Relief printing on an etching press is very doable. I don’t own a massive old iron printing press that I covetously see in some studios and campuses, like the famous Albion Press for example or better still – a Vandercook proofing press. Although it would be great to add one of these to my studio, for now I use my etching press very successfully for relief printing. The principal of this press is that it’s like a wringer washer where the matrix and paper is squeezed through the tightened rollers (instead of wet laundry). With the added protection of felt blankets the pinching action of the steel rollers forces the paper to pick up the inked portions of the plate.
My setup involves a carrier arrangement made out of plywood and Masonite fixed to the bed of the press with a bit of double sided tape. This helps absorb the immense pressure of the steel rollers minimizing damage to the press or the block. After inking up the woodcut – in this case a boxwood wood engraving – I place it in the opening within the carrier as shown on the left.
Then the paper is laid down on to the inked surface and the cardboard tympan is lowered followed by the felt blankets. The whole affair is passed through the rollers which have been adjusted to the correct pressure.
Another option that seems to trump the use of cardboard tympan is a sheet of lithographer’s rubber blanket. These compressed rubber sheets are used in the commercial printing industry on offset presses and are discarded with regularity. The cast-offs are very useful for us relief printmakers using an etching press. Here’s a close-up of one of these used reconditioned sheets. It’s made up of four ply material with fabric backing.
This set-up shows the absence of regular blankets altogether in favour of the rubber litho blanket.
This method produces very fine prints because of the consistency and density of the rubber blanket. It has just enough give to take up any irregularities in the block. After adjusting the rollers just right you’ll find that not very much pressure is needed and less ink is required too.
Thanks to Maria Arango Diener for sharing the info about the rubber blanket technique. You can probably get some blankets from local commercial printer since they just throw them away. Or you can do what I did and purchase reconditioned ones for a very reasonable price from this eBay dealer, lgsstorage
Sometimes when I get into a groove, it’s hard to stop the rhythm of rolling, inking and printing. Before you know it there’s a row of prints on the rack drying.v:3341