• Printmaking inks are used for a variety of printmaking techniques including relief, intaglio, and screen printing.These inks are similar to paints in that they are composed of pigment and binder and an oil or water base. Inks are designed to have a drying time and viscosity appropriate for their intended application.


  • Common components of printmaking inks are gum arabic (a binder), propylene glycol (a solvent), aluminum oxide (extends ink and increases adhesion) ferric oxide (pigment), and an acrylic polymer base. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Oil based printmaking inks use linseed or other plant oils as a base. 6, 7 Available information suggests ink pigments are synthetically produced, not derived from metal ores. 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8



  • Printmaking inks (especially oil based ones) can kill aquatic life. 3, 6, 8 To avoid releasing them into waterways, put extra ink back into the original container before cleaning up with water.

Human Health

  • Most inks do not pose health hazards. Those that do are labeled with CL Caution Label or CA 65 label, and should not be used. Some oil based inks require harmful solvents to clean up. Solvents such as mineral spirits and turpentine damage the lungs, kidneys, and nervous system.

Social Equity        

  • In the United States, commercial printing facilities must comply with local laws to ensure safety guidelines are followed and waste is disposed of safely.

Safe Use and Exposure

  • Most printmaking inks, water or oil based, can be wiped up with water and soap. Instead, use a damp rag or paper towel to clean up extra ink, and then dispose of in the trash or rag bin. Ink solids should not go down the drain. 8 Acrylic inks must be cleaned up promptly to avoid permanent drying onto the screen or printing surface.

Proper disposal

  • Scrape leftover ink back into an airtight container for future use. Miscellaneous ink colors can be mixed together to create brown or black, and the texture of older screen printing inks can be improved by adding silkscreen medium. Donate unwanted ink to the givetake in a labelled container indicating the contents.
  • Liquid inks are considered a hazardous material. The best way to dispose of ink is to allow it to harden in a container (either air dry, or heat set, depending on the ink), and then dispose of in the regular trash. 8 If an ink carries a health warning (i.e. CA 65 or CL), then dispose of in the hazardous waste bin after drying. The silkscreen studio in Machinery basement provides a bucket where inks should be added to dry.

Safe Alternatives

  • Most inks do not pose health hazards. As always, avoid products labeled with CL Caution Label or CA 65 label, since these can indicate carcinogenic or otherwise toxic contents. An example of this is Naz-Dar 5500 Series Flat Poster Screen Ink. 10 Choose inks that can be cleaned up without solvents.


  1. Createx Colors for Monotype MSDS,
  2. Jacquard Versatex MSDS,
  3. Water Soluble Block Printing Inks MSDS,
  4. “Propylene Glycol”, ATSDR,
  5. “Aluminum Oxide”, PubChem,
  6. Caligo Safe Wash Relief Inks MSDS,
  7. Akua Intaglio Ink for Intaglio, Relief, Collagraph MSDS,
  8. Gamblin Artist’s Colors Relief Inks MSDS,
  9. “Mineral spirits MSDS”,,
  10. Naz-Dar 5500 Flat Poster Screen Ink MSDS,