Registration (feeding) on a Vandercook

Since I do most of my printing on platen presses, I’m still getting used to my Vandercook (No. 3).

My issue is registration. I am running 5-1/5 x 8-1/2 Lettra, landscape, type horizontal to the tracks. I want to get the impression 36 points from the edge of the paper. It varies on the trailing edge by 2 - 6 points.

I have adjusted the gripper guides out of the way so the paper seats against the grippers themselves, and It appears to me that the trailing edge is wobbling side-to-side somehow.

I’m hoping one of you more frequent users has a solution for the tail of the work variance.

Thanks! ==Marjorie

Log in to reply   17 replies so far

PS Yep, I tried adjusting the guides. Moderate success, then the next time the tail end would waver again.

Hello Marjorie,
Do you have the grippers set so that they close at the feed board and are opened only by stepping on the pedal? Often the #3 and #4 Vandercooks have a lever at the back that will allow you to set the grippers to open on their own at the feed board. This setting can make it awkward to maintain registration.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

PS- Are you able to keep the sheet smooth to the cylinder with your left hand until it engages with the printing surface?

Hi Daniel, Thank you! The No. 3 doesn’t have a pedal, at least mine does not.

However, it does have an “open” lever at the back which I am fighting with. The grippers stay open too long. I hold the sheet in place against the grippers until they close, then smooth it to the cylinder as you say.

Is the gripper opening lever something that can be adjusted? I have found it convenient to have the grippers open for me, but I’d rather they closed sooner.

Thank you!


The paper is likely flagging (“wobbling”). Cylinder presses need large sheets. Stiffer paper does not conform to the cylinder shape and this problem can occur. Long narrow sheets of paper with flag as well and paper can even stretch on a cylinder press. Other than holding the sheet to the cylinder, which is mandatory, solutions are these:

or turning a 5-pica piece of furniture sideways at the end of the form, or double stick tape, and I am sure there are others.

Later Vandercooks were equipped with star wheels and friction fingers which help prevent this problem.

Letterpress Things sells the press points (like everything else) fairly cheaply.


Further note on this. Holding the sheet to the cylinder should always be done in the same manner each and every time. You can actually change the register, if need be, simply by moving your hand from one side or another.


I’d completely forgotten that the #3 doesn’t have a gripper pedal. You may be interested in seeing the hand actuated gripper lever that Brad Dicharry fabricated for his #3. There’s some info on the Vanderblog.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

image: photo-e1299789229555.jpeg

If the grippers are sluggish, remove the gripper bar and clean it with solvent. Grease the parts that engage with the cylinder and use graphite (comes in a spray tube) on the gripper shafts. That should take care of it.


One of the advantages of the frisket tower, and tapes or cut frisket, on the Vandercook Universal presses is the ability to hold the sheet tightly against the cylinder with uniform action every impression. This helps in register as well as reducing tail slap on heavier materials.

The other advantage is that of returning the sheet to the feedboard after the impression, which reduces the “dance” that the printer must do in running the press.

John Henry

I have a Uni III with the frisket tower and tapes and that is indeed proof of the need to keep the sheet tight to the cylinder. Most folks, of course, do not have the luxury of the tower and tape, so holding the sheet down is the only option.

I never minded the dance, but it’s the cranking that will do you in. After 36 years at the wheel my rotator cuff went to hell. One day wham, could not even clean out the cat litter box. And it would not go away. A shock, because I was always physically strong.

Basically bone formation that normally would not be there and suddenly revealed its incompatibility with aging. Sort like the Viking archers who developed tiny hooks on their scapula to anchor muscle (as revealed on their skeletons). Through some very concerned (intrigued probably) and very good doctors and intensive physical therapy to realign the muscles and offset the formation I am on my way to recovery. Interesting learning experience.

Cranking these machines is NOT ergonomic in the long term.

BTW: Those Viking archers likely did not live long enough to suffer the after effects of intense activity related body evolution.


