Filling Tubes and Small Cans with Ink

When time allows, I’ll add some information on Oil Base and Rubber Base ink etc.

Filling Tubes and Small Cans with Ink

1 finalI start with a stiff cardboard sleeve. The ideal sleeve has an inside diameter that is slightly larger than the outside diameter of the empty tube. If the sleeve is too large, you can insert a spacer made from a sheet of chipboard (the bottom of a scratch pad). If the sleeve is not stiff enough, you can wrap a piece of cardboard around the sleeve. It has to be stiff enough to hold in your hand, without crushing the empty tube. Try a small diameter Mailing Tube. Toilet Tissue Tubes are not stiff enough or long enough.

2 finalInsert the empty tube into the stiff cardboard sleeve. I then wrap a length of 3/4 inch masking tape around the edge of the assembly.


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Fold the tape over the edge of the sleeve/tube. This temporarily holds the empty tube to the sleeve and prevents the ink from going between the sleeve and the tube during the filling. I hold the assembly as one would hold an ice cream cone and proceed to fill the tube with a flexible putty knife. If your hand gets tired, you can always set the assembly down on the table, it won’t tip. I wear a plastic glove if I’ve had a lot of coffee and feel a little shaky. Usually, gloves are not necessary.

4 finalThe tubes will easily hold 5 ounces. In my case, the cardboard sleeve and the empty tube weigh a total of 1 3/8 ounces. I fill the tube with 5 oz. of ink for a total of 6 3/8 ounces. Three 5 oz. tubes will clean out a one pound (16 oz. ) can of ink. Room is needed to crimp the end of the tube closed. A 5-ounce fill will leave about 2 inches to allow closing the tube and crimping. I have found it best to stop at 5 ounces. Some pigments weight more than others do. Depending on the color, some tubes will contain more or less ink. Metallic ink is the heaviest. You could probably get away with 7 ounces of metallic ink.

5 finalWhen the tube is filled, remove the masking tape and take the sleeve off the tube. I use a “needle nose” or “duck bill” pliers to close and crimp the end of the tube. Fold it over twice.


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I use three different size cans, 4, 8, and 16 ounce. One size of tube, 5 oz. (150 ml) The label is 1×4.25 and fits the tube, 8 and 16 oz. containers. Yes, that’s 22 out of a 8.5×11 sheet of pressure sensitive label stock.
1×4 is also a standard size for computer generated mailing labels.

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When you own the printing press, you can be as egotistical as you like. I set the label in 15-point Schoeffer Oldstyle Initials and 10-point Bernhard Modern Bold. I left a box opening for smearing a fingerprint of color and room to copy the info off the original label.

8 finalI use the 4-ounce cans to store specially mixed ink for projects I will probably do again. Ink in tubes is for my everyday use. The 8-ounce cans are used for longer runs. The 16-ounce cans are mainly for back-up stock and trading to others. On cans, I place a heavy piece of Saran Wrap on top of the ink before closing the can and apply tape to the top to help keep air out and the can sealed.

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I keep ink for reoccurring projects in 4-ounce cans and labeled in a small cabinet.

10 finalThis does not insure that you will have the color you want!


The tubes are sold as 150ml. That’s 5 ounces. The tubes are made of aluminum and coated inside. It’s important to remember to wipe the threaded area of the tube after use. The dried ink will act like glue and prevent reopening the tube without breaking the plastic cap. I did hear that some toothpaste tubes use the same size caps. In industry, we  would put a drop of oil on the threads to prevent the ink from drying. Just be careful the oil doesn’t get in the ink. Dried ink on the lip of a can will also prevent it from opening. Once you get it open, use sandpaper to remove most of the dried ink and once again, apply a drop of two of oil on the rim of the can.  If you can’t get surplus ink from friends, the next best source is eBay. This allows you to build up a supply. If you need a specific type or color of ink, buy it from a dealer and then fill the smaller containers. This eliminates a lot of waste.

Dick Blick ( sells empty tubes on their web site. They call them “Paint Tubes”. Several places sell the small cans for ink. Do a Google search. They are called “ointment cans”.
Ink Companies and Printer’s Supply Companies may also be able to supply empty cans. Try entering empty ink cans in a Google search.
(These links tested OK on December 2016)

This is how I do it and it works for me. Use your own judgment as how this procedure best fits your needs and ability. Remember, ink is flammable, some people are allergic to solvents and this is another case where you should wash your hands BEFORE and after you go to the bathroom.
Copyright 2017 by Dave Celani. Permission is granted to reproduce this by any means, (including but not limited to, hectograph, mimeograph and serigraphy) just let them know where you got the information.                (December 2016)

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The Private Press of Dave Celani
Quality Printing Since 1956