DIY Coloured Ribbon



If you have been following me for a while you’ll know that I make coloured typewriter ribbons as a little add-on to my customised typewriters so that you can type in not just the standard black but purple, pink etc and most excitingly a rainbow effect, and as a few of you have been asking about them I thought I would show you how to do it at home.

So first here’s a little info. For a typewriter ribbon to work it needs to be thin enough for the letters to leave a sharp imprint on the paper when they touch. Actual un-inked typewriter ribbon is very hard to find, it is lighter and more tightly woven than any ribbon you can buy in a shop, you can only really get it direct from the factory BUT the good news is you can still get a good effect with a standard ribbon that you can buy in a shop! The only difference is that the imprints on the letters will take on that slight texture of the fabric. But it’s minimal, and does the job.

Now for the inks the biggest problem in inking a ribbon is finding inks that don’t dry out, therefore water based inks alone won’t work. However you can use a coloured ink pad to get the effect as the ink is mixed with glycerine keeping it from drying out! Thanks to the scrap-booking trend, there are now a great selection of these coloured ink pads available. For this demo I will be using “docrafts Artiste” and “Dovecraft” ink pads. You can choose from so many different colours, but bear in mind darker colours are more vivid and you’ll be able to read the words more clearly. That said I do like using lighter colours, in fact in this demo I am actually using yellow and peach!

It’s good to get about 5/6 different colours for the rainbow effect, I will be fading yellow into peach, red, purple, blue, green then repeating.

inkpads Inkpads

So you will need to get:

1. 5-7 metres of white satin ribbon from a craft store. You will ideally want it to be 12-13mm wide, but it’s ok if it’s a bit wider.

2. 1 ink pad for each of your chosen colours.

3. A can of silicon spray

4. A pack of disposable latex gloves (6 pairs)

5. Coat hooks or somewhere to hang the ribbon to dry

6. Old ribbon spools to wind your new ribbon onto

7. Bottle of White Spirit

8. Cotton buds

9. Newspaper or kitchen towel

Step 1. First of all lay out some newspaper or kitchen roll on the floor. You will need a big space to do this so I suggest clearing a space and you happen to have a 7 meter long corridor available then that’s perfect, lay the newspaper along that.

Step 2. Put on your first pair of gloves (you will be using one pair for each colour) then work out which order you want your colours to go in. Take the ink stamp for your first colour and place on the newspaper. Spray a squirt of silicon spray onto the ink-pad, this is so that it will run smoothly and evenly.

Step 3. Take the ribbon, and with your left hand (if left handed) hold the end of the ribbon onto the inkpad with your thumb and press it firmly. With your right hand grab the end and draw it through so that about 1ft of the ribbon is covered in your ink, and lay the inked ribbon out on the kitchen roll/newspaper. Now you will need to put new put new gloves on so that the colour doesn’t go over your next colour, (it will probably happen a bit but we’re all friends here). Carefully get the next colour and run it through your thumb and the ink pad for another foot, taking care to lay it down away from the first colour.

Do this for the rest of your colours, laying the ribbon out as you go, and repeating in a pattern until the ribbon runs out or if you’re just doing one colour, just pass the whole length of the ribbon between your thumb and the ink-pad. You can do this 2 or 3 more times until you feel the ribbon is suitably covered.


Step4. Next leave it to dry for a while. I imagine that you need your floor and don’t want to sacrifice it to a ribbon for the rest of the day so I would hang the ribbon so that it droops down from some hooks to dry, NOT over a heater…(oops)


This is a trial and error thing, you just have to see how long yours will take because of how warm your house is (my studio is an ice box), how wet your ink was etc but generally I usually leave ribbons overnight. You want the ribbon to be wet enough so that it comes off in your fingers when you put a bit of pressure on it, but not wet wet. The rule is, try it on your typewriter and if its splodgey, you need to wait longer.




Not splodgey

Not splodgey

Step 5. Clean your spools. Now you will probably have some old spools from your typewriter or are using your only ones either way they will most likely be covered in ink which if you are using nice light colours can go through, and make them look rubbish. So take your white spirit and with a cotton bud wipe off any of the original black ink from the inside of the spool.

Step 6. When it’s dry enough, cut a small hole in the ends of your ribbon and hook it onto the inside of your spool – be very careful as the little hooks can be quite brittle.


Now roll it onto your ribbon spools, half on one half on the other. You can do it all on one but I like to switch it up a bit. Now the colours will touch each other but don’t worry they won’t affect the rainbow typing as they won’t all merge into one unless your ribbon isn’t dry enough. Once you’ve rolled it up it will not dry any more as they are all bunched up – wet swimming cozzie left in the bottom of bag syndrome but less gross and smelly. If it does dry out after a while, old typewriter ribbons can be brought back to life with a bit of a spritz of WD40 or rubbing some sewing machine oil into it, so if it does dry out all is not lost.

Step 7. You might want to clean your ribbon holders and the type bars (letters) on your typewriter of all the old black ink before you put your new ribbon in. This is especially important if you’re doing a light colour like pink because you don’t want to stain your nice pink ribbon with marks from the original black and red before you start. So take your cotton buds and white spirit and a go over them cleaning off the remaining ink (you can also use an old toothbrush for the typebars if you’re really keen).

Now all you have to do is put your ribbon in your typewriter, et voila your ribbon is ready to be used! Just think how great life is going to be from now on.


And remember you can be really creative with your ribbons, doing a rainbow is one idea but orange and black alternating colours on halloween or pink for a wedding invite.. you know. Let me know how you get on in the comments.

Thanks for looking!

A x

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