Deep Impression

I want to create a deep impression, but noticed on many discussion boards that it is considered “wrong.” Just wondering why, and how I can create a deep impression using a 18x22 Chandler and Price? Also, how does this deep impression ruin the press?

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The older presses weren’t built for that kind of strain. It wasn’t something that the designers were planning for. If you showed a pressman of the day a deeply impressed page, he would most likely suggest that you need to look at your packing or give your head a shake, or both. The bearings and lubrication systems in the older presses are sub-standard to begin with. Combined with the poor maintenance that a lot of presses receive these days, the result is bearings wearing down and becoming out-of-round, which makes the press become sloppy and not capable of accurate work. The bearings are not designed for easy maintenance, so once they’re worn out the press is garbage.

I am not especially interested in printing deep impression and wouldn’t want to push my 1873 Gordon Old Style for fear of breaking it. With so many people producing deep impression jobs, however, I am curious about which presses they are using to achieve those effects.

I imagine almost any press can impress deeply, provided the forme occupies a minor portion of the chase, and soft stock is used.

So, it’s more an issue of the size of the press vs. the surface area of the forme.

You can’t get deeper impression than die cutting… but die cutting also requires that the surface area of a die is small compared to the platen surface area, if the press is expected to last indefinitely.

No press will last if poorly maintained.

Heidelbergs have the safety features that release or fatigue if the press is overstressed.

diecutting and deep impression printing, Dieutting is a bit like splitting wood the wood splits before the axe gets to the butt end. deep impression printing or debossing is more like hitting the wood with a sledge to make a dent. Formulas exist in the carton industry to determine the tonnage required to cut and crease boxboard. on any given stock more pressure is required to crease than to cut. When pressload approaches maximum bearings have the lube squeezed out of them and may go metal to metal, on some platens the crank arms can stretch and then contract after impression, metal fatigue comes into effect.
I would love to go on and on but gotta make a living.

I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as an 18x22 Chandler & Price. There is 7x11, 8x12, 10x15, 12x18, and 14.5x22.


Thanks for all the feedback…any advice on packing paper that would work for the press to make a deeper impression that wont harm it?
@ The Arm NYC - I purchased a 18x22 Chandler and Price (attached). Let me know if i’m wrong.

image: clementine.jpg


to measure the size of your press you go by the inside measurement of the chase, I know Dan is right, you must have a 14x22.

Thanks! any advice on packing paper would be great!

If you want a relatively smooth back side of the paper, use a hard packing and a soft, usually high rag content, paper like Lettra. Start with getting the impression even and then add packing to increase the depth. If your image area (outside length time width) is less than 1/4 the area of the chase you should be OK. The 14x44 C&P is a pretty strong press that is often used for die cutting and embossing things like greeting cards and book dust jackets. Keep all the moving joints well oiled and you should be fine.


Thank you Bob. I just packed the size of my image (5x&) and left the outer areas open.


I use many sheets of regular bond paper. The air between is the cushion. Also you can get press board which is a plastic soft back. I hit it hard - always use a lettra 110# or above to see a good its. I was printing on chipboard but did feel hitting it so hard is not good for my presses. A properly calibrated platen is key. And of course if you are taping your rails for polymer you need more packing. Feel free to contact me if you ever want to chat. Sharon

Deep impression, or “smash” printing as the detractors mislable it, can be quite impressive when done well and with good design and presswork. Obviously, this type of impression is not suited for light duty presses like Pearls or most table tops, or an antique press. Heavy duty Kluges, C&Ps, and of course, Heidelbergs are well suited for this work. What intrigues me is how this type of printing has spread beyond the states to Europe, and even to a new hot bed of letterpress, Moscow. I have more than one customer in Russia and one of them, Roman Suvorov has been producing some very nice work. He just posted this image to the flickr letterpress group:


Fritz, it would seem that any press could do deep impression work if the area to be
impressed is small enough.

I agree with Bill. I can get a deep impression about the size of a business card, maybe more, with my Baltimorean. I use hard packing and as little as possible. That way the back of the stock doesn’t bruise. The platen (in the case of my Baltimorean, the bed) needs to be leveled just right, otherwise it puts too much stress on the press. I’ve come close breaking it.

True, but for practical work that meets the need of a client and designer, and may have to be produced in quantity, deep impression work has to be done on presses that meet the need at hand. You have to separate the doing it for fun or I think I can feed my family with a 3x5 Kelsey from those who are wanting to be serious about making a living from letterpress. Maybe I should have made the distinction concerning commercial grade work from that of the amateur or beginner, who again mistakenly thinks they can do work, as in the Suvorov example I cited previously, on any press at hand.

My first press was a new 6x10 Kelsey and one of their outfits. But within months I was buying trade linotype work for the jobs I was getting and within 2 years had graduated to a 10x15 C&P. That was all by the time I was 15 years old, and several eons before deep impression, but it was clear that the commercial work, ie, being paid, required suitable equipment. The 6x10 sits nearby to my desk, but it hasn’t had ink on it since about 1957 once I saw it wasn’t taking me anywhere.


Fritz, the picture of the card you posted is awesome!

It seems like there are THREE distinct layers of impression?

Or are my eyes playing tricks on me…

Kristy B:
When you say deep impression about the size of a business card, do you mean that your Baltimorean can:

A) The size of the entire “deep impression” area is that business card (ie. a large business card sized rectangle of ink, pressed deeply into a larger piece of paper); OR

B) You can print business cards with deep impressions on them, but that the areas with deep impressions are just bits of text, logos etc.

