Excessive Packing


I’m printing with a C&P 8x12, and when printing on 100-140lb. cardstock, I’m having to use 2 pieces of red press board, 1 piece of 80-100lb. cover and 1-2 pieces of 20lb. bond paper. I’m getting pretty good results, however I feel like that’s a lot of packing. Does it sound like the platen needs to be moved closer to the bed to compensate? I’m wondering if I would be getting a more crisp impression with less packing if the platen was moved closer. Then again i’m timid on moving the platen. But ultimately want to get the best print possible. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

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You are correct in being reluctant to adjust the platen. There are three kinds of people who mess with the platen adjusting screws (bolts really, but called screws).
1. Well intentioned but misguided people
2. Idiots
3. Those who know what they are doing and probably learned directly from another who knows
If you keep the press board directly under the tympan draw sheet and any additional packing under that, you have a good hard tympan. Consider that pretty close to portable and adjustable metal. It moves the tympan sheet closer to the form just as moving the platen would do.
The platen was adjusted at the factory. Unless later disassembled for repair, or by a No. 1 or 2 above, or backed off to print on a wooden board, it should not need more adjustment. If it is parallel to the bed, it is just a matter of packing and spot makeready if you have any low elements in the form.
The larger the form, the more packing you will need.
Make your adjustments in the packing and makeready. Mess with the platen screws only under the supervision and instruction of a No. 3 above.

Get some ink on your shirt

Assuming your pressboard is the thinner .015 inch type that is usually sold today, I don’t think there’s any really strong reason to change the platen. I would, though, put the packing in this order, from top to bottom: the tympan sheet, one piece of bond paper, the two pieces of pressboard, and anything else below the pressboard. The pressboard will give you hard packing near the top, which you need for a sharp impression and because the type will wear less with hard packing. The one piece of bond paper between the tympan and the pressboard will give you a very small amount of soft packing, which will make up for random irregularities in the paper you are printing on, etc.

If you want a sharp impression, the smoother the paper, the better. You mentioned cardstock, and there is a wide variation in the smoothness of “cardstock.” You can evaluate the smoothness by examining the surface of the stock closely, by holding it to the light at various angles, and sometimes by rubbing your finger over it. Also, one side of the same sheet is usually smoother than the other, so if you are printing on one side only, print on the smoother side. Also, when you take the paper out of the package and cut it, stack it, etc., be sure you don’t mix up which side is which….always keep all the sheets oriented the same way, so you can print the whole job on the smoother side.

Any person owning a C&P press should know how to adjust the platen bots. The nonsense about them being adjusted at the factory, and you shouldn’t have to move them, is ridiculous advice. Learning how to adjust the platen is just another skill that you will continually use while making-ready a job, and yes, you probably have too much packing and should advance the platen toward the type-bed.

On my last C&P I used one pressboard, two sheets of .05 tympan, two sheets of make-ready tissue, and a thin sheet of medium hard plastic with a ‘memory’ closest to the draw-sheet. I rarely had to change the packing because of the plastic, which absorbed the impact of the type, but returned to shape even after repeated use, but I did refresh to draw-sheet regularly. Mind you, I print properly, not bashing the type into the paper as is the fad today. The papers and board under the plastic could be shuffled to make up for most of the changes in thickness of the printed stock I used.

If I only printed in the center of the press, and used the same sized form for every job I might have gotten by with no changes to the angle of the platen, but that is not realistic as any printer knows. Depending on the position of the type in the form some fine-tuning to the platen is often necessary, and you would be well served to become familiar with the mechanism the manufacturer provided. If the platen was meant to never be adjusted, then it would have been produced as a fixed part with no plated bolts. Every platen press I have ever operated has some method of adjusting either the platen or the bed, whether it is the lowly Kelsey, or the fancy Heidelberg. The printer that doesn’t know how to make adjustments to his/her platen or type bed is ignoring a critical tool necessary to its optimum operation.


Thanks for all the feedback, much appreciated. I’ll reply back to each of you below:

inky: I appreciate your honesty and opinion on adjusting the platen. After reading a lot around BP, I’ve seen about a 50/50 split on folks who say do it, or to stay the heck away from it. I’m fine leaving it alone because I’m getting good results (so far), and your advice on packing will help me test some things to see how it improves or changes the results. I’ve been putting the press board at the bottom, so I totally see what you are saying about moving it to the under the tympan for a harder packing and crisper impression.

Geoffrey: I’m using the thick red press board from NA Graphics. I’m also printing 99% of the time with polymer plates, however I still think the order of packing you suggested will be good for that as well as metal type. Great tip on the smooth side of the paper, I’ve never thought about that. Currently I’m using 140lb. smooth cardstock from French Paper Co. However, it has an ever “smoother” side on the opposite side, but I haven’t printed on that side yet. The front side isn’t overly textured, but has a small amount of fiber/texture when looked at closely. Looking forward to trying this out!