Following the *ergonomic* thread raised by Gerald: I have a vivid memory from a few years ago when Claire Van Vliet slowly hobbled up to the podium at the Smith College Library, where a huge crowd had gathered to hear her speak. Her first words were an admonition *to all the printers in the audience*: If you don’t want to end up like this (pointing to her hips), she said (I’m paraphrasing), BE CAREFUL and do lots of other things to counteract the long-term effects of cranking the press (she, too, primarily works with Vandercook proof presses). Word has it that she’s doing much better after hip surgeries, yay!
I heartily second that admonition — young printers need to develop habits early on that will protect their body from the impact of cranking the presses for decades. Swimming is especially good, but any kind of low-impact, fluid exercise helps a great deal. And lordy are the ab exercises essential (yes, I’m talking sit-ups in various forms), as is the practice of tightly engaging those abdomen muscles when lifting heavy typecases, galley trays, huge stacks of full-size paper, boxes of papers to be filed sometime, etc.

After 40 years of of heavy lifting, overtime press-room work and cranking Vandercooks my lower back is destroyed and I’m facing back surgery. The side-to-side repetitive motions used in operating Vandercooks are very hard on the back and other joints, and younger people operating them today should be cautioned that they were not designed to be production presses.


i think its 40 years of hoisting beers and falling down that might have done the back in.

These are some of the primary reasons I re-directed my shop from “all manual” to some semi-auto. Now instead of a totally manual or even a one-arm style screenprinting press, we have a Svecia shuttle bed/4 post press, and a Universal-II P/AB with tower and tapes, as well as a C&P Model N.

There are of course still some manual presses in the same style- as well as a hand cranked etching press and hand cranked litho press- but there is at least some bone-saving motorized equipment for a lot of the work I do the most of personally.

I didn’t like the idea of a motorized etching press, as much as it might feel like a good thing to have the ability to cut that kind of cranking out- it’s a safety hazard to anyone not familiar with one, and my shop is coopt/rental alongside being an edition producing/contract style shop.

I really really heed the things you old-timers with these obvious health problems are saying, and appreciate the warning to those who are less experienced.

I know some machine riggers (many printers do), and one of them is sort of a friend of mine now (lucky me!)… He has back problems because he used to jump off the Hi-Lo all the time in order to make things go faster.

30 years later he wishes he had never done it once!

Speak for yourself Dick (excuse me while I pop a cold one…)

Surprised I hadn’t posted in this thread as I’ve had Vandercook registration issues that I’ve discussed before.

I’ve tried all kinds of things to try to figure out what was causing my registration to shift a few points pretty consistently. I’ve used longer sheets, double-sided tape on the cylinder, tried to be really particular about holding the paper down consistently. Tried the sheet-rollers, etc etc.

Today I was printing and was getting really frustrated about this and started doing some searching and found an old conversation I had with Paul Moxon about this and among the many other possible issues, he mentioned:

“Print Stroke:
It may help to roll the carriage at a slower rate and when the oscillator is at a certain position over the rollers.”

So I thought I’d pay closer attention to that, only starting the stroke when the oscillator was on the operator side of the press. Sure enough, consistency went up. But it made me nervous, watching the oscillator going band and forth and trying to time it. So I tried another thing. What if I turn off the motor? The ink was all mixed up, I pulsed the motor until the osc. was in the nearer position, and printed a handful. Registration consistency was perfect. After every few I’d turn the motor on for a bit, then turn it back off.

Not the worlds most painful workaround if that really solves my problem.

So I was wondering what people thought about this. Does anyone else experience this? Does anybody do this and find it helpful? I wonder what it tells me about my press. I have a 219os that has seen better days. I’ve always had concerns about the upper assembly, While the oscillator on the SP presses is hinged to the carriage, my upper assembly just floats on the rollers and bounces around, quite violently at times.

So why does the position of the oscillator effect registration? Is it a sign of some looseness in my carriage? I’ve had press mechanics work on the press and nobody complained that there were any obvious issues with the carriage.

I’m imaging if there is enough play in the rollers, depending on where the oscillator is riding at the beginning of the print stroke, when the rollers hit the form are they nudging the carriage/drum a bit?

What could be happening if this is fact causing my issues? If I can better understand what the issue is, I can find out if there is a fix, or at least know there’s valid reason for why this workaround is a solution.

Or maybe it’s all psychological. Once I started paying attention to the location of the oscillator, I started holding the paper more consistently. Or maybe it’s magic. Any thoughts?

Dan, I still really want to come by and have a look at your press with you. Remind me soon.

Its definitely magic.