Reinking a typewriter ribbon: My crazy experiments

This is part I. For part II, which actually achieved something, go here.

So first I needed some stamp pad ink. I got that at TCF in Canberra. They sell Artline stamp pad ink in 50 cc bottles for about (at time of going to press!) $A6.00 each, which is very reasonable. Most excitingly, it comes in a range of colours — blue, black, red, green and violet. Fantastic. I would like to be able to type in green in particular. I could buy a ribbon, and not for much money, and some nice colours are available, but I’d rather do an experiment first. Now, when I bought my Olympia, it came with a completely dead ribbon. A two-colour ribbon, the customary red and black. It was very dead, though on two nice pressed-metal spools. I also had a nearly-as-dead one on plastic spools. I kept them both for experiments…

A couple of plastic spools.

A couple of plastic spools.

Now, plainly you should always reink a ribbon with the colour it was originally. That would essentially restrict me to reinking in black and tossing out the two-colour ribbons. But the ink is only $6, and the ribbons are useless anyway, so a better idea is to monkey around first.

Reading around the web, it is clear that there are essentially two schools of thought on reinking a ribbon (assuming you are going to bother at all). First, some just say wind it onto a spool as tightly as you can, so that it is a sort of single mass of nylon, put ‘some’ ink on it and let it rest, possibly rotating it periodically, to let the ink spread through the ribbon via capillary motion. The other method talks about inking a stamp pad, laying the ribbon on the pad, laying a weight on the ribbon and pulling the ribbon across the pad under the weight. This on the surface sounds more convincing, but also more effort. And I only have one stamp pad and it is purple/violet, not that that would be a bad colour to have for a ribbon.

So, what I am going to find out initially is: does the lazy method work, and does it work on a ribbon that used to be two-colour but is very dried out? Some articles talk about rejuvenating ribbons using a spray of WD40, but I want to steer clear of those kinds of solvent chemicals for now. That will come along if it looks like the ribbon won’t wet properly.

Anyway, I wound the ribbon onto one spool, keeping it under tension just with my fingers. (Using very dry but two-colour ribbon, so may make a horrible mess.) I started with just a few drops of ink, since I had no idea of quantity, but that did very little. So more and more, but the ribbon was blotchy, as if the ink was not spreading enough. Tried adding a few drops, rotating ribbon a few degrees, and repeating until a full circle. Left ink to spread for some hours. Looked unchanged, as if it had not spread. I am thinking it is the wrong ink — it seems to wash out in water, which suggests it will dry off too fast. This was confirmed when the ribbon that was exposed to air (the bit between the spools, when I put it on the typewriter) was a different colour (blue) to the eye, but when I tried to type on it after a few hours it gave me the same almost-invisible red and black the ribbon had had before I dyed it.

In other words, the ink was drying out and ceasing to do anything except crufty up the ribbon.

So the experiment was dead, except I tried one more thing. Even though I knew the ribbon would not keep, I tried making a wooden frame to hold the spools, placing a well-inked stamp pad between the two spools and winding the ribbon from one spool to the other while pressing the ribbon against the stamp pad with the back of a wooden spoon. Visually, the ribbon looked far more uniformly inked, and when I went to use it right after the test, apart from getting ink on everything when I threaded it on the typewriter, it worked quite well — too dark, if anything.

Hence, I have the following conclusions: If I try this again, I’ll research the ink I use better first (I had read on the web that stamp ink was the way to go, but I assume not all inks are equal). Also, I’ll make an improved version of my wooden frame and use the stamp pad method rather than just expecting the ink to spread.

Next: glycerine.

‘pod’ is an interesting word because it has a two-fold rotation axis.

Live and learn.

Live and learn.



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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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