Rosanna is a printer in the Seattle area and emailed us this week with some tips on printing dark colors which we were happy to share – as so many other printers have been there to offer us tips along the way.

First things first – dark colors can be a pain on any press and certain techniques may work for one pressman while others work for another. Here’s what we’ve found works for us.

Double Strikes and Double Plates on the letterpress Cylinder Press:
On our cylinder press (challenge 15MA, just like a Vandercook SP15) there was a certain saltyness that I’m sure you get when printing dark colors. The pressure of impression without having show-through on the back of the print posed challenges when printing. To achieve good saturation for dark colors without flooding the press can be hard and is something to consider before getting on press. When mixing large print areas with small type on the same plate one can pack specific areas that need more saturation however the risk is uneven impression. The other option is to split the plate and run the paper in two passes on the press so a set of 100 would run through the press by hand 200 times! The other option, which is cheaper than doing a double plate is to do a “double strike” on press. Where the same sheet is run through the press on one plate – two times. The over lay of one thin layer of ink on top of another thin layer of ink helps avoid flooding of the ink outside of the image area.

Inking tricks on the Cylinder press:
Black is always printed as registration black (process blue, process yellow, rubine red and black- equal parts) – when mixing inks, it’s an additive process so the more of everything makes a richer black :) By adding all our base mixing colors we can create a richer black that is more pigmented and we can also “tint” that black to match the hue of the other colors on the printed piece (cool vs. warm).

We also like to add a hint of 877 opaque silver to anything that we can that is dark. – No one notices it and it makes for a richer color. However be warned at first, it can be a bugger to mix the right color. Practice makes perfect and silver is the magic touch for us.

When possible go without tint base. Tint base and I don’t see eye to eye. I never could print type well with it on the cylinder press. There were ghosting issues, shadowing and more. bleh. So again we custom mixed our colors with opaque white instead of tint base when the need arose. The windmill has helped with being able to use tint base, but it was more headache and heartache than success on the cylinder.

Windmill vs. Vandercook
While our press is a Vandercook knock-off it’s pretty much the same thing (blasphemy! you cry!). It is really great for large prints, ease of use, and really the machine is just ZEN to me. Harold form Boxcar Press had a great comment regarding the two best presses (if you could only have one or two) that you can read here. While the Vandercook is a great press, the windmill has even more amazing registration and the impression is incredible. At 5,000 lbs of pressure when the platen closes, I think – don’t quote me, it in no way compares to the Vandercook regarding saturation sans flooding. No that you can’t flood ink on the Windmill but I was amazed at the difference in saturation. While both presses have their advantages, I think the biggest thing to remember is that letterpress is beautiful because of it’s “salty” nature when inked up on the paper.While print area gets crisper with the windmill and saturation more pronounced, it can still be done on the others – it’s just finding what works for your press and your printwork.

A CRISP impression
Everyone has different terms in the letterpress business regarding impression (when the plate is relief printed into the paper via cylinder or platen). There’s the Kiss Impression, Punch Impression (the bane of every seasoned printer’s existence), No Impression (back in the day, this was the sign of a good printer – how the times have changed regarding preferences), Light/Heavy Impression – it goes on an on. For us, we like it somewhere in the middle. Tactile, without ruining the paper (e.g. showthrough on the rear of the printed piece) but visable.For me, I found that mixing darker ink than planned, and inking lightly on the press was the best solution to getting a beautiful crisp impression without flooding and keeping the color as close as possible to the color match.

Other printers: What are your tips and tricks to printing saturated and dark colors on press?