Platen vs Cylinder

I’ve been told that certain jobs are better left to a cylinder press than a platen. I have a job the image area is a 9 by 6 border with about 50 lines of type inside the border see pic.

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If we disregard production time, wouldn’t “all” jobs, regardless of size, be better left to a cylinder press?

It seems to me that a cylinder-press, which puts all its force onto a relatively small area and shifting its pressure gradually across the entire form to achieve its impression, would always have an advantage over a platen-press that has to force the entire area to be printed at once.


Please read the late Edwin Grabhorn’s analysis of platen vs. cylinder in his interview near the time of his death (which was, I believe, 1963). It’s on the internet under his name. He favored platen. Keep in mind that he had the advantage of a 14 x 22 parallel impression Colts Armory.

Graborn’s idea was that on cylinder presses the ascenders and descenders of letters punch. Others have complained that the edges of a text block would print heavier by cylinder impression. Yet printers working nearby the Grabhorns used cylinder presses without such supposed defects, and Grabhorn’s successors now print their books on a large cylinder press. Everything comes down to skill in makeready, whatever press is used. And not printing too large a form for the press, and that is where cylinder presses come in because they have a greater capacity relative to sheet size.
In this particular case you might run text and border in separate passes if the press isn’t large enough (a 12x18 should be fine).

There are many stock thicknesses and types of stock which simply do not feed through a cylinder press very well. Even lettra 220 has a tendency to slap the shit outta the guards if you run it through a vandercook. Coaster stock and chip boards and thicker stocks just work better on a cylinder if you really think about it, because the stock never warps around a curved printing cylinder; it stays in it’s original form- flat.

For me it’s not so much about the form as it is the stock being printed.

In the book “Printing as a performing art” issued by the Book Club of California in 1970, which lays out interviews conducted by Ruth Teiser from the Bancroft Library with well known fine edition printers, this discussion is played out in some depth. Interviews with Lewis and Dorthy Allen suggest the iron hand press is best, and cite Morris, Bruce Rogers, and others for support. The interviews with Edwin and Robert Grabhorn favor the Thompson Laureate/Colts Armory.

Lawton Kennedy favors the cylinder and notes, as does Parallel_Imp above that make-ready is key and properly adjusted roller/cylinder height. Kennedy produced beautiful editions with fine types on the cylinder which are not punched on the leading edge in any way. I suspect the advent of better cylinders like the Meihle and the Heidelberg vastly improved the quality of printing over former cylinder presses used by newspapers. Lawton Kennedy’s editions are the apex of the “kiss impression” style, with the page beautifully printed with almost non-existent impression. I suspect that he achieve success on the cylinder because he spent so much time focusing on make-ready, right down to the thousandth of an inch…

Because the cylinder focuses the pressure into a relatively small area at any given time, it can, print virtually any sized form up to the size of the bed. For outsized forms, the cylinder is probably the easiest and surest way to get consistent and even impression with minimal effort. That said, with proper makeready, I’ve seen very large forms that nearly fill the bed well printed on the iron hand press by a capable printer using the right ink, paper, dampening, and good makeready.



Not exactly a fan of press comparison but you sure can’t do this on a platen press:


I think Grabhorn may have made his pronouncement against cylinders based on what many operators were doing in the day. I’ve seen plenty of trashed type that came out of newspapers that were running soft packing and the typefaces look like they were inside a rock tumbler.

That said, I think that with larger cylinders and running on smooth stocks (kiss impression too) a cylinder can run rings around a platen in overall performance and especially in running solids or reverses. Cylinders are also considered hands down winners in being able to print halftones.

A platen will be limited to 1/4 to maybe 1/3 of it’s size in image area. A cylinder can go much higher (to the limits of it’s inking system). A good shop will have both.

Actually, Grabhorn formed his opinions despite first-rate cylinder presswork in his immediate neighborhood: the Taylors and Lawton Kennedy, to say nothing of John Henry Nash (who sent his forms to a trade pressroom). For all these printers, whether platen or cylinder, the important work was on hand-made paper.
Anyone interested in this period of fine-printing history can read the Bancroft Oral Histories available at the Internet Archive.

My understanding is that Ed Grabhorn preferred the Colt’s Armory because he printed from dampened paper, and had better control of feeding and inking; speed not necessarily being a primary concern.

Make-ready on a platen is actually easier than a cylinder, but a production cylinder press should not be confused with a Vandercook or Challenge proofing press. Production presses have more rollers to break the ink down into a thinner film, and many other adjustments which make them superior for volume production work. Of all the presses I have run (hand-presses, hand-fed and sheet-fed platens, Vandy style proofing presses, and small and large cylinders) the best press for ease of set-up and operation with maximum adjustment was a Miehle Pony. The disadvantage of a production cylinder is the paper waste necessary to set-up and make-ready - a real problem if printing with expensive hand-made and mould-made papers. Clean-up is also more costly, more rollers, more time washing the press.

In the 1920s and 30s costs associated with purchasing presses would have had some determining factor in which presses were used in certain shops. Cylinder presses were much more costly, and had to be kept operating in order for them to be a viable expenditure. The only point I have read above that is an absolute truism is that half-tone engravings are better printed on a cylinder press. Otherwise, the quality of presswork from a good platen or cylinder, with proper make-ready and a real understanding of the press’ limitations, should be identical.

One of the things about a cylinder press is scale. While the run is slower on a cylinder, you can often just print a job 2-, 3, or 4-up.

If you are printing a 1000 5” x 7” cards that would take a bit over an hour 1-up on a platen and about an hour 4-up on a cylinder.

For my money Gerald has it right with the issue of scale.


The work you do is amazing. I would very much recommend your book for those interested in printing quality work via photopolymer on a cylinder press.

I reference it frequently.


Hey Ron

Thanks for the kind words.