Windmill Gradient Printing

Okay, ive tried searching around but been getting mixed responses….im quite new to letterpress (completed 1 order so far successfully :P ) and i have a “possible” order but the client is wanting a gradient on the business card ( dark red —> light red ) is this something that i should even both trying ? How i was thinking of going about it was literally just adding ink to the one side and spread that out and dap a little on in the area that im not happy with….

However it got me thinking, how consistent would like be ? Although im new i am quite clued up with my machine ( shes my baby :) )

Any response would be appreciated as i need to give this client a response by tomorrow…


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this will get you started

I think you want to look into “Split fountain” or “blend roll”. I don’t have any experience with this on the windmill but I am certain there is a way to make it work at least in part.

I would be much less likely to attempt it with a halftone if I were a beginner. Prepare your client in advance by addressing their expectations and informing/educating them as to the organic nature of the process, the qualities/non-perfect aspects of tangible, real ink; and then make some samples. I think it would be best to take on such a job as a conditionally acceptable thing.
You should front the money, attempt to make it work to the client’s satisfaction, and then collect the payment for it if they accept the results of the work. Just cut enough paper for makeready and get the job set up, run some sheets, let the press agitate the ink for a while, run some more sheets, and then see what happens.

If they do not like it, you learned how to do something and no harm no foul. If they do like it, you cut more paper, you do the rest of the job, and you turn it over/get paid. It’s that simple.

Conditional arrangements are for when I think something might/might not be possible.

Good luck!

(Mind you, you probably do have the right press for the job, but it depends just how familiar you are with the inking system vs the scale of the piece to be printed. The ink could blend quite a bit if it’s a small form and almost not appear to be a split fountain.)

I’ve never done it myself, but I think it could work for a short run. You can’t stop the oscillation of the ink drum, so the ink will continue to blend every time the rollers contact it. You could probably cut down on that by not using any of the ink train rollers, but you’ll need to add ink more frequently.

The ink drum does move quite a distance on the Heidelberg. You may not be able to see much of a gradient from one side to the other on a 3.5” card. One of the difficulties as well, with red, is that when printed thinly, it becomes pink, rather than light red.

If you want to control the gradient over a long run, you should use a plate which has graduated tones from almost solid to 20% or so. I think you will find that the ink blending will change the appearance of the gradient if you just rely on the “split fountain” technique.

John Henry

Hey guys thanks for the replies, as it is 1 colour im trying to gradient could i not just add ink to one side of the press so it fades out ? i would of course have to get it where it fades out in the right spot and that but from what ive seen once the platen runs for a while the ink distribution left and right does not change alot…i might be wrong in saying this…it would be for around 250 cards so i would like to use the fountain

Another thing that is holding me back a bit is that they are business cards and its only like 1 corner that has the watermark….not a very big space…

below is what the client is wanting….

image: Example.jpg


Here’s a much more complicated version of what you are attempting, printed in 1883, which I posted in 2010. I have an original, somewhere in my collection of samples.

I would think that not being able to stop the oscillation of the ink drum on a windmill could be problematic. Also, the cards have a two sided bleed, which will have to be accounted for. You will need to take trim between the cards. Also, assuming that you would be printing with more than one image on the plate, you could gang up the images vertically, but I’m not sure you could gang them up side-to-side because the gradation of color intensity would be different in those positions.

Looking at the pix is really a gradation of the red or just poor printing? The bottom part (overprinted by illustration just looks like ink starvation)
Ted Lavin

Is there a halftone in the sample you posted? Looks like they’re going for a watercolor effect. Is that what your client wants as well? I’m not sure a split fountain will give you that.

From the enlarged picture, the ink doesn’t seem to evenly cover the whole image, as though the roller wasn’t fully inked, but this couldn’t be how it was done because then each card would be slightly (or dramatically) different. But I don’t see any evidence of halftone dots either. I do see some pretty deep impression pressure marks around the image. My guess is that a poorly printed sample (or in this case the image that was desired) was photographed and a printing plate was made from that image which might create a reproduceable image like your sample. They may have used a magnesium plate to get that much of a pressure mark.

Just to clarify, your should be able to have made a printing plate that would be a normal solid plate with the lighter areas of the image having small irregular chunks removed from the image surface of the plate so that all you as the printer will need to do is print with a normal even amount of ink on your rollers. There are different methods of making such a plate depending on what kind of art your starting with and so forth, but that is the way that your going to get all your cards to look the same, not trying to control exactly how much ink is rolling out along an oscillating roller.

If you look at the “ll” in “Illustration” and then go straight up, those look like hafltone dots to me. The rest of that word looks a little blurry, which is why we may not be seeing the dots in that area. I can’t see any other way you’d get that watercolor effect, consistently, without adding texture to the plate. The sample really doesn’t look like split fountain to me.

Seems to me that you could also print the red portion without the excess pressure and with makeready to achieve the gradation of tone from one side to the other, then another run with the same color plate but without ink, and punch it into the paper to register with the color. I wonder if that isn’t how the illustrated card was done, looking at how the color varies.


I don’t really have anything to add in the how-to category, but it seems that using split-fountain technique would be really difficult on such a small area. I’d use a halftone, like in the above image (which is definitely a halftone. I know the designer).

I’ll second Jonsel’s assessment. That image was printed as a halftone. It’s not an even blend across the shape, it’s meant to look more like a water color.

In order to do a split fountain job you would need to put light red on one end of the ink train and dark red on the other and let the oscillation mix the two together in the middle. Putting the same color across the ink train in different amount will eventually even out.

What happened to Ombre? Was it a fad or is it still desirable?


Dont laugh at this comment but I have always wondered if this would work on a windmill as a means of doing a modified 2 color split fountain without disabling the press. In theory if you take a mounted image and run near the center of the roller you should be able to back off the roller pressure and ink keys on one side run a pass switch the color and rollers pressure setting and ink keys to the other side and run the job back through without changing the plate. Ok stupid idea but does it have a flying pigs chance of working?


only having had a go at a Heidelberg few times…..

the ink spread along the roller and build up or travel to low pressure end of roller-counter act this by ensuring you put some transparent at that side so the colour can sort of flow through along the roller to avoid a kind of build up??????


I think that is a very interesting idea. Probably could be achieved also by raising the rollers on one side. I don’t use the inkwell at all, so I won’t be trying that one out. One day I might put an electrical tape on one of the roller bearers to check out the the effect. I am very reluctant ( lazy ) to readjust the bearers. I do it twice a year when the season changes.

I think that the ductor roller regulates the ink-flow both ways. If there is more ink on the roller train it will take it off. It would bring the ink thickness to equilibrium after about when I am finished printing the 100 invitations … LOL

On my set-up of ombre, I was getting parallel “ink rings” throughout the roller train. I had to reintroduce minute axial oscillation on the distributor roller. Since the linkage was disconnected I was doing it by hand as the press was running. It needs 3/16” to 1/4” axial movement to smooth out the ink ridges and it does not messes up the initial ink-bands. My quantities are usually 100 to 200.


Thank you for all of the input. I will need to give this a try.

Ombré on the Heidelberg 10x15 Windmill: