Blind Impression Tips

Hello Everyone,

I am looking to execute a second project with a background blind impression. The design as of now does not include solid shapes, but outlines due to my last experience and my reluctance to attempt a blind impression again. I can get my press (6x9 Ideal #4) to get a great impression with inks, but when I use a blind impression, the image becomes spotty, breaking up in bands of no impression and then deep impression. I have found that a little spray bottle makes a large difference, but I have also found the paper (Lettra of varying weights) to be very sensitive to the amount of spraying I do, even as the press responds very well to increasing amounts of moisture (ps I had my printmaking start in etching so I am a bit overzealous with the water I suppose).

With packing, I vacillate between tissue and typing paper in addition to my tympan paper and a solid matte board type sheet (marbled red/brown color) given me on high recommendation from the previous owner. What should I be relying on most to make the impression work best? Thanks!

Log in to reply   28 replies so far

Tabletops are not designed to give deep impression, they simply don’t have the force because they were never intended for that type work. No matter what you do, if it cannot be solved with a little extra packing, it probably won’t happen. I assume you are using plates which will take the abuse. Lead type won’t and you’ll crush it.

Lettra is also really terrible to work with when you have trouble. Try some different papers like Wild! or Savoy. Don’t use copy paper or tissue paper at all - the packing needs to be hard no matter what you are printing. Tympan, or in a pinch manilla folders or brown paper bags are much better.

So this is what letterpress printing has come to…

Do we really want to go there? The perpetual ‘knickers-in-a-knot’ crowd will man the barricades on that one. :o)

Thanks for the input PantheraPress. I do get good results with ink on the impression front, but I will reassess my packing on your advice.

Devil Tail, I am a young guy, and frankly I have zero interest in perpetuating an old technology for it’s own sake. I have so many other image/design-related things I have to know about that I couldn’t even if I wanted to (web html/css/jquery, relief and etching printmaking, offset, screen printing, Adobe programs, photography both digital and film, fine art, and more). The landscape of the design world is diverse but shrinking due to job market problems, and therefore we designers have to do our best Old Country Buffet impression. Literally each of those things I listed above were entire careers at one point, and some existed as such only 5 years ago!

Bottom line, I am a designer who appreciates quality and a certain aesthetic, and I won’t be apologizing for it.

Well, DTP, there you have your answer. :o) Never mind the old - in with the new, regardless. It is the ends not the means which are important. Now, where have I heard that before? Tradition?… We don’ need no steenkin’ tradition. :o)

A picture would really help illustrate what you are trying to do here….all I’m coming up with is something that will look like bas relief, or paper sculpture….

Use the right tools for the job, or adjust the scale of the job to fit the tool. That 6” x 9” press can probably give you adequate impression, for a 2” x 2” image.

If you can, beg borrow or plead for some press time on a 14 x 22 platen—ideally a heavy Kluge or a HHK C&P. If inking is not paramount, then a Thompson (or equivalent) die-cutter (way bigger than 14 x 22) may be a consideration.

Then you can work the medium to your heart’s content. Anything less will leave you with heartbreak and a broken press (hint, you’ll really be wanting a bigger press, and hopefully there’s a print collective/center that has something larger (I’d recommend at least a 10 x 15 New Style C&P, but bigger is better here).

Remarks on paper and packing are relevant and worthy of consideration.

Well, 89Design there is so much I could say, but it’s obvious that you wouldn’t care to listen. When you get tired of noodling with yet another branch of the graphic arts, please let someone who is really interested purchase your equipment. That is provided it hasn’t already been snapped in two. I’m not so old or devoid of design technique that I need to resort to ‘Old Country Buffet impression’. But as the buzzard said, “carry-on”.

