letterpress tympan protocol

Does anyone know of a letterpress technique that includes having heavy ink on the tympan while printing? I am observing an artist demo that uses very heavy, grapefruit skin-thick ink for pressure printing, no backer behind the printing matrix, and after printing from a board that is full bed size, leaving heavy ink on the tympan after every print so it builds up to be a thick layer on the tympan. I am told this is a contemporary method? Is anyone else familiar with this?

Also, I’m hearing that it is standard to leave rubber based inks on a letterpress, all rollers, rubber, metal and drum, as well as the type or board, and tympan, for days, or a week, or even two weeks, in order to keep printing in that color. This is not a private press I’m describing, but one that is used in a community classroom. What are your thoughts on this?

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The first technique would seem to be something a particular “artist” has found to work for him/her. I don’t think I would consider it to be a letterpress technique, although performed on a relief printing press. Having seen it first hand, you are probably best able to judge whether the effect was suitable.

In many letterpress shops of the 1950s and 60s, it was common to have a non-drying ink always at the ready on the proof press so quick proofs could be taken without going through the effort of inking the press up and cleaning it afterward. Vandercook even made a proofing ink which dried very slowly, and they even produced print dryers to quick-dry proofs for immediate use.

I purchased a 12x18 C&P Craftsman in western Oklahoma which had not been cleaned in years. The fountain was filled with the same mineral oil ink used for the newspaper presses, and the printer only ran newsprint flyers on the press. The only thing giving any real “body” to the ink was the accumulation of dust that had gathered on the fountain, disk and rollers. OK, maybe he did clean the rollers once-in-awhile, but it didn’t appear to be the case.

From experience on my own equipment, I might get by with leaving rubber-based or other non-drying ink on the press for a day or two, but any longer and the ink changes its character, and no longer has the quality it had originally.

I generally make a practice of washing up the presses immediately after the run is finished. That keeps the equipment ready for the next run in any color. I generally also use oil-based inks with dryers in them which would not allow me to leave the ink on for more than a day.

I would think in a cooperative setting, it would be good form to clean the press when done, so that the next user could use whatever ink color they require, unless the press is reserved for black only work.

John Henry

Thank you for such detailed information. That was quite interesting about the proofing ink and your press.

where? got any pics to show/artist have a website?? The only logical reason I could think of would be to let ink build up on the tympan(hopefully plastic sheet covered for easy cleaning?????!) would be take a proof or counter proof? of everyone’s collective effort or using it to study colour interaction and how layers of colours work eg to study colour theory like Simultaneous Contrast Colour, or light to dark/dark to light if done in a controlled manner or translucent to opaque etc , but if course imagery(which is what it sounds like rather than text) would be reversed…….this does sound more appropiate to hand press work but only as evidence that collective work of some kind had been made……..?