First press: Tabletop platen vs. flat bed

Hello all

Am trying to decide which way to go for my first press.

I want to print A5 poetry from metal type.

My dilemma can be summarized thus…

Tabletop platens (= Adana as I’m in the UK):

These can just about print A5 with margins (i.e. about 4.5 x 7.5). However, lots of folks say that you shouldn’t be trying to print more than about 2/3 of the chase area - not sure if this is a problem with inking and/or pressure at the edges. So this seems to knock them out.

Then again, I’ve seen what looks like some lovely work at the edges of an Adana - see photo (admittedly from photopolymer - not sure if this is significant).

Roller proof presses (Farley, Line-o-Scribe etc):

The size problem goes away. And there’s more pressure available. But these were never designed for final quality prints (the clue’s in the name!) - so are they capable of them for high-resolution work? - most people use them for posters/wood type. My (limited) experience printing back-to-back vs. an Adana was much poorer - particularly uneven. However, I was hand-inking without roller guides. So this may explain it. My question here is: Is it possible to get good results with one of these with a roller-based inking system or hand-inking with guides, or is the rather crude cylinder mechanism a limiting factor on getting an even impression.

Hoping I haven’t opened too big a can of worms here. Any insights appreciated - particularly success stories on either side!

Thanks! Chris.

image: Adana sonnet typelark press.png

Adana sonnet typelark press.png

Log in to reply   19 replies so far

Chris, as we say *horses for courses* but in any case, as quoted many times in the past, the total forme/chase area is usually regarded as the governing fact, and usually stated as around maximum usable image area, at around 60-65% of the total, especially with Table Top Clamshell action, probably why fairly recently we see all the Cracked/Broken table tops from too heavy, formes and/or Deep Impression. !!!

Flat Bed(s) are a slightly different proposition, in that on impression, the amount of contact, at any one time during the cycle, is very very small and a little more forgiving, but even so the same basic (unwritten?) rules seem to hold good, i.e. around 60-65% (ish) total image area, less with several Full Out (parallel to the cylinder) cross rules within the Text/Image area, even on the Big cylinders, many cross rules, bring out the best, with the BEST of Minders, Operators, involving delicate make ready on the majority of the image, but less under the cross rules.
Perhaps post Off Line, via B.P. a U.K. location, Address, Landline Number etc., may be able to suggest/offer More.?

Hello Chris, you can print good quality work on an Adana press, someone I trained in Edinburgh prints beautiful A5 booklets with poetry on an 8 x 5 machine. Excellent quality! He prints a poem at a time, it takes some organizing and preparing, but it works well. In my workshop, I’ve done away with all the platen presses that I had and now only work on a Vandercook and 2 Korrex form test presses. And on those I achieve a extremely good result. These machines were built to proof 4-colour work on, and give of course a superior print to a small proof press as that was used to quickly pull a proof in the typesetting departments. And again, can’t be compared to the Line-o-Scribe and Showcard presses. I also find it much less hassle working with the test presses, the printing is more even and you can build up a forme holding 4 pages at a time. Maybe it’s an idea to do a course or a workshop before investing in machinery that you might later regret?

Small roller proof type presses are still made in the UK for school/college art departments.

Why not have a go at making your own as instructed in the Adana magazine of 1948. For the cylinder your local dive shop will sell an old tank or if the gas board is digging up a road near you a bit of yellow pipe.

image: part3.jpg


image: part2.jpg


image: part1.jpg


Maybe the Platen Handbook will help in your decision:

Thank you all for your many helpful suggestions and links.

I’m trying to pursue all lines in parallel. I’ve bought a cheap Adana to get me started, following Thomas’s positive reports, and have an eye out for a larger flatbed press at the same time. I *have* considered making my own, platenprinter, and still might. I’ve been considering a line-o-scribe copy (see separate thread) rather than a free roller.

All the best, Chris.

There is an Ayers Jardine (Adana) showcard press just appeared on eBay that will do what you want and more. It has the original wood base and type for £185.

Thank you platenprinter - good spot. Unfortunately it’s the other end of the country and the seller won’t ship :-(

The other things to consider are print run and print style. If you are wanting more than a dozen or so copies a proof press will be hard work unless it is a high-end self-inking and motorised model - but an Adana or similar will do several hundred before you really start wondering where the coffee is. A top-end proof press will be needed to handle colours in register, which isn’t too difficult on a small platen. A small platen won’t do ‘deep impression’ if that is what you are after - whereas it is quite easy to hit things hard on a proof press without breaking it. And a proof press is likely to be able to do pages 2- or 4-up on larger paper which could save a lot of paper handling.

From long, long experience, on an 8 x 5 Adana, don’t expect to print really well, much more than four x six line verses
in about 12 or 14 point, on a single A5 page. To to produce a foldable, sewable, four page section, you will have to print the sheet four times, turning and turning.
You can cram on more type on the page, maybe quite a lot, , but you’ll be surprised how soon the available printing pressure of that press is used up. And boy does you arm get tired. I’ve been at this poetry printing lark for 40 odd years now.

I was intending to create a new thread, but my question overlaps so much with this one that it might be better to simly continue this discussion.

I’m an absolute layman in printing but want to take it up from early next year, as my life will become much less busy then.

My aspiration is to do letterpress, print own-made woodcuts (in combination with text) and maybe also lino. I want to do larger sizes (A4 and over), so Adana is not an option, but mostly in small numbers.

Now I am wondering if I should look for a small proofpress (Korrex Freiburg, Stuttgart or similar, …) of go for a foot operated platen press? I’m living in Flanders, Belgium, this type of platen presses turns up regularly for acceptable prices with us or in the nearby Netherlands. Korrex or similar proofpresses are much more difficult to obtain and often more expensive.

Apart from a press (and letters), what else would I need to start? I do hope to be able to follow a letterpress course for newbies somewhere to get me started, as that will probably save a lot of trial and error.

Thanks for any advice.


Korrex or Vandercook for short runs, maybe 50s, 100 and up most certainly a treadle or power platen. My press for the 100 plus runs is a Kobold treadle, (ancestor of the Autovic)
Do bear in mind the inking power of the press, for your woodcuts that is. 2 rollers maybe for light designs, but 3 rollers and sometimes double inking pass for heavier designs. How will you get your wood to be exactly type-height?, 918 thousandths of an inch for some press,but maybe something different for some continental presses.
It really does have to be correct right down to thous.

my advice Erwin would be make your woodcuts, set type in form……but hire or get training, take your proposed work go to classes or join a workshop or two to try out different kinds of presses to see what suits you, check out museums like MIAT for kinds of presses.For example a Nurnberg I had spotted on got posted on druckwerk in de marge but may only be suitable for printing MDF or absolutely planed flat wood… often has similar andruckpresses or abziehpreses. The Fine Press Book Association web site members links eg Whittington Press you should check out for example, other art book making associations, go to artist book fairs eg Mainz minipresse to see what can be done on what presses.Me I would prefer a Columbian, I like to make woocuts from found wood, so uneveness can be sorted out with makeready and packing.Dingler kneihebel press for sale on is still avaialbe. Amazing old 1830 hand platen discovered in Bruges is being rescued , check out Andy English work, Eric Desmyter iron hand press etc etc.

Thanks for the useful comments, I also received some pm’s. . It does help me to get a better idea about what might be the best choice. Starting is a bit of a daunting experience, as one doesn’t want to oommence with the wrong material, so it’s great that you specialists are willing to help novices like me on the way.


Beware of poets, they are all barmy. They receive proofs, then corrected sheet proofs, then later a couple of advance copies from the binding run, and think these are some sort of further proof, despite being told, and are distressed to be told second thoughts not welcome at this late stage etc etc etc

And above all don’t let them bamboozle you into using their Aunties/’Cousin’s/close friend’s artwork! You choose the artist, without their input, and stick to it.

But it can be fun. if a sure fire way of loosing money!

Way back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth … My father and I used an Albion for small (100 or less) runs of things we wanted to print.

Totally manual printing, but I found it very relaxing/meditative.

I would see what is available, and not rule anything out at first. If you are aiming for larger prints then that does rule out some of the smaller presses, but other than that you can do small runs on any press.

Hello Erwin, feel free to get in touch , I work with Vandercook and Korrex presses, have often people print their linocuts on my presses and run courses and workshops, can advice as well when it comes to obtaining the correct press. I’m based in Amsterdam, but often work in Flanders. Website:
E-mail: [email protected]

Thanks Thomas. As said, I’m still very busy till the end of the year but try to gather already some insight in some aspects of printing.

I’m certainly interested to attend one of your courses, preferably in Flanders.


Hello Erwin, send me your name and e-mail address and I’ll keep you posted. Best, Thomas

I got a small tabletop platten press, mostly because one sort of fell into my lap at work one day. It works for the things I generally do; business cards, receipts, gun purchase forms and such. The printing area though, is about 5” x 8.5” or so, which is somewhat limiting.

I would love to have a Vandercook proof press. I seldom run more than maybe two hundred copies of anything and it would be nice to not have to beg the paper suppliers to please cut my paper down before they ship it and print larger format work.

Unfortunately, Vandercooks seem to start out at more than ten-thousand dollars… a far cry from the hundred dollar Craftsmen Superior I am using now.

Maybe some day…