Not of great consequence, but it might be of some interest and might get some additional comment.
I am an old sailor and there is an expression: Different ship, different long splice. The long splice is a way to splice two pieces of rope together. The expression serves to point out that there may be slightly different methods to accomplish much the same objective. The same is true with printing. We try to keep the terminology pretty standard and traditional.
I was taught that all of the work above the metal of the platen done to get the job ready to print was part of the makeready (and we spelled that as one word). This included the packing and adjustments and the placing of the gauge pins. Others today differentiate and call the placement of pins positioning. Some call the additional packing makeready and even say that you may need more pieces of makeready.
Tympan comes from tympany. On a drum it is the skin that is stretched taught to make the drum head. It logically performs a similar function on the platen and holds the packing in place.
I think it was classically called the tympan sheet or draw sheet. We have shortened that to tympan and call the classic yellow oiled craft paper tympan paper.
Who today uses the spot-up sheet just under the tympan sheet and held only by the bottom bail? Who does any of the spot makeready on this sheet rather than right on top of the tympan sheet? The old San Francisco purists referred to spotting on the tympan sheet as L.A. makeready.
Different ship, different long splice.
Beware of type lice.

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so are you telling me i need to learn to be a sailor to become a printor or learn to play the drum????

Is a printor closer to being a sailor? or would you prefer to be a printer? Maybe being able to play the drum could enhance one’s skills at keeping a tympan flat and immovable? I’m all for embracing all kinds of skills, could transfer some from one area of activity to another? Such as the compositor who started the thinking which led to the invention of artifcial refrigeration?

Just kiddin’.


Inky good Post!!! heres a few for starters, our equivalent of your long splice, would be there is more than one way of killing the ***??? same difference, different route, next I used to go to Print Auctions, and after a certain point in time would virtually always get knocked down to me the Three “M” Minesotta Mining Corp Makeready machine for always £5 sterling or just a few dollars more, I understood basically, what they did but perhaps you could tell it from the top, please, some Newbies will ask eventually, if/when they go into packing, make ready, overlays and underlays in depth, perhaps, even if technical school, throws that at them. I didnt have to understand, The auctioneers had to eventually ask, why did I insist on buying a piece of obsolete equipment, letterpress was virtually extinct by then, but I bought the machine because inside, around the 3,000 watt lamp was a massive aluminium heat shield, that in scrap terms repaid my outlay, next the entire mechanism from start to finish, was a beautiful small chain drive assembly which was cherished by model makers, and brung me a few good take away meals etc, but the icing on the cake was the Transformer, running from Our 230/240 volts down to 110 volts at 3,000 watts. Inky for myself and others maybe explain the precise process, its water under the bridge now (more terminology) but it would still be nice to know how the system worked exactly, that saw me O.K. for “a few dollars more”, the Ex Mayor of Carmel was no good when I tried Him.!!! And when I was running the Monotype the special sorts needed, instructions, on the spool, and the proof readers, always spoke of the sign, as used between my 230 and 240 volts as an oblique or similar, we were always led to believe that the word that is used now was what old Sea Dogs did over the side of the Ship isnt this where “chunder” came from. My post is offered as hopefully informative, and maybe a tinge of humour, with the possibility that even one more question asked is good news. What hope for newbies, especially would be printers, if we denigrate the terminolgy thus. Thanks Mick.

Spotting on the sheet was risky on a windmill. Inky - its a really good post considering all the newcomers. Here in Australia it all makes perfect sense.
The good teachers always had me burying the “paste up” or makeready, under the packing and sometimes buried deep. remember stabbing through the topsheet of the tympan. I still have the bodkin. Top spotting was a last minute repair or during the run fix, for me.


I’ve always thought the “LA makeready” thing was actually a criticism of me. At least it sure seemed that way from the hate mail I got when I suggested the practice in that little monograph I wrote on printing. Don’t really know that it was practiced as such in LA prior to that. Would like to if anyone knows. I was doing it in the upper midwest all along. Seemed to work well and was convenient.

When I moved to LA, I was dissed as the midwesterner bringing all those Vandercooks out here (one fellow printer [from San Francisco] refused to shake my hand). I only brought two presses! They must have had children when I wasn’t looking.

