Boxcar Base: Standard vs. Deep Relief

Hello again,

I’m getting ready to purchase my first Boxcar Base. I’m not sure if I should purchase the standard base or the deep relief base. Boxcar says that the deep relief is recommended for platen presses, but I have heard that some people prefer the standard base on their platen press. Can anyone share their thoughts before I give Boxcar a call? Thanks. :)

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The Deep Relief Base, with thicker plate, is for platen presses, mainly because of possible roller height or bearer problems that might cause a shallower plate to ink at its floor. You don’t mention what your press is. But if a job or production press or such you could also use a shallow plate (.038) on a Deep Relief Base with a .022 underlay (and have options). Or choose the standard base (with the shallower plate), dependent upon the make and condition of the press and, um, your skills. The relief depth of either plate is the same.


I have a 9x12 Craftsman Monarch. Thanks for your help!

I have never used a press - I just purchased a Pilot which has not been set up yet and I need to buy pretty much everything, including a boxcar base. I also have 3 chases - should I buy multiple bases to go with the chases? Also, I really like deep impressions, but could using a Deep Relief Base cause any damage to a press?



I believe you just need one (1) boxcar base locked-up within one chase. Since the base has a sticky surface, you can place/stick the polymer plates as needed and later peel it off when done. The base has gridlines marked, which makes it easier in aligning the polymer plate(s).

Boxcar already has some pre-set bases for different presses (eg. for Pilot). Best to give them a call. They are very helpful.



I just signed in and discovered your response. Thank you for the information. I will call.

The deep relief press isn’t for making a deeper impression, but for making the base shallower so it’s further back from the rollers. I spoke to Boxcar press this week because I was ordering a base for my Pilot, and while they recommend the deep relief base as being less troublesome, I didn’t like the idea that I’d be purchasing deep-relief plates that I wouldn’t be able to use on a Vandercook with the regular plates. They say the platen presses will work fine with the regular bases, you just have to be more careful about the roller height and other inking issues.

Similar question: I have a 6x9 Sigwalt tabletop — should I have a deep relief base as well? Or can I tape the rails to adjust the roller height? I don’t see much a of a difference in choosing one over the other — just that the deep relief bases are 5 cents more expensive/inch from Boxcar. I’m new to this! Thanks.

There’s no reason you can’t use the “deep relief” base on a Vandercook with the thinner plates. You just underlay the base to make up the difference.
That’s why Pat Reagh discontinued PatMags for .039” plates and continued those for .060” plates: .021” chipboard is a cheap underlay and gives you two heights from one base. (Or use one .015” pressboard and one .006” tympan, or anything else that works.)


A couple of things. Underlays are probably not the best solution to the variance in plate/base problem, but they are workable.

Bunting Magnetics does not recommend underlays under their bases. Bit of a clue here.

Mainly, clean the bed, clean the bottom of the base, and use interlay/underlay materials that are not compressible and completely free of debris.

Actually, anything compressible between plate surface and bed surface is potentially a problem.

Photopolymer plates will give you exactly what you want from them. For good or bad. Problem is, they are like the princess and the pea. If you don’t have it set up precisely, they are not going to give it to you precisely.


Of course, Gerald, a badly done underlay on a high-speed production press (where Bunting bases are normally used) could be a dangerous thing. The bulk of commercial printing done from photopolymer is far removed from traditional letterpress practice, where underlays have been used for generations. But note that I said specifically “on a Vandercook” where lockup (and underlay) are quite simple, relative to presses requireing the use of a chase, and a form that will lift. In deference, I will amend the advise a bit: don’t attempt an underlay if you don’t have a micrometer (and use it) and if you don’t already have a good grasp of lockup.
I suppose as a dealer in both Bunting bases and processed plates, you must have customer service experience indicating the contemporay user can’t always be trusted to use the tools correctly.

Hello all,
I’ve been mulling this over and I just don’t like those deep relief plates. I don’t see the point of them.

If the rollers are set so poorly that they’d ink the low areas of a standard plate then they are sure to be inking the shoulder of the relief too. You’ve got no hope of getting decent printing if that is the case— all your art will be thickened in the finished print and the edges will appear sloppy.

Personally I prefer the Boxcar standard base even on a platen. If you have bearer issues you need to build up the bearers. Isn’t it better to address the issue directly than to do a (bodge) fix that attacks a symptom rather than the root cause?

I’d love to hear the opinion of others on this.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Hi Erik

Not so much customer service experience, I try not to spread myself so far afield that I will encourage problems for myself; I prefer to know who I am working working at all times. However, I have lots of experience with students, and in that regard, I can say without hesitation, I have seen it all. Tonight someone trying to proof on a Bunting with a copying press. Where do you think that base ended up?



I think there is a need for the thicker plates on certain platen presses, especially those with bearer problems. I provide steel-backed thicker plates for a number of clients who prefer them. I’m not a fan of them myself and will not stock the polyester-backed thick plates as they are reportedly so problematic (especially as reported here on Briar).

