate over time, so older inks usually need some added. A cobalt drier is a surface drier, and manganese is added as a body drier. Van Son sells combination driers (largely used for papers with a coated surface), but usually a cobalt drier works fine with most inks and papers.


Thank you for the wealth of info, i am really humbled as to how much experience is needed to do a proper job. As for my little adana, the gerstaeker eventually dried after 2 days in the sun and I am really happy about that.