How to smash safely?

I know, I know, crater-depth impression is evil and bad and anyone who does it should be drug downhill behind a Windmill on wheels.

That said, what if I want to create ridiculously deep impression as part of a sort-of-joke project? Is there any way to do this without destroying my beloved presses (Pearl No. 3, SP-15) and type?

For instance, is there something super-soft I could use for packing that would let me practically punch through the paper without squashing the type and pounding the press?

I am afraid to experiment (for obvious reasons).

Thanks in advance for your ideas/condemnation of the very notion.

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While I can speak for the materials to use to “do the job”, I wouldn’t begin to comment about the damage to your press and type etc.

Yes, Soft packing and thick paper are the way to go. Something pliable and forgiving. Rubber offset blankets, for instance, the thicker kind, tend to be pretty forgiving. Possibly thinner foam rubber.

The thing is, technically you’ll run into issues with inking, if you use soft packing- it won’t clear the “face” of your inked form, and therefore you’ll end up with ink on your tympan. If you’re running blind/inkless impressions I’d say it may be okay, but honestly, why bother with letterpress at that point? Even further, why not look into die/counter-die embossing methods? (platen is the way to go with this route)

Honestly, though….
If you have access to an etching press and could have a copper die made, the ideal way to do this would be with felts and an etching press, some dampened paper. It really “takes” the plate if you set things up properly, and you wouldn’t be sacrificing your type or your press.
Of course, this is slow and steady printing, not quick by any means, but it would get the job done in the most aesthetically brilliant manner out of any of the choices.

You might be able to use a piece of closed-cell sleeping pad such as campers use — it’s not very thick but compressible — and soft long-fiber paper like Kozo or some other similar Japanese paper if you can get it thick enough — maybe watercolor paper? But you will have trouble keeping the ink in the right place if you’re thinking of printing and smashing in one pass. Definitely not to be tried on a Pearl, though — I have a broken one to attest to that! Find a 12x18 C&P to run it on — that should be strong enough. You will have to readjust the platen massively!


I routinely print using what I euphamisticly call “reversed embossing” … aka smashprint…. using hand-inked wood-blocks, and a large old arbor press…. pressing into a sheet of medium density natural rubber, similar to an old compressible offset blanket. With that set up, you can easily impress even hard card stock with no problems.

McMaster Carr has natural rubber sheets that are perfect for this…. or just e-mail me and I’ll send you a piece for free. I’ve got a few pieces on the shelf here.

It’s actually VERY easy to do, and it doesn’t require that you redo your packing, or reset your impression. PLUS none of lynch-mob folks can take exception with the technique, since it can’t damage your press.

(actually…. I guess some of them will probably take exception to this technique, since a few of them seem to take exception to anything outside their normal, limited sphere of comfort…. but hey…. the technique works quite well.)


One of my students is running a series of prints using an etching press, blankets, and thin photopolymer plates. It is the way to go if one is looking for deep impression, and no harm done. Even the paper doesn’t show the type of surface distortion to the paper one would see with similar attempts on a letterpress printing press.