First printing on my new Kelsey Excelsior

I’m in the middle of my first printing on the Kelsey Excelsior 6x10 press that I bought this weekend. I purchased it from a very reputable person in Virginia and I could just tell that he’s kept it in great condition!

He mentioned that it hasn’t been used in a year and I’m finding that the prints aren’t coming out as clearly as I’d hoped. I searched through old threads about troubleshooting… I’ve added more packing paper, tightened the screws behind the platen, replaced the tympan and tried different stocks of paper. Although I’ve seen minor adjustments in how the print turns out, it’s still frustrating to not see a clear and even image.

I’m sure that most beginners get frustrated on the first run of their own press, but at this point I’m not sure what else to do!

I would appreciate any feedback/suggestions. Thank you!

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It would be great if you could post a picture, so that we’d know better what the problem is. Also, what’s your image size and what are you printing with - type, metal plate mounted on wood, polymer?
I’m going to guess that the print is coming out better in some place than others and that you need to do some makeready for the sections that aren’t printing well.
I’m still a novice at this myself, so I’m sure others will have great advice, but you could check this post on my blog that describes me making an underlay sheet.
Try searching the archives for makeready too.
This is all also described in Pitkin and Cleeton’s General Printing: an illustrated guide to letterpress printing, which is one of the best books ever.
It can be frustrating, but you’ll get there eventually!

I would definately look over Maggie’s entire blog and I know you’ll learn lots of useful things specifically for a Kelsey and in general. One thing you want to make sure and do is begin from a known starting point and that point is a properly adjusted platen.

You mentioned turning the adjustmnt bolts but consider: even if the platen was adjusted correctly by the last user (and there’s no guarantee it was) it would have been adjusted for a particular packing for the kind of work he was doing. Even if you knew what that packing was you may have different needs.

The first thing I would do, and as Maggie suggested a good book like General Printing is invaluable, is determine what packing you will use as a standard and then adjust the platen correctly for that packing. The platen must be exactly parallel with the bed and set far enough from the bed for a standard packing. A standard packing is hard and traditionally consists of certain kinds of paper. I use an oiled manila topsheet (tympan paper), a pressboard, a sheet of index, and four sheets of bond. Once those things are done you will have a solid foundation from which to adjust the basic packing for the job you are doing and if necessary do proper makeready as Maggie mentioned.

Other things to check after that include roller height; roller condition; and the amount of ink on the disc.The kind of paper your’re using can also affect things, especially if it’s textured.

I’m new to printing myself but even in my limited experience with two presses I can tell you that having the platen adjusted properly is extremely important. I recently traded my C&P 8x12 for a 10x15 that had been used by a printer for 30 years yet I still took special care and readjusted the platen. It made all the difference in the world.


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ

Rich and Maggie,

Thank you very much for your responses. I will definitely be keeping up on your blog, Maggie especially since I read that you’ve just acquired the same press that I’ve got!

I really don’t know much about the different packing methods, so this is something that I definitely have to do more research on. What brand/supplier do you generally use for packing paper, index paper and bond.

My rollers are rubber and in good condition, and I used the correct amount of ink with my first press. The blog piece about makeready was invaluable, do most presses require this?

Thank you, also for the book recommendation. I will be looking into it.


Tympan paper and pressboard is available from different suppliers including NA Graphics. If you have access to some old thick, green, alpha-numeric file cabinet dividers (not hanging files), that works for pressboard. Index is available from standard paper companies (Hammermill comes to mind) though you’ll propably have to go through a local distributor. It’s the same stock as 3x5 cards are made from and in fact the paper stock from hanging file folders may be a reasonable substitute. But Staples may have it along with the bond paper.

You could substitute other paper, the basic idea is to use paper that is smooth and hard in a couple different thicknesses (weights) to acheive a hard packing that can be adjusted easily by adding or removing one or two sheets. Having different weights of paper gives more options.

Makeready as an overlay such as Maggie describes, or as an underlay between the form and the bed, comes after you’ve done what you can with the basic packing (and assuming the platen is adjusted properly), and in many cases may not be needed at all. Makeready is not intended as a substitute for an improperly adjusted platen or poor packing but worn type or cuts, etc.


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