I have a C&P Pilot that I got a few months ago. I’ve been trying to adjust the press to get a good impression and even inking. So far, I’ve taped the roller trucks to the correct height so that the just ink the polymer plate. I’ve been printing and adjust the screws on the plate. My issue is that when I get an even impression on the four corners of my print, the middle looks faint or the ink isn’t even. I’m not printing large solid areas. I’m also having issues with getting a noticable impression. I know that some people believe the impression should just kiss the page, but for now, I am hoping for a deeper, more visable impression. I am using Crane lettra paper. I think at this point, I need to adjust my packing first before I continue to adjust the press.

So my questions are:

1. What type of packing would you recommend? And how thick would it be? At the moment I have a small magazine covered by tympan paper but I’m sure there is a better way. I’ve heard of pressboard? Is this important. If so, where would I buy it for a C&P Pilot (6.5x10).

2. Any thoughts on why the ink isn’t even in the middle of the print? I hope this will get resolved if I have the right packing and the press is adjusted correctly.

Thanks in advance. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated!

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i try to use 2 or 3 sheets of copy paper with a piece of pressboard, you could use an old file folder in place of the pressboard. if you put the file folder under the tympan you will get a hard packing, if the copy paper is on top of the file folder its a softer packing, sometimes a hard packing works better than a soft one. the more area you try to print the more impression is needed so smoetimes you will need to add more copy paper under your tympan, sometimes you might have to remove some. how old are your ink rollers, they could be lower in the middle, or you may have to remove a little tape from your trucks to make the rollers hit harder. i think you can buy pressboard from either NA Graphics or Excelsior Press. good luck Dick G.

I have the same press and am having the same problem. I have John’s gauge and have adjusted the platen. It isn’t as bad when using the Boxcar base and plate, however, there is still no impression. I have tweaked and tinkered with the packing but i feel like shoving more and more behind the tympan isn’t the answer.

Any tips would be helpful!

The Pilot, and a few other such presses, have a stop built in to the handle and impression mechanism. You should be sure that you are pressing the handle down all the way until you feel it bump up against the stop — and do that every impression for consistent results — but don’t push harder once you hit the stop or you’ll break the handle. As you increase packing for deeper impression you will have to push harder on the handle to reach the stop. You can see where in the travel of the handle the stop is by closing the press to the stop without any type or plate in it.

If you have your rollers correctly adjusted and sufficient but not excessive packing on the platen you should get impression on the paper. Then you can adjust the packing to get the results you want.


Assuming the platen is parallel to the bed, the first step in good printing is correct inking. Without correct inking, no amount of packing change, arm waving or cursing will do any good.
Ink the form and then remove the chase and examine the inking with a magnifying glass. The inking must be uniform and neither too little nor too much. You cannot go further until you get it right.
A decent substitute for the nice old mahogany colored pressboard is the hard surface file folder. Not the thin manila folder. The green or blue heavier and hard surface folder from the stationery store.
Make sure your grippers are not over heavy packing. They can prevent the form from making good contact with the paper. If a problem, cut back the packing in the way of the grippers, or remove the grippers.

Go back to basics and set the platen. 5 large pieces of metal type in the chase, 4 corners and centre. Put on the packing, a top sheet, about 8 newsprint and a thin card underneath. Modern newsprint is not as soft as the old newsprint when it was black ink and half tones. Hand ink the type and take impressions on a normal writing paper, adjusting your platen until you get a slight impression, look along the back of the paper towards the light. Now ink up the rollers and take more test prints until the print looks right. The ink should be ‘talking’ to you as the rollers pick up the ink, depending on what you a printing it is going to have an ‘orange peel’ appearance. If that is all ok now put your job on the press and take a print on the same kind of paper.
You set the press at type high using metal type so your job should give a print, if not it is not type high and so pack behind the chase.
If the print is uneven do a couple of test spots on the tympan, use very thin tissue and paste. If the test spot areas print ok then you can paste up the rest on the tympan or better still on a sheet immediately under the tympan.
Once the platen is set there are a number of variables that need adjusting to get a good print. Apprenticeships used to be 5 years because it took a long time to be proficient in proper letterpress printing, kissing the paper, not this modern approach of debossing everything.

a 6x10 is a good size, but these guys weren’t made for deep impression, the larger the form you are printing the more pressure it takes, if you start out with just a few lines of type you should be ok. it takes a long time to find out your the limitations of your press, a good rule is only print an area about half the size of your chase. get some ink on your shirt (sorry inky)

Platenprinter et all

Thanks… I have taken your advice and it seems to have made a difference. I switched the packing to exactly as you suggested.

Hand inking was a great suggestion, even just for piece of mind… less to think about without rollers in the way ;)
I adjusted the platen until the print was even, this took some time, but it is much closer than it started. At various points in adjusting, I could start to see an impression in one or two of the crop marks, but never further into the design than that.

