Craftsmen copy of Chandler & Price
                          Pilot press
Ink in Tubes

Letterpress Printers
                          "Jobber" Hand Press

"Any color as long as it's black"
may have been a catchy line for Hery Ford to describe the colors available for his Model T automobile color choice 90 years ago - back when many of our presses were made - and we may choose black ink for legibility when printing text, but in today's small print shop, color is an integral part of design, and "any color as long as it's black" just won't do.

But, buying a full color selection of one-pound cans of less-frequently used colors can cost a bit. See http://order.nagraph.com/ink.html for a selection of inks available in one pound cans and 1/4 pound tubes.

See below for a full listing of ink available from "The Ink in Tubes Guy" -
Dave Robinson - Ink@ORCHIDesign.com in approx. 1/4 pound tubes - an excellent option for the small print shop.

Another recently-discovered option is Southern Ink. They offer a full line of ink in tubes for letterpress printing.

Another option we recommend in our Introduction to Letterpress Printing tutorial sessions, is to befriend a local offset printer and see if you can get some small amounts of possibly left-over mixed inks - or half-empty cans of no-longer used inks they may have on their shelves.

Most of them will be using rubber-based inks - often Van Son - which run fine on the letterpress.

See also: Ink-buying for Beginners at Briar Press

History of Ink in Tubes

For the approximately 100 years while the Kelsey Company was in business, they sold in ink in 1/4-pound tubes, which cost less to buy - and to ship. And, since many letterpress projects require only as much ink as would fill a thimble, stocking up with hundreds of dollars worth of one-pound cans is not always practical.

Besides, with ink in tubes, there is almost no waste. With cans, "skimming" the top to get to fresh ink can waste more than you will use!

Many old tubes of Kelsey ink surface these days in the boxes of supplies that sometimes have been stored for years along with that rusty old press someone had found in a garage, attic or basement. And, surprising to some, many of those old tubes contain perfectly usable ink as many as 50 years after they were filled.

But the Kelsey Company is gone and aside from the occassional discovery of a tube or two of old ink that's still usable, their inks are no longer available.

And then, for many years, Van Son Ink offered their inks in 1 pound cartridges which could be used with a standard "caulking gun". Sad to say, they are no longer offered, either.

But Ink in Tubes are back!

Dave Robison in San Jose, CA offers ink in tubes to letterpress printers.
Note: While offset presses may have problems printing with letterpress inks, offset inks - like the ones that Dave offers, generally work just fine on the letterpress.

Oil based vs Rubber based vs Soy based inks:

Oil base inks dry on any stock and must be cleaned off press at day's end. Soy base inks print just like regular oil base but may take a bit longer to dry. Rubber base inks may be left on press overnight if you must, but are not advised for printing on coated stock. A few inks for Tyvek also available. Additional colors are on hand but not in tubes yet, and some other colors are available by Special Order; please ask about specific colors you may want, but allow plenty of time for putting in tubes and printing labels.

Almost everybody using these inks is doing letterpress printing, but (except as noted) these inks are not "letterpress inks" per se, they're standard modern offset inks packed into 1/4 lb. tubes for convenience. The inks are very suitable for letterpress, but pigments are intense and colors may print darker when printed letterpress due to ink film thickness. You may have to mix with white to match some colors.

"Putting ink in tubes, started to share ink among local letterpress friends, is a tiny, very part-time hobby operation trying to make the best use of available ink. It's also a great excuse to use my vintage hand-cranked Multigraph rotary printing press and handset type to print labels and boxes!"
- Dave Robison

"Ink In Tubes" Updated Price & Availability Lists - June, 2013
INK IN TUBES on hand; "Quarter pound" (actually about 5 oz.)
       [Many other colors available but not in tubes yet; ask!]
    • White (transparent, for mixing)
    • Pantone Yellow
    • Warm Red
    • Rubine Red
    • Rhodamine Red
    • Pantone Purple
    • Pantone Violet
    • Reflex Blue
    • Process Blue
    • Pantone Green
    • Pantone Black
    • many colors available 
    • [Be sure to specify "rubber base" when ordering!]
  • METALLIC INKS (about 6-8 oz. per tube)
    • 801 Fluorescent Blue
    • 803 Fluorescent Yellow
    • 804 Fluorescent Orange
    • 805 Fluorescent Red
    • 806 Fluorescent Pink
    • 807 Fluorescent Magenta
    • Letterpress Red
    • Letterpress Blue
    • Letterpress Green
    • Letterpress Purple
    • Gloss Binding Varnish
    • Dull (Matte) Varnish
    • Satin Varnish

Placing an order:
Oil base ink will be shipped unless specified otherwise. We try to keep most listed ink in tubes on the shelf ready for immediate shipment.

contact Dave via email at ink@orchidesign.com

Shipping within the U.S.:
(note: dated rates; may have changed for 2013)
1 tube $3.50 First Class
Up to 10 tubes of ink, USPS Priority Flat Rate $11.35;
11-14 tubes, $15.45.

Payment: Send a check to:
Dave Robison
1361 Plum St.
San Jose, CA 95110

photos from http://duetletterpress.com/blog/category/letterpress/



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page last updated June 6, 2009 June 16, 2012 May 14, 2013