Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Easy Relief Printing With an Etching Press

Press prep for painless perfect prints

Go ahead, say that 3 times in a row fast!
There are various issues when printing relief prints with a press and a hundred ways to solve them.

One of the most prevalent is paper slipping, especially at the edges of the block, which results in a "double" edge print or simply a blurred edge usually on the trailing edge.
With smaller blocks, I have a three prong method of solving this problem. I use runners, a thin felt, rubber blanket or matboard tympan, and I lay the block at a slight angle to the roller. With larger blocks that fill the press bed, such as the Fantastic Garden blocks, I needed a better method.

Runners and a Chase

Block "locked" side to side and end to end
Most printing problems can be solved by placing two runners perpendicular to the press roller, along the edges of the press. These runners should be about the same height of the block being printed and serve two purposes:
1. They support the roller and avoid bed warp
2. They keep the roller from bouncing on and off the block

Shelf support keeps end piece flush to end of block,
strip with peg keeps the runners flush to sides of block
For the Fantastic Garden, I took a page off the letterpress manual (well, not literally) and built a chase of sorts.  A letterpress chase is a shallow box, slightly lower in height than the block, that completely encloses the block to be printed. Pieces of wood called furniture are placed in the chase around the letter-form (the block to be printed) and the furniture locks the form so that it does not move while printing.

Since I am inking by hand, I did not need to completely "lock" the block tightly but I did need a way to prevent the roller from slipping off the edge of the block and causing the dreaded double edge. The Fantastic Garden prints are bleed prints so any slippage of the paper had to be prevented. As you will see in the video, I simply cut a few pieces of wood to fit the perimeter of the block and secured them with pegs and shelf supports.

Blankets, Felts, Blotters?

In order to even out the pressure over the darks and lines of the block, for relief work, a thin blanket, blotter and matboard or a rubber blanket are used. A thick etching blanket is not necessary and may in fact push the paper to the carved valleys, where it may pick up unwanted ink. Thick blankets are used sometimes when embossing is desired.
For the Fantastic Garden blocks, I am faced with deeply carved blocks, next to shallow delicate carvings, next to dark areas next to line work. Quite a challenge to please everyone!

The choice for the Fantastic Garden blocks, after some testing, was a thin felt blanket backed with a rubber blankets. I used a blotter to protect the felt from picking up ink. A few proofs on any block usually give the best tympan for that particular print. The thin felt accommodates for various heights, the rubber blanket keeps the tympan "hard" enough so no embossing or dipping will occur. The blotter just keeps things clean!

Press Prep Video

This video and others in my new and improved? (so Google+ says) YouTube Channel:

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