How Do I get a deeper impression

We are new to the Letterpress world, we have bought a Heidelberg Windmill Platen, we ran our first job this weekend but really battled to get a deep impression. I believe it has alot to do with the packing you use. What would be the best packing to get a deep impression? The paper we are using is high Cotton based paper.

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You don’t want deep impression, you want kiss impressions :)
All the kids are doing kiss impressions, trust me.

I’m wondering what folks are gonna print on when they wear out all the machinery by crash printing?

Likely they will chalk it up to the machinery finally wearing out from “normal use.”

the 1st time I heard “lettersmash” was 1981 when the
forman saw my makeready. Since then I coined the term,
and then registered it ,and trade marked it, so everybody that does lettersmash owes me royalties…. just kidding.
CottonCloud, just pack the hell out of it and if you believe
in something you might say a prayer.

I was printing a job on a Windmill for an art director who wanted heavy impression. I gave it as much impression as I thought safe to give (which still wasn’t enough for the AD). Unfortunately the press double sheeted on the second color and the added impression broke the shear collar, and seized the press on impression. It’s not a good feeling when a press stops that quickly. Anyway, an emergency call to Heidelberg, $175.00, and a few days of down time and the press was back up and running - this time with less impression. That was about 16 years ago, so you see the stupid fad of heavy impression has been around for a long time. It was also the last time that I agreed to print in that manner. It would be so much nicer if letterpress printers would take the time to educate their clients as to what proper printing should look like; rather than risking damage to their machinery by demanding more impression than for which it was designed.


To answer the OP’s question: to a get deeper impression you add more packing. No finesse to this. Just add more packing. The essence of letterpress is after all its primal impression, right?

Paul, there is a well-known promoter of “deep relief” that actually brags about how many times per year they have had their Windmills clam up on them and had to back off on the doughnut. “Damn the equipment, full speed ahead.” Brutal letterpress, yeah!


Thank you all for the advise, More packing it is :)

buy a cylinder press, there is more rolling pressure because it is round against flat, but does the work you are doing generate the finances to buy a bigger press, i have had so many calls asking the same question about more pressure/not enough pressure on a platen/windmill, you are working above and beyond tolerance for these machines and will eventually damage them thus leading to expensive repairs but todays market demands will dictate what operators do.

“todays market demands will dictate what operators do.”

I really have to disagree with this sentiment, as operators we all have the ability to say no, especially to protect our equipment.

How deep do you need it to be?? I was taught (sorry, purists) that impression is fine, but it shouldn’t be visible from the back. You can only pack a windmill so much before you cause problems with the grippers.

If you really want heavy impression, find a 14 x 22 Kluge, or better, a C&P HHK (if you can find one with inkers). You can smack that paper all day long with impunity. Of course if you want to run large sheets with insane impression, you’ll break the press—so be sure to bill accordingly.

embossing and debossing dies with counters will give you a nice deep or raised impression AND you don’t need to buy expensive cottonpickin paper.

Couple of years ago one of my salespeople asked about doing a job on one of our letterpresses. An ad agency in NYC wanted a pocket folder with “deep impression”. After looking at the specs. for the job I told the salesman we will deboss the job and then send it to a foil stamper to “print” the opaque white on the black stock. Customer was thrilled with results and no equipment was harmed.

To all in general

This is just a question by a curious person, I won’t be doing the work, but there may be a niche demand for this:

How was a watermark put onto paper? Was it the work of a printer?


P.S.: Preserving history; some of the best of history of my region (not printing history,but general) has been lost. — A.

Its part of the papermaking process and is very awkward to explain in only a few lines . making paper require a moving belt like a sieve , (mesh) which in the simplest terms catches the particles (fibre s) and lifts them out of the suspension in the tank of pulp the mesh has a uniform weave ,if you change the weaves grade in a small area within the mesh this will then meant hat the ratio of water to pulp in that area will be different and when it is aired and dried that different area will show a mark that we know as a watermark . That may not be 100% accurate but that how it was explained to me as a child by my grand mother , who for the interest of those reading this worked in a paper mill in the teens twenties and thirties . her job at one time involved making paper for forgeing the reichsmark as part of the strategy to destroy the german economy in the period . Part of the reason why you needed a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread at the close of the war .
I have a nagging suspicion that there is a roller that has a design in it too ,the process in general is probably described accurately on the web but i have only kiddy memory of this so as i said dont take it as 100% accurate i havent looked into it !!!.

Alan Nankivell.
Following what i wrote above i had a quick go at finding some info and found on you tube a little snip of fun , Titled “how to make a watermark ” its only 8 minutes and as basic as it gets but it gives a rudimentary idea of what i tried to describe !!

