For anyone who follows this blog, we’re moving! I have integrated the blog into Panthera Press’ main website. You can now see all past and future posts at www.PantheraPress.com/blog/
Thanks for all the support! New content coming soon.
Panthera Press is back in business! After a year abroad on Navy assignment with my husband, we have returned to Virginia Beach and printing is underway! I wanted to re-visit my lineup process for the press as I think it’s probably one of my best discoveries I can contribute to teaching the art.
I’m the process of creating a video series for this job which will cover every step – from design to materials to printing so this post may undergo a bit of editing as time goes on.
Here was a little peek into the design process:
This job was a two color, three part wedding suite with an illustration designed to be printed on the folder that encases the suite. You can see some of the sketches I sent the client and then some possible print options for the illustration.
On to printing. In most cases I would print the lighter color (orange) first. For this job, it was important to print the navy first because it was the ‘key’ plate. The way this plate hits the edges is more important than how the orange does and the orange isn’t full bleed.
I began with my typical lineup technique:
SPECIAL NOTE: If your lineup is very tight (hairline) you may want to avoid removing the chase and just very gently and slowly cut the registration marks off while it is locked up. This is important because the chase may be able to scoot very slightly out of alignment when you lock it back in (depends how tightly and perfectly your chase locks into the press)
It is always a good idea to keep a ‘perfect’ print visible on your feedboard. This will ensure you have something to compare to as the ink starts to thin out. Having a key print allows you to add ink when necessary to keep the color in at the appropriate shade.
Once you’re done printing, remove the chase and clean the plate with a dry rag – this works MUCH better than using mineral spirits as those tend to cause the ink to smear everywhere and stain the plate even worse. Likewise, if you end up needing to print the plate again mineral spirits can affect how the ink sticks to the surface and cause you issues.
When you line up your second color you follow the steps above with one exception. Instead of using any lines you’ve marked on your paper, you seat the registration marks into the previous ones. You can feel it when the plate is lined up, and often even see it through the plate (see the dark marks showing through below?)
Sometimes this works perfectly, but with very precise images you might need to make very, very small adjustments. It is for this reason I use sticky – moveable/compressible gauge pins. This way I can just lift the pin and move it very slightly in the direction needed to bring the image into perfect alignment.
Once you’re perfectly aligned – print! Feed with care, there is no reason to rush and miss print. In the end you should have big beautiful stacks of perfectly aligned prints! This suite below had no trapping! I was able to get hairline registration with this method. The key points are:
Here are some more final shots of the project:
For this business card job for 3 Waves Media in Virginia Beach, I decided to do something a little different. In order to end up with the least amount of waste – I decided to trim and edge paint all of the cards first. I went to River City Graphics to have them trimmed down as their cutter is far superior to my little crooked manual one. Once they were trimmed I went right into edge painting. By edge painting first, I don’t ruin perfectly good prints (the over-sprayed cards can be used for line up and ink adjustment), I am able to better match the edge painting to the ink (since I think adjusting the press ink is easier), and personally it just seems to speed up the job. The disadvantage is that I had to feed one by one – which on my small 7×11″ press is probably better anyway.
I did learn a few things by doing the job in this seemingly reverse order:
1. The edge painting was NOT damaged by feeding into my pins. I use compressible pins made from foam tape, but I didn’t have any issues with the edge painting rubbing off, chipping, or transferring
2. These acrylic paints dry very quickly – by the time you finish all four sides, they are ready to be gently separated. They seem to set well with no rub off or transferring.
3. More flow aid- I found when I was doing so many stacks (I kept my stacks small so I could focus on getting nice even coverage) that the acrylic when too thick would clog the nozzle over time. For a short job I could leave the paint thicker but for a longer working time I needed more flow aid than I previously thought. Think milk, not yogurt for consistency.
4. 220lb White Savoy is top notch for edge painting. I think it does better than the Lettra but the difference might be negligible or affected by other factors I’m not noticing.
Whenever I’m printing I carefully work to try and get one perfect print – I then keep that print and my swatch or pantone guide on the delivery board so I can cross check each print that I pull from the press. It’s slower going, and I run the press as slowly as the motor will go, but I’m better able to keep track on the prints and notice if things change (like ink gets too thin or there is a blank spot). With this job I printed the logo first, which took more ink. I had to darken the ink so that the lighter coverage of ink on the text would be a good color match for the logo on the front. I think this issue is one of the secret skills of letterpress – you can use the exact same ink and get a huge range of tints based on how much is on press and how much is laying on your plates. I find I need to adjust the color in those cases where just ‘adding more ink’ isn’t an option ( when it will cause the plate to fill in or be over inked).
I actually did this project a little while ago, but never got around to posting it. After my experimentation with the cheap sizzix dies I got the opportunity to do a job where some custom die cutting was warranted.
Ultimately, the process was exactly the same. The only difference is I had to do my packing a little different and get a slightly thinner sheet of steel. I had my die made by Miles over at Milwaukee Dies. Good price and had great customer service from them. I also had a different die made with Midwest Dies that I haven’t used yet, but is also nicely done.
I believe my die height was .937 or so.
You wont be using rollers or any packing on the platen in most cases so you can go a little higher than type high (.918) in order to make up for the packing.
Here I compare a deboss that is tinted vs and un-tinted one (true blind stamp)
So of course the project starts with the printing. Because I needed good line up between the edge of the die and a shape that I had printed in it, I added two registration marks to my printing plate. In this case I printed on Crane Lettra 110lb in Ecru and White and then Colorplan for the black. Using Silver, Bronze, and Black Inks, along with a very lightly tinted blind stamp. I completed the printing in the usual way.
My technique for lining up the die cut is to tape down my ‘steel jacket’ which is really just a steel plate carefully measured and tested to just kiss the die (it should leave a very faint scribe on the jacket). I had to get a couple thicknesses and in my case use some thin graph paper to shim it up at the bottom since my platen is just slightly not level.
After taping down the plate I tape a piece of paper down top and bottom, take a cut, and then position the actual print underneath to line up my compressible pins.
So once that is done, I just feed as usual. In my case I didn’t nick the die, I just fed as carefully as I could and accepted that some would pop out of the sheet as I was grabbing them. The blank center in the globe stand is left plain because the client wants to apply a wax seal to the label. No major problems with this job. The longest part of the process was simply getting the steel jacket and your die properly set so that they take a nice cut without wearing down since I was using a new die that was a different height from the sizzix dies I used before. The press should not feel like it’s working too hard (as is sometimes the case when printing a too large form), it should not bind or be difficult to turn the flywheel through a full cycle by hand. Remember, it’s like scissors – steel on steel keeps it sharp, so avoid too soft packing, or the use of a cutting mat for backing. Fed quite a few of these and found the Crane Lettra cut down without incident.
I decided to do another halftone experiment, just to confirm how my tests have improved my understanding of the halftone process. I also wanted to compare the plates with my new company with those I had received from Boxcar. I believe my issue with the boxcar plates was a communication issue where I was not clear in what I meant when asking them for LPI etc.
I also decided to do an ombre print – a technique which I will show to you again here (I believe I have more thoroughly demonstrated it in a previous post) that works for tabletop and platen presses that do not have a split fountain or other mechanism for achieving this. Creating an ombre on a cylinder is as easy as removing the worm gear (to prevent the rollers from going back and forth and distributing the color. With a platen all you need to do is tape back the pawl to prevent the disk from rotating, and hand smooth out/add color throughout the run.
So the first thing you need to do – tape back the pawl, also known as the hook in the back which rotates the ink disk.
Here my assistant Lanny is feeding the press. You may be able to tell that using some hand brayers I have rolled out the gradient on the ink disk. Simply use one brayer per color and blend towards the center – pretty basic.
The one downside with this, is that the ink can tend to glob up a bit towards the bottom or top of the disk, since the rollers do not touch the entirety of the disk in one swipe. Occasionally, you will want to stop the press and fix up the gradient if you see light areas or filling in on the prints.
Above you can see the result – I made a few bookmarks using some designs from a previous attempt at halftones. In the above photo you can tell that the violet ink was too thick (afterwards adjusted) and that there is some filling in an blotchiness in the prints I’m showing. These show a much better value range, however I found with the ombre the 100lpi was filling in more than I liked, and so I think I’ll stick around the 80lpi I have been using previously. I do not think I would have as many using using the 100lpi if I was printing in a solid color because the ink would be distributing across the rollers better, but I don’t think dropping to 80lpi creates any serious visual degradation to the image.
In this sample you can compare an earlier halftone attempt using the same digital file (for the leaves anyway – I added in some 10% tint clouds) but two different plate makers. In this case the new plates show a much better value range – something I can only explain by assuming that Concord Engraving adjusts the files differently when putting them through their RIP software. Both plates printed well, but the halftones in the Boxcar plate are too dense and dark. I wouldn’t really blame Boxcar here because they make fabulous plates, but I’m not sure what to tell them to do to get the results I get from Concord. So, there you go – halftone ombre.
Toner Foil as an alternative to Hot Foil Letterpress:
No it well never be as nice, or as fast, as letterpress foiling or hot stamping, but it is cheaper to do and could be fine for smaller runs. It’s somewhat slow going for someone used to feeding 20-40 sheets a minute, but the set up/clean up is easy. The downside is that there is no impression, but the upside is the affordability (no need for a $40-200 magnesium die) and range of decently priced foil colors.
So this week I wanted to try out some hot toner foiling on a few different papers and see which papers might work in concert with letterpress/ laser foiling. Essentially, this is a process where you print an image on a laser printer, apply the foil over top, and run it through high heat and pressure causing the foil to bind to the styrene plastic in the toner.
I went to PulsarProfx.com and bought a sample pack of foils (they have tons of colors), bought an Apache hot laminator from Amazon and got to work. I have this huge industrial Neopost color laser printer that was given to me, and so I’ve been working with that. Unfortunately, the toner is insanely expensive (like 200 a color, guess that’s why I got the printer free haha) so I ran into some trouble when I got low on the black. I found printing in a color like Navy blue for me led to better toner coverage and made results better since I was so low on black. It’s good to note any color toner will work for this so long as the toner contains enough styrene (plastic) in it to allow the bond. I did some samples using prints I did on a HP printer (in the actually Office Depot store, the employee was super cool about helping me – I just printed the files from a USB on their display printer) and those worked fine when you bumped up the density.
Here is some of the process, below that you’ll find information about my results with each paper.
I found somewhere between 360-and 375 seems to work best temperature wise for me.
Below you can see how I fed the sheets – there is a carrier board which came with the laser toner samples, and I used a little v-shaped piece of printer paper slipped over the edge to prevent the leading edge of the foil from shifting, tangling, or melting as the carrier entered the rollers. I found when I tried to put both the paper and foil under a feed sheet (in a folded over sheet copy paper or even tissue paper) I did not get good results. Leaving the foil unobscured from the heat source worked best.
After feeding it through you simply let it cool (I wasn’t always very patient, didn’t seem to do much harm, but better to wait I think) and then peel away the foil. If any ares filled in just lightly brush it with a large medium stiffness paintbrush. In some cases, you can just run the print through again to get any missed spots, but this did not always work so I suspect the issue was more with the toner than the foil/heat/pressure in such cases.
Below you can see an example where the foil filled into the design a little. Some light brushing and it was cleared. Another tip – this process seems to create a lot of static electricity with the foil. Before you feed, run a big soft brush (like mine pictured) over the foil and the static will cause the foil to stay flat and not wrinkle as it feeds (wrinkles cause uneven coverage or streaks)
> If you can change your toner density, set it to the highest density you can, the thicker and more solid the toner the better results. Most printers can do this somewhere.
> If you want to feed heavy papers you need a printer that feeds straight through (has a manual feed/envelope tray), Many of these heavier papers will struggle to go around the tight curve in a top feed or especially a bottom feed printer.
> Avoid Brother brand printers – they use cheap toner that is much lower in styrene and does not work well ( I tested one or two prints from this machine)
> You should be able to hide any spotty areas by printing the base laser print in a color that matches the foil (only if you have a color laser printer, and are using a lighter/medium colored paper). That way any missed spots will be close to the foil color instead of black and less noticeable.
> Desktop Printers will never feed the accuracy of letterpress or offset, so you will not be getting any hairline line ups if you want to print letterpress after. You could maybe print the design with crop marks, cut to the crop marks, and then feed letterpress with satisfactory results, but why would you go through the torture of hand cutting all those sheets down to the crops?! At that point, just buy a foil stamper and keep your sanity.
> If the design is filling in, you can just brush it away with a medium stiff brush, but lowering the heat may also help a little
> Just like letterpress all problems come from ink(toner), pressure, or paper. You could throw human error and temperature in there too, but generally, if it isn’t working one of those variables is off. You need a LOT of pressure, using an iron seems nice in theory because it’s essentially free, but will be slow going and miserable. In my case, I actually tightened the roller screws on the bottom of my Apache machine to increase the pressure, you could also just use a thicker carrier board.
> Don’t feed laser sheets with un-foiled toner on the back through the machine without a carrier sheet underneath – the toner will transfer to the rubber rollers and ghost on your next papers. This happened when I pre-printing the inside of the folder cards. You can always run the sheets through your laser again after foiling if you want to print additional things or foil in a second color. You can actually even print laser ON TOP of the foil itself. Meaning you could lay down white foil on black paper, and then print a color laser image on top.
Here are the papers I tested and the results. I ranked them on consistent success, and per sheet price point.
*Pictures will be coming for these, I just need to get the daylight to take them.
Un-feedable papers, these will NOT go through any laser printer because of weight, but hey I tried – Wild 166lb Cover, Lettra 220lb, Savoy 236lb
Crane Lettra 110lb (☆/$$$$) – Spotty results at best, getting the toner to lay on this paper is almost impossible, and the thick, soft texture means in many cases the pressure wasn’t enough to get the foil into the tooth of the sheet. It was a no go, sadly. I would not suggest it for clients, unless I can fix the kinks, may be ok for single lines of script type.
Michael’s Craft Store Carstock(☆☆/$) – I suspect my main issue was that this thin paper needed more pressure and less heat. Foil seemed to fill in more than on others and was harder to brush out. I wouldn’t waste my time with this since the paper isn’t even really nice enough to warrant me spending the money on foil or the time to foil it. Re-tested with more pressure and it works ok, but still filling in more than the others.
Office Max Double Sided Matte Photo Paper(☆☆/$$) – Worked ok, nice smooth finish takes good inkjet and laser printing which is a plus if you need to have the inkjet print. Not a super heavy paper, light to medium weight and it took a bit more pressure when feeding. There are other papers I liked better but similar adhesion when compared to the Michael’s Paper. Had some spotty areas from seeming lack of pressure, not my favorite because it’s sold in small quantities and the lower weight.
Crane Colors 134lb (☆☆/$$$)- Better results, this is a slightly smoother paper (kid finish) and so I could get decent adhesion in most cases, The downside is that this paper does not come in white or natural, so it can’t be used for most of my wedding jobs. I wouldn’t do it for designs that need large flat color, but it actually worked alright for text/script.
Basis Premium Cover 80lb (☆☆☆/$$)- This paper had a nice heavy weight and feel, close to French in feel. It gave good results. In some cases, great adhesion, and in others it was a little bit spotty. Could probably work with a little extra waste considering the price point of this paper is good and it has matching envelopes in a slew of nice bright colors. Might be worth the effort, as it had better results than Crane Colors and is cheaper.