Paul: It’s great to hear both sides, and I too feel like the packing is a bit too much. I see others using half the amount of packing I do, so it makes me think it has to be the platen is backed off too far from the bed. But then again, it’s scary to think about diving into. Very interesting about the thin hard plastic material. Where would I find something like that? I’d love to give it a try. I’m using polymer plates the majority of the time, printing invites and business cards, however I do plan to do some larger forms once I get settled in. Would you mind if I contacted you directly if I have additional questions about the platen adjustments?

Thanks again everyone!

My problem is that there are not two sides. The platen was made to be adjusted. To say it wasn’t is inaccurate.

Devil’s tail-
but you seem to be asserting “why” and not speaking to the various other methods that can be used to compensate for mechanism of the press.
\ I assume you mean skewing the platen if it is a case where when one is pushing too hard the platen closes off level, or some circumstance like that. Such is the case with many a platen press that is printing even firmly. It’s physics and part of the mechanism. \

However, I suggest that to adjust the platen in order to make it print well even when the closure of the mechanism makes it skew/off level would be foolish when one can rip down some sheets of tissue and build up a sort of step beneath the red pressboard under the draw-sheet. To add impression at the top of the form or at the bottom of the form or wherever needed- and this is easier than adjusting the bolts, at least for me it is- because when I’m done with the job that required this treatment, it is easier for me to take the tissue out than it is for me to carefully adjust the bolts; no matter how familiar I am with the machine (and I am certainly familiar with adjusting a platen on a C&P).

I just contend that using tissue and variable packing in just the right spot can overcome the average issue and is easier to employ, rather than being the case that a platen was in need of constant fiddling and adjustment.

Also, this is exactly the kind of obscure discussion I come here for :-)

Really? Projecting that minor adjustments to a platen immediately goes to skewing the impression area is going a bit beyond anything I suggested. Proper makeready is a combination of many adjustments, sometimes to the packing, sometimes to the platen, and sometimes under the printing surface. All I said was that a press operator should know how to adjust a platen because it is one aspect of proper makeready. I did not say it had to be done every time one prints, but cautioning a beginner to never adjust the platen because it was set at the factory 75 or 100 years ago is like saying one shouldn’t ever tune a banjo because it was in tune when it was purchased. It is an indefensible argument that is, as I said before, ridiculous.

Paul, how often is “often necessary”? (btw, I’m not saying noone should ever adjust a platen- we seem to agree actually- I’m saying that regularly adjusting the platen for makeready purposes is silly. Decide on a depth, set the platen square and at the desired depth, and then use tissue and makeready and underlays behind the form to compensate for further issues.
I absolutely do not think that regularly adjusting the platen for skew is good practice.)

What an odd question. Because I am not standing in front of the press, have no idea what the job might be, don’t know the press or the packing - why would you think I could answer that question? Apparently you have accepted the one-size-fits-all mentality that pervades American culture. Please keep beating the dead horse, apparently it’s not dead enough. I really feel sorry for the poor beginning printers who get such poor advice.

Nobody has mentioned progressive packing instead of adjusting the bolts.
Your packing sheet is several layers of thin paper stuck on top of each other that are slipped about 1” at a time so one end is is one sheet thick and the other is several sheets thick.
This takes up the difference in angle resulting in a change of stock.

The problem with the “adjusted at the factory” assumption is that none of us are the original owner of any of the C&Ps and we have no knowledge of what went on with a press before it came into our hands. This can be applied to just about 99% of all of the presses now in use. I bought my C&P from a warehouse full of platens so tightly packed together that the salesman and I walked over the tops of the presses to get to the 10x15 I was after. This was in the 1950s when wide spread purchases of Heidelbergs were sending the C&Ps off to scrap or to the hobby printers. Most of these presses have been to hell and back, ran in commercial shops often in 2 shifts in the larger plants, and had all manner of work run through them.

My other thought is concern that there seems to be a lack of knowledge about the “wire side” and the “felt side” of a machine made piece of paper. This factors into non-coated stocks ranging from bonds, uncoated books and cover stocks. Maybe I’ve been working at this game too long as I thought this was basic knowledge—that’s why copy machine paper has a “print side” indicated on the label on the end of the ream wrapper. The felt side is usually, not always, the preferred side to print on.

For really hard packing, foil stampers often stamp to phenolic board glued to the platen. Take away the foil and add ink and that becomes the absolute hard packing. It leaves little room for feeding doubles and may prove fatal for hand set type. Another product used for the same purpose is sanded cement board. Many foil operations have added letterpress printing to their line as they already know how to get an even, hard impression on their platens.

And be careful with measurements—an earlier posting in this thread indicates a .05” thickness—really? Most tympan has always been .006” thick in the U.S. and that is the only thickness currently manufactured.


