Artist Oil Paint instead of Ink

Something I am thinking about is doing a little experimentation with artist oil paint on my hand-operated platen press. I anticipate very slow drying, but can’t come up with any other potential issues.

My thoughts are that such paints are available locally (Hobby Lobby) in a variety of colors and in small quantities. If I wanted some Cobalt Blue for a one-time use, I could get a single tube of it for maybe a couple of dollars.

As I generally only print very short runs and have a drying rack, the longer drying time would not really be an issue. In fact, as I have occasionally had problems with the ink drying on the rollers, it might work better. I could print the run, clean up the press and leave the copy on the rack for a week or two if necessary. Solvents would be the same as for oil-based ink.

Oil paints are generally considered archival, which is one of the reasons artists use them. So, if I print a book with it, it should last a century with no problem.

Has anyone else ever tried this? Are there any other issues I might encounter?


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I am not sure the drying times would be much longer since you are still not putting down a thick layer of paint (ink) like the artist would be doing. The canvas is also less absorbent than paper and the artist usually puts a coating over it before painting.
Go for it and let us know how it works for you.
Also you can add a dyer to the ink.

Printing inks are carefully formulated for what ink makers call “printability.” This is the ability to perform well on press. It would be, among other things, the ability to spread out on the ink disc in a smooth, even film. Also for the ink film to split well when transferring from disc to rollers, rollers to plate and plate to paper. It also must not “pile” (build up on the disc, rollers or plate).

The sizes of pigment particles in printing ink are generally 1 micron or less. While some artist paints have pigments that small, not all of them do. Smaller pigments contribute to better printability.

The main reason I stay away from artist paints (and artist inks for that matter), is that last time I checked, some contained toxic heavy metals (e.g. cadmium red, cadmium yellow). It is my belief that commercial printing inks generally do not have anything overtly toxic in them because the ink companies want to sell their inks for food packaging (among other uses), where such toxic materials are a no-no.

There are numerous sources of information on the web on toxics in printing inks such as:

I’ve tried it a few times, with disastrous results. The ink wouldn’t spread well, would congeal at the edges of the sorts, mix in blotchy, patterns.

Theoretically, this could work, but I’ve wasted enough resources to verify that theory. Sticking to offset/letterpress inks.

Commercial printing ink is plenty archival if printed on quality paper intended for fine-art prints. The Gutenberg bibles hold up much better than most oil-paintings from that era, and it was printed with/on materials that can’t compete with the science of today.

It can be tempting to experiment, and there is nothing wrong with doing so, but it is worth keeping in mind that companies spend millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours developing products for optimal performance for a specific purpose. The results tend to be pretty good.

If you have trouble with ink drying on your press, there are lots of ways to remedy that, starting with refreshing your ink more frequently :)


I have used artist oils to add tints or shades to printing inks, altering the color for slight changes in color. The artist oils are, of course, designed for brushing on rather than the inks we use. As Geoffrey indicated, printing inks are designed for the application. One of the things you will notice is that there is no tack to the paint, and it will flow well to ink the rollers and plate, but will be pushed off the image surface by the pressure of the rollers. This will be more noticeable with polymer plates due to their low surface energy.

If you have ever tried using inks designed for lino block printing, you may have experienced some of this, but the artist’s oil paint will be much worse. Printing ink companies used to provide a tack increasing modifier that could be added to inks to increase tack, but I have not seen that advertised recently.

I would say you may be able to use the paint in a pinch, but results may be “sketchy”.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

Thanks for all the comments. I think perhaps I will forego this experiment as it has already been done.

I’ve used Akua inks (soy based intaglio) with pretty good results. Their drying time here in New Mexico under a slow speed ceiling fan is 24 - 36 hours. I can post a picture a later after work.

Here is a later printing in the series.

image: test.jpg