SP-15 inking…


Vandercook SP-15
Brand new inks from Graphic Chemical and Ink (their own block & letterpress ink)
Photopolymer plates from Boxcar Press
Impression is somewhat deep

The issue is that if I put enough ink on the press to ink in one pass the type is ragged. What I’m having to do is shift to trip, ink the plate, shift back to print, and print.

Generally, this gives me a good print although some at the very start were stunningly sharp.

Thoughts on this?

Do any of the rest of you need to double ink the plates?

. . .

An ink question.

How thick / hard is your ink?

I have some magnesium carbonate that I could use to stiffen it.

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Paul Moxon, Moderator
16 years ago

Gerald, good point about cleaning off the ink during a run. Certain mouldmade sheets have a lot fluff that settles on the rollers. I started out as a printmaker so that training underlies my approach. However, my experience as a production printer honed my techincal skills far more than my MFA did.

Gerald Lange
16 years ago


I like the statement about “laziness.” Whenever a student is over inking I just make them clean up the press and start over. Doesn’t take very long for them to start realizing that the best way is the easiest way. It takes just as long to do it correctly as to does to do it incorrectly.

The only thing I’d caution about lifting the rollers during the run is that on smaller presses like the SP-15 you are sure to throw the roller adjustment out of kilter, especially when running high tack inks. Multiple lays, as per Moser is the correct way to get your color.

I’ve mentioned this to Ray but thought I should also bring it up here since I have not heard this discussed previously. It is just as important to clean the form periodically as it is to figure out how much ink to lay down. With the kind of work you are doing, I’d suggest it after almost every print; to not only get those rich coatings but also to maintain the integrity of the fine lines and detail.

On a Vandercook it might be best to not consider oneself a printer as much as a printmaker. The presses aren’t designed for speed or editioning, so it often pays to take that into consideration in one’s approach to presswork.


Alex Brooks
16 years ago

I would echo most of the above. And add.

I recommend a loupe; enables you to see exactly how the type, ink & paper are interacting.

I was “raised” on van son rubber base. Now I kinda think it sucks. Last summer an artist hired me to edition a large group of woodcuts & wood engravings on my vandercook. We tested 6 letterpress & stone litho inks [the artist was also a stone lithographer] and decided on Graphic Chemical’s “shop mix black.” It is beautiful at $30-$45/lb. I am in love with stone litho inks and now must invest more money in a new stock of ink.

A few years ago I ask Dikko Faust, of the Purgatory Pie Press, what kind of ink they use. I was looking for the burning truth, the ichiban name brand. He says – whatever I can get for free or almost free.

I just finished teaching a wood engraving class. Wood engravings are especially demanding to print. Overink and details disappear. Underink and you won’t see a deep black. Many of my students didn’t want to trip before printing, from laziness I suspect. But my most fastidious student tells me that Moser suggests tripping 6-8 times before each print. Sixteen layers of thin ink are better that one layer of thick ink…in this instance…according to Moser.

Yesterday I printed a woodcut and raised the rollers every other impression. I’ve never done that before, but it was the only way to get the print I wanted. Once I printed an edition where I tripped the press, then raised the rollers and advanced the carriage, then lowered them and inked in reverse, and then printed. That’s the only way for that job, and it took a long time, and it was a big edition.

Every print is different, there’s no rules, only understanding.
press eight seventeen
lexington kentucky

Gerald Lange
16 years ago


Taking a cue from Daniel.

Assuming: You have the impression under control. There are no abnormalities with your cylinder packing. The rollers are in good shape and adjusted to the form. Your plate is okay and the base balanced correctly. Your paper yields an image that is “stunningly sharp,” initially.

Then: You have a ink film lay problem. You are accumulating ink unnecessarily. The rationale for the trip (non impression) print (impression) sequence is to allow you to build up a film layer without having to constantly ink and thus, overink. But you also have an ink problem. If your ink is not viscous (resistant to flow), especially on a Vandercook, it turns to muck as you edition. Yes, magnesium carbonate is the easiest way to correct this. But you should also be using quality inks here. Commercial offset inks just ain’t going to cut it for high-end work. Best I’ve found are stone litho inks, used in printmaking. Heavy pigment to carrier ratio, stiff (as hell), sticky, high-viscosity; actually FORMULATED for slow roller movement, medium pressure roller lay. Mainly I suggest this because that’s the way a Vandercook press operates. It’s not a Heidelberg or a C&P.

On a hand press, in inking one would be primarily concerned with roller hardness, viscosity of the ink, speed and pressure of lay down. Pretty much the same thing on a Vandercook (with restrictions brought about by the machine).


The Arm
16 years ago

I find that many of the jobs from linoleum which I print require at least one cycle of the press on trip before actually feeding the sheet to achieve good ink coverage.
But if your job doesn’t use heavy areas of solid or max out the bed I would expect the results you are describing would be related to ink + paper or roller issues.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Gerald Lange
16 years ago


Not exactly sure if double roll and double ink mean the same thing here (or for that matter, what they mean—is this some kind of workshop Vandy slang?) but Vandercook actually recommended a trip AND a print, if that is what you are asking. I suggest this as well. A trip and print will give you four passes of a thin ink film across the form. Given all the variables with an old Vandercook, it may, at the very least, ensure coverage.


Paul Moxon, Moderator
16 years ago

I have had good results using the Action line of acrylic inks buying PMS colors direct from the manufacture, Printers Ink. I always ask them to stiffen it up, still those colors with high percentages of transparent white are a bit soupy. To call it long-bodied doesn’t seem apt.

Until recently, I regularly did runs of 500 to 1000 on a No.4 using polymer plates and commercial offset papers. (Ocassionally, a mouldmade or handmade sheet was spec’d.) The work was required to be sharp with deep impression. Although I would minutely adjust the rollers, it was often necessary to underlay the boxcar base. I would double ink only when printing small solids or large forms.

Terrence Chouinard
16 years ago

Hi Ray

I routinely double roll/double ink my forms. I like to build up a layer or two of stiff ink on the form before I go into print and pull an impression. But anything more than an single extra roll, quad & quindruple rolls means something else is going on: needs more ink, less viscous ink, roller height issues, etc.

I’m using Vanson Rubber Based inks with either mag, which will stiffen AND dry your inks, or Vanson Aqua Varnish, which substitutes for transparent white on occasion, but mainly stiffens ink w/out drying. I like a good high viscousity ink. I recall Peter Kruty putting it so poetically long ago: “Like cake frosting.” The Aqua Varnish is a honey-like substance that keeps colors looking fresh the day after. If you want a recommendation from a source we share in common, then I’ll tell you Mike Kaylor turned me on to the stuff. Later Michael Russem turned me on to a equally wonderful product whose names escapes me at the moment.

Those Boxcar plates ought to be sharp throughout your run. What sort of packing are you using and what’s your paper stock? Therein may lie the solution to your ‘ragged type.’

Copyright © 2024 vandercookpress.infoTheme by SiteOrigin
Scroll to top
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x