Uneven Printing on Kelsey Excelsior Mercury Model

I’m not sure how to write about this and I am so frustrated. I am constantly having trouble printing with my Kelsey. I am new to this particular press, so I try to give myself a little room for learning, however it seems I keep having the same problem. When I try to print using a linoleum block or a photopolymer plate, I cannot get an evenly inked print. I’ve messed with thickening the ink, thinning the ink, overinking, underinking, overlay, underlay, etc etc. Sometimes, the print isn’t solid, so I add more backing under the tympan, then the print is even lighter. So, I take away backing, the print still isn’t solid, so I take away more, then it is lighter again. So I mess with the impression screws. The image is better, I mess with them a little more. The image is worse. I back track. It seems nothing I do is right.
I am so frustrated. I’ll be honest that I am winging it with this press, however I have a degree in printmaking and don’t think I should really be having so much trouble.
What is it that I’m doing wrong? I just want to make some f’ing art.

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There could be a lot of problems that are combining or only one or two. Often the best thing to do is start from scratch. In other words, strip the platen, take the form out of the chase, and assume nothing.

Check the press over to make sure the bed is seated properly. Dress the platen with a standard, hard, fresh packing including a new topsheet. Level the platen using one of several standard methods. Make sure the press is oiled, that the roller hooks are turned the correct way. Check the rollers over. Compare their diameter with the diameter of the trucks. Check their height from the bed.


Once you know the press is clean, oiled, and adjusted properly, begin trying to print your project. The point is to start from a sure, known and proper foundation. Maybe you have done this already and ended up where you are. If so, start over. It’s difficult to diagnose problems if you don’t have a fixed point from which to start and move forward from that.

When I started printing on my first press (a C&P 8x12) I found when having problems that my initial setup which I thought was so thorough was not. Perhaps I was just so anxious to start printing that I didn’t spend the time I should have or simply overlooked things the first time since I was just learning. I went over everything a second time from the beginning and caught several things including basic platen adjustment that I thought I had set correctly the first time.

Anyway, that’s what I often do when confronted with a situation like yours and it invariably leads to identifying and solving the problem(s).

Things to also check are whether or not the form you are trying to print is too large for the press, if the ink you’re using is right for the kind of paper, the kind of paper in general, etc.

But first things first. Before anyone can offer specific advice the press must be set up correctly thereby ruling out the most basic problems.


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ

Thanks, Rich!

So, wait. If I’m printing a 5x7 block on a 5x8 press, is that too big? The block isn’t a solid image, so I thought it would be ok.

jessica, rule of thumb, only about 1/2 the size of the chase can be used. the more you try to print the more pressure it takes to make the impression. you should do what rich says, reset everything, then start over, you shouldn’t have to reset your impression screws everytime you print. don’t know what you are trying to print, but maybe you could do 1\2 at a time. good luck dick g.

I am an experienced printer of linocuts and etched copper/zink on cylindrical press. Earlier this year I purchased a 5 x8 Kelsey letterpress (U) to expand my printing to include letters, polymer plates and cuts. I have just printed on folded 9 x 12 paper using 5 x7 lino cuts mounted on a 5/8” wood base on the letterpress, with four passes of color and lettering. Actually registration was easy due to its size! But I did have issues with uneven printing. Here is what I did. #1 I used Block Ink (Speedball) and it was more forgiving! #2 I increased the thickness of the pad behind the tympan so I could crank up the pressure. #3 I had to tighten down, loosen up repeatedly the pressure screws on the back of the platen until I got it just right — took about 15 attempts. I was able to run two separate linocuts (two color), a pass with 36pt Bernard Cursive type and a fourth embossed impression that I then gold leafed. It was a long process but hugely simple compared to my previous efforts on cylindical press. I have found the letterpress to be perfect for anything that has a large number of copies (as in Christmas cards!).
Hope this helps.


I just found this article in case there is anyone who is having the same problem. I’m about to try again.

When I owned a Kelsey 5x8 (an older model from the 1920s or earlier), leveling the platen was an almost constant effort. If your impression screws are in the centers of the sides (rather than the corners) you’ll likely have similar problems. Even the slightest amount of rocking by the platen will loosen the impression screws simply by printing a couple of sheets. Larger printing areas will magnify the problem of uneven impression and a wandering impression level. And will require much more impression pressure, which may wear down the impression screws.

By printing a 5x7 area (even if it is not a solid image) you’re asking that little press to do a lot more than it was really designed to do. The pressure needed to print a 5x7 area is 4 times that needed to print an equivalent 2.5 x 3.5 image. If possible break up the image into smaller components and more runs through the press. it will be easier to get a nice looking product.

Or do what I did and move on up to a larger press, in my case an OS 8x12 C&P. It has 2.5 times the printing area and the impression screws are at the corners and can be locked into place. I do more printing and almost no fiddling with the platen leveling.

The Kelseys can do a superb job of printing when you’re aware of the limitations and work with them. It just takes more time and patience than with a larger press. But then if you were really in a hurry, letterpress may not be the proper technique, right?

One of the silly things we learned was with the plate. Both lino block and poly can sometimes seem to attract dust etc right out of the air. (More likely oil off our hands.) and that made for an uneven inking which resulted in an uneven print. So one of the first things we do now is wash the plate with soap and water, then try. This has (mostly) solved the impression problems we had with our 5x8 Kelsey.

Won’t the nuts on the impression screws keep them from moving? I have done quite a bit of printing on a Kelsey 5X8, and while I can definitely relate to the makeready problems and size limitations, I’ve never noticed the platen moving after I had adjusted it.

-Richard Worsham