Fountain pickup roller size vs form rollers

I am new to letterpress and currently refurbishing a CMC Jobber and a Golding Official No. 2. My goal is to become totally familiar with the machines, have them in the best shape possible, adjusted correctly, with proper components before trying any printing. I have a question concerning the CMC Jobber pictured in background. It is a three roller press. The Improved Pearl manual(same as CMC Jobber) states the ink pickup roller(top roller) is smaller than the form rollers and that it should not contact the form. Its function is to help distribute new ink evenly picked up from the fountain roller. The rollers currently on the press are composition and all of the same diameter. They are not in good shape and need replacement. I need to order rollers. Opinions are sought from those experienced whether I should reinstitute the reduced diameter ink pickup roller or go with three of the same diameter. If the consensus is reduced diameter to function as the manufacturer intended, then what diameter would you go with? It must contact the ink disk obviously, but, not the form/type. As a sidebar, is this press common? I cannot find anything out about it. Even the original manufacturer didn’t know they once made this model. Fortunately, it shares parts with the Improved Pearl #11 or I would be at a total loss for information. Thanks in advance!

Perennial Designs

image: CMCJobber.jpg


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Hello John,
Most people don’t use the fountain so they go with three rollers of equal size. Whatever you do, make sure the trucks correspond to your chosen roller diameter.

For roller specs on those presses I’d suggest you speak to Tarheel Roller. They made the trucks and cores and cast the rollers for my Goldings. I chose to have them go with rubber instead of their usual composition material. You can find them at

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

If the topmost roller is to miss the form, then all three rollers would use the same roller truck size and the top roller just needs to be 1/8”-3/16” or so under diameter so it hits the fountain and ink disk, but could be held at least 1/16” off the form.

I didn’t realize Tarheel made rubber also even though I have been to their site. I will have a talk with them today. I believe the trucks on the press are original and correct. I will send them with the old cores to ensure proper roller diameter whatever I decide for the top roller. I like the sound of 1/8 smaller and had that in my head before your answer. I guess I just have to determine if the work I plan to do needs to have a functioning fountain constantly adding ink or I am better off getting more thorough inking from three rollers contacting the form. Thanks all for the input.

When your are doing your equations to figure out whether or not to use or not use the ink fountain, one factor to keep in mind is how often you might change the color or type of ink you are using on your jobs. If you think cleaning the rollers is a chore, wait until you have to clean out that fountain as well! Generally not a fun proposition. The fountains were usually only found in commercial shops doing long runs and that were probably running the presses at least 8-hours a day. It then became a time-saving feature by not having to slow down so often to add ink.

I have never used one myself, but have seen various fountains over the years that had been gunked-up with dried ink. Not a pretty picture.

Hopefully, someone that has experience with using a wide fountain can comment here about their pros and cons.

Using three rollers of common diameter will ensure adequate inking regardless form size. Having one - of three - rollers not contributing to coverage simply wastes that roller, places additional strain on the press, and adds unnecessary expense to your budget. Especially considering the actual time the fountain roller will be utilized. Even then, with proper setting, and with stops placed in the fountain well, ink spread can be controlled to a precise amount, plus clean-up time is greatly reduced. (Printing two colours on single pass is another benefit of a fountain - but that’s another story) Bottom line? Go with three rollers of same diameter. Those rollers being either composition or rubber; stay away from any having ‘vinyl’ whatever in their descript.

“Printing two colors on a single pass is another benefit of a fountain - but that’s another story” WHOA!!!!!! That will NOT work on a fountain that feeds a rotating ink disk as shown in John’s photo. The “split fountain” technique that you are thinking about only works on presses with a straight-feeding inking system (Vandercooks, offset presses, etc.)

I would guess that Forme is referring to the trick of (temporarily) disabling the rotation of the ink disk, which should be fairly simple to do with most of the simple ratchet-driven ink disks such as I think the CMC Jobber (Improved Pearl) has (as well as most other platen presses). If the ink disk isn’t rotating, the split fountain technique should work fine, although it may be harder to get (and keep) a nice smooth layer of ink.

Dave R., San Jose Printers’ Guild

It’s not a ‘trick’. It is a technique often employed by competent pressmen to speed production. And, if one understands ink viscosity, roller lay, plus employs correct fountain feed and adjustment, such method opens many avenues to obtaining less than pedestrian printing. Try it. Before leaping to (erroneous) conclusion. But then, when many claim the title of ‘Master Printer’ after two weeks or so of smashing type and gobbing ink, no surprise that. Next, some will claim kerosene will lay waste to the planet. Oh, wait a minute….

