Letterpress printing at Red Oak Press – letterpress calendars, a beautiful press, + more!

One of the joys of the new year for us is letterpress calendars – 12 pages of pure letterpress pleasure! So we were thrilled this year to receive a beautiful calendar from one of our platemaking customers, Rick Ziesing, the owner of Red Oak Press in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Turns out, in addition to being a letterpress printer, Rick is also a photographer and has taken amazing photographs of his shop, his Windmill, and his printing. His pictures remind us of why we love letterpress printing so darn much – because everything about this printing process is beautiful! Can you imagine an offset shop looking so gorgeous? (see more photos of more letterpress printing at Red Oak Press here)

Rick shared with us some thoughts about letterpress (see below), and all photographs are taken by Rick. The calendar was printed using the Boxcar Base and KF95 plates.

“We bought a beautiful ‘red ball’ Heidelberg Tiegel (windmill) in August of 2007, in order to make products designed in-house without those pesky clients telling us what to do.”

“Of course, I was not a printer, had never run a press nor even seen a Windmill in the flesh until it arrived. Armed with the Heidelberg manual, Platen Press Operation, by George J. Mills, and Kelsey’s little green book, I commenced my self education. The paper companies loved me as I burned through reams of cotton paper while learning to get the press to feed, then to print, then to print properly. Many trials and errors later, I am able to produce something of reasonably good quality.”

“This calendar was designed by Lori Gray, my wife’s partner in Kedash Design, a graphic design firm in Kennett Square, PA.”

“The printing of the calendar itself was not particularly difficult, registration was not critical but getting good ink coverage on both the text and the graphic for the month was trying. I resorted to running most colors twice through the press, which is supposedly a sacrilege but certainly gets the job done without having to resort to smashing one run and deforming the letters to get the graphic to print. I did some makeready by glueing some tissue thin press packing to the platen in certain areas. Of course, the Heidelberg is so beautifully designed that you can run pieces through multiple times and get dead on registration every pass.”

“The gray wash graphics were simple, once I got the color right. There’s just a hint of color anyway and lots of trusty transparent white was consumed. We bought a hand operated wiro binding machine for finishing as the cost of outsourcing 100 calendars to some drone in a copy shop was more expensive (and frightening) than just doing our own.”

“I use standard Boxcar Bases and the KF95 photopolymer. If you’ve dealt with them, you know that this is a top-flight operation.”

“Here are a few hard learned tips. If you’re running a Windmill, get it to feed perfectly before trying to print. If your final print looks bad, it can be a million things, but I always go to the packing first and use fresh tympan and packing for every run. Roller height is critical and may even need to be changed according to what kind of job you are doing. Don’t overink….as in most things, less is best.”

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