Thursday, 13 August 2009

Arab Platen Printing Press

Fun With Old Stuff recently invited me to do a guest journal for him, and I thought it was pretty fitting for Creative Chaos too! I have been brought up with a right mixture of old and new technology – spare moments as a child would be spent either on the latest Apple Mac (which my Dad needed for his work) or looking at the old BBC computers in the garage! My brothers loved old audio equipment, and my Dad would do slideshows and get old reel to reel tapes out on family occasions. But the biggest secret in my parent’s semi detached family house? The garage, which is full of printing presses, type, ink, and anything you could possibly want to print at home!

The main feature? An Arab Platen Printing Press, which you can see on the right of the picture. A large machine, which I have marvelled at since a young age, and which I think all the family are still mesmerised by (although my Mum would be grateful if it took up slightly less room!!) My Dad inherited it from his old school, where he used it to help print the school newspaper. It still has some larger jobs, such as wedding invitations within the family, but generally it is now used for pleasure.

When I learnt of funwitholdstuff’s fascination with this almost forgotten world of printing presses, I knew precisely how I was making his Birthday card this year! Let me talk you through how we did it...

Thankfully, my Dad has been through most of his collection of type, and created a little book showing all the different fonts. These are just what he has collected over the years, so unlike on a computer, just because you have a font in one size, doesn’t mean you have it in another size, or even have all the letters!!

I chose “Thorne Shaded” in size 36 (which happens to be the only size he has in this font!)

It so happened that there was only one “Y”, and we all know “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” has two... So we did the words separately, and used separate colours. We began by arranging the word “BIRTHDAY” in a composing stick as seen below:

We started with “BIRTHDAY” as we were using red ink, and doing “HAPPY” in black, and it’s best to use coloured ink first. The word “BIRTHDAY” was then transferred to a chase (a metal frame which holds the type) on an imposing block, which is simply a big smooth slab. The type has to be held in place with furniture (blocks of metal, almost like “padding”) and quoins, which are adjusted to apply force to the furniture, so the type is firmly in place.

Following this, the chase is bravely lifted, and you just hope the type is securely held! In this case, paint stripper was needed to remove old ink, white spirit to clean it, and a snake block to smooth the type to give a smooth print.

We smeared red ink onto a glass plate, and used a rubber roller until it was warmed up and rolling smoothly.

We used the rubber roller to roll the ink onto the plate of the press, and set the press in motion to get the press’ polyurethane rollers inked up. To begin the press in motion, the brake is removed, the wheel given a slight push, and then the foot pedal allows you to control the speed slightly.

When the rollers were well inked, the chase containing the type was mounted into the press, and held in by tightening the clamps. The type is then inked using the rollers.

The fiddliest bit comes next, as the paper and the type are lined up. We simply glued blocks to the packing, and rested the paper on it; adjusted the bars and elastic bands which prevent the paper getting stuck to the block when they meet; and started a trial and error process!

We set the press in motion, let the rollers run over the ink a couple of times to make sure the type is well inked, and when ready to print the impression lever is pushed forward to bring the paper and the type together to make an impression. When printing presses were in common use, the aim was to have as little impression as possible, so as to disguise that it was printed on a press. Nowadays? A very different story, with people wanting deeper impressions, as a contrast from the everyday printing we now experience!
It took a few tries, but here is the final “BIRTHDAY” imprint...

Then starts the clean up process!! Lots and lots of white spirit, rags and newspaper, a heck of a job! Only to make it dirty again with the black ink printing the word “HAPPY”, using the same process as above!

The final result is, in my opinion, impressive. And more than worth the time and labour that goes into it.
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