Big Oil is Here to Stay

Water Miscible or Traditional Inks

Welcome back to ‘The Inkplate.'A while ago I asked if anyone knew what ink tasted like. No one answered so I tried finding out. If ink was a restaurant, I would give it a one-star Yelp review. So underwhelming, right? This week, I played with ink, and I have a few speaking gigs coming up. Thanks for reading the social media piece. Engagement was off the charts!


Lesser of two evils

Like many of you, I dove into printmaking with basic water-based ink. Eventually, I upgraded to the more expensive oil-based water-soluble ink. I knew there was a third option, commonly referred to as ‘traditional oil-based inks.’ I come from an oil painting background and stop practicing because of two things: toxic fumes coming from mineral spirits & heavy metals found in pigments.

The use of chemicals and toxic pigments in art is as old as art itself. Thankfully, manufacturers can now create synthetic variations of pigments. Any painter will tell you that nothing will replace a true lead white or cadmium red.

Relief printmaking is a safer practice that reduces these kinds of exposures. It is also the reason why I have stayed away from other printmaking techniques: silk screen, lithography, etching, aquatint, etc.

Well, who am I kidding? I could not stay away from trying out oil-based ink. Naturally, I had to compare the two options Speedball has available:

  • Professional Relief Ink

  • Oil-Based Block Printing Inks

Sorry, but water-based inks are not worth the hassle if you are a serious printmaker. Curating an Instagram profile of another printmaker’s work doesn't make you a printmaker, Chad!

None of these inks are toxic themselves as they are composed of a mixture of oils and pigments. All of which have received a ’non-toxic’ label by the Art and Creative Materials Institute.

I won’t bore you with the all the chemistry fact sheets, but here are the basics for both of these inks:

  • Skin Sensitization – Category 1 (it is not a tanning lotion)

  • Carcinogenicity - Category 2 (it is suspected of causing cancer based on human/animal studies)

  • Active Chemicals - Ammonia, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin mist, Magnesite, Methyl ethyl Ketoxime and 1, 2, 3-Propanetriol (if it gets on your eyes, be sure to wash it off)

  • Hazardous Ingredient - METHYL ETHYL KETOXIME (science talk for you shouldn't really be eating this)

These inks are truly hazardous if you utilize solvents to clean up. You essentially are opening the door to toxic fumes. As a rule of thumb, work in a well-ventilated area.

My Take:

Brand: Professional Relief Ink – Supergraphic Black

Price: $27.01 for 17 oz Tin.

Dry Time: Dry to the touch in 1-2 days. Fully rub-proof in under a week. Dries faster in warm and dry environments. Yay California!

Smell: Low-key chemical factory. Not the most unpleasant but after a few hours of working with this, my eyes itched and the headache kicked in.

Clean Up: Soapy water & paper towels. It's a selling factor.

Recommend: Yes, but make sure you keep your tins tightly sealed and the windows open.

Negatives: Mild chemical smell.

Final thoughts: I love the properties of this product. It is easy to clean up, oil-based, and a reasonable price for quality and quantity. Great tack (stickiness of ink) as well. If the ink is not thick enough for you out of the tin, you can thin it out with a bit of water. To thicken it, add talc or magnesium carbonate. In my experience, it works great out of the tin. No one denies that the flagship Supergraphic Black is a great black but the remaining color options are a bit underwhelming. Other competitors have a wider selection of ready mixed hues that range beyond primary and tertiary colors. Also, the transparent base does the job if you utilize appropriate amounts of ink to the transparent base. At times, you may find more of a thick clumpy paste than smooth ink.

Notebooks printed with Speedball Oil-Based Ink

Brand: Speedball Oil Based Block Printing Ink - Black.

Price: $6.82 for a 1.25 oz tube.

Dry Time: This was the biggest surprise. Dry to the touch and rub-proof in 24 hours. That was something I was not expecting at all. To add a little perspective here: the stamped image was small and it was printed on thick cardstock which did a great job absorbing the ink. Regardless, the 24-hour drying was a great surprise.

Smell: Gentle oil smell. Not overpowering at all.

Clean Up: Three (3) steps: roll out as much ink on a sheet of paper, use vegetable oil to loosen up the tough ink, and finally wash with soapy water to fight the grease.

Recommend: Not as an everyday ink.

Negatives: Price

Final Thoughts: Coming in at $1.36 per .25 oz. Compared to the Professional Relief Ink priced at $0.42 for .25 oz this little tube is expensive, which is the number one takeaway. It does redeem itself, a little bit of the product goes a long way. I was able to use a small amount to print nine (9) notebooks and still have a fair amount left on the ink plate, brayer and block. The oil works in your favor since you don’t have to constantly roll fresh ink and print in a hurry. The ink will stay supple and wet for a long period of time which is beneficial if you are working in large editions. Since it takes longer to dry, it doesn’t create clumps as quickly as water-based inks or the professional line would. It also has a gentle smell, which for me is great. I always end up hanging dozens of prints in my studio and the smells can quickly become overpowering. My brain cells live to print another day.

Yes, I made you scroll all the way down here to tell you I have a video review of Speedball’s Oil Based Block Printing Ink. I am digging up my YouTube channel from the grave. 👻

Do you work with a different brand? I would love to hear which one it is.


Artist Highlight: Liam Ericson

Medium: Linoleum and Wood Block Printing

Making Art Since: 2013

Location: California

Daniel: You’re a fellow northern California printmaker, how much does the beauty of the California Coastal range influence your work?

Liam: It’s everything, not necessarily beauty, but being connected to something that at the end of the day has nothing to do with humans. The most powerful experiences I have are being able to combine what I see in this wilderness with creativity and dreams. It’s a language that does not require words and the older I get the more meaningless words become.

Daniel: What is your favorite tool or material to work with?

Liam: The Kogatana, this tool allows the freedom to capture details that I couldn’t do with a pencil or pen. You have so much control over minute curved details and after you use one for a while, it feels like an extension of your hands.

Daniel: What advice would you give a beginner?

Liam: Allow yourself to play, no amount of skill or technique alone is going to replace what you bring to the table, whatever that story is and however you want to convey it. Or you could be a real crowd pleaser with some chrysanthemums and tigers!

Daniel: Where can people find you?

Liam: Instagram: @Canehowlet