What’s that smell?

What is that smell?

Something we hear a lot here at the shop is customers asking what they smell when they come in the door. Most print shops in the industry have a fairly unique smell to them. I say most because the aromas coming from the shop are mostly tied to a printing press and not all shops have their own press on site. Here at JB, we have two presses and a digital/vinyl shop that add their own little part to the overall experience. Here is how it all breaks down.

The 4-colour press has four towers which hold each of the four process colours (CMYK.) In this photo Forest is inking up the tower with yellow ink. These inks make up the full colour images you see on large-run, full colour printed materials such as rack cards, catalogues, brochures and posters.



Inks for the offset presses are likely the thing someone would smell when they come into the shop to pickup their printed material. Certainly in years past this would have been the predominant smell in any print shop. Thankfully, since the early 90’s the trade has made the transition from petroleum based inks to vegetable based inks which has made them both substantially less odorous, but also considerably less toxic and safer. This makes the staff of the shop a lot happier as they don’t go home smelling like a press!

4 ink colour – cyan, magenta, yellow and black are used to create all of the colours that you see in your printed materials


Cleaners and solutions

Likely the second most common thing that gives a print shop it’s signature smell is the cleaners and solutions used to make the print happen. Fountain solution is a tap water and concentrate mix that is used in a printing press to keep the ink where you want it and away from where you don’t on the sheet of paper. Now that the industry has gone away from petroleum based inks, this solution can be a lot less potent than it used to be, reducing it’s smell. Subsequently, the cleaners needed to clean these inks up can be reduced. Just like if you spilled canola oil in your house, you would want to use a grease/oil cutting cleaner to get your surface clean. The press is no different. To get these veggie inks off the rollers in the press, we use a cleaner that is pretty similar to a household cleaner, Varsol. Dilute this cleaner with tap water and you have a powerful cleaner for the press.

Our wide format printer prints on a variety of substrates including indoor and outdoor banner, vinyl, canvas and paper



Just like inks, the toner used in our digital and vinyl wrap presses have a bit of smell to them when they are in use. Toners are heated up to make them bond to what they are being printed on. This is when they emit their signature smell. Same with the lamination process. Adhesives are used to bond the plastic coatings to the material they are being bonded to.

Holographic laminate makes for a shiny finish and helps to prevent unauthorized reproduction of your printed materials. This adds an extra level of protection to numbered tickets and passes. This same machine is what we use to put silver and gold sleeking on your printed materials, as well as soft touch, matte and gloss laminates. Keep an eye out for our next blog post to learn how to set up your files and make the best use of these special finishes.


The mix of all the above categories make up the signature perfume of a print shop. Thankfully, as the years and technology progresses, the strength of this perfume is changing to something a lot more faint.


Forest Holley-Hime
Press Operator

Categories: JB Times.