floods, floods, dampening paper

The title implies it all, letterpress lovers, but maybe not in the way you'd imagine. No, my studio hasn't seen a recent deluge, but I have been seeing a lot of designs for letterpress requiring floods - heavy, large solid areas of spot color. Maybe a trend? I'm not sure but I'm certainly keeping my eyes open, and noticing a lot of good examples.

Printing large solids or floods is not one of letterpress' strengths, though it can be done. I'm learning through experience that paper choice, ink formulation, and even typeface choice can make or break a letterpress printed flood design.

I recently chose to print my own business cards with a bleed on all four edges and my press name knocked out. I employed a few techniques to help achieve a more even and solid coverage on the thick, cotton printmaking paper I chose to print on.
note note note: floods are more easily printed on smoother, more calendared commercial papers. The thirsty quality of printmaking paper just drinks up ink, and the fluffy surface can create a mottled look, which some people actually like and consider a hallmark of letterpress, but I'd prefer to create as even and solid an appearance as possible.

Tiger Food Press business card letterpress

To get a smoother, more even tone while not having to smash my plate with too much impression or over-ink, I dampened my paper the night before I went to press. Dampening paper is a little extra work, and needs to be controlled to ensure that the paper remains at the right humidity and remains so throughout the run, but the results are so satisfying. The effect of dampening paper is that the paper fibers are loosened up just a little and the sizing is broken down, and therefore less ink and pressure is needed to deliver a solid area of coverage. I'll post some pictures of my paper dampening set up, and maybe even more information about paper and paper properties in an upcoming post.

Shortly after finishing my own cards, I received an order for a double-sided card with a large-ish solid on both sides...on Crane's Lettra...

with a tiny typeface...
and a medium size graphic element...



c h a l l e n g e


Ah, and let's not forget ink control. My press has what's considered an automatic ink system, but what that really means is the press has a motorized cylinder that keeps the ink milling on the rollers. It does not control the level of ink - the press operator manually adds or reduces the amount of ink on the rollers and is responsible for keeping a steady amount of ink on the press. This amount is subjective to the job being run, the amount of coverage and the amount of color discrepancy the press operator is willing to accept. I try to keep the color as consistent as humanly possible from the start of the run to the end, but with the larger amount of coverage a solid or flood requires, the greater the possibility of shifts throughout the run. For the work I do for my customers, I often look at each sheet as it comes off the press.

And each sheet that comes of my press teaches me something I've been wanting to learn.