Hand-printed books of poetry,
Plus tips and supplies for fellow letterpress printers.


In the past, the composing room was separate from the machine room, where the printing presses were kept. When the compositor was happy with the rough proofs he'd taken of the forme, the machine room staff would take over. Nowadays letterpress is mostly done by amatuers who perform both jobs themselves.

The forme is secured into part of the printing press called the type bed.

In the press, the paper is supported by a metal plate called a platen. This makes a surface that is too hard to print against nicely, so softer packing is layered up on top of the plate. The packing could be card, felt, rubber, plastic or more paper and different jobs need different types of packing. When the platen has been packed, it's often called the tympan.

The press may be operated with a handle, foot pedal (treadle) and it might even be motorised. Whatever the mode of operation, the tympan – with a sheet of paper on top – will have to press against the type. In some presses the type moves towards the tympan, and in others the tympan goes to meet the type.

Often some areas will be too light, and some too dark. The cure for this is to reduce the pressure all over (so that the dark areas print correctly) then to stick patches of thin tissue behind the paper, to raise the surface slightly and compensate for the light areas.

With a little trial and error, the printed image is lined up correctly on the paper and then more proofs are taken, to ensure an even print. If the impression (the printed image) is too dark, the pressure can be reduced by adjusting the press. If it's too light, it can be increased.

Once the printer is happy, the print run begins. Paper is fed, one sheet at a time, into the printing press which presses it against the inky type, then it's laid out to dry. The ink is usually still too wet to be able to stack the paper without set off; when the wet ink transfers onto the back of the next sheet in the pile.

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