Using a Boxcar base/polymer with a Morgan Line-o-scribe?

Hi All,

I am just wondering if anyone has had any luck using a boxcar base and polymer plates with a Morgan Line-o-scribe proofing press?


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as long as you are type high it should work.

I have a Nolan proof press (very similar) and I have had success with polymer and a base. Usually everything I print is in a galley to make it type high however.

Thank you! I am picking up my Line-O-Scribe on monday and while I know it has limitations and it’s no Vandercook, I’m still pretty excited about getting to experiment with it.
Many Thanks!!!

i think the linoscribe was meant to have the type placed on the bed of the machine, don’t try it on a galley.

i think the linoscribe was meant to have the type placed on the bed of the machine, don’t try it on a galley.

The Line-o-scribe has adjustable impression. I proof type on a galley with no problems - just remember to adjust your impression to compensate for height of the galley.

I’ve used my line-o-scribe a lot for letterpress projects using the boxcar base. I went ahead and bought the largest base which gives me a lot of freedom for placement and size. I rig up roller bearers to help with inking and often make a tympan (basically a sheet of cardstock with a hole for the image or type) so I can leave the inked bearers on the bed. The only hardship is that it prints in both directions. I use a piece of offset material as my packing which keeps the paper from shifting when printing towards the grippers. It makes a deep impression on dampened paper-no problem. I’m puzzling over a way to attach a holder of some sort for the paper in cases where there’s not enough border to use the grippers. I’ve printed several artists books.

I find it funny how much discussion we have here about Boxcar and other bases designed for use with PP plates. The truth of the matter is that this is not rocket surgery…. in fact it’s probably the simplest aspect of letterpress.

Here’s the deal, in my humble opinion: It doesn’t matter at all what sort of base you use, as long as it puts the surface of the type at type-high and fits your press correctly. Through the years, I’ve used Boxcar Bases, Honeycomb bases, wood blocks, micarta, and plastic blocks….. and they all work just fine as long as the type remains type high.

Personally, I prefer 3/4” birch plywood for small presses with shims to bring it to type high. It’s cheap, readily available, and works well. For a larger area, a piece of 3/4 micarta or aluminum plate from McMaster Carr works fine, and costs less than a Boxcar base.

Potrait Painter…. your gripper problem is easy to fix: use a pin register system….. or just cut the gripper margin off after printing.

Winking cat;

No way, no how. What’s next- you’ll be telling us we can coat enough stacked chipboard with shellac and still expect a reliable impression?

Having a base that is flat across, rigid/durable in material, and milled/ground to the correct tolerances means you can understand which part of your press is uneven and compensate for it by shimming the appropriate parts.
It also means the base will function consistently and be durable. I think this is overlooked in your sentiments above and that it’s ill-advised to grab any old flat, type high thing and smash away.

I am no authority on the topic (meaning I don’t have an engineering degree), but I understand the basics enough and I have spent time with an inspection table and a micrometer and know the difference between a piece of plywood (and even off the shelf aluminum sheet) that can be out of flat by a few hundredths and something that is precision ground. The difference is lightyears in terms of the materials we use, and some people who buy a sheet of acrylic the right thickness don’t realize it could be bowed or create printing problems for them if it were out of flat.

You’re assuming that the person using whatever base they can doesn’t care about fine results, that they do not have equipment capable of delivering them, and that they are within what I like to call the “mashing” area of the tolerances presented by letterpress printing. Meaning deep impression and sloppy inking are just standard things to be accepted. (Further, probably that uneven ink spread along with the other printing problems which are caused by uneven impression are things to be accepted and even looked for, and that the person printing may not know any better - which later assumes the end receiver also will not know the difference.)

And for the most part, you may be correct in those assumptions about a lot of the new, green, hobby level printers. But advising anyone this way, who may at some point demand fine results rather than ‘okay’ or ‘poor’ results, would be done a disservice.

Further, in assuming and accepting these things for people in advance, and having a cavalier attitude towards this important aspect of our craft, you may be doing a slight disservice to it’s finer practice and contributing to the rigamarole and discussion you’re basically trying to ‘end’- and I think that you know better.

Don’t get me wrong- I’ve seen your work and research into the laser and I applaud and appreciate your efforts and innovation, but don’t let’s overlook the necessity of fine tools for fine work and the predictable/approachable nature of good quality bases and the effects they have on good printing.

