The printmaking ink I love

Through my social sharing, I get a lot of questions about the kind of printmaking inks I use. As with any art form, your materials can be critical to the outcome. Often it’s not just one thing, but a combination of many different things.

LINDA COTE-PrintmakingThis is certainly true of printmaking — what kind of base art, paper and ink you use can all affect the way the final print presents.

So, when I discovered oil-based printmaking inks (after using water-based ones), there was no turning back.

I’m not sure if it’s because I create my printmaking by hand without the use of a press, but my preference is for the slightly more expensive oil-based printmaking inks.

They are lovely to roll out on glass, and (in my opinion) create a more even layer of color. They come in tubes or tins, so if you use a lot of ink, a tin is probably best. I use tubes because I’m not using huge quantities of ink and it seems to keep better for me.

LINDA COTE-Printmaking InkCaligo Brand Inks

The brand I use is Caligo Safe-Wash Relief Inks. I first tried them because I wanted a permanent ink when my prints dried and was drawn to the fact that the ink washes up with water.

LINDA COTE-Printmaking Ink2The one drawback to oil-based inks is that they take longer than water-based printmaking inks to dry. Depending on the kind of paper you are using, a print can take from 3 days to a week to dry.

This drying time will also be affected by the humidity in your studio or where you live. In my town, it is very dry, and even so, the Caligo inks take several days+ to dry. If you plan to use the Caligo Safe-Wash Relief Inks with printmaking, just make sure you figure in the time for the print to dry.

LINDA COTE-prints hanging2

Speedball Brand Inks

Speedball water-based printmaking inks are commonly found in art supply stores, but I only use these when I want something that dries really fast. I never use water-based inks with the prints I sell since the ink is not permanent when it dries (water will make it run, and I have seen it offset on your hands even after drying).

I personally find the water-based inks dry too fast. I’ve had them dry or clump on my block or glass surface after only about 15 minutes, and I am not always happy with the uneven coverage they seem to provide. But, try for yourself! The speedy drying time is certainly nice in some situations. Speedball also manufactures an oil-based ink, but I am not as fond of it as the Caligo.

Golden Open Acrylics

LINDA COTE-Golden Open AcrylicsAnother recent option I have tried is Golden Open Acrylics. They are an acrylic paint that can be spread with a roller. I do find them a little more slippery than the tacky printmaking inks to roll, but play around with different rollers to see if you like this medium.

I have used these paints successfully for printmaking demonstrations and workshops, and they stay open (or wet) for longer than the water-based inks. They also dry quicker than the oil-based inks (I found them dyring in about 30-45 minutes). So, if you are doing a demo or teaching or have a pressing deadline, these can definitely work.

When I am working in my studio and have the luxury of waiting for my prints and cards to dry, though, I much prefer the water-wash oil-based printmaking inks. I actually find the Caligo inks are cheaper to buy than the tubes of Golden Open Acrylics. But, since prices vary dramatically in different countries, you may not find this is the case where you live.

Feel adventuresome?

There is another printmaking ink option: make your own. A few years ago, I attended a workshop in Vancouver and learned to make my own ink. It was just so awesome. Here’s a link to a blog I wrote about that process for those who are interested. This ‘Spring Returns’ print (now sold out) was created with my ‘homemade’ ink.

LINDA COTE Spring Returns

“Spring Returns” 11″ x 7″ Limited Edition Art Print

And, if you are a visual learner, below is my video on YouTube that runs through these ink options. When playing this video on my YouTube channel, click on the notes underneath the video for links to these products in Canada and the USA.

Do you have a go-to printmaking ink? I’d love to hear about it!


19 responses to “The printmaking ink I love

  1. Dear Linda
    Thank you for this. Very practical and helpful. I’m planning on using the Caligo safe wash inks on some 9gm tissue paper. Do you have any suggestions on thinning the ink that would guide my experimentation. I haven’t used either before. ThanX Marton

    • Hi Martin, so glad you found it helpful. To be honest, I have not done a lot of printing on tissue paper. One thing I would say is that when I sometimes use a very light-weight Japanese paper, sometimes the oil-based ink will bleed out into the paper because it is very absorbent. You will definitely want to experiment with a test sheet to see. I have never used a ink thinner, but see information on the Caligo site here that there is a ‘Safe Wash Oil’ thinner you could try Otherwise, this may be one instance where the water-based ink may be preferable as it won’t have oil to be absorbed by the paper. I have also used the Open Acrylics on tissue paper, but not that much — you could also experiment with that, too. Good luck!

      • Hi Linda, Sorry I know this post is a bit dated.

        I got here by researching the issue of oil absorbing.
        Do you by any chance work out the issue of oil bleeding?(meaning you can see a layer of transparent oil seeping out next to the black ink) It seems like a wild lottery – Sometimes it bleed, sometimes it dosent. Kind of unstable I feel but the rice paper is soon beautiful to not use it.

      • I have not really resolved this, as my solution was to switch to a slightly heavier paper! I, too, LOVE the look of rice paper, but because oil-based inks dry by absorbing into the paper (thus the bleeding of the oil), I’m not sure what the best way is with this thin paper. Maybe adding a drier might work (like Steve mentions in a further down comment, although I’ve not tried that) or even using a water-based ink? It’s a tough one. If you are on Facebook, check out a group called “Linocut Friends” ( where you can post questions — maybe someone there may have a more detailed solution to this occurrence! Thanks for posting!

  2. You must have been reading my mind, I have been thinking about trying to print on paper rather than fabric. Thanks for the ink recommendations!

  3. Awesome, thank you for sharing! I have some Open Acrylics that I was not sure what to do with and almost donated, so this is great timing! For the Caligo inks, what brand of paper do you use?

    • You’re welcome Sophie! So happy to save you from getting rid of those paints! They roll different than the printmaking inks (not so tacky) so you might even want to try a small dense foam roller like you get from a dollar store or paint store. I found that helped! For paper, my absolute go-to is the Speedball Printmaster paper. It’s not the easiest to find online (I get it at a Calgary art store called Mona Lisa) but it’s wonderful. I’ve also had great luck with BFK Rives which is a thicker paper but nice. I do try all kinds of paper, but generally have the best luck with a smooth surface paper! 🙂

  4. Thanks for this. I used to use Intaglio Printmaking’s own range of oil based litho/relief and etching inks but I’ve now switched to Caligo Safe Wash for block (relief) and monotype printmaking, although still use Intaglio Printmaker’s own brand of drypoint etching ink.

    • Nice, Rosie! Thanks for sharing what you use. It’s great to see what others are creating with. I don’t do drypoint etching, but would love to try it sometime!

  5. Great video. Thanks for sharing. I am also a fan of Caligo oil based inks and have found a combination that has reduced my drying time to about a day. I will tube out my ink onto the glass, add some Chardonel Transparent White ink (better results than with Extender), add 2-3 drops of Grumbacker Colbalt drier with an eye-dropper and mix all together. Drying times are consistently quicker for all colors.

    • Wow, thanks, Steve! This has been the one comment I continually get from printmakers is that they are not fans of the drying time. This would definitely help. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

  6. Pingback: Tips for beginning printmakers | Musings From The Studio·

  7. Regarding the Caligo inks, I’m wondering if they are archival and if not, how long do they last? Thanks in advanced!!

  8. I’ve recently taken up trying to make woodcut prints again. The results have not been as good as I’d like. I’ve been using the water-based Speedball Ink, but I’ve found that no matter how carefully I’ve carved and how carefully I apply the ink, it still gets into areas I don’t want it too and I get a “gloppy” effect instead of the nice, crisp lines I’d hoped for! I am now going to try an oil-based ink instead. I also read another woodcut printer’s tip on another site, and they use vegetable oil to clean up after using their particular oil-based ink. However – since the Caligo oil-based inks are able to be cleaned up with water, these should be no problem. Thanks for your post and you do beautiful work. I hope to get some good results soon myself!

    • Hi Rebecca, I certainly found that, too, with the water-based inks. Oil-based inks are a huge improvement! And, yes, Caligo inks wash up with water, but I have also used canola oil to clean blocks when I used other oil-based inks. It works great! Hope your results are better!

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