I am searching back 66 years in my memory to my schooling in printing. We called it printing and not letterpress. We did not hear the term offset and didn’t know there was any other kind of printing.
We were taught that all makeready was done under the tympan sheet. I believe I recall that we had a sheet of newsprint under the tympan sheet and called it the spot-up sheet. One sheet of tympan paper and one sheet of the stock to be printed were placed under the spot up sheet. There was no top tympan sheet yet. An imprint was made on the spot-up sheet. This to guide any spot makeready later necessary. Next with care so as not to move the spot-up sheet, the sheet of tympan paper and the sheet of stock temporarily placed in the packing were removed and a top tympan sheet applied and clamped in.
Then we made an imprint on the tympan and set the gage pins. The tympan was washed and talcum powder applied to
absorb the solvent. Today I make my gage pin print on a piece of 20# paper and mark the lines for the pins. The 20# is then removed. This to avoid printing on and washing the tympan. Next a print was made on the good stock. If any spot makeready was necessary, it was cut to size and glued to the spot-up sheet under the tympan.
Some printers glue up the spot corrections on top of the tympan sheet. The purists used to refer to this as West Coast makeready.
I have also used needle pricks to define the weak area(s) in need of spot makeready, cut the underlays, and raised the tympan sheet to align the spot makeready to the needle holes on the sheet underneath.
Do any of you oldsters remember use of the spot-up sheet?


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Doesn’t everybody? I always do especially when kisscutting and fine foil stamping. Spot sheet under die jacket or tympan even on my Heidelberg cylinder.

Thank you Inky and Mike for this conversation.
Make-ready is a big area of activity not just the point of impression. The question can be asked, “Making ready for what?” It included the Composing room: makeup, lock-up and proofing. But make-ready started, in my experience, with the estimator, then the composing room, then the machine room. Ending with success in the bindery/Finishing depot. So the topic becomes very broad.
In the estimating dept with planning the machine and sheet size to suit the run, machine and stock and of course sales competition. Then to the composing room, taking off the roughs/layouts and assembling all the components for necessary making ready before makeup and lockup. A form could consist of handset type, lino and even mono. Some stereos, coppers, originals and even the “new” photopolymers and the inevitable column or tabular rules. [Don’t mention numbering machines that were well worn!] This was a complicated form and required absolute accuracy and knowledge of characteristics of the components eg binding, wooden spacing material, honeycomb bases, all up composed to not have spacing rises, springing type, and plates that would not move out of register under impression, etc. The proofing press was the initial machine to highlight positioning, underlays, and interlays required. A tradesman will know what I mean.
The forme went to the designated machine, and while waiting in its rack, shouldn’t have been scratched, but could happen. Requiring costly renewal and reprimand! The printer/machinist would confirm that the planning had allowed for proper positioning in the chase, sheet size and there would be no fouls or scuff marks by running the plain stock through as a trial. He/she [yes!] would proceed with the final make-readies as discussed in earlier discussion.
If the run was long enough and the business was large enough, a trusted apprentice or machine minder would take over and see the job to the end. Even during the run it may have been necessary to make adjustments.
There was always the argument as to when the make-ready work of the composing room stopped and when the machine room took over. Needless to say, even the most experience estimator, comp and machinist would talk over any possible, likely problem and with the Binder/Guillotine operator. If not, it meant their jobs and the profit of the company!!! Make ready, one of many skills of the Letterpress Printing trade.

Before the rich kids that took an art class on printing entered the printing field. No one would try to sell the printing of today.
This deep impression printing was looked on as trash. And, only deep impression printing was used on crashing printing information on multi sheets forms.

Now, a days it young girls, playing with 8x12 or smaller presses and rich computer techs that think they know all about printing.

Only a few of us old printers left, that remember long hot days in non a/c shops, poor ligt=hting and deadlines that keep you working long hours for little pay.

Hey @old letterpress man. Just thought I’d remind you that it’s 2017 and women and girls have every right to be in a print shop busting their asses to create in whatever way they see fit. It is called WORKING, and not “playing” as you just stated. I know female printers, like at Firecracker Press, who can wrangle any ancient giant printing press into making beautiful work. A woman’s size does not dictate what she can achieve.

It’s deplorable that women haven’t always been allowed by society to run presses, but at least we’ve grown from those misogyny driven standards. Well, most people seem to have grown. Maybe try to ease up on your inherent sexism.

Letterpress is for literally anyone.


P.S. @inky I lament mussing up the original intent of this discussion, but I had to say something.

Perhaps 80% of our new customers for the past 15 years have been women, and judging on how they very carefully spend their money, rich is not part of the equation. Some of the better work I see that printers share with us is from women, some of the not so good printing is from the “old heads” who tend to do their makeready by adding a little more ink.

I’m currently reading the 1905 volume of the Inland Printer as my bed time reading and there is an extensive and well detailed summary of makeready techniques for platen press work so this is not a new subject and it turns out all the methods were well in place well over a century ago.

Yeah, I would add to the sentiment that Christa holds- I share it and add my voice to your response as a white man I want to say it’s not OK to suggest that ‘little girls’ are some sort of problem for ‘our industry’, or to denigrate them with misogynist comments. Sorry, but it is ‘our’ industry, shared with women and rightly so.

I also see Aaron’s comments as more than a bit jaded and would point out how off color they are for the discussion; it’s a technical discussion about techniques from days gone by. Singling out a gender or beginners or anyone else is really pointless, too.

We need moderators on this forum.

@old letterpress man. You are certainly entitled to your opinion. My opinion is that you are uniformed. We know that there are many talented women working with letterpress. Maybe do a Google search for Mary Bruno in Minnesota.

The art of letterpress is not reserved for the “old guys”. Is that really what you want? Because if so….then as all of you “old guys” pass away the art of letterpress dies with you!

I am the wife of a man who teaches me everything he knows about letterpress. I get my hands dirty everyday. He has created in me another person that will do everything I can to preserve letterpress.

Letterpress is not just reserved to the male and old.

Mrs. Perfection Type

Give Aaron a break he failed in today’s business environment and is in denial.

Every post on this site turns in to some god forsaken sob story about days gone by, how things have gone south for the art of letterpress, and the compulsory rant along the lines of “in my day we walked uphill both ways to school in the snow”.

@old letterpress man here’s the thing: printing is and always has been a business for most people and that means you evolve or die. All of these “young girls” and “rich kids” understand and drive the market, will learn the skills, and are the future of your craft despite your stupid (notice I didn’t say ignorant) and antiquated opinions.

For those of you similarly lamenting the fact that you can’t make money or that no one wants to pay for letterpress work it’s because you have failed to identify and address the demands and desires of the market. Your failure is on you and frankly, no one cares to hear about it.

Makeready (Zurichtung), I happen to use my Handpress (Amos d’ell Orto Albion, 1862) quite often and makeready is a huge part of setting the Press up for Edition, on a large sheet (28x42) this can take hours on end to dial it in right, same matters for the Ephemera printed on the Windmill, etc.

Thank you for the responses to date. My effort was not to provoke nostalgia or lament for the progress in printing. I believe any topic that provokes response and participation has some value. We do not all need to agree.
I think a nice photopolymer plate on a nice mounting base can give good prints with a minimum of time and effort. That is progress in the craft and certainly is good. There are a few of even the newer printers who will try to print with old type and may be interested in knowing how and what is necessary for makeready. If not willing to get in there and deal with it, take it to the copy shop.
I wish all happy printing. Get some ink on your shirt.