It took forever to be accepted. A decade later, my 20th anniversary exhibition was purposely titled “A Midwestern Printer in LA”! I suppose if “LA makeready” was actually directed at me, I guess I finally made it as a California printer.


Yes, top spotting is a quick and dirty fix and hinders the smooth feeding of the sheet across the slick tympan sheet.
How many people know what a bodkin is and have stabbed the tympan sheet to define the shape and placement of the spot underlay?
I was taught to place a sheet of 20# or newsprint as a top sheet and make an impression on it. Next place the tympan sheet under the bottom bail and cut the newsprint sheet at the top bail to free it from that bail. Next the tympan sheet was placed under the top bail. Now you have a spot up sheet with a print on it under the tympan. The underlays could be made without stabbing. This could be very helpful with a form with different type, cuts, etc. Today’s printer with a uniform poly plate should not have to worry about spot makeready - or even know how to do it. I am happy for them and embrace new methods, Well, at least some.

I believe that one should be judged by the art she or he creates, not by the method. I steer well clear of any who claim there is only one right way, be that in cooking, religion or printing. One who speaks up and offers a suggested change to what has been the ‘correct’ way must have a thick skin. You have been there and seen/heard that. You continue to contribute. Good. Thank you.
I have only done spot makeready on a platen press. It would seem to me that top spotting on a cylinder press would be the easier way to go. If it gets the job done, it must be good.


Actually I only use a sheet of .002 non-slip Riglon over the Mylar on the Vandercooks, Any other “top spotting” of less than than would be buried beneath that primary sheet. Otherwise it all gets buried. Something has to be put over the Mylar or otherwise it can burnish the printed sheet on the backside.

A mix of the traditional and the practical. This relates only to the Vandercook of course. I had a little 12x18 Albion that I took out here as well and makeready on that was a completely different story. A friend, who used to glue paper skins on model airplanes, was an incredible genius at constructing the perfect tympan. A good start.

Oh yeah, thanks!



As a sailor you might appreciate this. Digital type was first constructed with ship building software. Over half a century ago. The algorithms for constructing a variable spline were crucial. The term is still there in digital type terminology. Basically, all type design/editing software and illustration/drawing software are dependent upon this.


Gerald , top sheet tympan certainly, as i was taught was usually wiped with a sponge once you had a good image and then barred and clamped . the usual air drying around the machine would shrink it tight . I dont see that this would be so effective with the hinged tympan bars on the little treadles etc.
I have to admit that i have over stretched it in the past and the sheet split mid run!
Ok so i read the whole lot from beginning to end again,
if you have nearly got to the end of the run every printer will stick a patch or cigarrette paper on the top sheet to do a hasty fix ,you would just not do it at the makeready stage !
Platens fed by feeder are best made ready properly with clean smooth and sticky blob free tympan.A cylinder you can get away with a small over packing spot up but it was considered bad practice but time constraints and downtimes will push good practice out the door every time in commercial world .
One of the things i like about this site is that people are trying new ideas that really are old hat but snobbery also tends to overrule practicality so they dont feature in the literature of the day . I will put a strip of the glued portion of a ciggy paper on the tympan if that gets me up and running quicker but i am also aware of the consequences if it partially lifts or folds over on itself ! Every post on here, even those from newbies (vile term) are valuable as those from old hands , when you stand outside and look in you spot much that the blinkering of tradition blinded us to in the trade .

Jeez, Gerald, now I understand why you got so cranky the first time I referred to LA makeready, but you didn’t invent the technique of patching on the topsheet, and such SF-LA trade rivalry started lobg before either of us ever held a stick of type or an ink knife.
What an “SF purist” is, is a different matter. Today one might assume it was some “fine printer” such as the Grabhorns, but I would bet this old criticism comes from union-apprenticed commercial printers here, rather than printers of limited editions. Small shops, especially one-man shops, may take shortcuts that would not stand up in long-run multi-shift work.

Me, cranky!?!

I feel that whatever works is good. I will bring up the subject of “correct” makeready techniques only when people are having problems with their acquired methods and have not tried the traditional ones.

I use a buried makeready sheet on all my jobs unless I find I get a good impression without any special makeready. I use the same basic makeready techniques on all my presses, cylinder or platen as required.

Even using polymer plates, makeready is necessary as heavier parts of the form require more packing than lighter parts of the image.

John H.