E. N. D. Hang in there!! you have probably worked out that if you push the boundaries you tread on a few toes, more later??
You have had some helpful pointers already, but what you are trying to achieve, i.e. attempting to marry Ancient & Modern is *Risky* mainly because this modern phenomenon, (deep impression, crash numbering, die cutting) was light years ahead of the design /construction/manufacture of the majority of these Senior Citizens of tthe L/Press world.!!
Most tabletop M/c,s are Clamshell operation, meaning and by implication, there has to be progressively more pressure on the operating Handle/Lever to exert enough bump on to the forme to produce results, as (generally) the Platen swings around a low down Axis point, you will see on this site, many tales of woe, re broken castings busted handles etc.
I have at this time, on sight, 4/5 smaller machines, (A) either to repair or (B) to sell on, namely Adana,s 5 x 3, H.S.2=6 x 4, 8 x 5, H.S.3= 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 & Adana T.P. 48 (floor Standing 11 x 8) + Sqintani,S approx. 8 x 5.
Because I have seen and repaired several M/c,s in the past, I would not dream of *Deep Im pression etc* on the Adana, 5 x 3, the Adana 8 x 5 or the Adana H.S.3, because they are die cast Zinc/Mazak/Monkey metal etc, the H.S.2 & the Squintani,S are a slightly different proposition, in both cases, cast iron main frame,s but I would not feel confident in suggesting that these M/c,s are up to anything more than very small, (20/25%) deep impression of total forme area.??
The T.P. 48, is a slightly better proposition because, although it is still *Clamshell* the platen & the bed are drawn together with very substantial side arms situate central to the Platen/Bed and are of massive strength and diameter.!!!
My T.P. 48, has in the past, been used, to die-cut copper/brass sheet(s) for the Pen Nibs on Pen Ruling Machines, but out of respect I would NOT attempt to repeat this.? With the flywheel at 50+ Lbs, it would probably Die-cut or Deep Impress, 70/80% of a full out forme,!! with almost perfect ease it will kiss impress, (as L/press should, up to a point) 80%, of a forme of new type from the Casting Machine, for Repro purposes and/or first proof.
E.N.D. the foregoing by way of pointing out the vagaries and limitations, which are in front of you and hopefully, not make too many, possibly expensive mistakes, along the way.?
Dont worry too much about the *Negative Vibes* when one is, in bed with “Lucifer” one has to pull a few strokes.!!!
Hang in there and Good Luck. Nil Desperandum.

Jeez, Mick. This has nothing to do with boundaries. It is about using the right tool for the job. For some bizarre reason people are attracted to letterpress not because they want to experience the best methods of this type of printing, but to be able to offer some sort of shock-and-awe, or how much impression can I put on a form until the 1) Type or plate is smashed and won’t print anymore; 2) The press is damaged beyond repair, and where can I buy a bigger one; 3) How much impression can I get before the paper tears, or the ink squeezes out of the back of the sheet?

The remarkably talented fine press printer Saul Marks started out with a large Colts or Galley style press (one that was designed to take a lot of impression) that had been used in a show-card shop. The platen was dished from overuse. Let me repeat that - the platen was dished from overuse. On a press designed for heavy impression, and lots of it, printing on it in the fast-paced show-card manner had worn out the press. With much make-ready Marks was able to limp along until he found a better press, but the moral of this story is that cast-iron presses wear-out - even the big ones.

By trying to print from forms that are too large for a machine, and too much impression, you are guaranteed one thing: Your press will be damaged. Small card presses were not designed for anything but the lightest forms, and it is ridiculous to me for supposedly knowledgeable printers to continue to pat neophytes on the head and say, “there, there, you just go ahead and do everything wrong. Don’t bother to actually learn the skill of make-ready. More than five hundred years of experience shouldn’t apply in this case.”

We are doing a dis-service to our craft by not doing everything in our power to share our accumulated experience in such a way as to at least get wannabe printers to understand that there are physical limits to the craft. If they want to smash things, then use the kind of presses that were designed to smash things. Preferably something with hydraulics.

Mick, I do find it interesting how your last post starts off encouraging 89Design to do their thing, but then follows up, as several have on this particular thread, cautioning the very same behavior on a number of different presses. I know young people constantly want to re-invent the wheel, but one would think that 550 years of accumulated experience would, and should, speak for something.

Devil’s Tail

Love the “shock-and-awe” comment. Phil Gallo, one of our best, would say, with a big sly grin, “I could tell it was letterpress from across the room.”

One might wonder why it took until the 21st century for letterpress to become such a fad, and yet so very few pay any attention whatsoever to that “550 years of accumulated experience.” Then again, it is the 21st century.


Too true. I was showing my posters to a letterpress group in Santa Cruz, and Tom Killion (woodcut artist & book printer) was looking at my wood type posters. He ran his hand over the surface and ask it they were silkscreened. I politely replied that they were indeed letterpress with wood and metal type, and extra illustrated with my own woodcuts. Much of my type had come from a 70 year-old poster printer, and the type had mostly been cleaned well and cared-for. I think that much of today’s hard-impression printing is a short-cut from having to make-ready properly. As I’ve said before, it will just hasten letterpress’ demise.

Paul, if its not punched half way thru the paper then it can’t be letterpress, can it??? I’ve seen some of your wood cuts, you do some beautiful stuff.

