Archive for the 'Printing' Category

Henry Bowers’ diary

21 August 2011

Henry Robertson Bowers was a member of Robert Scott’s second Antarctic expedition, and one of the party of five who reached the South Pole in January 1912. He kept a diary throughout his time in Antarctica. It is now the property of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, who are publishing it for the first time. We are delighted that they have chosen us to print the book. It will be set in Monotype Imprint, issued by the Monotype Corporation in 1912.

The book is currently being planned. It will probably be set in 10/11 point, and we’re doing tests, calculations and estimates to decide on paper and number of pages.

We intend to Tweet about the project as it progresses.



A new Heidelberg cylinder press

7 May 2011

Delivery of our new Heidelberg cylinderAt the end of February we wrote that we were having the cylinder of our Heidelberg SB renovated. We were premature. The engineer did come, and a series of height measurements showed that the cylinder was too worn to be worth repairing. It would have to be replaced. We talked to a couple of specialist engineers, and the offer we liked best was for a thorough inspection of our present machine to see if it was worth spending more on it. So, at the beginning of March, Mark came down from Senior Graphics. He told us about broken pinion teeth and worn compression screws. Even more expensive, and if the work was done there were still other things that could go wrong. The bullet was bitten, and we ordered  a fully refurbished, part-exchange replacement.

Yesterday was the big day, and our picture shows Mike from Seniors guiding the new machine through the doorway. Clicking on the picture will take you to our Flickr album of the old press being taken out and the new one coming in.

We’re particularly pleased that we’ve got a press that was previously used by Gwasg Gregynog. We are assured that it was in beautiful condition when Mike took it out, and he has stripped it right down, replaced what was worn and fitted new electrics. It looks, and smells, like a new machine.

Swapping the machines over only took a couple of hours, but then the guards and tables that had been taken off for transit had to be put back on, and the lovely new set of rollers put in. It’s a fiddly job, and probably the longest single part of the whole operation. We were finally ready for a test print in the middle of the afternoon.

Was it all worth it? The test printing was very promising. We used a forme that had already been printed on the old press, and we got to a point where it was looking very good without a single piece of make ready. We had previously spent the best part of two hours making it ready. We ran twenty or thirty sheets through twice, and the register was so good that the two printings couldn’t be seen under a magnifying glass. Running a few jobs over the next few days will tell us whether it’s living up to our high expectations.

Parenthesis 20

4 April 2011

Cover of Parenthesis 20The latest issue of Parenthesis, the journal of the Fine Press Book Association, arrived last week. We were particularly keen to see it, because we designed and printed the cover. The numerals were cut in wood by Michael Harvey and we set everything else in metal by hand and by machine.

Parenthesis is published twice yearly, with alternate issues being produced in the UK and North America. The UK editor is Sebastian Carter, who once again has put together an exciting issue. Can you really afford to miss articles about the resurgence in French book design in the final year of the Second World War? Or posters at the Whittington Press? Or Times Classic, a significant improvement on Times New Roman? The list goes on. All that and our cover.

If you don’t subscribe already, why not?

Dead register

23 February 2011

We really like dead register, which probably makes us printing nerds. The register marks in the picture have been hit twice, and it’s hard to make out the two marks even under a linen tester. It’s no surprise that our Heidelbergs are that accurate, as we can, and have, used both of them for four colour process.

The job, by the way, is business cards for architects AHMM, which also have their company initials reversed out of a blue solid on the reverse. The Heidelberg cylinder takes that in its stride too.

We’re having some more work done on that press. Having had the bed renovated, it’s now the turn of the cylinder. There’s an engineer coming tomorrow who we hope is going to electro-plate it to bring the areas that are slightly low back up to standard. He says they get them better than new. We can’t wait.

The Curwen Studio

20 February 2011

The Curwen Studio was started by the mighty Curwen Press in 1958. Stanley Jones was hired to set it up and run it, and he’s still there, as dedicated as ever to lithographic print making. Phil had the good fortune to go to the studio with the Double Crown Club yesterday.

It’s an awe-inspiring place, with a tradition and artefacts going back to the 1920s and 1930s and beyond. There was one of the plates that the Curwen Press used to print Barnett Freedman‘s illustrations of Anna Karenina; a stone on which Freedman had drawn the tools of the trade over which he had such mastery; and an Ardizzone plate, possibly for Stig of the Dump or The Otterbury Incident, we thought, but more likely a Little Tim book given the size. There are some pictures of them here.