I would add this advice to anyone seeking an alternative to the various polymer bases:

Whatever it is, make sure you check into these things:

Is it rigid?

Is it flatness testable/rated?

Is it THICKNESS tested/rated? (these are different things! just because something is flat across, doesn’t mean it’s the same THICKNESS across.)

Is it durable? (will the continuous compression of a polymer plate create low spots?)

Can it be made to be type high without sacrificing the other requirements? (just because a piece of 1/2” aluminum is flat and thickness rated, doesn’t mean the giant pile of chipboard you put underneath it will be.)

Is it’s expense within your means?

Obviously, the last is the most crucial for many people- but try not to sacrifice too many of the others.

Sorry if I seem like a windbag here people, but this is important stuff that gets too often overlooked.

Haven…. you may of course believe whatever you wish…. and if you want to waste your resources on something, go ahead.

However, before you condem lowly wood as a base, you might want to study the works of folks like Polk, and learn the basics of real letterpress. Back in the days when letterpress was used extensively, very few small shops used “bases” at all. Most used metal type, and/ or wood mounted cuts/ blocks / engravings…. and a lot of their work was as good or better than anything I see today. With proper makeready, you can print excellent work using all sorts of materials…. even wood shimmed up with chipboard.

BUT if you don’t understand proper makeready… then yes, you may need to buy a perfectly machined piece of aluminum to make up for your lack of makeready skills.

You are right in that some materials might be bowed, or warped from time to time…. it happens. However, in the case of lower cost materials it is simple to fix: you toss the warped piece and use a flat one. It only takes a few minutes and a straightedge to check….. you don’t need a micrometer. geeezzz this isn’t a NASA moon-shot, or telescope lens grinding.

Finally…. I must say that I find that your inferences about my advocacy of alternative materials as somehow indicative of a lack of standards in my work is rather offensive, ungentlemanly, and so far off base as to be considered rude. I can guarantee you that I, and those I’ve taught through the years, have just as an acute understanding of quality as you do, and have produced far more of it than you ever will. Your attempts at belittling what you don’t understand, or can’t do yourself because of a lack of skill only serve to make you look less intelligent.

I guess the big difference between you and I is philosophical: you are all hung up on the technology. All I really care about is the quality of the finished product.

I thought Haven was talking about the quality of the finished product, isn’t that what the correct use of technology generates? Photopolymer is so sensitive it is somewhat akin to the Princess and the Pea fairytale. If there is a problem anywhere photopolymer will reveal it. Photopolymer will give you exactly what you ask of it, for better or worse. It eliminates the need for extensive makeready if used correctly.


Something I don’t quite get is the promotion of alternatives but then the explanation that you need to understand makeready to pull it off if you want “the quality of the finished product.” Am I understanding this correctly? Newbies and a knowledge of proper makeready? That is pushing it.

Aren’t we here to help rather than pump up our egos? I mean, it’s fun to talk about all this stuff, etc., even get into the occasional back and forth, but should we not be directing correctly?


Gerald, I will agree that proper use of technology does assist with quality….. but that really wasn’t Haven’s main point, was it? Not really.

Like so many folks nowadays, he wants to argue the technology of HIS way of doing things to the exclusion of all others. He openly stated that without a precision-ground aluminum base, one could not produce first-class results…… which is an insult to all of us who use other materials… and HAVE BEEN using them for many, many years.

Personally, i don’t mind if someone prefers his own methodology…. we all have our preferences. BUT to bad-mouth fifty + years of experience, and declare it incapable of fine work is simply unacceptable. Just because HE fails at using other materials is not justification for trying to discredit those who use them successfully.

yes we ARE here to help…. but telling folks that the only way to do things is with PP plates and a Boxcar Base is doing them a disservice. Most newbies I teach are far smarter than you are giving them credit for.

Remember, you, Haven or me are not really the arbiters of “Good Printing”. That is far too subjective and broad for us to define. In the same way, no one single technique is the “best way to print”. THAT is the message I always try to instill in my students….. yes, explain the technology to them, but don’t try to put down the other ideas. If we do that, then all we create are copies of ourselves….. and to be honest, I’m not sure we need copies of you and I.


I don’t know anything about Haven’s work experience or production. I find his discussion interesting and on point.

