What additives do

One of the most perplexing things that you come across if you get into any kind of screen printing or block printing is all of the different choices there are when it comes to inks. There are at least a dozen brands and varieties of ink that are commonly available, each with their own pros and cons. I’ve favored Jacquard Professional Ink for a while- it’s nice and thick, not too smelly, and keeps comparatively well.

There are several different additives that you can use too, although without trying them I don’t think it’s immediately obvious what they do and what the difference is between them. Here are a few that I use regularly in the studio:

Aqueous Stay-Open (Union Aerotex ATEX-9600)- Add it to ink to give the ink a longer “open time” (i.e. keep it from getting gummy). It’s used in small quantities, so it doesn’t much change the consistency of the ink. Whether or not I use it depends on how large the batch is that I’m working with (I usually use between 1/4 and 1/2 cup at a time) and also what the temperature and humidity are like in the studio. If it’s warm and dry, the ink will dry faster, which makes the Stay Open a good idea.

Water- Yep, water. Sometimes Jacquard Professional is a little too thick. You can add a little at a time and mix it into the entire batch, or sprinkle a little on the ink that’s already rolled out onto glass and go over it with your roller.

Colorless Ink/ Extender- Before I bought this, I wasn’t sure what the purpose of colorless ink was. The name “extender” made it sound like it made the ink more economical, by extending the pigmented ink, but the colorless stuff wasn’t any less expensive. I wasn’t sure if it was used to change the consistency or open time, either. Turns out, colorless ink is pretty self explanatory- it’s the same consistency as the pigmented ink, but without the pigment. Unlike water, it doesn’t thin the ink out, and it isn’t really used to make the ink stretch farther. What it is handy for is making ink more translucent. While printers are often looking for very opaque ink, sometimes a translucent effect is lovely too:

At the top is the pigmented ink without any extender added. The next three samples show increasing quantities of extender. With this recycled hemp/ organic cotton fabric, the translucent ink allows the beautiful texture of the fabric to show through. Here’s the same thing shown in black:

The colorless ink added to black makes for a nice, smoky effect. Just like the navy ink, when the black is used alone, the opacity of the ink obscures the texture of the fabric. When the colorless ink is mixed in, you can enjoy both the print and the fabric. I’m looking forward to using the translucent inks- maybe in combination with the opaque inks- on a few projects!

So for any printers out there, are there any other ink additives that you use? What do they do and how do you use them?

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