The single most important piece of equipment that a printmaker owns is their press. It is probably also the single most expensive piece of equipment and it may be the heaviest piece of equipment. If you have never been in a print studio though, it may be difficult to imagine what one of these beasties looks like.
There are several different types of presses, but the most common is the etching press.  It is a versatile machine, however, and is used to print etchings, woodcuts, collagraphs and monotypes.

This is the etching press in my studio (Copper Plate Press, Loveland, CO).  It was made by Takach Press Corporation in Albuquerque NM.  It has of a flat bed made of laminated wood, aluminum and high pressure laminate.  Most presses use a steel bed.  There is a large pressure roller, easily seen here.  There is a second roller, identical to this one under the bed that actually moves the bed.  The crank and reduction mechanism turn that lower roller.  Finally, there are a set of pressure adjustment screws.In operation, the plate is placed flat on the bed, the paper placed on top of it and the bed of the press moves in between the rollers, pinching the plate and paper between them, applying the desired pressure.

On this particular press, the upper roller is 10″ in diameter.  The upper roller is not driven, only the lower one, which in turn moves the press bed.  The height of the roller over the bed needs to be adjusted precisely to control the pressure applied.  This changes as the thickness of the plates, blankets and papers changes.  The roller must also be exactly parallel to the surface of the bed or the pressure will not be even across the plate.  The micrometer adjusters, one on each side, allow this to be controlled easily, precisely and repeatably.

The bed of the press dictates the working size.  This is a large one.  It’s bed is 44″ wide by 84″ long.  It is theoretically possible to create a bleed print (one where the image bleeds off the edge of the paper) of nearly that size (the working size is fractionally smaller).  Leaving paper margins obviously reduces the size somewhat.  While the paper can hang off the ends of the bed, it cannot be any wider since it must go under the supports for the upper roller.  The largest plate I have printed on this press was 40″ x 54″ printed on 42″ x 58″ paper.


Dean Russell Thompson
Winter Park, Eastbound
Color Woodcut – 2007
40″ x 54″
Edition of 1

Copyright 2007, Dean Russell Thompson
All Rights Reserved