Sorry Fritz I left out a zero (.005), and should have properly termed it packing rather than tympan.

Since this thread started with a question of too much packing, and the need to possibly move the platen, the nuances of make-ready didn’t seem to be part of the overall discussion. I suspect that every printer on Briar Press would offer a different way to make-ready a form, but we would all agree (hopefully) that it takes more impression to print 72 point type than 6 point type.

I used to print letterheads one day, and .024 poster board the next. Considering that pressboard is usually .017, and the packing and tympan only another .020 or so, I would have to back off the platen in order to have any packing in between the form and the platen to accommodate the poster board. This is not uncommon in regular job work. I guess I forget that so many printers today are printing nothing but Lettra so they never really need to learn to fine-tune a platen. So many presses have extreme wear, as Fritz says, and because of this platen adjustments can be critical to properly print a letterhead or business card, or a job on heavy stock, especially on a dished platen.


Need to clarify does the 8 x 12 have upper and lower impression adjusment knobs like the 10x15’s and 12 x 18’s?
If so packing alone is often not enough. The operator manual illustrates this and explains how to adjust upper and lower impression. Skew adjustment is a different animal altogether but if minor can be solved by makeready.
Paul I think some signals are crossed here and some posters may not be aware of the adjustment hand wheels that replaced the adjustments bolts .
Will post a few pics as soon as I get them scanned.

Pics here I hope

image: a2.jpg


image: a1.jpg


The 8x12 of the original posting never had the hand wheel adjustments, only the Craftsman models in the C&Ps had that option. So best not to confuse models of C&Ps for the beginners.


If the platen wasn’t meant to be adjusted, then why is there a platen leveling gauge?

I’ll admit I don’t have a Gordon-style press, so perhaps the process is different. Instead, we have 2 C&P Pilots in our little shop and I find I have to do a bit of fine-tuning for each job depending on the type of paper I’m using. I’m obviously not the original owner of either of my Pilots, and I don’t know how many hands they passed through before they made it into my workshop. I do know they’re Old Style and have probably been messed with countless times in their lives, so, I take adjusting the platen to be a normal part of my make-ready process. No biggie, though it sure can be frustrating on occasion. I try to limit my packing to something appropriate for each job, but also have come to notice that when I go from thick paper (300gsm +) to thinner paper, I often get the best results if I also adjust the platen, even just a wee bit.

I hope that helps you!

Right, Fritz, ordinary C&Ps of any size are quite different from the Craftsman models as pictured above. Regular C&Ps lack the adjustment knob, but also any instruction manual.
I once had to do a large imprint job on a thick pamphlet, job shared with another printer using a Craftsman. I had to adjust the impression screws on my C&P all the way in and use nothing but a topsheet to squeeze this object in. All the other printer needed was to machine a replacement bar between the adjustment knob and the eccentric shaft controlling impression on his Craftsman.

A scientific way to proceed is to carefully level the platen with a fairly thick packing for thin paper. Mic the total thickness of packing and tympan, once the platen is correctly leveled, and mic the paper you are printing, adding or subtracting packing as necessary to maintain the same overall thickness. The total thickness of paper and packing should always be the same, and with a strong press (that doesn’t warp under pressure) you should not have to adjust the platen for each job.


That numerical “scientific” approach ignores the mechanical reality of impression. How deep into the stock, kiss or smash or somewhere in-between? How much resistance does the stock have to impression, because it is not just a matter of mere thickness, but also fiber type, surface, sizing, and other details of sheet manufacture? Then, what is the relative humidity of the stock, which directly affects mechanics of impression. It is such variables that require platen adjustment to maintain the parallel surfaces needed for even impression (still ignoring the more complex problem of unbalanced forms).
A printer should learn the adjustments of the machine, unless the forms and stock never change. Some workplaces only do one thing and it never changes (my first two jobs used only legal-size buff bond, then 24x36 news, and never anything else). But in job printing anything can come in the door. Better get ready for it.

I can only speak from my own experience, and I suspect that as with most practical things, this discussion is going to vary as widely in opinion as the printers and the machines they have used/various specific circumstances they have encountered.

But in my experience with my Model N 10X15 C&P, between printing on thin japanese washi, newsprint, craft paper, 100-140 lb coverstock, art papers like pescia and coventry rag, all the way up to 4 ply museum board, I have never once had to adjust the platen after my initial leveling and depth setting when I first got the press rolling.
And so- I have only seen need to apply more packing and carefully/judiciously apply tissue to the correct impressional skew due to the clamshell mechanics of the machine. Perhaps this is all I should have ever said in the first place.