You are correct but how do you get folks to attack a root cause rather than a symptom? I sleight-of-hand force theory on my students so they can figure this all out on their own, well, eventually. But how do you do that on a discussion list? Folks just want quick answers.


On a platen, it is not just inking issues that make a lower base preferable. Sheet control is important too. If you have a large base, larger than the sheet to be printed, you may not be able to use fingers on the grippers (some don’t even have enough room for the grippers), or rubber bands to control the sheet. That leaves a frisket, which doesn’t work on every job layout.
I do use both thick and thin plates on my platen (145 and 100 plates) but I trim them to the image area and mount them on high base sawn to size. That leaves plenty of open area for use of grippers, fingers, etc.

Would I buy a base? Get your stuff to the right height .918 minor adjustments are done by MAKEREADY the stuff under the sheet you print. Spot tape, scotch tape, tissue, wax paper etc. Even cut out an area of your underlay to allow for an over .918 part. Do what you gotta do, don’t bust your press and do a good job. I’ll mount any plate to aluminium(Canadian) or dieboard and shim as required.A good set of verniers ensures this.

One other thing to complicate the deep vs. standard relief issue. I was told by someone at Boxcar that the standard relief plates can reproduce finer detail than the deep relief plates. They can print a line about one-half as wide as the finest possible line on a deep-relief plate.



I can’t verify that a thin plate will produce a line one-half as wide as as a thick plate but technical literature indicates they have better fidelity. Both thick and thin have the same relative reverse relief depth so there is no “deep relief” advantage to a thicker plate. The thicker plates are formulated for embossing and molding processes. Their letterpress value is only on platen presses that have roller/bearer adjustments that are less than certain, such as C&Ps and the like, and the smaller hobby platen presses.


Hello, im from Argentina, im trying to buy a piece of aluminum to make my base on my own, because buying one online is not an option, because of the shipping price.
Now, could anyone tell me the heights of both deep relief and standard base?

Hello, im from Argentina, im trying to buy a piece of aluminum to make my base on my own, because buying one online is not an option, because of the shipping price.
Now, could anyone tell me the heights of both deep relief and standard base?

Hi Meryjane. I’m trying to figure out the same thing. I’m having one made because shipping from New York to the west coast of Canada is crazy expensive and I’m lucky because my brother is a high school metal shop teacher. This post was great from Dolche Press:

There’s an entire section about base plate thickness in that link you posted. Your answer depends on what kind of press you have, and the PP plates you intend to use. 7/8” or 2.2225 cm for a normal relief, but that’s predicated on a type high of .918.

You can use plywood at a pinch and if you cant find that you can use resalite furniture and pack up with aluminium printing plates , no rulles exist that says you cant be inventive !
Always note that if you fill your chase with a boxcar base or whatever make you get , you remove the opportunity of using type in the same forme as well as mentioned above nowhere left to put friskets etc !


@Daniel @Gerald

As someone new to printing, your exchange was actually quite informative. I tend to do a large amount of research before taking decisive action. Once I am committed I tend to not look back.

As Gerald knows from a recent email exchange, I am trying to make heads or tails of Boxcar and it is easy for newcomers to blindly take the sage advice of the experienced community. However, what I have learned here is that I should ignore the recommendation for deep relief base, get a standard base and address roller issues by building up the bearers as needed. I think it makes more sense to operate a properly tuned piece of equipment than to modify the things around it. This happens in software architecture and development all the time. A developer or architect often finds themselves designing inside of an existing system and making the “best” decisions they can at that moment, despite the fact that they will undoubtedly pervert the system further.

@Gerald, I have done enough reading to see how thoughtful and knowledgable you are. Your reply to Daniel included the point of view that there is a need for thicker plates on platen presses, but then follow that with agreement with Daniel’s provocative comments. I am not looking for a quick answer and will likely take some time before buying a Boxcar, and so I keep this all straight in my head, where is there some other advantage or need for thicker plates?


If you had a cylinder press and a platen press a shallow base would make sense as you could use it for both presses. The base would accommodate a thicker plate on the platen without the need for underlay as well as a thinner plate on the cylinder press with proper underlay.

But, if as you say, you would have your platen press bearers correctly adjusted, well then, you likely would not need the thicker plates. You would get a better quality print with the thinner plate and none of the reported problems that seemingly require back-exposure (thick polyester-backed plates). Plus, the thinner plates are less expensive.

Note that in regard to the polyester-backed, adhesive film plate system, Boxcar and Elum sell similar bases and identical plates and film adhesive. I’ve used both bases in instructional situations and can’t really say there is any difference between the two except that the grid on the Elum base is laser etched. They price quite similarly and, since they are on opposing coasts, I suspect it is mainly a choice of which one is closer to you in terms of ongoing shipping costs.


I know this conversation have been beaten to the ground, nonetheless:

Is there any disadvantage to using a deep relief base with thicker plates on a proof press?


No real disadvantage. Thinner plates have slightly better fidelity and cost less. You can underlay the base with Mylar or acetate slips if you wanted to take advantage of the thinner plates. Depending upon the base/plate configuration, somewhere around .022”.