Mark Twain has been credited with the quote "Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel." Many other famous wordsmiths have been credited with this saying, including H.L. Mencken and Ben Franklin.
The basic premise of the saying seems to be if a newspaper editor or publisher doesn't agree with a viewpoint you are advocating, you may have to endure a long series of negative articles in their publication. While we continue to endure challenges with the printed product, this statement, at least to me, continues to express the true power of the printed press.
When I first got into the newspaper business, a stogy old ink salesman threw this quote out in conversation. Being new to the business I just chuckled and went along with him, trying to act like one of the good 'ol boys who had some kind of idea what he was talking about (I didn't).
Fast forward to today, and I now truly understand the meaning of the saying. I am immensely proud of what it stands for in my mind, which is freedom of the press.
When I started writing this article, I researched some of the technical aspects of ink, such as composite, viscosity, tack, etc. I also received some very useful information from some of the top ink vendors in the country. After scanning through the facts in preparation for this article, I decided that instead of taking strictly a technical approach, I'd like to tie things back to the effect on our customers and the effect on our industry.
Putting the Customer First
If you've been in the publishing industry for awhile, you've addressed several complaints about ink on fingers, rub-off and smudging. I once had a customer screaming at me because she read the paper on her lap while wearing a new white dress. That one simply didn't end well for me and I actually ended up buying the customer a new dress (when it comes to newspapers, you just can't make this stuff up).
I've lost track of how many customers claim they are canceling their subscription due to how "dirty" their newspaper is. Ink rub-off can be a real issue. So what causes it?
Let's start with "Does ink really dry?"
The short answer to this is for cold set inks, no. News ink absorbs into the substrate. Known as penetration, absorption or saturation into the sheet, many different things can affect the "drying process."
Black ink, which is the most widely used color in the newspaper, is obviously what readers complain about most often. Rub-off/ink transfer is dramatically impacted by the type of raw materials that are used to produce the ink. The higher the quality of the ink, the less rub-off, but typically, the expense is higher.
If you've shopped ink in your career, you no doubt noticed that vendors market "news ink," 'low rub" and "no rub" ink. What controls drying is oil, resin and pigment selection in the ink. Most vegetable or plant based oils are very...