Just for experiment sake, once it was even, I added a piece of mat board to the packing to see what would happen. It was awful. I took it out.

Other things that I noted, hitting it twice with less link seemed to be a bit better and produce a more uniform result. Less ink in general gave more detail.

Now, I ask you experts… where do I go from here? Is this the result with this press? Do I continue to tweak further? I know the kiss vs. impression debate comes up a lot… just not really sure what I should expect out of this press, or when the tweaking is ‘done’…within reason of course

Below are a few images taken along the way.

The very broken, uneven print - this is with the addition of the mat board, on a thicker stock.

The bottom right corner - Less ink, one hit

The complete tag - hit twice

image: IMG_2137.jpg


image: IMG_2141.jpg


image: IMG_2139.jpg


What are the measurements of that image? It looks like a lot of surface area to expect any impression out of a Pilot. The more surface points the pressure is being spread out over, the less impression you’ll get. It’s just physics. Do you have any other, smaller forms to try in the press? You may find that it’s the image (size), not the packing or press.

It’s about 3x5 on a 6.5x10

In my experience with the same press (my first and favorite press is my new style Pilot), I would never have gotten a deep (or very even) impression with that big of a form, especially with that much surface area/black space. A well-seasoned and very experienced printer might be able to pull off at least an even kiss impression with the right makeready, but I don’t claim to be either of those things. I think it’s just asking too much of the press. It would probably be no problem on an 8x12 or larger.

Try something smaller and you’ll probably find your press to be printing just fine. When using photopolymer/digital designs with a small press, you’ll find you have to design to the strength of your press, which for the Pilot (if you want deep impression) is printing very small forms, or forms with less surface area. So things that are a little bigger should be light lines or text. Experiment with different sizes and surface areas, and you’ll see a pattern emerge. The press won’t just happen to print some things well and some things not… there’s always a reason.

A 6 1/2” x 10” platen should be able to print and image that is about one fourth of the size of the platen. Your image seems to fall into that category. Because there is a lot of ‘air’ around the elements of your image I would think that your press should be able to handle it.

Looking at the images you posted it looks to me like your platen needs to be adjusted, something that must be done for almost every job - so you need to get used to adjusting it. When you adjust the top of the platen out, you usually have to bring the bottom in a bit, and same goes for left and right sides. In order to make the adjustments a bit easier, look at the threads of the platen screws. If you turn them clockwise the threads of the screw will be going into the platen, causing the platen to pull away from the bed, and if you turn them counter-clockwise the platen will move toward the bed. This is a bit confusing when you are adjusting the lower screws unless you can see what you are doing. It can be frustrating, but with a little hair-pulling and swearing you will get the hang of it. Rarely can you make a perfect adjustment the first time, so be willing to stick with it until you get it right.

Remember that the edges of a plate will print first, and with more impression than the center of the plate. Use giftwrap thickness tissue paper to build up concentric ovals until it all prints easily. I keep a glue stick near the press to keep them in place.

The second strike against this job is the Lettra paper you are using, which just doesn’t print very well without being dampened (even then it is questionable). You might check to see if your art store carries Arches 88, which is a thick paper that prints very well dry.

If you wish to be a printer you will learn that these problems arise on most jobs, and are simply part of the make-ready process. As you get more used to your press and have a better sense of the set-ups from job to job, you will be able to better judge the smaller adjustments that will be necessary. Be patient, you will get it.


Paul, swearing and hair pulling, i have special words i use that might be considered swearing but hair pulling, as I age i find i can’t do hair pulling as there is not enough of that left, got anything else to try??? That lettra paper, i have never printed or never will, i have had a few local kids just starting out ask me for help getting a good print, i had them bring their jobs over to my shop and i put them on the windmill, i could not get a good print from that paper, so i cut some old cover stock i had on my shelf and it printed just fine. i don’t get it.

You guys are a wealth of knowledge. Those are great comments.

Going back a sec - I am a graphic designer. I also teach printmaking at my local university. Last August, tucked under a table, behind a desk and covered in dust, I found this press. It was unusable and hadn’t been printed since the 70s. With the help of the guys at Don Black in Toronto shipping me parts and pieces across Ontario, and a ton of time adjusting, tweaking, it is back up and running. I have used a similar press in the past, but it was not my own and therefor required no maintenance on my part. The students have really taken an interest. I think its so great to see them getting excited about type, letterpress and the process in general!

I am just trying to understand the limitations and/or strengths of this press so that what we do/talk about in class is actually relevant. It sounds like paper is the next thing to experiment with, and possibly a smaller plate.

Thanks again!

Great tip on the tissue paper ovals, Paul! I love hearing expert makeready tips like that. Keep ‘em coming :-)