Peter, the roll you mention is called a dandy roll. I believe it’s wire mesh and has the logo in it at various intervals across its width. It works by slightly displacing the fibers in the wet paper roll.

MikeDprinter, metal fatigue and stress is not always apparent
after the shock/stress has occurred. Most aircraft go through
a metal stress inspection on a regular basis just for this reason. Your companies website states “the 5000 year old art of putting ink on paper” I thought printing as we know it started in china in about 860 ad. or there abouts. best james


Before the “stupid fad” of heavy impression my print equipment dealer was sending letterpress equipment to the scrapyard in droves and burning the wood type because it was worth virtually nothing. Commercial shops switched to offset and digital because it was faster, easier and clients were unwilling to pay more than peanuts for printing.

Now we can charge a premium for “lettercrash printing” as clients and designers are willing to pay for it, there is a push to save and restore equipment, and younger generations are interested in what for the last thirty years has been a dying craft.

Which is worse?

The electric guitar and rock and roll didn’t kill music, Jackson Pollack didn’t kill contemporary art but you can be damn sure that failure to evolve played a huge role in why we’re not walking around with the dinosaurs.

I don’t think that crash printing is what has fueled the renewed interest in letterpress. I think it is the appreciation of a craft that is disappearing, and that it has been highlighted by movers and shakers like Martha Stuart and Charles Anderson. The renewed interest mostly stems from young people who have learned the basics at different book-arts programs around the country, and at small presses operated by colleges and universities around the country. Compared to other existing printing styles it is still extremely cheap to invest in a small shop. The fad of crash printing does a disservice to thousands of printers who print carefully and value their tools. There have always been printers that think more impression is better, but I don’t, and I think that any printer is foolish to risk damaging his/her equipment and type because an uneducated client insists it is better. Letterpress has been a dying craft since the end of WWII, and it no longer exists as enough of a force to demand from suppliers inks, papers, or even new types or machinery. We all are working with the remnants of a once thriving industry - if we don’t take care of what is left it will disappear that much faster.


Thanks for the well thought out response Paul.

Definitely people love the craft and skill required in letterpress printing and you are right in pointing out that it isn’t the only thing keeping the craft going.

I will mention that the letterpress pieces featured by Martha Stewart and CSA/ French Paper co. err on the side of extremely heavy impression. The work of Studio on Fire (CSA and French) and Sideshow Press (Martha Stewart regulars) are two examples. Great work but the impression is so prominent that it almost always bruises the back of a sheet of 110# lettra or chipboard. Look at most of the larger folks driving the discussion and you’ll find the same. I don’t necessarily find it coincidental.

In fact I’d wager that if you asked fifty individuals the primary appeal of letterpress printing for them you’d get forty eight folks saying “the impression”.

There’s obviously an upper limit to what the equipment can do and many are foolish enough to exceed it, unfortunately. But the trend towards deep impression is what’s driving the industry.

I actually was referring to Julie Holcomb who, when featured in Martha’s rag created quite a stir in the letterpress world, and does some very nice printing. And Charles Anderson whose make-ready style designs spurred the person running Hatch Show Print to start his who-the-hell-cares-what-it-looks-like-or-if-it’s readable poster movement. I have been paying close attention to the world of letterpress for over thirty years and really hope that eventually people will realize the beauty of a well printed sheet as an ‘industry’ standard, as was routine in the 1920s. I like a little impression on a sheet, but there is no real reason to pound the hell out of a form. It doesn’t make it easier to read (unless you are blind, and then they already worked that one out). If you showed a piece of printing to an old time pressman, the first thing he/she would do is flip it over to look at impression, and the job would commence to be critiqued from that point.


I’m just curious, but when do the rest of you think someone will develop equipment that is overbuilt and suits the now venerable concept of this kind of pressure/impression?

In intaglio/etching printing, there is a press called the “french tool”. It’s a press that is overbuilt in every possible way, manufactured by Conrad Machine co; I’ve seen it used to emboss and deboss metal with 2 part dies, and it prints Photogravure as if it were a book falling down on a meringue pie- with “impunity” as mentioned above.

Granted, it’s rather unwieldy, but it’s the printmaker’s answer to the destructive forces of high degrees of pressure. It will sheer through and cut felts, cold roll and flatten out copper long before the solid steel rollers and inch+ thick bed would ever be harmed.

I just wonder- when will someone devise a mechanical device for letterpress that does something similar? It’s not easy to engineer printing presses- and a new machine would cost loads to develop….

