How-to: registration

I’ve mentioned “registration” as part of the printing process in an earlier post. Some of you readers might be wondering: what is registration? To put it simply: it’s the method of aligning different colors on the same page. Because printing multiple colors requires multiple plates, each piece of paper is run through the press once for each color. A few weeks ago, I printed 60 3-color invitations: that’s 180 passes through the press, with 3 ink mixes and 3 setups & wash-ups per color.


Aside from multiplying press time, each additional color also makes set-up more challenging: the plates and paper guides have to be repositioned in order to print in the same spot. This method of aligning the printed areas is registration. With some designs, a loose registration doesn’t really matter – and could add some playfulness – but sometimes tighter registration is required so that colors are exactly aligned. Did you know that even an untrained eye can perceive a 1/100th-inch discrepancy in alignment?

Some printers use registration marks on their plates to make sure everything lays neatly on top of each other. In most of my printing, the crop marks play double duty as registration marks. Since I know the crop marks need to hit the paper in exactly the same spot for each color, it’s an easy way to align the plates without much additional setup.

Here’s a step by step of how I printed this most recent 3 color job:
1. set up and print color #1  //  this is done like any other set up…plate on the base, print on the paper. At this point, I’m not too worried about where exactly the form hits on the paper, just as long as all the crop marks hit the page.
2. washup & clean
3. ink up color #2  // without the form on the base, apply ink to the ink disk + rollers until you have even coverage
4. register color #2  //  adhere the plate to the base (if using photopolymer) or lock up your form in the chase. Print directly on the tympan to see where it hits on the platen. Use pins (that’s where the term pin registration must come from) and poke small holes on the tympan where the crop marks printed. Poke corresponding holes on your printed paper where those crop marks printed. Align the holes with the pins. Add gauge pins or guides to set your paper in place.
5. print color #2
6. repeat steps 2-5 for all subsequent colors until final prints are complete
7. trim  //  use your crop marks to trim your final piece(s) to size.



Just remember that between plates, you’ll probably have to adjust your packing and make ready…but that’s a given with set up. Also examine the first few prints in each run to make sure everything is hitting correctly. If not, make slight adjustments to your gauge pins or guides.

It’s true, the more colors, the more frustrating the process…but in the end, it’s all seems worth it! Happy printing everyone!

How to: preparing for a run

You may have heard or read that letterpress printed goods are hand crafted. But what does that really mean? For us, our hands are involved in every aspect for design and production. We’ve posted about drawing and how to mix inks. And it’s obvious that each piece is hand cranked through the press. But what you didn’t realize is how much ‘prep’ we go through before running a job.

After we’ve hand mixed our inks and inked up the press, we prep for a press run by first creating a few test prints to check impression depth, inking consistency, and clarity. We evaluate these test prints, make adjustments to the packing (the layers behind the paper), rollers/rails, and ink, and then re-test until we are happy with the results. We do this for each run of the press because different forms (plates/type) and ink create different print conditions. And since I don’t like to waste paper, I’ll often times just rotate the paper and test again if the design allows for it. Maybe it’s just the artists/architect in me, but I actually love how these palimpsest test prints highlight the printing process–what do you think?

Below, you can see the card on the right has all of my notes. In this particular case, the date and Lauren’s name were printing lighter than the rest of the invitation on the first test. In order to adjust that, I cut layers of packing to fit those particular areas and laid them on the platen (the part of the press that the paper sits on). This brings that area of the paper a hair closer to the form allowing for a little more pressure on the next pass. And after several attempts and adjustments, voila…we’re ready to print the whole run!

In this modern age, our society values economy and efficiency. But it’s great that we can also recognize the value of hand crafted goods where you still see the person behind the product.

How to: Edge Painting

We love the look of edge painting, adding a pop of color to each printed piece without being too ‘in-your-face bold.’ We were initially approached to add edge painting to a potential project a few weeks ago and immediately started researching different techniques. We soon found out that edge painting can be achieved in many different ways and is somewhat of a guarded secret amongst those who have mastered the skill.

We’re not into secrets here at Studio TEN15…and we are by no means masters (yet), so we’re sharing our process and our mishaps.

1. CUT all of the paper to size, making sure that each cut is EXACTLY the same dimension (we use guides on our paper cutter since we don’t yet own a fancy cutter with a digital readout)
2. CLAMP the paper stack together, making sure that the paper is lined up as close as you can. We used our quick-grip 6″ clamps because we already owned these from our model making days in architecture school. If you use heavier duty clamps, or ones without rubber feet, make sure to add a few pieces of wood blocking at either end of your stack to protect the paper.
3. PAINT the edge you just clamped. We tested a brayer and sponge painting. We liked the look of sponge painting better since we were able to control the pressure a little more. We ended up painting many many many light layers on each edge.
4. WAIT for the edges to dry (an hour or so depending on how much paint your use). Unclamp, and repeat for the other three edges.

What we learned:
1. Clamp it tight! You don’t want paint to seep in between your paper, so clamping correctly is critical. If you are worried about damaging  your paper, use wood blocking to help distribute the force of the clamps over a bigger area.
2. We had to thin our paint ever so slightly for sponge painting. However…not too thin because then it starts to seep  through the paper fibers too much and bleeds onto the front or back of the paper. This could be a cool effect if it were intentional–note to self, experiment with this later.
3. Mix a lighter color for edge painting. You’ll remember in our color post that less is more. This is especially true in edge painting. We mixed colors according to our pantone formula guide and then knocked them back 3 or 4 shades by adding transparent white. Why? Because the formula guide shows colors that are 1 thin layer printed on our press. But with edge painting, we’re layering up many many many thin layers of color, so making a lighter color to paint with results in the desired color afterwards–get it? Good.
4. Be patient. Our first few attempts failed because we didn’t wait long enough for the edges to dry before unclamping. When we went to paint another edge, some of the faces were mared with thin blue streaks…ooops. Lesson learned, wait until the paint is dry to the touch…and then wait a little longer for good measure.
5. Paint before or after printing? We’re still undecided on this one. It seems like, if the job allows, edge painting before the final print is the best solution; if you catastrophically messed up, you would only need to cut new paper, rather than cut new paper and print.

We love learning and experimenting here at the studio, so let us know if you have any suggestions on edge painting or how you imagine using it in a new way!