Printing blankets?

I just salvaged an old Poco proof press and am getting ready to start using it now that it is all cleaned and ready to go. I plan on using it to print everything from lino, collographs, wood and type (I have to find some before I can do that), but I’m wondering about printing blankets. How many are good to start out with? I know that 3 are recommended for etching presses but obviously, this isn’t an etching press and I would be kind of making things up as I go along. I’ve read about using discarded offset blankets instead of felt… has anyone tried this system before on a galley press?
Any help would be appreciated, especially by those who have a similar style of press and use it in multiple ways-

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I love old Poco presses. One of their real beauties is that you can vary the packing or blankets to match whatever type of printing you are doing. I owned and used one for many years…. then like a dummy I sold it to buy a paper cutter. GGgrrrrrrr….

Anyway, for most work you don’t use a blanket stack like you do with an etching press. Instead, you wrap several layers of packing around the cylinder. Mine had a slotted bar on the cylinder that was used to tension the packing. This packing also partly determines the amount of pressure you are using. The thicker the packing, the greater the pressure produced….. up to a point. You don’t want to pack much beyond the cylinder undercut. If you still need more pressure, you should build up the height of your type with a bit of cardboard underneath.

For letterpress work, I used a hard tympan sheet with several layers of newsprint underneath, just like you’d use on a platen press. That set-up gives a nice crisp impression with type.

For linoleum blocks and woodcuts, I used the same set up as above for most of my work. I also experimented with an old hard-rubber litho blanket laced onto the cylinder. An AB Dick “non-compressible” blanket has just the right amount of resilience to print a good, solid impression.

The only time you want to use felt blanket or blanket stack is when you are printing an itaglio plate of some sort. Then you need them to press the paper down into the inked recesses. I did a lot of etchings….. and used a hard rubber blanket on the cylinder and one or two felt blankets over the plate. One thing you’ll have to do in order to print itaglio with this press is to make an insert to build up the bed, since itaglio plates aren’t type high. A 5/8 piece of high-grade plywood works like a charm. That gives you just enough room for the plate and two thick blankets. To hold the plate in the right place, I always used two sided carpet tape…. but according to all my buddies, that’s not “good practice”. It does work, though.

I hope you enjoy your Poco. They are well built, versatile machines. It’s good to know that more and more people are starting to recognize their virtues.

Thanks so much for the info- I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by everything I was reading and unsure where I should start. I know that a big part of figuring out the best way to print different plates would be to experiment but I just needed a little bit more to go on. I really appreciate your detailed response- I feel like I can go ahead and start printing without fearing that I was going to do something damaging to the press! By the way, do you happen to know of any other resources about the Poco or about other artists that make work on them that you have found helpful and/or inspiring?

I just finished restoring a Nolan proof press. The packing on the cylinder when I got it was an old offset blanket, a sheet of pressboard and many layers of tympan. I replaced all that with a lightly used offset blanket that is 0.077” thick and three layers of 0.006” tympan paper. This equalled the approx. depth of the cylinder undercut. I’m using it for proofing Ludlow slugs and it works fine for that purpose. I don’t know what the results would be if you were going to try and do fine printing with this setup.

image: Nolan Proof Press1.jpg

Nolan Proof Press1.jpg

I have been printing with a Poco for over 30 years now. I have always used an offset blanket against the cylinder and then whatever additional packing is necessary on top of that. I had made the assumption that offset blankets were a commkon thickness, but learned a few years ago that this is not true. The thickness does vary from type to type.

I would suggest going to a local offset printer and asking them for a used offset blanket. They should just give it to you. I think I have changed mine ONCE in 30+ years of use!

Try it, you’ll like it!!!!

A used offset press blanket does make for a good, and forgiving, tympan but caution should be exercised in obtaining such. Though durable and resilient, the blankets do become ‘smashed’ over time - particularly if used for lengthy envelope run - developing low spots on their face. This condition will cause light or spotty impression during your use. There is reason most blankets are tossed away. Besides, a new blanket is inexpensive. Do you buy new tires for your Ferrari at the local Goodwill?

The blanket is supposed to be the BASE (not the tympan) with the additional packing on top of it. The packing should absorb the abuse and “smashing” and therefore needs to be changed regularly. The base blanket is very resilient and should last for decades. They generally suffer zero deteriorization (surface smoothness/thickness for our purposes) on an offset press and therefore a used blanket is just as good as a new one, other than for pure asthetic reasons. But if the blanket is buried under the overpacking, What it looks like makes no difference at all.

Well, no, offset blankets do deteriorate - thus are discarded. In fact, many shops dedicate one press to print uneven-surfaced stock. Failing that, the blanket will be changed to accommodate the stock. Run your fingers over a blanket used for envelope work - you’ll easily feel the ‘smash’. And it doesn’t bounce back. Use that blanket - even with ‘packing’ over it, and you will find weakness of impression (think “Princess and the Pea”). But then, if you are only looking for marks upon paper…..

Because my full-size Poco requires a fairly large blanket, I have obtained mine from medium to large size commercial lithographery shops whose genre was high-quality four to six-color work on full-size coated sheets, therefore they had never been subjected to envelope printing or any other multi-level materials being fed into them that would have caused any depressions or surface wear. Those plates simply are replaced at certain intervals (after so many 100m impressions) because the surface is not as receptive (after so many wash-ups/etc.) as a new blanket. I can assure you that my printing is several notches above just “marks upon paper.”

Offset plates from the local ‘quick print’ might not be usable. I hadn’t thought of that. Obviously anything that is obtained should be inspected to make sure it would be suitable.