Frequently Asked Questions: Caring For Your Rollers


Judy Csiky

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In this blog post we are answering one of our most asked printmaking questions: What should you do to keep inking rollers in good condition? Our rollers are made of high quality materials and are durable when properly looked after - there is no reason they should not look, feel and work as well as these brand new babies, fresh off our production line:

Water Based vs Oil Based Inks - The Cleaning Process

The materials you need for cleaning any roller will depend on the ink you use.

Water based inks are simple: wipe off the excess ink with wiping canvas or with some newsprint, then just rinse with water. You may use a mild soap and lukewarm water. Dry thoroughly.

If you are using oil based inks, first wipe off the ink with some paper or old rag. You can then use the following materials for cleaning your rubber rollers:

  • vegetable oil, baby oil - cheap, mild and readily available, dilutes the ink which you can wipe away easier
  • white spirit - commonly used by printmakers, apart form the distinct smell, perfect for cleaning rollers, make sure you use gloves!
  • turpentine ('turps') - a synthetic solvent that thins oils and has a strong antiseptic smell - traditionally used for cleaning rollers
  • Zest It - a non-toxic and non-flammable cleaner widely used for cleaning brushes and diluting oil paint, with a fresh citrus smell
before the clean-up

Rubber Rollers: apply a generous amount of your chosen cleaning product and start diluting and rubbing the ink away with a rag or some cotton wool until all the ink residue has gone. When finished, dry the roller thoroughly and store it in a dry and warm place - more on storage later. You can also apply some talcum powder on your rubber rollers, it will keep them dry -just make sure you rinse it before you next use it.   Watch Printmaker Hannah Forward's demo of cleaning a rubber roller with white spirit here: 

Durathene Rollers: we advise that you only use vegetable or baby oil on your durathene rollers. They are mild but strong enough to clean away ink and the smell is a lot more pleasant too!

Hannah's Tip: you can use these materials for cleaning not just rollers but other tools, lino cutters and surfaces too. Best not to let the ink dry though, it will only make the clean-up harder!

after clean-up: roller, palette knife and inking slab looking shiny and new

Common Enemies: Dust, Heat and Humidity

Rollers last a long time if you handle them properly. There are three key things to consider about your studio environment: dust, temperature and humidity. These can damage your rollers but they are easily avoidable with good care. Getting rid of dust by rinsing your roller before each use is a perfect way to avoid the particles getting into your prints. Similarly, by storing them away from heat sources such as radiators and direct sunlight, you can avoid heat damage. Humidity is quite hard to control in the UK and the rainy season is just approaching, so bare in mind this is your biggest enemy. You may notice rusting on the roller frame - this can be scrubbed off then treated with vegetable oil. Rusting is a good indication that your studio environment is damp - make sure you dry your rollers thoroughly and consider changing where and how you store them. If they get rusty in a drawer, try hanging them on the wall. If a damp wall is the culprit, try wrapping them in paper or keeping them in an air-tight container.

This concludes our entry about caring for your rollers. Don't forget, we are happy to answer any further questions you may have about rollers. All products mentioned in this article can be purchased in our Hove shop, ordered at or by calling us on 01273 260260 ext.1. Hannah Forward is a Hove based printmaker. Have a look at her work on Instagram or visit her online shop to buy one of her imaginative prints!