Mounting steel plates on wood

Greetings all,

So let’s say I have some steel plates precision ground to .25” and I’ve hand engraved them. Now let’s say I’d like to try intaglio style printing with them on my Vandercook 219AB.

How would I go about doing that, in your opinion?

I’m in the NYC area. Should I contact Art Boards in Brooklyn or similar and ask them to sand maple blocks to .668” ( ?

If so how would you recommend I mount them?

Any advice, including “you’re nuts”, would be appreciated.

All the best,

~ josh

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I thought intaglio required more pressure than a Vandercook was designed to provide - the roller (cylinder in this case) pushes the paper into the engraved bits. If it works at all, it’s probably not good for the press.

Why not just use an intaglio press?

One more thing to consider - a 219AB in good condition is worth more than the cost of a brand new intaglio press.

One more thing to consider - a 219AB in good condition is worth more than the cost of a brand new intaglio press.

I don’t have an intaglio press and I do have the 219. If it’s bad for the press I certainly wouldn’t do it and would get an etching press. This is why i wanted to start the discussion here.


~ j

Really, do NOT use a Vandercook for intaglio printing. You will probably break the cylinder bearings. A printer I know did just that trying to do photopolymer intaglio, and steel intaglio will be worse.


If you have an adjustable bed press, you should be able to use any thickness of base under the plates. You could purchase a .050” base and just raise the bed to accomodate the difference. The wood base might work OK, but I feel you’d be better off with a metal base if you are going to do long runs. I suggest getting as close to .918” as you can so that you need only to crank a few times to get back up to .918” for standard letterpress work.

I remember a fellow who engraved aluminum (recycled from Coors cans) and printed on his Vandercook press back in the 1970s. I seem to recall his first name was Eugene and lived in California — any memory helpers out there?

You really don’t indicate the size of the image you hope to print. Of course, you should be careful not to overtax the press, but you should be able to print with no more pressure than is used for a full page of relief-printed material.

You will want to possibly use a thin rubber membrane on the top of the cylinder packing in order to imitate the heavy blankets used in a standard intaglio press. Most of the requirement for impression on one of these intaglio presses is used in the compression of the fiber of the blankets. Since you are using a press with a different original purpose, you should try to eliminate some of the potentials for abuse.

Record your bed settings, for instance, and don’t over-raise in order to increase impression. I believe you would have the common sense to know when the press is struggling to get a good impression, and that would be the time to stop your experimentation and pony up for a standard intaglio press. If the press is yours, you certainly have a very real incentive to keep it in the best of shape.

I’m not sure it would be the best idea to overtax the press, but it’s interesting to note that people do this same thing with ‘knockout’ type a lot- and often the printer will try to get a nice deboss to show up.
This is no different really, and with damp paper it would be easy to make it happen- it’s just contentious, as you could damage your press if you did push it too hard.

My rule of thumb is that it should be easy to crank through. If it feels like there is a lot of resistance, I know I’m taxing the press.

I generally pack by the undercut-caliper of the stock, meaning I measure the stock, and then add just enough packing to the press to make the packing out to be undercut-stock thickness+(stock thickness*.15)=Packing. (So I add enough tympan to try and push into the stock 15% of it’s total thickness.) I adjust from there and either take away or add packing or tissue to adjust the height.

I see no reason why you could not use the same idea and dampen the paper to make it’s counter-impression a little more malleable, but still safely operate your press without destroying it.

The difference here is the surface area and pressure - a relief form has type and some cuts, but the total surface contact area is probably less than 25%. On Intaglio, the surface contact area is often over 75% - way more pressure is required. You might get away with it, bit it will certainly stress the bearings, and possibly damage a very expensive press.

Bill- correct me again if I am wrong, but my ‘theory’ is that it’s not so for things like wood cuts, and even wood engravings.

Please, folks, I should take a clear stance- I’m not advocating stressing the bearings or throwing felts on there as packing. I’m saying that if the press is set up the correct way, paper is damp, and the engraving is shallow line engraving, (s)he may be able to accomplish what he wishes with no more pressure than it would take to print an all-over lino or wood engraving or other such cut.

Vandercooks are precision proving machines originally designed to produce prints from a kiss impression. I don’t know if they ever designed for “deep impression”, but it can be done.

Intaglio presses are designed to apply a lot of pressure - so that the paper is squeezed into the crevices in a metal plate and the ink will transfer.

It is my belief that the pressure required for printing a reasonably sized intaglio plate exceeds the design parameters of a relief press to the extent that it is ultimately detrimental to that relief press.

Since I don’t have the specific technical information, I can’t say how much pressure is too much. I just don’t believe it is a good idea to print intaglio plates on a relief press.

It’s simple, on a Vandercook press , Korrex et al. printing Type, cuts (Woodcuts, ~ engraving) and polymerplate is fine.

The difference to a printmaking (Intaglio) press, is pressure.

Yes, I have small etched plates being printed on a sp 15 at a local college, the press lasted 2 years with small use before being so bad,the press became useless. On intaglio presses you have such an immense pressure, that you can print a fine Line and a deep black. On a Vandercook you just can’t build up that kind of pressure and you end up having gray.

can also print slight intaglio on direct transfer presses(lithography), intaglio presses apply about 1-2 tons equivalent pressure and that is what is needed, I would not want to pressurise a cylinder press this way.

The press damaged by intaglio use that I mentioned was a Universal I, one of the strongest Vandercook designs. It takes a lot more pressure to force paper, even dampened paper, into the recesses of an intaglio plate, than it does to transfer ink from a relief surface. The extra pressure will lead to wear of bearings and bearing surfaces. Bearings might be replaced, but bearing surfaces such as the under-rails are irreplaceable and practically irreparable. Presses that have already seen at least forty years of use don’t deserve this kind of treatment.

Thank you all for your input. I would rather risk my left leg than Laverne (see pic)

So I’ll be looking for an etching press.

~ josh

image: laverne.jpg