plates won’t stick to base! (New to letterpress)

I’ve recently acquired a small tabletop press from a lovely couple and it came with a boxcar base. It looked like they greased everything up so it wouldn’t rust out, and although I have washed the boxcar base multiple times, no matter what, I cannot get my polymer plates to stick! They are new plates that I ordered so I assumed the adhesive was fine. I’ve tried doublestick tape, regular tape, pressing down hard, and anything else I have available at the moment. Nothing will stick to this base. However, the plates will stick well to glass and other surfaces. Is it the aluminum that is bad for adhesive? is it my plates? Do I need a supersticky film adhesive instead, and if so where could I get some? I’m out of ideas and appreciate any insight from more experienced printers! Thanks!

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Something is still on that base, there’s nothing about aluminum specifically that tape won’t stick to. What did you clean them with?

Try washing with HOT water and something like Dawn dish soap. Maybe twice. Then check with masking tape, if some tape still doesn’t stick, wash again. Also, the surface shouldn’t be polished-smooth, if it’s like a mirror, lightly-scuff all over with some fine steel wool or a scotchbrite pad.

Thanks for the tips, I tried dawn with warm water. Maybe I need to go over it a few more times?? It’s definitely not a polished surface, looks like the anodized surface intact with the grid on it. I would hesitate to use an abrasive pad for this reason…

You might try using an aggressive solvent like acetone or lacquer thinner. It could be that the previous owners used an oil coating like WD-40 or other with a silicone component. If you clean it well with solvent and then dry it with clean cloths or paper towels, it should help.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

Hello, welcome to the wonderful world of letterpress! Since you’re new, please forgive me for asking - are you taking the blue film off the back of the plate and leaving the adhesive film exposed? If yes, good! Sorry, that’s first order of operation and it’s been unknown to newbies! Does the base feel greasy? Sometimes using baby oil/Crisco/too much oil causes the problem. Keep asking all the questions or do an archive search.

Thanks All,
Things have been improved since I tried the Dawn and hot water, wash and repeat tip, although my adhesive (yes, I did remove the blue film!) still needs reinforcement with double stick tape. It is not perfect at that, but it’s better. I could try acetone (nail polish remover?) to ensure the base is stripped of anything greasy beyond that as long as it doesn’t ruin anything. Appreciate all the tips!!

You shouldn’t need the acetone, Dawn (or SimpleGreen) is a great de-greaser.

Also “nail polish remover” is often ethyl acetate w/ added gunk, so not a great final cleaning agent. If you know there is oil/grease, that can be cut with WD40 (or blanket wash, or kerosene, or white gas/Coleman fuel) and then that washed off with Dawn, but usually the detergent does the job.

Chuck it in the bin and get some 20mm perspex or something similar, underlay with thin card to bring up to type high. Job done.


In hast you don’t want to ruin a good base. It sound like a good base. Using the tape idea to test is a good idea. Once you know the base is OK then work with the plates. You say the plates are not sticking. How small are the plates? Are just some areas to sticking well or the whole plate? The adhesive will allow for removing and replacing but after a few times will loose the adhesive bond. With the hot weather 100 plus temps we have had issue’s with gas or air getting in between the film layer and the plate causing air pockets. The plate will release in spots causing a printing problem. After a while we learn to spot a possible issue before placing and create small holes or slits in the film to let the air out as we pressed it down. If a release showed during printing I would peel it back poke the area and seal it back down.I was told I could also poke through from the front with a pin but I don’t not want to create a different issue and never tried that. I use a lot of Gans ink products and have both blanket wash and metering rollers washes both with fast drying and no oil residue that I use on regular printing presses. I also use their plate cleaner on my photopolymer plates so I don’t harm them. Good luck

platenprinter, that would be a great suggestion if they didnt already have a base. However, they currently own a base that costs upwards of $200, so finding solutions for the base is the best option.

kavallari, assuming there was some kind of oil or WD40 on the base when you first used it with plates, the adhesive may be contaminated now. It may still work fine, but if the adhesive has oil in it, you may not be able to entirely fix it without getting new plates.

Good points made. There is no need to replace the plate. You can buy the adhesive backing by the roll from Crown Flexo. It is good to have around in the event you need to replace it for any reason or the next time you want to reuse a plate and the adhesive has been use a few times. It might take a little work but It just peels off the back of the plate and a new piece can be put in place.