Letterpressed? What? Are you sure? Once I gave a business card to an offset printer that I had worked with. Under my name I had “letterpress printing” on the card. He looked at it and asked me why I had printed it offset. Even some printers don’t know the difference. Folks tend to like the crash and smash version. And many don’t know the difference. Deep impression may have its place, but it’s not the only way to print.

@devils tail press As I’ve said before, it will just hasten letterpress’ demise.

Would it be around at all if not for the deep impression crowd? I get your point, and I’m as careful as I can be with my wood type (no deep impression with that stuff), but what kind of industry would letterpress be if this “fad” had not taken hold?

So. Destruction of scarce resource is acceptable as long as it is ‘creative’? Interesting view. But letterpress will survive this ‘fad’ because the dilettantes will soon find other fancies to attract their easily-diverted attentions. Sadly, many valuable pieces of equipment and irreplaceable typefaces will be cast away by those having no appreciation of the history of the Black Art. But hey, as long as they are ‘fulfilled’…. :o)

Interesting thread.
A bunch of old fuds who do not appreciate smash printing.
I am one of you.

I’m always intrigued by how these discussions devolve into the “smash” aspect and how the ruination of wood and metal type spells the end of letterpress as we know it. Most shops doing “deep impression” are not ruining their collections, if they even have them, of metal and wood type. The majority of my customers who are doing commmercial work on a regular basis in the United States rarely if ever use metal type. They are using photopolymer, magnesium and copper. It is the hobby printer, amateur or unsuspecting new comer, like 89Design, who stumbles onto letterpress and can’t take 5 minutes to find out what it is they are working with who are destroying material.

What got me in 89Design’s comments was “frankly I have zero interest in perpetuating an old technology for it’s own sake.” But then goes on to say how he has to master all the electronic stuff. And then admits he is young. Somehow that all adds up to zero in my mind.


The recent revival (actually less of a revival than people just noticing things) has generally been attributed to Martha Stewart who suggested on her television show that wedding invitations could look and be extra special if they were printed letterpress.

Deep impression has always been around. The first printers used deep impression, partly because of the inaccuracy of their presses, but also because of the quality of the dampened, hand-made paper they printed upon. As printing machines became more accurate, and paper less irregular, the quality improved, but many printers used large book-presses to press-out the reverse indentations (Harpers was still doing this in the 1850s). When paper-makers developed processes like calendaring to make the surface of the paper hard and smooth there was no longer any reason mechanically to give such a deep impression to make up for the paper surface. To say that letterpress was imitating offset printing is very wrong, as kiss impression was normal business practice a century before offset took over.

There are no manuals that suggest that any impression more than is necessary to make a clean impression is a good thing, and if one looks at the mechanics involved in the process common sense would allow that a very deep impression is pushing the limits of capacity for most machines. Heildelbergs are definitely not designed for extra heavy impression, as is demonstrated here regularly by advice on shear collar breakage from too much impression.

I know of very few printers who were brought up in the trade who think that deep impression is a good method of printing letterpress. To me it is much less a statement of originality and more a statement of laziness, as one does not need to spend hours at makeready evening up impression if all of it is heavy. And as noted above the damage caused by such printing is irreversible, and it won’t be long before it is irreplaceable as well.

I actually have a video copy of that infamous Martha Stewart piece. She just promoted letterpress because of how different each sheet was. She thought that quite wonderful. I suspect the printers were a bit embarrassed by the statement.

Yes, deep impression has been around for quite some time but not directly from the beginning. I’d think the Gutenberg Bible and the Mainz Psalter would quite match the best that could be produced today, er, previously. Nor would deep impression have been considered a quality. More the opposite. Not sure who started the current 21st century thing but like they say, follow the money. I think we all know where that leads.

I’ve had one of my presses for some thirty plus years. Still as good as if was when I bought her, maybe a bit better. Truth be told, a money maker. I can’t even imagine purposely damaging her simply because of an ill thought out aesthetic.

Yes, I would agree that one of the purposes of the deep impression is to hide problems or lack of skill, and I guess impress with shock and awe. Unfortunately, any one who has a good bit of experience is going to see those problems, much less be impressed!


>>She just promoted letterpress because of how different
>>each sheet was. She thought that quite wonderful. I
>>suspect the printers were a bit embarrassed by the statement.

Maybe, maybe not. In this world almost everything is produced by computer, and everything comes out the same. (I can email a pdf to a million people, and they can all print it on their laser-jet printers wherever in (or out of) the world they are.) Suddenly Stewart gets her hands on something that is apparently mass produced but you can see the hand-made element. You can see how each sheet can vary depending on myriad variables. So what is there not to like in the variety.

