Muddy results with Cotton Paper

Printing on our vintage C&P we seem to be having some trouble with Crane’s Lettra cotton paper. The type/cuts aren’t super detailed- fairly simple, but we keep getting very muddy results. It’s as if the cotton is soaking up the ink around it. Less ink turns into less coverage. When we switched to a strathmore stock with a smooth finish we got beautiful results, but want to figure out the cotton paper because it is so beautiful! Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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Can you tell us what kind of ink you are using? And had you just cleaned the plate with solvent? Are your rollers properly adjusted so that they ink only the face of the plate and not onto the shoulder?

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY


For all the hoopla about it being a paper formulated for letterpress, Crane’s Lettra appears to be a revived embossing paper. As such you would need a deeper impression than you would with the Strathmore. A thin ink film with a softer than normal packing will likely get you to where you want to go.


Hi everyone,

Letterpress Ink (Van Son), the plate had been cleaned with solvent, but we had run a ton of test sheets so that it wasn’t transparent or anything. The rollers seem to be properly adjusted- no ink on the shoulder.

It’s possible we might need to replace the trucks- we currently are using Morgan Expansion Trucks- would that have anything to do with our muddy impression?

Thanks for all of your help so far.


Can you explain what you mean by “softer than normal packing”? We are just using regular sheets of paper in various weights for packing. Is there something we’re missing?



Generally, I use oiled tympan and mylar press packing to pack my presses. This provides me with a very hard surface to print from. It also improves and simplifies the make ready process. There are times I will use a softer packing. Halftones sometimes improve with a softer packing.

What Gerald is suggesting is that you take roughly .020 of material from under your draw sheet and replace it with a sheet of 110# lettra. Then you can add material under the lettra to achieve the impression you are looking for.

The ink made today is designed for the offset process. There is very little ink made for letterpress. With that in mind, I look for ink that has a stiff body and high tack. I prefer oil based ink. There are modifiers to correct ink tack if needed.

Cranes lettra is not surface sized. The ink will have a more mottled appearance especially in solids. Consider a felt finish cover like Teton. You will not achieve a deep impression but your printing will look better.

If you are really stuck on the cotton papers, you could purchase something like Somerset or Rives BFK and dampen it slightly before printing. This is a process I am not familiar with and have never tried.


What kind of vintage C&P press do you have? A tabletop or full-sized motorized platen? If the former you may not be getting enough impression strength for the Lettra (as Gerald pointed out), especially if the form is large or has a lot of solid areas.

Rich Polinski
Front Room Press

It’s a full-sized motorized platen and we seem to be able to get enough impression, but not a crisp/clean impression. The only way I can describe it is muddy/bleeding. Does anyone think replacing the trucks will help? I do know that they are towards the end of their life.

I will try using softer packing to see if that helps at all.

Gus & Ruby

I had Morgan trucks on my old 8x12 on which the tires were worn out. Though I could adjust them to the right diameter, they were out of round and except for small forms were pretty much useless. I’m not sure what the result woud have been with new tires as I traded that press for a 10x15 that came with steel trucks. I can’t say whether or not your old tires would cause the problem you’re having but it’s likely not helping.

On the other hand, since you got good results with a different paper that may be the place to focus. If the Lettra you’re using is the 110 or 220, which are pretty thick and stiff, you might do as Sumner suggested and dampen the sheets either with steam or a sponge.

One further thought, again with the results of the two different papers in mind: perhaps your packing is not hard enough. Traditionally one accepted standard packing is an oiled manila topsheet (tympan paper), a pressboard, a sheet of index, and about four sheets of book paper. That’s the packing I always start with and is considered a hard packing. Adjusments can be made by adding or removing the book or index. Of course, the platen must be adjusted for this thickness of packing. Pressboard is a heavy, smooth stock, usually red; alpha-numeric dividers for filing cabinet drawers are usually made from it though in that case it is usually green.

Rich Polinski
Front Room Press

This is all very helpful. A couple of you have had different thoughts regarding the packing- Gerald thought a softer packing and Rich thought a harder packing would help. I think I will take some time and experiment with both ideas. We’ll replace the trucks and see what we come up with.

