In this third and last article in our series about the Fome Etching Press, our printmaking expert Jill Watton shows us how to adapt this popular intaglio printing press so it can be used for relief printing and how to get the most from this great little press. She covers raising the height of the roller, calibrating the pressure, and then takes us through printing a single colour linocut. The first article in the series covers setting up the press and the second article shows how to use it for intaglio printing.
by Jill Watton
Etching presses such as this one by Fome have long been utilised for the production of relief prints. For linocuts, woodcuts or other forms of relief, an etching press allows for speed of printing as well as good, even pressure. The top roller of the etching press can be raised up to accommodate blocks and plates of various thicknesses. So long as the roller is running at about the right height when it reaches the block, a print can be taken without the block or paper moving since the roller doesn’t have to ‘climb’ the printing block. In a similar way, for those printmakers interested in letterpress, etching presses have also been utilised for printing from photopolymer plates. Embossing, which is now quite desired in letterpress prints, can be achieved on an etching press adapted for relief printing.
Raising the Roller Height
The top roller can be raised to a maximum height of 1.7cm. Here, as an illustration, we see Jackson’s grey unmounted lino 3.2mm thick, Speedball Speedy Carve 6mm thick, and Jackson’s Softcut at 3mm thick sitting under the raised roller. We have also used the press to successfully print from the 9mm Baltic Birch Plywood. Often plywood cannot be guaranteed to be completely flat and on larger presses with larger sheets you can encounter uneven pressure but on this small scale the press copes very well.
The simplest method of setting the roller to the right height is by utilising ‘runners’. These runners are long thin strips of material that are the same height as the block you are printing from, and are used on all sizes of etching press. You might find printmakers referring to them using the terms ‘roller bearers’ or ‘rails’. Made to run the whole length of the press bed, printmakers will often cut them from exactly the same material as the printing block. However it can sometimes be difficult to obtain enough length in the particular material you are using. Strips of mount card built up in layers is another option. If you have a number of pairs of strips of card you can add and subtract to adjust the height of your runners to match your relief block.
Here two runners have been made from a double layer of mount card, these runners are not quite as deep as the Japanese Vinyl printing block but would work fine. However they were a little too wide to accommodate any paper border around the image.
In this example we have cut two runners from the same material as the printing plate, in this case Japanese Vinyl. We have had to join two shorter lengths together to create runners that extend the full length of the bed which will maximise your printing area. You will see there is now space around the printing block to accommodate a paper border around the image.
Calibration and Setting the Pressure
This press has no gauge for calibrating, in fact for most presses, except the very large, calibration is best done by feel and by test printing. Before you start printing you can check that the pressure is adequate and even by running your block through before you ink it up. Doing a ‘blind’ print will allow you to inspect any marks left indented in the paper, a good indicator of how much pressure you have and whether you want to adjust it. Of course, an actual print will be the final indication that correct pressure has been set.
Before you do this you will need to secure your runners to the press bed, masking tape will suffice. You will need to insert your blanket and decide whether you want anything between your blanket and the printing paper. We are printing here with just the blanket and you will see we get some embossing. This works well on single colour prints and is also an aesthetic consideration.
If you are going to print more than one colour and need accurate registration then embossing can be a hindrance. You can experiment with card instead of a blanket, a rubber sheet, or a sheet of blotter inserted between the printing paper and the blanket. Some printmakers will print with a sheet of plywood between the paper and the top roller but this is best on larger presses where you can raise the roller higher.
A Single Colour Linocut on Japanese Vinyl
The smooth reverse side of Japanese vinyl can slip a little on the metal bed. In order to prevent this we have taped down a sheet of paper with a little texture to the press bed. Something like cartridge paper will do. Other materials may not need this at all, a little trial and error is inevitable when setting up, to meet your own requirements. You can make use of this sheet to draw on some registration guides which will allow you to locate your print where you want it on the paper.
Using runners, or rails, is only one method for printing relief on an etching press. Artists sometimes build a frame around the block to form a sort of ‘chase’ and this can work well on larger presses with thicker blocks. The inked block can be placed inside the chase and locked in with other blocks of the same height. If you want to try something like this then you will need to watch out for any embossing of the paper border and you can do this by considering whether you use a blanket behind the paper or something firmer as discussed earlier.
Do take a look at the customer reviews on our website to see how other printmakers work with the presses, there is a lot of shared information available. For tips on securing the presses before printing take a look at the first article in this series Setting Up the Fome Etching Press. We have some helpful ideas on intaglio printing with the Fome presses take a look at the second article in this series Intaglio Printing with the Fome Etching Press.
More Printmaking Articles on the Blog
Links to the etching press and mentioned materials at Jackson’s
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