dampened paper, backing up and drying?

Hi All,

I’m thinking about doing a printing job with dampened paper for some chapbook work on an iron handpress.

I’ll be printing on Arches Velin 120gsm (text weight) paper, dampened, printing both front and back with black and red text and images.

Question 1: How long after you print the front of the page before you can print the back of the page? Normally when printing with dry paper and standard oil based inks, I wait 24-48 hours before printing the back of the page. Does dampening change that? Do oil based inks “fix” on dampened paper even when the paper remains damp? Do you need to use a sheet of newsprint or bond to backup the sheet as you print the reverse to prevent offsetting on the tympan?

Question 2: Once the front and back are printed, what is the best way to dry the sheet? Hang from a wire on bankers clips or leave a jogged stack on a table for several days? I don’t have and don’t want to acquire a drying rack which seems like a huge waste of space. Is pressure required to prevent cockling?



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If you use a sheet of white bond or other stock under the sheet you are printing, you can back it up immediately. I have set up forms to be printed work and turn that way. That saves re-dampening the stock and helps to retain the size and register.

I use blotting paper as I print, alternating printed sheets and sheets of blotting paper. If you let the sheets dry in the blotters you may get a bit of cockling, but usually not bad. You can put a bit of pressure on them, but it is really better to let it dry with just the blotters and damp sheets. After a while, take the sheets out and let them finish drying just stacked.


I follow the Lewis Allen technique to the letter, even had humidors made to his specs and I don’t experience cockling or mold problems. I’ve run paper as long as five days without adding a fungicide but I am switching the paper through humidors each and every day, with sponges re-dampened. On work that requires a long stay and daily activity I am moving the work along through a number of humidors.


Cockling might be the result of overly dampening the sheets in the first place. I put the finished sheets on thick acetate and let it dry out but keep turning the heap on a very regular basis. Once it has dried out I do add a second acetate sheet to the top and put small weights on it. Everything comes out quite smooth. I don’t use interleaves.

It takes a lot of attention but becomes somewhat foolproof if you just don’t try to short cut Mr. Allen, or reinvent the process. Also, pay strict attention to the theoretical passages therein contributed by William Everson.


Gerald and John,

thanks for the great advice. I’ve been enjoying both Rummonds and Allen’s books, although I find Allen a little more direct and easy to understand. I recently came into a copy of William Everson’s “On Printing” which augments his thoughts contained in the Allen text. He’s quite poetic when he speaks of printing. It is a shame that text isn’t more widely available.

Again, Thank You. The advice is quite valuable.


As jhenry says, feeding a sheet behind the dampened sheet is a useful method; beside reducing setoff, it also reduces sagging of the tympan from moisture (or if you’re using a mylar topsheet, it would reduce burnishing of the backside). As I was told, the Arion Moby Dick was printed that way, with sheets of newsprint behind, but it took a helper to hand the pair of sheets to the pressman (you must be sure that it is the sheet that hits the guides, not the slipsheet.) Laureate and Hartford platens were going side-by-side, black on one and color on the other, so both colors were printed almost simultaneously, and probably backed up the next day. And the finished sheets were hung on clothes hangers with built-in clips.
There are lots of ways to end up with similar results. A humidor would be a good means of control in a one-man shop; with many hands and presses, speed, bags, and planning works too.

One can prevent burnishing with a Mylar top sheet by using a sheet of low mil Riegal taped tightly over it. I know, I know, parallel, SFers call this LA makeready, everything has to be “buried” right, but it actually works well. And running a loose second slip sheet beneath your primary sheet is somehow a better method? No friggin way. What suddenly happened to “buried” in this thinking? You folks really need to get over yourselves and this problem you have with LA in general.



My comment regarding the use of a secondary sheet when printing was in regard to backing up a sheet immediately after printing the first side in a work-and-turn fashion. This secondary sheet would take any set-off from the freshly printed side, and not allow it to deposit on the tympan (no matter what material is used for the topsheet) and subsequent transfer to the sheet being backed up.

If hand-feeding, the slip sheeting can be accomplished quite easily. I would not generally chose newsprint as it is quite soft, but a sheet of inexpensive glazed tissue or light bond works well. If you can get calendared newsprint that might work admirably.

