Relief printing using an etching press offers a very doable solution. I don’t own a massive old iron press that I covetously see in some studios, like the famous Albion Press for example, or better still – a sweet Vandercook proofing press. Although I would love one of these for my studio, My etching press as a means of relief printing has more than proven its worthiness. The etching press works like a wringer washer where the plate or block along with the paper gets squeezed through the tightened upper and lower 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 under huge pressure. Not a good location for random fingertips.
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. Actually, you don’t even need the tape. This helps distribute the 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 right.
Then, carefully lay the paper down onto the inked surface lower the cardboard tympan followed by the felt blankets, although you may not require felt blankets here; your call, as long as the roller maintains an equally distributed pressure and doesn’t crush everything beyond recognition.
These days I use a sheet of recycled lithographer’s blanket. These compressed rubber sheets with canvas backing come from the commercial printing industry on offset presses where they discard them with regularity. Turns out these cast-offs have value for those of us who use an etching press for relief work.
This set-up shows the absence of regular blankets altogether in favor of the rubber litho blanket.
Along with the right pressure and proper inking, this method produces very fine detail in the print. It has just enough flexibility to take up any irregularities in the block. After adjusting the rollers just right you’ll find that you don’t need very much pressure.
Thanks to Maria Arango Diener for sharing the info about the rubber blanket technique. You can get some of these 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, logs storage.
There you have it in a nutshell; how I pull my editions, both wood engravings and regular relief prints although I really enjoy hand burnishing with the back of a wooden spoon but only when in the mood.
Sometimes, I’ll get into a groove, swinging to the rhythm of rolling, inking and printing. Before you know it a whole row of prints magically appear on the drying rack.