What a site! I was hopeful I would get real insight into the two choices and you did not disappoint. After reading all input, although prone to want all machines to function as the manufacturer intended, I am going with three same diameter-rubber. While there will be many lessons I need to learn myself the hard way, this is not one of them. If our business grows to where I need to be printing all day, I will probably desire a larger press anyway. Sounds like on low runs and small forms it is not at all difficult to keep up with ink requirements manually and ultimately saves time. I will have more questions as I proceed. Today I am powering the press with a 1/2 horse capacitor start motor with a Boston Gear 20 to 1 reduction on the shaft. I tried same size pulleys and the press runs to fast. Need to slow this way down to start. Calculated flywheel is running at about 86 RPM, with 3 Revolutions to a press cycle making it about 2 seconds for the whole cycle. Based on what that feels like, I will shoot for about 4 seconds by reducing pulley on speed reducer in half. I need to start out on the safe side. Thanks again for the valuable insight.

Perennial Designs

Yes, the rotation of the disk could be disabled to allow for a ‘split-fountain’ technique. This was popular in the 70’s (and still done in the Jamaica and occasionally for dance posters) whereby a rainbow effect was achieved, either for the type itself or for a more solid background (to be overprint on a second pass). But…it must be kept in mind that not every impression will be identicle because the colors are going to migrate and soon blend with each other (a changing rainbow effect) unless the rollers are washed often during the run. To produce a clean 2-color (or more) type effect, there has to be a big enough distance between the colored images to make sure that the colors don’t migrate to the point that they contaminate or muddy each other. Again, a cause to wash the rollers at the first sign of contamination.

I was just trying to keep it simple about not working on a rotating disk in my initial comment. After 32 years of playing with this, there is still no way I would consider myself a “master printer” in the traditional sense of the term. I’m still happily on the journey of discovery.

Interesting that someone stating they’ve never used an ink fountain should be so convinced of its limitations.
No, the colours do not ‘migrate’; no, there need not be great distance between the coloured images; and, the only wash-up required is at run’s end. A competent pressman can easily run a multi-coloured job utilizing well-made fountain stops. But then, ‘competence’ is a subjective term.
A pressman worthy of the position should be able to print, perf, score, crease, punch, and number a job during one pass while on a platen press; how is using the full potential of an ordinary ink fountain such insurmountable hurdle? Just try. The time - and material - saving will astound.

Can you give us a primer on just how to do two colors with a fountain so that we may not only learn the capabilities but also the process? (or at least point us to a book or other teaching source).

Two excellent books come readily to mind: Spicher’s “The Practice of Presswork (1929 edition); Hackleman’s “Commercial Engraving and Printing” (1921).
There are others of course.
For me to attempt a course of instruction, via cyberspace, would be a mug’s game. I’ve no knowledge of possible participant’s level of experience, mechanical aptitude, ability; make, model and condition of press and fountain, nor am I able to assess same in order to formulate a starting point. To underscore my reservations, I simply point to the misunderstanding of terms many on this site employ when discussing press-related situations. How does one explain the workings of ‘thingy’ and ‘whatchamacallit’? (And if I hear ‘Font’ once more when referring to a particular type family…..) Those having genuine interest in pursuing the two-colour technique will find their way. In that doing, should they have question, I would willingly assist. But I won’t hold anyone’s hand.

The use of the ink fountain allows for proper inking on bigger runs. Say you are going to run 2000 sheets, then it would justify using it. The hand fed platen presses I have seen all had it. I saw a little table top one the other day on auction and it had one. It seems it is not a common thing on table tops.
I do little runs on my windmill and I just load ink on the fountain if I am going to print over 300 sheets. The problem being that when I am not using it I have to keep a eye on the ink as I go, adding ink as needed. That makes me stop the run and add ink and then run the press until the ink has spread properly. I actually hate that but it is time saver. I would say that cleaning the fountain takes about extra 5 minutes.

That brings me to the question: what is the benefit? Make sense saving 5 minutes? Another thing is knowing that, if I need to control the ink flow, I have a fountain.

I did a job once on a platen press with disk, I figured a way to stop the lever from moving the dish, and I was able to print, in many cases, a rainbow of 3 or 4 colors, by laying strips of ink on the dish and let the press distribute it without a chase in the press. Is time consuming but can be done. Just take it easy and have in mind that this may cost you to have to wash the press a couple of times depending on the length of the run, as the colors start to blend in unexpected ways.

You should be glad you have a fountain on your press. You have a couple of cute presses there. Cheers!