I’m not dreaming here, either, just bringing up the point that since all this equipment is fallible and current methods would seem to lead towards the idea that every bearer, shear collar, platen, etc. will need to be replaced eventually with such practices, that one would think there’d be a need, or at least eventual interest, in something of this sort…?

they make heavy duty kluge presses for embossing and die cutting, they have dual flywheels and are stronger than the regular kluge press. check out the kluge web site. Also there is bobst, their presses are massive. the heavy duty machines are out there but they are not table tops or hand operated.

Thirty or forty years ago embossing was a service that was common in better shops. I think that the deep printing movement is trying to harken back to a time when it was common, and somehow in society’s collective amnesia it has become a substitute, or it’s considered a modern adaptation of the process. Since proper embossing and debossing can be done on regular presses with proper matrix and counters, I’m surprised that there has been little or no effort to revive this process. It is very marketable to upscale customers, and is still practiced in a few shops, and by intaglio-based printers for wedding invitations and fine stationery.

“I think it is the appreciation of a craft that is disappearing.”

I want to echo Paul’s comment here about “appreciation.” People are attracted to items that they perceive have value. There are many ways to communicate value in printing.

One of them that had some success for me is to add a comment in an appropriate location drawing attention to the age of the press, the human dimension of the process and the limited number of copies printed.

No pun intended — it makes an even deeper impression to hold something that states “This is one of 300 copies printed by Bill Smith on a 1923 printing press using hand-set type. Printed in August 2011. ABC Press, Benton, Ark.”

It is the personal touch, the hand-produced aspect, the older equipment, the “green” attitude of what we do (after all, we ‘recycle’ our type) and work in a field where a great deal of the knowledge comes not from books but from senior, respected generations that future customers find very appealing.

First off thanks to all for really engaging discussion!

Maybe it’s just a distinction of what constitutes crash printing and what constitutes acceptable impression. Most of what I print is on 110# and 220# lettra and I shoot for an impression that I consider just a bit sculptural. A bit of bite to compress the fibers but not bruise the back of the paper. That being said I’ve seen work that’s pressed so hard into lettra that I find it almost unreadable. Which is bad form and which is style? I guess it’s up to each printer to decide. definitely the taste these days runs to deeper is better but there has to be an upper limit.

J Archibald I agree completely with both you and Paul’s comments on appreciation. One of the really cool things about letterpress is the recycling aspect and the industrial archeology (for lack of a better term) necessary to letterpress print these days. You hunt for obscure equipment and knowledge that isn’t readily available and resurrect it. I think it’s something that people love and treasure in this day and age. All that metal, all that pressure, and the human mechanical ingenuity applied to print something as delicate as a ten point line of type on a business card. It’s a very human scaled dance of frailty and brutality that doesn’t exist pulling a sheet from a laser printer.

My mentor, now deceased, started printing in the 1920s, and one of his favorite sayings was: “Type impression should only go halfway through the paper”. He would be horrified at the abuse to type and equipment by such heavy impression. I have seen greeting cards that had so much impression that the paper is actually crimped by it. He was a very careful printer, and got more out of his Kelsey presses than anyone I have seen since. He once actually broke the frame of a 6” x 10” not from too heavy impression, but by trying to print a full chase. I think it is a shame that young printers, trying to be fashionable, are inflicting damage on their types and presses by asking them to do something they were not designed for. In all my printing experience the only time I was ever called upon to use crash impression was when numbering five-part NCR forms.

To CottonCloud Let…
and others

Someone said that you cannot control something till you can measure it. Is there a method of measuring the depth of impression for “smash” printing? But that brings up the matter of the softness of the stock (paper). Maybe, in a purpose-built (expensive) press, there could be an indicator of the pressure put on the whole forme or the platen? That brings up how to measure the area of the print surface. [This is just to start some ideas, not to be a solution to how to “smash” print.] There is, hopefully, someone out there who can explain what I am trying to describe?

I have a vague idea of a machine which could measure this effect, but no way to build one, I am somewhat disabled.


somewhere I remember discovering/reading how many pounds square inch were required to make flongs for stereo casting, was an incredible figure. Polymetaal make hydraulic relief presses, so that could measure the pressure, but I suppose different fonts will crush accordingly to their size and how much is imp;osed-no one has mentioned brass type used in hot foiling, a lot tougher? Polymer is used for this too I believe, rather than use moveable or cast type…..?

for example

just had a thought-another!-hot sunny afternoon here- one could cast paper onto type or use freshly made paper straight out of the mesh thingies I have forgotten name-moulds? or maybe a short time in the felts so they are not dry but damp, probably like flongs used to be,then use a hydraulic relief press under not excessive controlled pressure, would not be smash impression then surely, just messy-could cast onto lazer cut/engraved type eg out of perspex maybe too….? students seem to like embossing from lazer cut plastics /perspex/acrylic here into paper, the debossing/embossing depth being proportional to point and style of font……