The presses were impressive too. Sitting outside is a German proofing press from the 1920s that the Studio used for years. Metal fatigue finally took its toll, and now it is a rusting sculpture among the trees. We were shown a stone litho press that had been used by the Press for music printing. It has burn marks from the fire that followed the bombing of the Curwen Press during the Second World War. And there are two massive B1 proofing presses, made by FAG, one of whose letterpress proofers we have in Pinchin Street. Interestingly, Stanley, and Jenny Roland who is managing director of the Studio, believe that eventually the printing trade will completely move over to computer to plate, the film and plates they use will no longer be available and litho print making will revert to using stones only. Like film-setting, it’s the intermediate technologies that go, the new ones march on and the earlier ones continue as a medium for artists and craftsmen.

Stanley took us through the different ways of preparing a lithographic image, and for illustration there was a pile of proofs that included a Paul Hogarth colour separation, David Gentleman trying out different pencils and pens on sheet of exquisite figure drawings, a Paula Rego and some Henry Moores.

There are lots of wonderful prints on the walls too, as might be expected, and a plan chest where Angie Lewin shares a drawer with Bob Dylan.

Each of the group of seven was given a piece of A4 drafting film, pens, pencils, crayons, markers and scalpels with which we made their own images. They were put up together on one sheet and exposed on plate. Then we could see the magical process of the plate being developed and watched as prints were made. There was no Freedman or Gentleman present, but t we did have Ian Beck in the party, and it was a great deal of fun.

Great printing. Mostly

3 July 2010

‘We make great printing,’ we say on our website. It’s quite a boast, but generally speaking we’re rather proud of the standard of our work. Sometimes, though things go horribly wrong, and this week they did, twice on the same job. We’ll spare you the gory details, and us the anguish of reliving it all, but it was not good. We can’t even put it right as we’re away on holiday next week.

On a more positive note, we’ve had a second regulator fitted to the compressor, so now our Monotype caster is getting much more even air pressure. We’ve done a little testing, and so far we’re quietly optimistic that it’s going to help greatly.

What we did at Whittington

8 September 2009

WeMakeWordsLike last year, we were put in charge of Whittington Press’s FAG proofer on Saturday. It’s the same model as our own one, so we prepared this poster beforehand, a touch of the Blue Peters.We don’t get to use our 18 line Gill Sans wood letter very often, so this was a good opportunity. We were told afterwards that it was quite a site to see lots of people walking round clutching the copies that they had themselves printed.

The kiss

15 August 2009

HeavyTypeThis may be churlish, but there is one aspect of the current revival of interest in letterpress that bothers us. Impression. Or rather, excessive impression.

Often now our customers want their printing heavily pressed into the page. We can understand it: they’re usually paying a premium to use us, and they can reasonably expect to get something extra. Such is the demand that Crane’s have produced their Lettra range of uncalendered papers. Soft and textured, they take impression very nicely and are, as the lager ads used to say, reassuringly expensive.

A couple of months ago we printed business cards for someone who said they weren’t ‘letterpressed properly’ because we hadn’t produced a braille-like surface. There seems to be such an expectation now of unsubtle printing that we’re often unsure how a new customer is going to receive our work.

We always do our best to oblige when asked to thump the paper. It involves us balancing the customer’s instruction with producing a sharp, clean image. Pushing extra hard on the plate (we never do this to our type) can produce distortion, especially at corners.

We explained to our dissatisfied client that printing you can feel as well as see is a recent fashion. We have read that the history of letterpress in the industrial age can be seen as the story of the elimination of impression. If a machine minder of, say, the 1960s saw work like that in our photograph you could expect the air to turn blue.

What, you might ask, is the point of letterpress without impression? As another customer said recently, we deliver blacker blacks and denser colours than litho. When we work with metal and wood rather than plates you get the qualities, good and bad, of the design of the type and the physical limitations of putting it together.

If you ask us to print something that shows through on the other side we’ll do it the best we can. We like the traditions of our trade, though. We talk about cases and galleys, not drawers and trays. When we’re left to our own devices we like our type to kiss the paper just the way our machines were made to do it.

Whittington Summer Show

12 August 2009

WhittingtonPosterWe will once again be at the Whittington Summer Show this year. It takes place on 5 September, and you can see the gorgeous poster here. The illustrations were hand stenciled by Miriam Macgregor, and we think it’s worth going just for the chance of picking one up.

As last year, we’ll be on the proofing press. We are currently putting together some type for a poster which we’ll be taking with us so that those who want to can print their own copy. We’ll have other posters too, as well as books and cards.

Eric Gill poster

30 April 2009


A new poster. This quote from Eric Gill’s ‘An Essay on Typography’ has long appealed to us. It was a natural to use our Gill Sans wood letter for it. We printed it on Somerset Book Soft White 105 gsm paper, an acid-free mould-made. Soft is a description of the white but it might also refer to its silky feel. We have kept its two deckle edges and torn a third one.

It’s available now from our shop for £50 plus p&p.