But your 50 + years of experience (how old are you?) and my 37 (within a month) don’t mean a damn thing. Only our finished work does in the long run. How we did it, for better or worse, is what matters. If that.



We are cross jumping in our responses. Yeah, we don’t want copies of ourselves. When that happens it sort of makes you rethink it all.

I think Haven is seeking clarity, as am I. As I suspect anyone with any sense is.


me…. I’m not as old as one would think. I just started very young….

I agree that in the long run, all that matters is the finished product, not how it was produced. What also matters is the generation of new printers we leave behind….. and for much of my carreer, I was like Haven: caught up in the technology to the point where I couldn’t see the beauty for the technique. Nowadays, I’m more in tune to the image itself….

Hi again

I give students a lot of credit (for what they want to do), how they do it, well, that is why they come to me (I think). I am not going to lead them astray with pie-in-the sky scenarios. I really, really do care about the next generation of letterpress printers (or I wouldn’t bother wasting my time here), though I am finding that I really like to sleep late in the morning even more important.



I like your comment about makeready. In an age of polymer and thick papers, many new printers miss the importance of knowing what the makeready process is or how it can help their print when they only print on thick paper stocks.

I love my base and polymer plates but I also like setting type. Some of my longest nights have come from trying to get the form to print evenly while I carefully cut thin pieces of paper to build up areas under my tympan. I envy the printers who have this mastered.

A coaster or business card is far more forgiving than a sheet of letterhead that is text weight.

Okay, so I opened a can of worms huh?

Winking, don’t take it so personally.
It’s not about you as a printer. I don’t think it should be about me either; but that’s okay, if you want to make it personal because you feel offended.
I even said, and I’ll say it again, I like your work and what you’re doing.

My statements are about your comments- about what you’re proposing beginners go out and do and how you’re suggesting it be done an inefficient way- was directed at the FACT that technology has a way to overcome these issues with a relatively simple means of testing things to be sure of their qualities. The tools are around and can be found with relative ease or improvised if need be. You love improvising, anyway! Or at least, that’s how it sounds with your talk of this thing called ‘makeready’ (shoot, I couldn’t find the definition in my dictionary… What’s that mean again?)

No, I did not say you had to use aluminum; I pointed out, very specifically, that you ignored what are several interesting and important aspects of a good reliable plate shim (or base or mount or whatever else it has been called in your ‘50 years of experience’, which outshines mine for sure- I needn’t turn this into a d!@K measuring contest.)

You’re making it seem like maybe you think I don’t know what I’m talking about and at the same time implying a few things, but I’ll overlook that.
I know what makeready is, friend, I know how to level out a mag cut that is on an unevenly warped cherry block by sanding the block and carefully applying tissue it in the right places and gauging it on my handy vandercook plate gauge. This is a tool that is important, yet I’m almost certain most ‘hobby’ letterpress printers won’t/don’t have it.
I’ve leveled other things out and compensated for uneven platens that were not adjustable because of stripped screws, worked around pits in platens, worked around out of balance vandercook eccentrics and worn rails, taped my share of inking rails.
I’ve been there and done that.
I’ve also practically cried over it.

So when I hear about someone talking the finer points of polymer and ignoring important aspects of it (which have already been pointed out by Gerald, so I needn’t re-type), I cringe a little, especially when it’s someone who is such a master of printing like yourself (that is not sarcasm, I have seen your work).

My points and contentions against your advice were quite simple:

The best way to achieve accurate, predictable results with polymer is to use a very accurate, predictable base, cut down on your makeready adjustments by using reliable rigid materials (sure, some plastics are acceptable), and not get into practices that allow the printing surface to warp so easily, thus contributing to your woes as the printer.

It just seems weekly someone new to this board posts here and says something along the lines of, “MY POLYMER ISN”T WORKING RIGHT WHY ISN”T IT WORKING RIGHT IT LOOKS WRONG” and people jump in to offer advice and ask a series of troubleshooting questions.

How many times have you heard someone with a reliable base have to troubleshoot the base, outside of it’s lockup within the press?

Again, by reliable base, I do not mean elum or boxcar or patmag- I mean, a base that is flat, rigid, thickness testable, and durable/able to withstand printing force.