Thanks so much. I’ll report back.
Gus and Ruby

I have had the same problem and am not an expert printer but after many many hours of frustration I have found I can finally control the clarity of my impression on Cranes Lettra by using less ink than seems appropriate and using red press board on top of my packing under the tympan. Also when I use use a lot transparent white it doesn’t come out as beautifully.
It’s hard getting a press and trying to teach yourself isn’t it?
Good luck.
Lynne B

Hi folks,

sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. We printed this past weekend and tried a few different packing options. The harder packing worked a bit better. We’re still getting muddy results with our detailed type on the Lettra. I’ve ordered a roller setting gauge from Boxcar because I’m thinking the ink is getting down around the sides of the type. I’ve included a photo of what I’m talking about. Any other thoughts on why this might be happening, (aside from the possibility of inking the sides of the type) would be greatly appreciated!

Gus and Ruby

image: Picture 13.png

Picture 13.png

Gus and Ruby

Less ink film, adjust to rollers for proper strike, maybe tack up the ink a bit. Should get you to where you need to be.

Another problem, often overlooked, is what type of solvent are you using to clean the plate surface, any oily residue left on the rollers? These days, I am retreating to traditional solvents, seen far too much damage to presses and rollers and just plain horrid work: deodorized mineral spirits for press wash, white gas (Coleman lantern fuel is the best) for plate and type surfaces. Both, dirt cheap compared to all the eco junk and far better for your presses and rollers than recycled cooking oil and the lot.


Is it possible the paper is contacting the form just prior to printing and then shifting a bit? If there is a bit of waviness to the stock, some areas might hit just as the platen closes and will shift a smidge (highly technical term) as the sheet is flattened out by the impression. This can cause a slurred image similar to the lowercase “g” in the sample you posted. Use of a paper frisket stretched and taped between the grippers of the press and cut out in the areas to print can help with this if you can’t move the grippers close enough to be effective.

If your efforts in the ink and roller setting areas don’t achieve nirvana, you might try to stabilize the paper during impression.

Thanks Gerald and JHenry. Will look into both of these things after we adjust the roller height!

Gus and Ruby

My money would be on the ink—either too much ink or a consistency that’s too thin. Have you tried other inks?

from the pic posted I can tell you that your rollers need to be raised a bit off the die. you can use scotch tape on the rails to adjust minutely ( just take it off after the run, since it deteoriates after a run of 1000 or so). by changing the roller height off the die, the amount of ink, and the amount of packing you can achieve perfect results.

I would suggest metal trucks and toss the expansion trucks.

hi everyone,

We replaced the expansion trucks with metal trucks, used the boxcar roller setting gauge to adjust the height of the rollers (we were WAY off… embarrassingly off) and used some ultra hard packing and the results were amazing! So much better!!! Thank you thank you. I will post a picture tomorrow so you can see the difference.

Of course there is another issue now. Not surprising I’m sure. After we got the rollers to the correct height (based on the Boxcar instructions for the gauge), the detailed type was coming out crisp and clean, but on the larger graphic (a big solid letter “C”), the plate wasn’t inking entirely. Almost as if the rollers were too high for that area, but they were perfectly adjusted for the detailed type.

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but what I am trying to say is that it seems as though the rollers were correctly adjusted for the type, but too high for the big solid. Is this common? Any thoughts??

Thanks so much and check back tomorrow (thursday) for a picture!

Gus and Ruby

Hi Gus and Ruby,

I don’t know about C&Ps, but with my Vandercook if I have both small type and large type or large flat areas, I make multiple plates or forms and print them separately.


Yes, BarbHauser is right. Larger areas require much more ink. Sometimes they have to be printed separately. You can try putting a piece of tape on your typan paper where the larger type is so that there will be slightly more impression on just that part, which will help fill it out more.

Hi folks, here are a couple of photos as promised. Notice the improvement on the detailed type (still not quite perfect)! But also look at how the C printed. Does everyone agree we should print large areas like that separately from detailed type?

Gus and Ruby

image: Picture 23.png

Picture 23.png

image: Picture 21.png

Picture 21.png

Also… we are definitely getting enough impression as you can see, so adding tape or more packing underneath the C won’t help, right?

And isn’t it weird that half of the letter is inking and printing well? What would keep the rollers from inking that part of the plate???


Adding tape UNDER the C would probably help. I’m guessing it is not quite type-high all over and with your rollers set for a kiss they’re just not making it. Or perhaps you have another element opposite the C that is holding the rollers up? In any case, underlayment under the C (not on the platen) would bring it up to contact with the rollers.


Looks like you’re on the right track…
What I see in that last photo brings up a few things you might take a look at.

