The Art of Letterpress: Printing Process
The process of printing for my handmade book was an intense one. I was using a beautiful, well oiled Vandercook press, and because of the size of my paper and the number of pages and illustrations, I had 4 press runs, 2 of them text on both sides, and the other 2 were illustrations. I made 12 books, so that is 24 times through the press!
First, I had to dampen the paper with a sponge and store them in a plastic bag while preparing the press. Then, I printed the text, which was very precarious to move without toppling it over. After careful measuring, I added the wooden blocks to the pressbed that are called “furniture”, and then two locking metal bars on the side and on the bottom which apply pressure and lock everything into place. After mixing my ink, I turned on the press, lowered the rollers, and used the corner of the palette knife to dot ink on the top roller. This motion spreads the ink evenly to all five rollers. I put the press on “trip” which lowers the rollers to ink the type, then switched it to “print.” I stepped on a pedal which releases the grippers at the top of the press to secure the paper for printing, (and a few layers of newsprint packing behind the paper) then let the pedal go when the paper was secure. Making sure the press was set to print, I used one hand to crank the press along the bed and the other hand to hold the paper against the timpin as it fed through. The timpin is a thick, oil resistant paper that is wound tight around a large roller that fits tight like a drum. It acts as packing so the paper your printing on has enough punch and gets printed evenly and cleanly. This is also what the newsprint behind the paper does.
After printing the type, I put the damp paper back in the plastic bag and cleaned the type, then removed it and the smaller furniture and fit my illustrations in, using various sized furniture. Getting a tight lock around everything is extremely important so everything prints smoothly and cleanly. Then I repeated the same process for the illustrations. They were tough to print because I had such large blocks of color, it took a lot of adjusting the press to get an even print. Take a look at these process pictures: