Monday, 4 February 2013

Taking it One Step at a Time

worn type

Over the last few days I've been on a voyage of discovery... ascending a steep learning curve... undergoing trial by type... enduring initiation by ink... Yes, you're absolutely right - these are euphemisms. I'm having trouble printing some business cards.

Unfortunately these business cards are for my friend Mary who is an utterly brilliant letterpress printer and bookbinder, and it would severely pain me to present her with cards that were anything other than well printed. With hindsight perhaps it would have been better to print cards for myself first, or for the dog... or for someone who actually genuinely likes the 'distressed letterpress aesthetic'. But on the plus side once/if I (ever) crack this, I might be able to cast aside the 'letterpress newbie' label and advance to 'letterpress intermediate'.

It started well, with a parcel from the Happy Dragon's Press containing everything I needed to replace the packing on the Adana. I could have followed the instructions in the Adana manual and packed the platen with newsprint paper, card and a paper topsheet (the cheaper option) but I liked the sound of their 'Swiss packing' and decided to give it a try. It arrived with extensive instructions and there was also a very friendly and helpful email from Stafford, so fitting it all was relatively stress-free.

The new packing is excellent so I am very pleased with my investment (though bear in mind that my only point of reference to compare and contrast it with are soft porn pages covered with brown card - see Unusual packing for an Adana 8x5). 

Sadly the new quality packing made it suddenly obvious that my Adana was nowhere near as well set up as I'd thought. The forme was meeting the platen at a bit of an angle, so the top edge of the card couldn't print. This meant squaring up the bed by setting a chase with an H in each corner, inking it up, and turning the impression screws on the back by increments until there was an even print across the paper.

That done I was all ready for business card production... or so I thought. But even with the new packing and the newly squared bed, the prints were horrible. Blobs of ink where I didn't expect or want them and some letters with parts missing, or absent completely, and some letters bolded up. Over the next couple of printing sessions I attempted the following solutions:

1. Printing on different kinds of card
2. Using less ink 
3. Using a different ink
4. Using a little more pressure

Each time I tried something new the resulting prints were a little better, but it was still nowhere near presentable. 

Finally I looked closely at the type itself using a linen tester, and had a horrible shock. Some of the type was extremely worn, some was missing parts of the letters altogether and many pieces were filthy - with ink-encrusted random gobs of nastiness which turned out to be responsible for those extra blobs of ink. And some letters were from from different typefaces altogether. This was a bit of a low point as I'd bought this type second hand last summer and hadn't used it before. Sometimes that learning curve just feels very steep indeed. 


So I've ordered new type (got to keep those foundry and monotype boys in business or we won't have any nice type to print with) and while I wait for that to arrive, I've been swapping out the worst offenders, cleaning the type carefully and spotting up where necessary. Every time the prints look a little better. And every time I do this, my hands seem to have a better idea of what they're doing, and things come together a little faster. 

By the time my new type arrives my hands and head will be in synch and I'll be printing perfect business cards. Just you wait and see! Fortunately Mary is a very patient woman.

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