People pay a premium for the home-made look, whether on their mince pies or their printing. They buy jeans that have been artfully pre-worn out. Now, I’m not suggesting that the printing should look amateurish, but…


I’m assuming you do not do book work for clients?


What I do or don’t do is irrelevant (though your assumption is correct). I can, however, see why a follower (leader?) of current fashion like MS likes something that obviously looks otherwise than mass produced. That’s a completely different world from your desire to produce something that isn’t mass produced but is executed with so much skill that each item looks the same.

The whole shabby-chic craze for skilfully-worn-out-looking-brand-new items stems from this fashion! Say what you will of the craze, but you cannot deny its existence.

From the very beginning of printing there has been the attempt at uniformity. Of course there were a lot of variables between thickness of different sheets of paper and ink coverage on printed pieces that came off of hand presses, but the modern papers are smooth comparatively, and the machinery operates in such a way as to give a similar impression on each printed piece. To have each piece look different means the press operator is not doing his/her job properly, or there is something wrong in the set-up. Of course there are some printers that are just sloppy, which fits right in with your shabby-chic craze.

I find it interesting that good typography always wins out over fads, and has for centuries. Sloppy printing and poor design has always been a part of printing, but that kind of work rarely even gets a foot-note when printing histories are written. Public taste is very fickle; it wasn’t all that long ago when grids and confetti were all the rage.

>>I find it interesting that good typography always wins out over fads,

Doesn’t it depend on what you mean by ‘win’? Good typography certainly didn’t get promoted by MS, which looks rather like ‘lose’.

I guess it depends on whether or not you want to give your customers what they want, or what you think they should have. ;)


Many years ago, long before the fad, I had a potential customer call because he wanted that letterpress look. Bad typography, bad printing, over inked and under inked characters, etc. I had to send him away. I’m not claiming to be good, but what I do not want is a record of really bad printing stuck in one of drawers or floating out there.

At that time, there were some quite good printers out there (and they held the market) and the climbers up the ladder had great examples to emulate. Last thing one would want to do was purposely show lack of experience or knowledge. Not like today at all when all one has to do is announce intention to letterpress (sic) even without ever having printed and hang your sign out there. I did not dare to do that until I had been printing and learning for a good six years. How old school is that!

Back in the 1990s typography took a turn for the dumpster because of new technology that allowed anyone whatsoever to make their own fonts. A book, A Blip in the Continuum, was released, promoting all of this, and it was all the rage. Interesting, at the same time, the Bringhurst book was published and was trashed across the board.
Eventually this young guy. Andy Crewdson, using one of those new internet oddities, a blog, reversed it all by trashing the grunge movement and introducing folks back to classical type and typography. I kind of doubt wedding announcements would work so well in grunge. A tip o the hat and a big thanks to Andy.

Odd thought, maybe this new letterpress movement is a blip in the continuum as well.


My first job back in 1965 was in an old letterpress shop, they had a customer that wanted their printing to look old fashioned, so they would set the type mostly hand type (Cheltenham) and the makeup man would use his line gauge and hit the form several times to ding up the letters to give it that old fashioned look.

Interesting. Over at Linked In there is a Typography discussion on line gauges. The graphic designers are lamenting, talking about the good old days, and when they used the gauges. No one seemingly is aware they are still available from graphic design stores. None of my students want to use them though because their Boxcar plates are see through and the bases are gridded so why do you need them?

Ever measure those grids? :—) We used to have a saying in my shop, “if you’d let a quarter of a point go you’d let a half a point go.” That seems like a world ago.


I worked for a while with an art director who was convinced that letterpress printing had to look distressed. No matter what I said he would come in during a press-run and demand more impression - that’s how I know about shear collars on Heildelbergs. He couldn’t seem to understand that letterpress printers had standards that were just as high (or higher) as any off-set printer. I carved a woodcut poster for one job, and when he saw the proof he wanted me to bang on the blocks with a hammer to ‘make them look old’. I did not. Instead I doctored the reduced negatives with the requisite ‘damage’ before the plates were made. The only other time I printed with a deep impression was out of necessity. A client brought artwork for the text, and provided me with a 300gsm rough watercolor paper. I made a plate and printed the paper damp (it held water like blotting paper), but even then the impression barely dimpled the back of the paper, because, as my mentor Kenneth Hinson used to say, “The impression should only go halfway through the paper.”