Block-printing inks come in two main varieties—water based and oil based. A water-based ink is quick drying, provides a lovely translucency with subtle gradations of tone, and can be easily cleaned up with soap and water. An oil-based ink has an extended working time; it is rich and vibrant and provides better overall coverage. However, many oil-based inks require special solvents to clean up, though some have been formulated to be water-miscible. When choosing an ink for block printing, make sure that it is suitable for the type of block you are using, whether it be linoleum or wood, and that it is formulated to print on paper, fabric, or whatever your intended surface. Our picks below will help you find the best ink for your block-printing projects.
1. Cranfield Traditional Relief Ink
The best in our book, this line of inks showcases high-strength colors. The inks are satisfyingly fluid—not too thin and not too tacky—thanks to a formula that includes traditional linseed oil. This makes them easy to spread and roll around. Because the inks are consistent in body and texture, you can achieve ideal coverage as well as uniform impressions with little effort. Great for using with a printing press or for hand-printing with linocuts or woodcuts, they are also extremely fast drying. You can buy the ink in 75-milliliter tubes or 50-milliliter containers and choose from a palette of 28 colors, including olive green, burnt umber, and gold.
2. Schmincke Aqua Linoprint Set
Schmincke’s thoughtfully formulated water-based ink offers even, sharp prints with a fast drying time. Manufactured using organic and inorganic pigments plus natural binders, the ink provides superior lightfastness with a high color depth that looks alive on the page. With a thinner, more fluid consistency than oil-based varieties, this ink can be easily applied to a variety of surfaces such as paper, felt, and cardboard, making it ideal for woodblocks but suitable for all relief-printing methods. Enjoy a range of five colors with this set of 20-milliliter (about 0.6-ounce) tubes.
3. Speedball Oil-Based Block Printing Ink Set
This tried-and-true oil-based ink has a desirable amount of tack for consistent application, and it holds fine details without clogging up the block. Formulated for professionals, it is a great choice for those who are willing to splurge for special projects. Containing high-quality, lightfast pigments without fillers, it produces archival and intensely colored prints on paper. This ink is sold in a set of six colors packaged in small, 1.25-ounce tubes, but a little dollop goes a long way.
4. Sax True Flow Block Printing Ink
This 16-ounce jar of black water-based ink is an excellent, economical pick for classrooms and other group settings. Made with nontoxic materials, the AP-certified ink quickly cleans up with soap and water. It is suitable for all types of relief prints, and with its paste-like consistency it applies smoothly but also transfers easily for beautiful results on paper.
5. Speedball Water-Soluble Block Printing Ink Set
Designed for use with hard or soft block surfaces, this water-soluble ink flows with ease and boasts bold color that dries to a satin finish. The inks are intended for basic hobbyist use, so while they are easy to apply and roll or spread, the colors are not as rich as higher-end products. Nor are they lightfast, making them best suited for practice, studies, or other low-stakes projects. Sized for individual use, the 1.25-ounce (37-milliliter) tubes are sold here in a set of six.