History Lessons: What Solvents Are Used in Letterpress Printing?

History Lessons: What Solvents Are Used in Letterpress Printing?

What is Letterpress Printing?

Letterpress printing is one of the oldest printing techniques that are still in use today. It was created in the 1400s by Johannes Gutenberg, a German inventor. Gutenberg was frustrated by the difficult printing methods that were currently being used, and he was passionate about making literature accessible to everyone. This compelled him to create letterpressing: the process in which backwards letters, which are called “movable type”, are coated with ink, then pressed onto sheets of paper. These letters are typically made out of wood or metal.

Letterpress printing has experienced a rise in popularity today. Many people are attracted to the clean and high-quality appearance letterpressing gives to wedding invitations, birthday cards, thank you notes, and birth announcements.

Solvents Used in Letterpress Printing

Solvents are an essential component of letterpress printing; they clean the ink off of letterpresses. Most are oil-based, as this is what allows ink to be effectively removed. There are a wide variety of solvents that may be employed during this process. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Acetone
  • Citrus-based and soy-based solvents
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Mineral spirits
  • Turpentine

Which Solvent Should I Use?

Most of the solvents used for letterpressing have both positive and negative characteristics. If you want to learn more about these characteristics for the solvents listed above, read on.

  • Acetone: Great at cleaning up dried ink, but has a very strong odor and is extremely volatile.
  • Citrus-based and soy-based solvents: May be mixed with water in order to make the solvent last longer, but has a pungent citrus scent. Additionally, there are some reports of soy-based solvents being explosive.
  • Lacquer thinner: Similar to acetone, it effectively cleans up dried ink, but has a strong odor and is volatile and flammable.
  • Mineral spirits: About as effective as turpentine, but is safer and low-odor. However, it is also more expensive than turpentine.
  • Turpentine: Inexpensive and efficacious, but has a very strong odor and can become greasy if the ink is immediately reapplied.

While all of these solvents carry certain benefits and drawbacks, if cost is not a limiting factor, mineral spirits are your best bet. They are a powerful ink remover, low-odor, and less hazardous to use than many other solvents are.

Looking to Buy Solvents?

If you are interested in purchasing solvents for letterpress printing, look no further! BulkChemicals2Go’s mineral spirits solvent, which can be found here, is perfect for removing ink from any letterpress. Additionally, if you have any questions, our team of chemists would be happy to help you. You can call us at 800-563-1305 or contact us here!

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