Strathmore Cover 110lb(☆☆☆/$$)- I only had a single sheet of this to test that I picked up from Lindenmeyer paper. I had some trouble with the black toner being thin early on and so I can’t really confirm or deny in this case. I feel strongly it will work as well as French and I liked the feel, but I didn’t have enough left when I got the low toner problem under control.
French Paper, Construction 100lb (☆☆☆☆/$$) – I would say that this was one of the more consistent papers, and I would feel comfortable offering this an option to a client as it comes in tons of colors, has envelope options and is affordable. Smooth enough finish and good adhesion. I have no letterpress issues with it so I know it will work well when combining processes.
Opaque Digital 80lb Cover (☆☆☆☆/$$)- This is a digital printing paper, but has a nice enough weight/feel for folded cards, or medium invites, slightly lighter/thinner in weight to French Paper but fewer color options, I believe. Pretty consistent, one of the best working papers. One of the only papers that took a decently sharp inkjet print. All others printed inkjet but were a bit soft/blurry.
Leader Opaque, Vellum Finish Folders (☆☆☆☆/$) – These were pre-scored lighter weight cards I got from Lindenmeyer Paper. Good results, I didn’t have any issues with this paper, other than making sure it got enough pressure behind it when feeding since it’s a bit thinner. A great option for greeting cards as it comes in boxes of 250, and being pre-scored made it a breeze to use.
So in an effort to test a few new effects, I have done a new halftone project. These plates were made by Concord Engraving – a platemaker that I’ve started working with with year and am very happy with (they produced the halftone test plates previously for me).
For this project I wanted to try and blend two colors together. Here is a screenshot of the artwork done in pantone spot colors:
And below is the process – I line up tight registration using (what else) registration marks. I find lining up too frustrating without them when I’m doing more than two colors because sometimes I’m not entirely sure what they need to look like when the first two colors under the lineart are in alignment (essentially, without the black linework I don’t even KNOW if I’m properly lined up sometimes because I can’t compare exactly how the two under colors need to look together).
So this is how I line up my plates – essentially, I make marks on the paper and on the plate using a ball point pen (seems to work better on the plastic than sharpie) and get the first plate into alignment. I put tape in the negative areas of the plate and stick it down. Then I set/adjust the gauge pins to fit the sheet so that the plate will be as centered on the press as possible and this get the most even impression. Then, remove the plastic backing, set the press to print, and roll it by hand until it deposits on the base. Back it up slowly to pull the tape out of the way, and bam, ready to print.
Then I printed the first color – this was my biggest regret with this project – why wasn’t I smart enough to print this part in yellow instead of orange?! The color blending would have been so much better…
Once I’ve taken a few good impressions on the actual paper I shave off the registration marks with an exacto knife. Be sure to try and cut AWAY from the image on the plate and AWAY from the rollers, should you slip. I often don’t even remove the chase, I just very slowly cut them away. Below you can see the pink plate with the removed registration marks.
Then, onto the next color. To do this I take one of those first few sheets with the registration marks, and seat the second plates registration marks into the first ones. I deposit that plate onto the base the same way, and then adjust the pins if needed to shore up the line up. Often I’m moving the pins hair widths – just the littlest bit at a time. If I see I’m misaligned, I will place the misaligned piece into the pins and hold it down, then I will look at the direction and amount it is off and will keeping the page in place – scoot the pin one way or the other. This is all done by eye, but by placing the piece into the pins I can directly compare the misalignment distance with the adjustment of the pin.
And then the next color gets printed. I once again take a couple impressions with the registration marks and then shave them away and keep printing
Finally, the last color is lined up the same way. You can see I did a few prints with just one color of each of the colors (pink and orange), so I could be positive of the line up with the registration marks
And at last, a lovely bit of tone blending. Because this was just an experiment I used colors right out of the can (Tiger Lily and Rhodamine Red) Why I didn’t use yellow to get a beautiful color blend with good contrast… no idea.
Then some manual scoring on my weird Thrift Store find scoring device, and the cards are done!
