Meticulous Makeready is

Key to Fine Printing

By Fred Williams
Editor-Publisher, Type & Press
Published Spring 1978


Makeready is a complicated art . . . one requiring the exercise of judgement, skill and experience. This article will touch on some of the methods pursued in the search for that elusive perfect print.

Novice pressmen may question the necessity of time and effort required performing makeready duties prior to the actual printing of a job. They believe all type and cuts are .9185" high and that beds and platens of all presses are flat and parallel.

Their conscience doesn't seem to bother them when they slip in a couple more sheets of packing, pile on more ink and let 'er go. The type may punch so deep into the paper that it can be read from the back by a blind man!

The material in the form actually may be off as much as .003" high or low, requiring a correction of several thicknesses of tissue!

Few platen presses, especially vintage ones, will have perfectly flat or level platens or beds. These parts may actually be dish-shaped as much as 1/64."

And for these reasons, any job, with the exception of those comprising only one or two lines, must be madeready. -

The term makeready covers all the operations necessary to overcome these deficiencies that will result in faultless print. It may be divided into three distinct operations — the placing of underlays, interlays and overlays

The underlay is material placed under the form to bring it to a height of .9185." This will enable the rollers to transfer a thin film of ink evenly to all parts of form.

Overlays are matter placed on the platen to provide for that variation in impression necessitated by the different characteristics of the form. Approximately 75 lbs. of pressure per sq. in. will be required for printing of body type. Display type and halftones print blacker, requiring more pressure per inch. Overlays also rectify defects in the surface of form.

Interlays, material to bring cuts to type-high, are placed between the mounting and the plate.

It bed of press is low in center, several sheets of thin paper, diminishing in size toward the middle, can be torn out and tipped on to a piece of paper. Placed behind the form, this sheet can be taped to the edge of the chase.

Platen and bed of press should approach each other absolutely parallel if form is to receive an even impression. If they don't, platen must be leveled. To level, lock up a 60 pt. letter in each corner of chase, gradually adjusting platen screws until all type prints with equal color.

When a heavy form is substituted for a light one, additional packing will be required in front of the platen to overcome any spring in the press. Consequently on hinged platen presses there will be a heavier impression at bottom than at top of form, requiring platen to be reset.

First, all cuts and large type should be checked with a type high gauge. Engravings should be checked for warpage and any too high should be sanded down. An inch circle of paper behind the center of a wood base cut four inches square will increase the impression with no noticeable effect on the edges.

A hard packing will make the print stand out on the surface of the paper without showing thru on the other side.

A hard tympan, requiring only a light impression, prevents excessive wear on type. Soft packing and heavy impressions will damage a typeface very quickly.

When running envelopes with lumpy glue, a soft packing may protect type from defacement.

When printing from badly worn type, rollers may be held off low characters by higher, less worn letters. An underlay of blotting paper may help equalize form.

When printing on hard ripple stock, use a sheet of tin or zinc in place of pressboard. The type will be forced' into paper, giving a better print. Impression will not show on reverse side.

A packing for a heavy form—a journal, or book containing type and halftones— may consist of one pressboard, three sheets #1 hard manila plus three sheets of stock to be used. Oiled tympan paper should form the top sheet. Tbe composition of the packing will depend on the nature of the job, the paper and the press.

Using good rollers, properly adjusted, mix just a smidgen of ink on the press. Put on type form and pull print on top sheet—just enough for highest spots to print weakly. Position guide pins. Pull a trial print on paper job is to be run on. While trial print is still up against pins, stab two inverted V shaped slashes into packing with a knife. These V register marks, near top bale, should be outside printing area. This first overlay sheet, is now taken from press.

Turn overlay sheet over so the printed side is down and examine under strong side light. Shadows cast by impressions of letters will show up sufficiently to mark out with a pencil the sections which need more or less pressure. The first series, of concentric outlines will indicate where slightly additional impression is called for. A second series of lines are marked inside the first to show where the impression is quite weak. Lastly, a third series of outlines, are penciled inside the second ones, designating areas where the print vanishes completely. This results in a series of three irregular outlines, diminishing in size toward the center of the overlay sheet.

If the print contains any halftones the overlay sheet is turned print side up with a piece of carbon paper placed underneath. Areas printing too weakly are so marked, the pencil lines being transferred to back by carbon.

Some printers feel it is easier to mark all overlays on printed side using the carbon paper.

Each series of outlines must now have thin patches of paper pasted inside the drawn lines.

For overlaying type and linecuts use French folio (.002" thick), tissue (.001" thick), thin manila or book paper, depending on extra impression required.

Work in large patches on the first overlays . . . here it is a question of square inches. The extremely small overlays can be put on the final overlay sheet.

Commencing with the smallest patches in the center, tip a piece of tissue or folio lightly to overlay inside the lines with flour or makeready paste. With a sharp knife carefully trim away exactly only the tissue that extends beyond drawn outlines. After all the small circles are patched up, proceed to next largest circle. Finish up the largest contours last.

Resulting overlay sheet will be composed of three thicknesses inside smallest outline, two thicknesses over the second and only one over the largest area.

Areas that show too mach impression will have those circles scraped or peeled off or cut out completely on overlay sheet.

Open bales, paste patched overlay sheet just under top sheet, in register with V slashes. Subtract one sheet from packing to compensate for thickness of overlay.

Move pressboard from bottom to just below first overlay sheet. One line of thought is that the overlay sheet should not be less than .012" nor more than .024" underneath the top sheet. An overlay too near the top may show the spots outlined. If placed too deep, it may lose much of the desired effect because the press distributes any additional impression over a wider area.

Close packing and pull another trial print. This one should show a marked improvement over the first one. Perhaps no further impression will be needed. If any areas still print weak, a second overlay will be made as was the first. This overlay will be placed over first sheet’s register marks.

Each succeeding overlay will result in an improvement over the previous. Three is the limit.

For high quality Letterpress printing, a second and third overlay will be required to bring out fine graduation of tone in any halftone plates. Never put on an extra sheet of packing over the entire form unless more impression is needed everywhere.

Overlaying is complicated by the tendency of the press to yield when pressure is added to any part of the form. Often the overlays will cause impression to bear off from parts of the form that originally all right.

Small areas or bad letters that do not print up can have these sections built up by applying with a fine brush thin coats of liquid nail polish. Drying fast, this liquid will build up faulty letters during the final touches.

By slowly building up the low areas only you will not be hitting the paper too hard. With a hand press one will find that it’s easy to print a full form without breaking your arm pulling the handle.

After all parts of the form have been brought to equal impression job is ready to be run. Place a small part of ink on disk and the form should print perfectly.

Opinions of pressmen on makeready differ and many diverse methods are used. Some advocate patching directly on top sheet to save time. Others pull proofs on inside sheets by opening one bale and rolling draw sheet up or down. Still, some confine all of the makeready to overlays. Each system has its adherents.

No matter what method is employed, it should be remembered that in Letterpress the pressman has perfect control of every minute section of the form. Each part may be brought to a perfect impression. This is one reason why Letterpress is capable of the finest printing. A little extra effort by Letterpressmen will result in print that will proudly be a credit to the art preservative!

Overlay sheet marked for position and kind of material to be added. Letters stand for: (F) Folio, (B) Bookpaper (S) Scrive or scrape and (XX) cut out completely. All outlines unmarked need thickness of tissue.