When you first start block printing you have a lot of things to figure out. For me, the biggest issue has been figuring out what type of block printing ink to use. There are two main kinds of ink, oil-based water soluble ink and acrylic based water-soluble ink. (For the purposes of this post, I will not be getting into fabric based or other experimental things you can try using to print)

Here are some of the major differences:


There’s actually no noticeable difference in color between the acrylic and the oil-based block printing inks. To make things easy, I will just be discussing Speedball’s Professional Relief Ink (affiliate link see my disclosures), Supergraphic Black, and the Speedball Water Soluble Block Printing Ink which does NOT say oil-based on the front. There’s a few different packaging options to buy, but the big 8oz jar is easy to spot and well worth it as you’ll see.

The color on the oil-based may appear slightly darker to some people, but really the pigment on both kinds is great. The BIGGEST difference when it comes to color is that you can water-color over the oil-based ink and not over the acrylic based. I’ve tried it. Any water added to the water-soluble acrylic based ink even weeks after you print will make the ink run and drip off the page. On the other hand, just 24 hrs after oil-based ink printing, I was able to watercolor over the whole sheet with no messy residue.

If you’re looking to add color to your block printing project, oil-based block printing ink is the way to go!

Ease of Clean-Up

The next important thing after color to me is how easy the medium is going to be for regular use. I’m a busy dad and can’t be spending hours in the studio. Sometimes I need to bust into my art-cave print for 20 mins and run away. That means ease of use of my mediums is very important.

When it comes to block-printing inks the majority of art stores are going to sell both oil-based block printing inks and acrylic based that are Water-Soluble. This means they will wash off with soap and water. Depending on how much and how often you print, you may need to develop a process to make the washing go easy, but I have so far found that some dish soap and running water does the trick. An environmentally friendly solution is to use Simply Green as well. Many states in the US and countries around the world have laws against polluting the water supply, so remember just because you can wash it with water down the drain, doesn’t mean you should!

In the end, the acrylic-based ink is going to wash off easier than the oil-based, but both of them being water-soluble means cleanup never takes much longer than 20 mins either way.

So What’s the Best Block Printing Ink for Printing?

The winner by a mile here is the oil-based block printing ink. Every print I’ve made with the acrylic based Speedball ink has been splotchy and not easy. It comes down to timing. I’ve read other printers use a retardant to slow the drying of the acrylic ink to make it easier to work with, but I have not tried it. Instead I switched to the oil-based ink and have not looked back. It is a better consistency, it dries slower on the block and on the plate so you’re not fighting super sticky ink all of a sudden, and it still cleans up pretty easily (again not as easily as the acrylic but that’s as expected). Printing with the oil-based ink seems to be the best way to go if you want consistent results.

Have you tried both kinds? Let me know in the comments what you prefer!