Here are a few more detailed pictures:
I recently did a job for a friend of mine who designed his own invitations. Below are a few progress shots, but even more interesting is that I took some video of the printing process and the edge painting. I narrated it (somewhat awkwardly) with some voice overs after the fact which I hope will be helpful. No one in the letterpress industry seems to want to share the trade secrets, but I’m happy to pass it on. I’m sure many of those trade secrets include tips that work even better than my method, but nonetheless I hope it will help you!
You can find the videos of me printing and edge painting this job in this link:
So I had a recent run in with a color that used a lot of trans white (97%) getting really oozy and spotty. You can see some of the issues below. I ended up having to solve that problem by pulling a ton of ink off the press and re-mixing everything using opaque white which was a big pain. I conferred with the discussion board folks at Briar Press and it was made clear to me that this is not a new issue, and that many printers don’t even use trans white for this reason. The kind people on the discussion also suggested a solution – Magnesium Carbonate or pure chalk. This was my experience with it.
The issue – yes it looks like over inking and to some degree it probably was, but the strange mottled texture and squeezing over the shoulders was not solvable by adjusting any press settings (such as rail height, roller roundness, trucks, paper, packing etc). The rollers are also nearly new at a year old and very well cared for.
oozing ink over the shoulders
See above for the spotty weird texture
Here I am drawing out the ink to test the color, it probably needed a bit more pigment since I find scraping the ink out gives a darker color than will actually print.
The Solution– For the next job where I needed a very light tint ( 93% trans white, .6% reflex blue, 6.4% black) I ordered some magnesium carbonate from Amazon and decided to try it out.
I needed a decent bit of the powder perhaps 1/2-3/4 of a teaspoon for what you see below. I crushed it a bit more with the back of the little spoon and really worked it into the trans white.
I still saw a little oozing (very minor, if you zoom you can see it on the tail of the ‘x’)
So I added a little more (less than you see in the spoon here, about half that) to the ink again and mixed it in before adding more ink to the press (when it had gotten a bit light)
Then at last, good even inking.
In the end, the magnesium carbonate is a good thing to have. I was told that because of the lack of pigment in transparent white that it doesn’t have as much tack or viscosity leading to the initial problems I had with it. In the end, I ordered some opaque white too (couldn’t find it on the Vanson website last time… or I would have ordered it to start since I had always used it in the past). I have been told than trans white allows you to mix a truer color because opaque white is cool in tone and very slightly blueish. However, mixing with opaque white gives you a good visual of the color before it goes on press, meaning you can mix by eye if you aren’t using a pantone guide. Opaque white is also (obviously) more opaque meaning its better for mixing colors that will be on top of toned or colored paper. Each has its merits, but I think from now on, if a color is 50% trans white or more, I will use the opaque white.
I decided to order some Wild! paper to give it a try. It is a cotton paper specifically designed for letterpress and it has a nice neutral white texture with a more pronounced texture. When I got it in, I wasn’t too keen on the look of the texture, but after printing with it I was pleasantly surprised with how well it took ink and the pillowy impression. I also tried out some cheap black cardstock I got from Michael‘s and a nicer grey Poptone French paper. I know a lot of printers use French’s Poptone line for its bright colors and generally I think the paper printed and scored nicely.
Below you can see my little scoring device. I picked it up at a thrift store and have been pleased with its clever design and easy of use when I only have to score a few things. Scoring on press works better for cottony papers because there is more pressure and accuracy, but this little thing was a sweet find for just a couple dollars.
This little scoring device has a handle that you pull down which presses a line of steel rule into the paper leaving a nice score.
I decided to work with silver ink for the next experiment because it has the best opacity on dark papers.
Both papers printed nicely, but I was really pleased with how sharp and clean the ink laid down on the Wild! paper. I will definitely be suggesting it to future clients. It’s priced closely to Lettra but it’s stiffer and perhaps a bit thicker. It also took this nice bite with virtually zero show through or burnishing on the back. On a side note, it does not score any better than Lettra. Thick cottony papers just weren‘t meant to be folded.