Cropping and Freestyle registration

Hi all-

I’m still learning the ins and outs of letterpress and I heard these 2 terms today, cropping registration and freestyle registration. Can someone please explain to me what these terms mean? I heard these in a response to a question I asked about whether or not I need more than 1 plate if I’m printing more than 1 colour.

Many thanks-

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I think your two terms you are asking about refer to the presence of registration/crop marks or a lack therof, respectively.

Basically, are there guide marks for a cutting to be done post-press, or are they lacking? And if there are marks for cutting, are there also marks for color registration?

Many times, artwork worked up in a computer will have these things added to it so you can match plates/line them up. Jobs are supposed to be tagged with an ID# if you are really organized, including a little area for color information and a job title and run number that corresponds with the order the runs are to be printed, and maybe even a customer number or other stuff. Then there are crop marks and register marks to be added. (I always confuse the two terms- registration marks and register marks- someone here who is older and wiser than I am will hopefully come along and correct me, but I mean well)

In the case of hand-set type printed in multiple runs, or even hand carved woodcuts or linocuts of the same multi-color intention, sometimes there are no registration marks- one simply sets the type to line up and tweaks registration as they go by moving the form/guides until corresponding color runs line up, starting out by placing the first run where it should go on the sheet/printing that run, and subsequently adding color runs until the job is complete/modifying the form and placement until satisfied.

In theory you could print final size if you ran the job this way (discounting of course, the presence of inky fingers or spoilage due to gripper marks or anything that got on the normal cutting margins of the sheets along the way)- not so with the run involving crop marks, where the sheets need to be registered squarely with the edge to enable an accurate cut on a stack or guillotine cutter- unless you plan to trim by hand.

In any case these methods are dependent upon good craft and consistency in printing, as well as a reliable machine that will hold register, and allow you to futz with the placement somewhat.

At my college we had a professor who used to say “Find your inner registration method”…. It’s kinda funny to think people devise all these different methodologies, but there really are tried and true methods used by printers for centuries now (plural), and they work- so why fix what isn’t broken?

Anyhow, I hope this sheds some light on your query and is informative.


I think Mark has said it pretty well and got the job done.
We oldsters learned certain words and terms and wince a bit when new terms are created and old terms are not used in the manner we believe is traditional and correct. If someone wants to call it a thingy, and if that communicates, I suppose it is OK.
We oldsters were taught the word register. Registration was something you did at the counter in the hotel. OK. Register or registration gets the idea across.
Crop marks are used to tell one where the paper is to be cut after the job is printed. Crop marks are usually L shaped. Register marks are + shaped. Neither register or crop marks were used until photopolymer plates came along. Crop marks are really not needed as you can pencil mark one printed sheet and make your cuts.
Absent register marks, one brings the second or subsequent plates/colors to register by adjustment as Mark described. I had never heard the term before, but I think this is what freestyle register means. It works.

Thank you so much for the information! I hope one day I’ll know enough to offer advice…til’ll see me on here quite a bit. I’ll be the one asking the elementary questions. :)


Crop marks have been used commercially for many years before photopolymer was invented, as they do define the trim of the finished piece, especially when ganged or printed multiple up. Register marks are also pretty old, probably dating to the earliest days of four color process, which would be the late 19th/early 20th century. With color registration, the key color might not be black, depending on whether the black is used to cover oversize color spots to reduce the need for precision register. It’s all been done for a while, but sometimes when the wheel gets reinvented it gets renamed as well.