Lessons From The First Day of (Attempted) Printing

Wearing my trusty Friday overalls and acceptably indie/chic This American Life tee, I set about my first real day of letterpress troubleshooting on the Pilot.

Lesson #1: Me and gauge pins? Not friends. I’m assuming that since we don’t know each other very well our relationship can only improve. But right now we’re not really speaking to each other.

I’m super paranoid about denting my Boxcar base, and I’m not really sure which parts of the pins should absolutely NOT contact the base. I’m also not 100% sure about which parts are supposed to hold the paper, and they just never seem particularly secure to me. I’ll probably do a whole post specifically about these little fuckers, but right now we need some space.

Lesson #2: Taping the rails is fairly painless, and has fast results.

When I first started inking the plate for my “shit / i’m sorry” notecard, ink was getting all over the place. In the Boxcar video on taping the rails, the guy uses some fancy nylon strapping tape, which I don’t have at the moment but may look into. Instead I added about 4 layers of scotch tape to the rails to raise the rollers a bit. This improved things dramatically, but there were still some places being inked that shouldn’t have been. Another layer or two, and the plate was inking perfectly.

Lesson #3: I have a lot to learn about packing a platen press.

The first couple of prints I pulled, there seemed to be good ink coverage around the edges but not in the middle. So, I kept adding more and more packing thinking it must be the problem. However, the more packing I added the less even the print was. After a few hours, only about the bottom half of the print was coming through clearly. What the hell? I even tried using makeready buried under the tympan just under the top half of the print, but then things got even screwier. Finally, I thought “this can’t be right” as my packing bulged and there was barely any OOMPH when I pulled the arm to print.

So, I went backwards about 11 steps and left only a small amount of packing. This did the trick for the most part, and I didn’t even have to use any additional sheeting under a specific section of the print. I’m sure all of this has some very technical explanation to do with pressue distribution, but I’m just not used to such things yet having mainly worked on flatbed presses. Exhausted but somewhat accomplished, I finally produced a mostly acceptable print:

Lesson #4: The jury is still out on print quality and smudginess, but water-based ink cleanup sure is a breeze.

Seriously, 90% of the ink came off using no solvent whatsoever. I used a small amount of vegetable oil towards the end just to make sure everything was ship shape, and no stinky mineral spirits (which I’d like to avoid in the interest of preventing future flipper babies). I’ll have to wait for the test prints to dry before I can really speak to the smudginess factor, and I’m not 100% thrilled with the ink coverage. However, the colors are nice and I think it’s worth continued testing.

Lesson #5: My neck hurts.

Pulp & Press Soundtrack 3/20/09: Take Back The City (Snow Patrol), Don’t Drag Me Down (Social Distortion). Yeah, Mike Ness rocks balls. I wonder if he needs anything letterpressed.


About Nina

I am a design consultant, writer, letterpress printer, nature enthusiast, and lover of local/organic food...with a dash of rock and roll. Also, I want to be a cowboy.
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