Why not a deep relief base on Vandercook #4

Hey all.

If all goes well I will be picking up my Vandercook #4 this week. Needless to say I’m super excited to get it.

My question is this:

While shopping for a base for the press I noticed that boxcar etc… suggests their standard base for Vandercook’s. That is fine, but I already have a deep relief base for my C&P 12x18 that is 11” x 17” x .858”.

I understand that the Vandercook is very precise and that deep relief isn’t necessary, but I can’t figure out why I couldn’t use the base I already have with it.

I like the idea of just having one type of plate needed… even if they are slightly more expensive.

Am I missing something here why I couldn’t use it? I mean, base thickness + plate thickness is type high right?

Your input is greatly appreciated.

The Running Doves Press

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Jonathan- you are correct: as long as base + plate height = type high, you will be fine. With a Vandercook, you typically don’t need deep-relief plates, but they will work.


There is no problem running the thicker plates and shallower base on a Vandercook and thus sharing it with your C&P. No point in buying another base.

Thicker plates in the .058—.060 range can be a bit more problematic and have less fidelity than the thinner plates in the .037—.039 range, but if these considerations are not a concern, you are set to go.


I know lots of people who just use the deep relief base on the vandercook. I dont see it being a problem - just make sure you order the right plates from boxcar :)

The base you have is fine. You can also use the steel backed plates by using masking tape around all 4 edges. Of course make sure no dirt, oil, solvent is present. Let’s say a customer has already got the .060 steel backed…..they are the same thickness as the adhesive backed KF-152, etc.
You could have your base cut in half so you can use separately and put back together for larger plates.

Another option is 16 gauge copper plates which are .064. Tape them around the edges with masking tape, making sure no dirt, oil, solvent is present.
Make sure the edges are smooth, use a file if needed.
Since your base is .858 the total will be .922 so adjust your rollers and packing. 16 gauge copper is available at good prices from Hodgins Engraving in New York. Have them leave 1/4” metal around your images for taping. Copper works better than poly for small type with heavy impression.

I forgot to mention an important caution. When using the tape around the edges method, you must keep checking to make sure the plate doesn’t move.
I printed 2000 2 color cards on the Windmill with no plate move….I’ve not tried 2 color on a Vandy yet.


You said “Thicker plates in the .058—.060 range can be a bit more problematic and have less fidelity than the thinner plates in the .037—.039 range”

Can you expound on this? Why do they have less fidelity? And what kind’s of problems?


Gerald may have other reasons, but here’s my perspective: If you have a plate with consistant elements, such as a page of text type, thicker plates are fine. When you get plates with varying elements, like type along with solids or along with isolated lines or dots, then the thinner plates might handle both with a single exposure because there is a shallower body that needs to be formed. To do such variations with thicker plates then you get into masking and multiple exposures, and few want to do that. On the thicker plate a given exposure, suitable for blocks of type, may give barrel-shaped dots or undercut line segments requiring longer exposures, which then fill in the counters of the type. You might get a good first proof from a barrel-shaped dot but it could fall off the plate before you are done printing.
So you could say thinner plates have a wider range.


I think parallel_imp’s explanation should suffice. My only further explanation would be that plates in the thicker range are not necessarily formulated for letterpress, though they are in the maximum range it will tolerate. Steel-backed plates in this configuration seem to work out well but there are numerous reports here that polyester-backed plates are problematic, mainly I think, because of the implicit lack of rigidity to the plate’s floor, plastic is not as rigid as steel. There is built in stress, especially when combined with the exposure concerns (as mentioned above). The thicker plates were originally formulated for molding processes, and this includes letterpress embossing dies. But to extend that quality to deep impression as a routine way of printing, well, I guess you get what you fail to consider.


Five years ago I started with a deep relief plate since Boxcar Press recommended it for beginners. It worked well. However, 12-18 months later, the thicker plates were curled. Most were impossible to use, even after I applied new adhesive backing. So I changed to standard thickness plates and ordered a new base. These plates do not curl nearly as much and I have used some for three years now without a problem. I just wanted to caution folks who are thinking of going deep relief. It was an expensive mistake for me.