Using Printer’s Ink
by Phil Kessling
Printer’s Ink is used to give a surface a metallic look. They are offset printing inks made for professional printing of gold and silver text and graphics. There are several manufacturers, both in the states and abroad. The inks come in a variety of pigment sizes. I like to use the finest: 4 microns. They are available in powder, pellet, paste or liquid form. In addition, you can buy the paste made from a variety of solvents or water.
The inks are a pure pigment and contain no drying agents. If they are just mixed with mineral spirits or linseed oil, they will never dry. For faster drying and the shiniest finish, I use either Humbrol Gloss, the medium off of the top of Humbrol Metallics, or Floquil Crystal-cote. If I want extended working time with Printers Ink, I add Liquin as a medium and a couple of drops of Cobalt Drier as the drying agent. (Any oil, enamel, or lacquer products will work with the Printers Inks; acrylic products will not.)
I always undercoat the item first with an acrylic. Generally, I use Andrea or Vallejo Black. It gives the ink something to “hold on to.” Printers Inks don’t dry as quickly as oil paints even using a crockpot. You can also “seal” the ink with an acrylic gloss; I prefer Polly S glosscote. This will ensure that the ink won’t lift.
Printers Inks are not as “tough” as other paints. I mainly use them for buttons, jewelery, etc. For scabbards, breastplates, etc., I prefer to use the Gunze Sangyo Mr. Metal paints. I use the inks just for final highlights.
If you apply a wash afterwards, be careful. Using solvent-based washes over the Printer’s Ink may cause the ink to lift. If the inks are not properly dry you will reactivate the ink with the next coat.
Figure painter Louis Masses also uses Printer’s Ink on occasion. Here’s what he has to say on the subject: “I’ve experimented for years on various metallics to get the right look for what I’m trying to achieve. When painting metallic braid or cloth I generally use oils – Winsor and Newton make metallic colors and Liquitex (which I’ve heard doesn’t make these anymore) made a great line of metallic oils. I generally mix the metallic oils with shadow colors (such as Burnt Umber for gold) and use straight from the tube for highlights. I like the results because when dry they are slightly dull and don’t have the brilliance of real metal – which for braiding is ideal. The painting process is identical to any other oil color.
For actual metal I use metallic powders and or printer’s ink mixed with either Winsor and Newton Wingel medium or Japan gold size. I generally paint the area first using the method described above, with oil metallics, then use the metallic powder/printer’s ink for the highlights. How much brilliance I get depends on how much powder I use in the mix – more powder, more brilliance.”
Phil Kessling is a critically acclaimed miniature painter, author of Osprey Publications Battle Honours, and a contributing editor to Historical Miniatures magazine.