I’m kind of late to the party, but, what the heck…..How about another strong opinion? Given I invented and market my Falstrom gauge to help people adjust their platen, I guess you know which side of the fence I stand on. Everyone is entitled to do it “their way”, but, I think we can take a lesson from the manufacturers when we can see they made engineering improvements to make it easier to adjust your platen on the better models. Why make an easier, better way of adjusting if you don’t need to adjust it? C & P has it on the top of the line Craftsman series, and Golding has it on every Jobber. Adjustments can be made to the Golding without a wrench using just your fingers. That tells me they intended for us to make frequent minor adjustments rather than just change packing. Given those realities, I don’t see any manufacturer support in saying we should never adjust the platen. Further, if you read a catalog from those manufacturers they talk about those adjustment features as selling points.


I posted this knowing I would get a wide range of opinions and advice. I love hearing from different pressmen and getting their take on things. Afterall, if there was a right or wrong way to do something, then we wouldn’t have to ask questions, right? We’d just all reference one letterpress Bible for all of the questions to all of the mysteries. I like to hear what others say and do in their practices, and then decide what would work best for me. I’d say I get a 70/30 split when asking people about platen adjustments, 70 going towards folks that say go for it (the brave and the bold i suppose), and 30 saying to stay the heck away. I have to say that even though I’m a beginner, I’m seeing some valid points out there from both sides.

My whole concern, and reason for posting this question, was whether or not adding additional packing to compensate for platen was considered acceptable, or better yet, would yield very similar results than if the platen was adjusted, and therefore less packing was needed. For example, is 2 pieces of press board in the packing going to give you the same result as 1 piece of press board and the platen moved in a bit?

Like others have said, I have no clue who used my press before me, or what the printed on with it. I get the feeling at some point someone was probably printing on some thick board or something similar, or maybe they backed the platen off so they can print with a range of stocks, adding or subtracting packing as they went along. Who knows.


If you regularly jump between paper and thick board you need a quick method of adjusting the platen level with the type face (parallel) , to accomplish this you would ordinarily have packing that allows the removal of a 20 thou sheet in order to print on a material of similar thickness ,the same would apply with a thinner stock in reverse you put the heavy board back into your packing in order to print on a tissue stock , the whole process works dependant on you attaining the parallel at the point of impression immediately before the roll off (when the pressure is at its peak) .
You cannot assume that your press will do this properly with any given material if you have not set the machine level to work within your chosen range .
The adjusters are there to be used , otherwise they would be set up with fittings that were tamper proof or they would be set and then pinned to prevent movement , I have never seen a press that could not be adjusted in some form or other .
all platen presses of the hand fed variety are designed to deal with a wide range of flat objects that may require printing or embossing etc it is not always paper .
Cigar boxes come to mind in the first instance ,that is a considerably thicker than most boards so any press that you aquire to print on wood sheet will need you adjust it and vice versa .
I dont think i would want feathered out sheets working up or down the packing , feathered underlays and interlays in the make ready are bad enough to come to terms with ,all print adjustments are critical but the fewer you need to make other than whole sheets the better. It is not necessary to keep adjusting the platen for every job this is part of the reason why packing sheets are assorted in type and thickness ,however as some of the learned point out there are times when this is required and it is proper practise to do so .

I would love to know more about your gauge John. Sounds like something I could use. I switch between 110 pound paper and 60 point coasters quite often.


I would love to know more about your gauge John. Sounds like something I could use. I switch between 110 pound paper and 60 point coasters quite often.


I second that (about the gauges).

Here is the link to my website and my gauge: http://www.perennialdesigns.net/ I recently moved my shop and am just now ready to start making them again. I was out of business for a couple of months due to slowness of getting new electrical service hookup in the building.


Hi John, I actually found your site and send you an email that way.

Hi everybody!
I appreciate all the information shared here, and different practices are definitely a great thing. We can only learn from each other.

I had the same problem when I purchased my C&P Pilot a year a half ago and with the best intention (I don’t consider myself an idiot), I did tried to adjust the platen. And actually I am still not happy with the way it is, and I will try to implement some of the info shared in this discussion. Maybe I’ll be able to adjust it the way I want it.

So I’d like to share something a bit more practical I have learned that maybe will help.
And that is: If you have a big type, maybe something around 48pt, place a big letter (I use Ms) in each corner, lock them, put the chase back in the press, and when printing it, you should see the four Ms printed evenly. If not, they can guide you to adjust the counterpart bolt in the back of the platen. Adjustments must be done slowly and carefully as a tiny bit can make a big change in the position of the platen.
Has anyone ever heard or tried this before? If yes, how did it work for you?

Also, I would love to hear from you guys, if you feel your lever is soft when you pull it all the way down, or if you do have to apply a bit of force to feel the print.

I feel my lever is not as soft as I want sometimes, and I feel that sometimes I have to a lot of strength on it to be able to have an impression.

I don’t believe that is normal, and then I go back to the bolts and try to loose them and then the lever is smooth again, but then I don’t have a good impression…

Anyways, comments would be appreciated.

Thanks, Lu