As far as printing your big solid with finer details. It can cause inking problems for sure, but I’d say more likely in terms of causing ghosting/coverage issues. It really shouldn’t cause areas to go un-inked (but oils possibly could, first make sure your plate is clean). If you’re using plastic backed photopolymer plates & wanna do some experimentation you could cut the solid section free & keep it separate for another pass through the press (boxcar has info on their site about this for running multiple colors - same concept, the pieces would just nest back together as you swap them to alleviate registration issues).

I read above you switched to solid (metal) trucks, were they new? or more to the point - are you certain they’re completely round?

I’m not sure of your press size, but assuming you’re operating with at least two rollers it’s a little less likely that out-of-round trucks would be causing all rollers to be “up” on one side simultaneously and miss inking part of your plate - but possible. A good thing to do would be inspect your trucks (look for flat spots, high spots and/or dings) & then give ‘em a measure with a micrometer or calipers. But a quick thing to try in lieu of having those instruments handy would be to swap your trucks from end-to-end & see if inking changes any.

Once you weed out your trucks as the root cause (and check your rollers too) - I’d probably go back to looking at your rails. If you didn’t already - check height on both sides multiple times along the length of your rails (every inch or so needed). If your press has worn rails (and quite a few do), keep in mind that things like this don’t necessarily wear evenly & there’s probably high/low spots. But do everything you can to get your rail height set consistent as possible.

In conjunction with the above & what others have said, as an additional troubleshooting tactic - you might try flipping your plate 180 (assuming your design permits it) or shifting the position of your base/plate within the chase. Observe how or if the inking changes - it might help expose the problem.


Old letterpress printers always had a box of corn starch by the press, because weather conditions (humidy) can cause a host of problems with ink and type or cuts, it seems a simple thing to mix a little corn starch on the ink disc and run it into the ink and see what difference it makes, I was turned on to this during periods of high humidty with the shop door open, or during the summer when the air conditioning was on all night.
If this does not help the condition, lock up type high cuts of large characters at 4 corners of the chase and the center to be sure all points of the printing surface are adjusted the same. This will also prove the rollers and well as any wear on the platten locking roller and cam. Jim Reck

Over inking and left behind solvent do cause us to get poor results with lettra.

We clean our press and rollers with kerosine. We find that if we leave the press for about an hour before reinking and printing the next colour it has all dried and evaporated sufficiently. If we are impatient it mixes through the ink on the ink disc and gives a poor result.

Being in australia we don’t have all the fancy solvents available in the US so find that good old kero does the trick just fine.

The impression seems to be consistent but looking carefully at Photo 23 it appears that the words “8 little pounds” have less ink than the words “11 tiny ounces” to the right, as well as the rest of the words to the right. That makes me wonder if the rollers are just slightly higher on the left side than the right. Low enough to transfer a bit of ink but not all the time and not where the form might be slightly low or the rollers not perfect. I would try lowering the rollers on the left side by one layer of tape and check the results, removing more if necessary. When I taped the rails of my press I needed an extra layer of tape on the right side.


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ

As you have replaced the trucks and adjusted the roller to plate contact the next thing I’d try is checking out the rollers. Place them on a perfectly flat surface, like your cutter bed, and roll them back and forth while holding a flashlight behind the rollers. If you occasionally see light peeking out from under them, they’re out of round and you need to have them re-covered. Also, take a calipers to them and make sure that they are the proper diameter.

Another thing is to make sure that the rails that those trucks run on are completely clean and don’t have any oil, grease, dried ink, or other stuff on them.

I see these posts are from March. I’ve had the same problem with a letter suddenly stopping inking consistently. From your photograph I can see that the impression is heavy and even so what did you ever figure out? I like that corn starch idea….
Lynne B

Wow! My first go at LP printing on a Kluge after 25 years in foil work—-my first run is for a friend that wants to have some LP printed stationery for his wife for their anniversary. Of course it’s part tight detail and large solid—on Crane’s 110# Lettra!

You’ve answered alot of questions that I’m mulling in my mind tonight as I conjure another tack on the make ready bit. It is interesting to me the variety of advice here—from thick m/r’s to thin. It goes to prove that LP truly is an art, not to mention requiring mechanical precision!

I did have a question for you all. My 10x15 Kluge has 30+ year old trucks, and I wish to replace them. Could you all direct me where I can get the closest replacement to the rigid McCarta trucks that were “standard” on the Kluge press? Any help at all would be welcome…