I’m really looking to get a machine that will allow me to get a better impression, but space does not permit for a full floor standing platen press.

Thanks :)

I’ve been following the blog of that particular printer in Moscow for a while now. He does great work:

I don’t know, Fritz. I agree that you really need a bigger press to feed your family (and for commercial grade work) and I don’t make much money… But I did just use my Baltimorean to complete a four piece wedding stationery suite for a couple whose reception is at the Museum of Modern Art. Would I ever do it again? No way! But it can be done. (Of course, there were only 50 of each piece. Like you said, not for quantity).

Sprocket, I can get a deep impression of a solid 2”x4” surface, but not without stressing the press more than I should. I could print business cards all day with a deep impression, though. I don’t recommend trying to get a solid that large.

I also don’t recommend looking for a Baltimorean. My point was that, with experience, you can get a deep impression out of any machine. I was told that I would never get any kind of impression out of my Baltimorean. That would be true had I been printing a full 5”x7” wedding invitation. With more “white space” and less text, you can get impression on any machine. Like Fritz said, what you lose is the quantity and quality. I wasted a lot of stock on the job I just completed because I had to have a high quality end product. I never would have printed it, except that I designed it.

Also have to add… I think the statement “I think I can feed my family on a Kelsey 3x5” is the funniest thing I’ve heard all day. ;)

It is a question about being realistic about one’s expectations. People live out of shopping carts and earn their living from picking up aluminium cans. But I prefer something better than a blanket and a cardboard box under a bridge for my living situation, and the same goes for my letterpress needs. I worked in real commercial letterpress way back when and I saw what Miehle flatbeds, Heidelberg cylinders and platens staffed with experienced people could turn out day after day. The work ranged from business cards to 4-color process work and some press runs in the tens of thousands—Safeway News that we printed monthly had a press run of 70,000, all from metal type and halftones, and it was considered run-of-the mill work. And any of it beats 95% of what I see today. The point being that we don’t need to reinvent letterpress and discover once again the basics of using the right equipment and tools for the work at hand. It’s not a question of make shift presses, scotch tape or baling wire to produce a decent print. The right tools are still available, and aside from the for the fun of it or hobby approach, most of what I read on Briar Press is about people trying to achieve work that they can sell to others.

Those in my generation and slightly before who have the background during the high point of 20th Century letterpress are starting to shuffle off to Buffalo, so those of us who still have cogent thoughts are trying to impart some constructive advice while we still can.

yes the Russian work looks very good indeed.

That’s true. I wish I had been taught properly and that I had seen letterpress in its height of glory! Trying to reinvent letterpress is a fun thought, but not very practical.

The Russian card is very impressive! That must take a massive amount of skill.

Hey! :) Just receive some traffic from this thread :)
Thanks for so high appreciation of my humble work!
It is done with my 1895 C&P OS 10x15. There is some few keys to do safe and deep impression work:
Strictly parallel bed “with packing”, so it means that you will need to maintain the parallel with more packing than it needs to do slightly impressed prints.
You must know your press well to “feel” the impression. That old guys like my C&P do it with different sounds and different micro slowdowns in the far point of moving. You must clearly understand how far you may go with certain paper and packing — it buffers the power and saves the press from ckackdowns.
Oil him well — he deserves it! :) Remember that poor oiled bearings starts loosing metall very fast.
Cheers, Roman!

I know this post hasn’t been commented on since 2014, but as a newbie, I’m really struggling with impression. Yes, yes, I’ve read all the arguments about deep vs. kiss, but am really glad this thread is actually talking about the technique of deep impression instead of hashing out the same argument.

I have a C&P 10x15 Craftsman (made in 1956). I believe the owner before me was the only owner, and they used it mainly for stamping serial numbers on triplicate forms and then for die cutting, mostly. So I believe the press is in pretty good shape.

I cannot get any thing like a deep impression that is the fashion these days and what most people who come to letterpress want. (Again, not interested in the arguments about deep impression, just wanting to know how people are doing it.)

I’ve adjusted the “in” and “out” of the chase, etc., and also taken away and added different kinds of packing (chipboard, thicker chipboard, bond paper, acetate).

What happens is one of the following:
(1) too far = press seizes and doesn’t close all the way. (Don’t worry, I have only tried these things gently by hand, not by motor.)
(2) There is a “shadow” or blur in the print.
(3) The print design/text is otherwise some kind of sloppy.

So…wondering if those that are achieving this please post some images and tell us how you troubleshoot the above? Thank you!!!

@Roman: as mentioned in my comment above, my press seizes if I keep going with packing. How do you avoid this? What do you mean by “maintain the parallel”?

‘Braille’ impression is simply a sign of: a) incompetence at presswork; following the fad herd; or, desire to ruin type. :o) Having said that, the easiest method to achieve a deep impression - without undue press strain/ type crush - is by paper dampening. Don’t bother asking. Look it up, or, as too few do, pick up a relevant book and actually read, then practice, the method. For those expecting instant success with the dampening process, well, stick to computer ‘printing’. :o)

‘Braille’ impression is simply a sign of: a) incompetence at presswork; following the fad herd; or, desire to ruin type. :o) Having said that, the easiest method to achieve a deep impression - without undue press strain/ type crush - is by paper dampening. Don’t bother asking. Look it up, or, as too few do, pick up a relevant book and actually read, then practice, the method. For those expecting instant success with the dampening process, well, stick to computer ‘printing’. :o)

To get you started down your path, here is a link copied just now on Briar Press.

Go forth and Ink!