I’m sure you have spent 1,000 hours with a razorblade, some glue, tissue, and plywood bases, spent your time evening out the makeready on your laser cut cherry blocks, and that your work is absolutely perfect; but there are many beginners out there who don’t have their chops like you do, you salty dog! Think about that the next time you point fingers.

And to just explain, I’ve printed from End grain: maple, boxwood, and cherry, wood engravings from these that were hand planed and sanded to type high; plywood; planks of solid wood; MDF; Tempered hardboard mounted to MDF; Polymer on tempered hardboard mounted to MDF; Magnesium mounted to wood; Copper mounted to magnesium; Copper mounted to wood; Lead cuts; lion mounted to a few different things; plastic sheeting; aluminum plates; zinc plates; copper mounted to a boxcar base; steel plates; and I have printed a lot of work by hand on an etching press, as well as 8 different vandercooks semi-automatic and manual, various sizes and levels of tech; C&P 10X15’s, C&P 12X18’s; a few little kelseys, your pilots; the thing that this all has in common is that it’s all different. Each circumstance requires a different type and level of makeready. Each is to it’s own usage and situation.

The main point of success? Variables: CUT THEM DOWN AND FIGURE THEM OUT.

I’m merely suggesting that- especially for beginners, the folks we’re actually talking about here, not YOU, winking-
****cutting down on the variables in order to understand and observe the true workings of the process is a good idea.****

Winking- I actually edited this, because it appears you did not get my point, and I didn’t read your little quip about technology. Oh, you. I care about the art of printing much more than I care about the tech. I care about the image more than I care about the process. I am dedicating my career to more processes than letterpress. I have opened a shop that has every single printmaking medium except for papermaking, in one of the most difficult cities to do so in the USA, not only to print my own work and jobs people offer to me to print- but in order to make the medium available to printmakers who don’t have a way to put together these resources themselves. I actually find your comments to become more and more derisive as you continue to make them, and you sound more and more pompous as I read along them.

Now everyone, go hug your press and say you love it!


Gerald said:
“I thought Haven was talking about the quality of the finished product, isn’t that what the correct use of technology generates? Photopolymer is so sensitive it is somewhat akin to the Princess and the Pea fairytale. If there is a problem anywhere photopolymer will reveal it. Photopolymer will give you exactly what you ask of it, for better or worse. It eliminates the need for extensive makeready if used correctly.”

This is spot on.

ok Mark… from one pompus Salty dog to another… LOL… we are actually both on the same track. I agree that a PP base must be flat, and of even thickness…. and in a perfect world we would all have such a thing to work with.

Unfortunately, it’s not really a perfect world, and no matter how wonderful your base is, and how precise your press might be, you still will need to shim under your plate, or maybe under your tympan from time to time. PP plates themselves are not really perfect ….( especially those from my shop!)

What got me all stirred up was the assertion that quality work could not be done unless one had the luxury of a precision ground base. That can be very discouraging to those who maybe can’t afford such a base, or have very limited equipment….. they think that fine work is outside their reach.

The truth is however, that one can trade makeready time for precision equipment and still make fine prints. It just takes longer to set up. For a hobbyist who doesn’t have to earn a living, the extra time is of little consequence…. and the learning of such skills will pay off handsomely in the future, no matter what type of printing they later choose.

Now… about your shop…. what city are you in?

One of the more expensive ones; NYC.

You’d think it’d be pretty easy to open shop here, but it aint. Everything comes at a premium price; as much access as there is to a lot of things, everyone is scrambling to get it. To get the amount of equipment you need to do the things I wanted to offer was no easy task; ask people who’ve been to Haven Press and they’ll tell you it’s there though.

No, I do not want to seem I am asserting that quality work can be done without a precision base.

I wanted to, and still do assert, that quality work by a beginner who is not capable/hasn’t got the skills for complex makeready and the understanding of the physical principles behind it, isn’t as common. What is more common is “WHY DID MY PLATE NOT EMBOSS PROPERLY BUT THINK INK IS RUNNING OFF THE PLATE” and that gives me a headache enough, let alone thinking about the same person learning more about thousandths worth of tissue being lovingly trimmed and massaged into the right place with just enough paste to do the trick because they used some plywood for a base.

Does that illustration, though a little coarse, make more sense? I like the idea of giving people the tools to expand on the process and understand it in a simplified way, so those are the means I put in front of people who come here to print.

good luck,