Tint Blocks

I’ve inherited some tint blocks - type high, wood topped with a shiny red plastic (bit like hard lino). I can see a number of alternative uses for these, but probably not exactly what they were made for :o)

What were they made for? To be carved?
Couldn’t find anything meaningful via google…


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They are for printing colored backgrounds for various print project. They are not meant to be carved, but for putting down large blocks of color on a sheet. For best results they do require either a cylinder press, or good makeready on a press of sufficient capacity to print. They are not really meant for use in heavy impressioni work.

Hello Etinink:

A tint block is often used with an initial letter to draw further attention to the beginning of a book chapter. The tint block is typically printed in a light color, then a large and decorative initial is printed over that. You can end up with three colors on the page, if the initial letter is a different color ink than the text. See the photo below (lifted from the Skyline Type Foundry webpage) to show the effect.

By the way, thanks so much for supplying the Hamilton furniture catalog online a week ago!

—David Smith.

P.S. — In the picture below, there are actually three pieces of type in use. There’s the initial letter (in red), there’s the outline (in black), and the tint block (in gray). They are usually printed in the reverse order, though.

image: Tint Block.jpg

Tint Block.jpg

Aha! Thanks very much, both, for that!

Strangely that is exactly what I thought they’d be useful for - better for the sorts than printing with the feet - but Google kept taking me towards litho/offset and halftones which confused me somewhat (a lot, actually :o)


Actually, some blocks like this were meant to be carved. Ti-Pi blocks were one brand, and the blocks I had were white plastic (they were made in patterns too, Benday, etc.). They were capable of finer detail than linoleum, but linoleum cutters could be used. Today Ti-Pi blocks would be much hardened with age.

I bought the very last blocks of Ti-Pi produced material, along with a set of carving tools (it was meant to be carved). The fellow I bought it from said that I was the first (and last) order he had had in years; somewhere I still have the receipt. I was offered the formulas and patents, but the price was exorbitant and I was broke at the time. It is a shame, because it was a really superior product; but there are no big bucks to be had for relief printing blocks, so it was not in a market for venture capital. Another one of those irreplaceable suppliers that disappeared before the great renaissance of letterpress.


Wow, thanks all for expanding my horizon on this one. Type-high blocks for carving would have been great — the lino blocks I get locally at an artists’ supply store have to be shimmed to .918 for printing.

David, you never cease to amaze me with your digital documentation! Thanks again.

—David Smith.

et- thjank you for bringing up this topic. the answers have all been quite interesting to read. In my own collection of odd printing items (aka junk) I’ve got a box of background tint block designed to print backgrounds on 8 1/2 x 11 paper….. in such patterns as burlap, celtic knots, and so forth. I might just pull them out and print something !