N.I.B., Production Technician

I think I can safely say that this was my first “official” day of letterpress production. Even though I’m still in the test phase with the water-based inks, if these notecards turn out well and not too smudgerific I’ll probably put them up for sale.


These would work as a great all purpose stash if you just want to tell someone “crap, I’m an asshole” or even “sorry your dog died.” I have some more handy lessons I’ve learned from today’s printing on the Pilot:

Lesson #1: Don’t clean the Boxcar base with oil.

After my last printing session, I guess I got a little carried away with the canola and wiped down my Boxcar base to get the last traces of ink away. In my letterpress classes they always warned me not to be tempted to wipe down the base with anything really, even mineral spirits. Sure enough, when I went to stick the plate back on today it went sliding around, totally unsticky. So I had to use some serious elbow grease to um, de-grease the base before the plate would stick again.

Lesson #2: Distribute the ink on the disc and rollers BEFORE putting the chase in.

This probably seems obvious, but is a small breakthrough for me because I had been cranking away on the arm to distribute the ink after putting the chase in. This meant I had to be very careful not to let the rollers ALL the way down or I’d ink the tympan. If you work it out before putting the chase in, it’s a lot easier. Duh.

Lesson #3: Slow pressure yields better ink coverage.

I went through a lot of test prints before arriving at the method that ended up working pretty consistently, and found that a slow OOOOOMPH on the print yielded better results than a quick SNAP. Not really sure why.

Lesson #4: Rubber bands are your friends.

It took some practice, but finally I got the rubber bands across the grippers in a place that was helpful and not in the way of the print. The only problem I ended up having was that the rubber bands I found were old and a little sticky, and the paper kept glomming onto them as I pulled it away from the plate, whacking out and creating interesting random ink stripes from hitting the rollers. Eventually (as in, after I took this picture) I ended up taping a piece of paper to the top rubber band so my cards slid free more easily.


I’m still not ready to discuss gauge pins, but clearly I had a bit more success with them today as I was at least able to produce consistent prints. I probably just need to investigate some pins that are easier to work with – perhaps the ones I have are particularly irritating.

Pulp & Press Soundtrack 3/27/09: Talons (Bloc Party). We’re going to see them tomorrow night at the Aragon. YES!

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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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7 Responses to N.I.B., Production Technician

  1. The platen pressure is greatest at the center and diminishes toward the edges. You’ll get better results placing the form centered left to right and slightly below center top to bottom for medium to large forms, and centered top to bottom for small forms.RichFront Room PressMilford, NJhttp://frontroompress.comhttp://frontroompress.blogspot.com

  2. Rich,Thanks for the tip! The reason I’ve got the plate all the way in the lower left hand corner is because I couldn’t figure out any other way to not smash the gauge pins into the base while printing onto these small cards I’ve got. The cards are already cut to size, and there is only a .25″ or so margin to the edges. I’ll probably switch to printing on larger sheets of paper and cutting down afterwards, though, because trying to center and line up a plate with an existing pre-cut card is the pits!:)Nina

  3. Yes, your base is a bit big for that size press. An option is to use 3m or 4m spaces as gauge pins. Glue or tape them in place and tape a slip of index (3×5 card stock) on top that overhangs for the sheet to slide under like the brass tongues do on regular gauge pins. Rich

  4. Oh, I forgot to mention: To set your gauge pins for cut-to-final-size sheets, pull an impression on your topsheet. With a rag and whatever type wash you’re using (except Crisco), wipe off the ink and then wipe it down with a little baby powder. You can then draw whatever lines you need off of this print to set the gauge pins correctly for whatever margins you need. I’m assuming your topsheet is tympan paper (it looks like it in the photo above) which is oiled and will easily withstand wiping the ink off. If you aren’t using this yet you should get some.Rich

  5. Rich,Good thoughts…maybe I’ll order a smaller base for use in the Pilot and use this guy for my 8 x 12. Yes, I am using tympan paper, and I actually just picked up some baby powder the other day! It feels “dirty” to print on the tympan, but you’re right it’s a good idea for the cut to size cards. I never thought of using spaces as gauge pins…I’d still have to make sure they were outside the area of the base though, right? They would also dent the base if they came into contact?I’m still trying to figure out what that mysterious cut is on your blog…Thanks :)Nina

  6. The spaces should be thin enough to clear the aluminum base and the backer part of the photopolymer plate. You only need to overhang the card stock slightly so it catches at the edge of the sheet.Someone on the Letpress list suggested the 1-500 cut is for some kind of game where you choose or keep track of numbers. Hmm, maybe so. I still think it could be a device for counting and in the days before calculators and if a mechanical counter was not available it wouldn’t be so strange. It would have been better than scratching lines in groups of five on a piece of paper. It will be interesting to finally find out what it was used for. Any ideas, no matter how wild, are appreciated.Rich

  7. Rich,Awesome. I’m totally going to try the spaces tomorrow and see what happens…:)Nina

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