Please note that I was trying to make a suggestion which has proven to work for me. I was not making a political statement or trying to say that the method I use is the best or the “right” way. I certainly would not deign to infer that a method used in Iowa might have value in California (either in LA or SF Bay area) but others in rational neighborhoods might take the suggestion at face value and give it a try next time they are faced with this ink transfer issue.

J Henry

Off topic - if anyone can tell me how I might get hold of Everson On Printing I would be very grateful.

Copies are available on www.abebooks,com. Generally run from $125 to $300. I found one on eBay last week for much less. Everyone using a handpress should read or re-read it.

In the first chapter Everson says “There’s no use taking up the handpress unless you intend to damp.”

Gerald Dude! That’s, like, a total non-sequitur! The LA-SF printing rivalry was already just a joke when you moved west, and certainly not worth taking seriously today.
Burying the makeready is done as needed, to diffuse (when lowered) or intensify (when raised) the effect of spot packing. But running with a backing sheet is not about impression, it is about controlling set-off and moisture. It is one of many ways to approach the problem of printing and backing up damp, and one that worked well for the book mentioned as an example, in a production environment of motorized platens. And I mentioned it because it shows that the simplest and cheapest methods can be effective—no humidors or blotters (quite expensive today), just newsprint, garbage bags and clothes hangers.
One functional difference with regard tio set-off between a loose backing sheet and one fixed to the topsheet is that ink could then be transferred back to successive sheets from a fixed backer, but with a loose backer for every sheet that cannot happen.

One could also just wipe the packing, fairly quick solution. I would not back up until the next day just to minimize the problem of set off, whether I was printing dry or damp.

Disadvantages of the newsprint backing:

Addition of soft impression; not the best for photopolymer.

Matrixing (disruption of impression), if backup sheet is not changed out.

But mainly time. Dampened paper cannot stay outside of the humiditor or, ahem,”garbage bags” for anymore time than is required for quickly printing the sheet. Not only does the backing sheet have the effect of absorbing moisture from the primary sheet it takes just a tad of time to run these two together. And time is off the essence. Place a sheet of dampened paper on the feed board of the press and put a measure diagonally across it. You can watch it shrink across the measure. Any length of time outside the humidor can cause registration problems during backup. Dampened paper must stay as much as possible at its optimal hydration, throughout the day, throughout the night, throughout the run, throughout the subsequent runs. Unless, of course, one doesn’t really care all that much about careful registration. Then, this is all a mute point. So, never mind if that is the case.

Allen stressed this need for keeping the humidity stable. I’ll stick with him. Mainly because it doesn’t cause problems.


Hello Briar Press friends,

I, too, am planning to print a text-weight paper, dampened, on both sides.This thread has been very helpful. In consulting Rummonds, though, I found this passage:

“Krumbholz (1893, p. 41) offers the following solution for drying the ink quickly: ‘To insure the rapid drying of ink on printed sheets, add a very small quantity of glycerine to the water with which the paper is dampened.’” (Nineteenth-Century Printing Practices and the Iron Handpress, Volume Two, p. 605)

Has anyone tried this?

Also, Lewis Allen says, “When special damp paper black is used, slip-sheeting is not necessary. But, if colored inks are employed, off-set will occur unless Monsoon drier is added.” (Printing with the Handpress, pp. 71-72.)

What is “special damp paper black,” and what is “Monsoon drier”? I have some cobalt drier, but “Monsoon” sounds much more powerful.

Thanks for your thoughts. And Alan, what did you end up doing and how did the job turn out?



Lewis Allen was writing about a specific ink product made by John E Mandlik. Their Dampen Paper Black A 7503 is what Allen is referring to. I have q couple cans of this as well as the primaries for the Mandlik inks. The company is long gone. I mainly keep the inks around because of the Allen reference. Just a feeling of connection. There are specific inks currently available that are far better.

Cobalt drier is going to do you, you really don’t want anything more powerful than that, if you need it at all for text, solids maybe.


Cobalt driers work to set the ink from the outside in, meaning that the interior of the ink coating will dry more slowly. It would be better to have a cobalt drier with manganese added which aids in drying the body of the ink. I believe that Van Son carries a drier that has a combination of the two. Most commercial inks already have cobalt driers in them, so adding manganese in very small amounts might make the difference. Too much drier will slow down the drying, and with modern inks only 1% drier is recommended. If using a lithographic ink which usually has no drier, you might need to use closer to 7%. It’s best to check with the ink manufacturer to have a better idea of what your ink contains.