What is the proper way to restore and re-ink old typewriter, calculator, dot matrix printer, and mainframe lineprinter ribbons?

Usually fabric ribbons or open-cell foam sponge rollers were used to hold ink for these machines. When the ink dried out, you'd take off the ribbon or roller, throw it away, and install a new one. But since most of this technology is obsolete, the supply chain for replacement ribbons/rollers shut down long ago.

But an old ribbon or roller probably could be recovered. There is probably still ink pigment on it, but the ink has become dry, so it won't transfer to the paper anymore.

Since most printer ribbons are exposed to the air all the time and are not capped/sealed between uses, the liquid must be very slow drying.. I assume the original ink was a mix of some kind of light oil plus pigment. Possibly a super-slow-drying "rubber" ink like is used on newsprint and offset-press systems.

I am mainly talking about solid black ink ribbons. I assume the special multi-color ribbons with bands of ink on a single ribbon (like the Cyan / Magenta / Yellow / Black for the Apple Imagewriter II printer) are a lost cause with little to no hope of making it work like new again. Or is there also a solution for restoring/re-inking those?

  • 3
    I wouldn't assume that you can't get replacement ribbons any more. They still make and sell dot matrix printers so they supply chain for ribbons is still there.
    – user722
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 14:12
  • 1
    Yes, companies like Porelon still make a huge range of ribbons. You can still get original Epson ribbons for the Epson MX/RF/FX/LX range, with the same cartridge design being used since ~1981.
    – scruss
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 0:12

4 Answers 4


I don't know if this is the "best" solution, but I have found applying Singer light sewing machine oil to a dried-out fabric printer ribbon appears to be effective. This oil is odorless.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000YZ1Y06

Apply sparingly a drop at a time, and then set the ribbon aside and allow it time to soak or it will make a mess on the paper if you try to use it right away.

Though a problem is getting the oil to spread evenly across a long loop ribbon so that print is equally dark across the entire length of the ribbon. If the ribbon has a cartridge body, it seems best to open the case and apply a drop to the packed ribbon inside. (Be careful to not dislodge the drive wheel.)

If allowed time to soak, the oil will diffuse across all the ribbon sections bunched together. If there is a drive wheel for the ribbon, spinning it with an electric drill to advance the ribbon will also over time help to distribute the oil.


In the old days(tm) it was common to reink fabric ribbons for typewriters, in fact, the early ones where made that way. I kept using that practice during the 70s and 80s for daisy wheel and dot matrix printers.

In theory ribbons could be reinked an unlimited time, but in reality wear on the fabric (too much movement due the hammer) limited this to like a dozend times at max. At least if you still wanted the result to be good looking.

There are still a few shops selling typewriter ink. Well, at least over here, which is Munich/Germany :))

  • could you please tell me where in Munich? I'm looking for a pair :)) Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 13:12
  • @PedramBehroozi Any store that still serves classic office supplies will have fitting ink. Biggest of all in Munich is ofc. Kaut-Bullinger. The most important feature is a low evaporation rate, so generic Stempeltinte will do the trick.
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 13:57

The old received wisdom was that WD-40 sprayed on the ribbon would give it new life. And it certainly would (briefly) but it could also leave greasy marks that migrated through the paper.

What could work was a few drops of endorsing ink (oil-based stamp pad ink) in the right place. You had to be very careful not to use too much, or your printing came out a sticky, smeary mess that would take days to dry. It also tended to build up on the ribbon seam, causing regular heavy blots. I used to be able to re-ink my DMP-2000 ribbons until they wore out, but they were hardly correspondence quality after a few refills.


Reinking with a felt roller, motorized spindle, and a small amount of stamp pad ink was a common practice. Less common, was WD-40 spray, or an eyedropper with some kerosene (available odorless for lamp fuel). These tricks worked on 'plain' cloth ribbons, but were useless on bicolor (black and red was a common combination) or film (basically, a very thin carbon-copy film in a cartridge that could not be re-stuffed, only unrolled once) ribbons.

Stamp pads and ink are still available for hobby, but mostly people use laser-print on label stock nowadays. Less mess, more flexibility.

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