A Mighty Wind

The windmill's air pump is a time-proven design, which was later used on the K and S cylinder press series and even the GTO offset presses. Since it's essential to moving paper through the machine, it needs to be in top shape. Here are a few things I learned about when cleaning out the pump on my press.

It's not too hard to remove the pump to work at a bench. I removed the collar from the bottom pivot, and the cover from the bearing where the piston rod meets its crank. Then the whole unit slides off. Obviously the hoses are disconnected before this step. Disassembly follows, and it's pretty straightforward; just remember to keep track of which screws go where, etc. I cleaned off all of the spring steel air valves to ensure things were sealing and opening when they should. The packing on the piston (a felt-y material) was fine on my relatively low-use pump so I didn't mess with it. The most important thing I did was to clean the piston rings and their grooves. Just as in your car engine, the rings need to move freely in order to ride tightly against the cylinder bore, which enables high compression, or air pressure in this case.

Since the rings spring outward when the piston is removed from the pump, one needs to find a way to get the thing back together. As the rings are very springy, one would need three hands to do it without help. I'm sure it's been done with two hands, but I decided to make life easier and borrow an automotive tool idea. For replacing automotive pistons there is a tool which clamps around the piston to hold the rings in as it is slid back into the cylinder bore. Since the piston on the windmill's pump is far larger than that of any car, I measured its diameter and grabbed the next largest hose clamp from the hardware store. With this it was possible to clamp in one ring at a time by its top half, push the piston down until the ring's bottom half was in the cylinder, then loosen the clamp and do the next, and so on. There are three rings in all. I replaced them with the gap in each ring 120 degrees from the others, so the gaps were evenly spaced around the circumference.

Replacing the pump was the trickiest part. Since the bearings have a very precise fit (as do all on the machine) it took some doing to press the piston rod end exactly straight onto the crank.
Once done, I turned the press over slowly to ensure nothing was misaligned. I didn't notice any huge difference in function, but it was good to know that the pump's usual wheeze and snort were indeed normal and not caused by years of gunk or something else wrong.

On a related note: Anyone out there have a service manual for the Heidelberg windmill? I mean the one that Heidelberg service people would have had, with "official" procedures. How about one for the K cylinders, as long as I'm daydreaming? (I have the operator and parts manuals which came with the presses.) In the meantime, as I work on our machines I will follow the fundamental rules: don't break anything, and don't do anything you can't change back. And oil everything.

Elephants on Parade!


Spark's Elephant Invitation (#5) from our Loop Collection is featured in the most recent issue of Stationery Trends magazine. Loop utilizes 100% recycled chipboard and recycled packaging for all of its products, and is letterpress-printed of course! The entire collection which includes four different animals (tiger, whale, kangaroo and elephant) was illustrated and designed by one of our very own talented designers, Kate. In addition to the party invitation shown, the collection is completed by coasters, gift tags, notepads and postcards. The line is starting to pop up at retailers nationwide, so be on the lookout!

Nothing says "Happy Birthday" like calling someone a Cake Whore!


So our Bittersweet Ink collection may not be for everyone, but we've found that many people have a friend or family member that can appreciate the dry humor these cards put forth. Our good friend, Larissa Cole, came to us with this wonderful idea for a collection of cards. Larissa wrote the copy for these cards, we created the design, and of course we also printed them.

Each card is letterpress-printed in black ink on Neenah Esse 100# cover in White and comes with an Neenah Eames Furniture envelope in India Pink, Tivoli Green or Pacific Blue. Both papers contain 30% post-consumer waste and have a wonderful texture and subtle grid pattern to them.

The cards are available at our online store and have been picked up by many retailers nationally as well.

Conyers Design, Inc. Gift Tags


Each week I have a plethora of wonderful projects to review, both present and past, and for some reason I was thinking about these great little gift tags Conyers Design, Inc. (Des Moines, Iowa) had us print for them late last year. Maybe it is because of the major heat waves we’ve been experiencing, and I was just trying to remind myself of cooler weather. This was our first project for Conyers Design, and I remember the phone call from them after they received the shipment from us. They called just to say “woo-hoo” (or something to that effect). It’s always a great feeling when you make a client happy just by doing your job well.


Conyers Design Holiday Gift Tags
Design: Conyers Design, Inc.
Paper: Crane Lettra Fluorescent White 220# Double-Thick Cover (another of our tree-free house stocks)
Ink: Silver, Red and Aqua Blue
Run: 150+ on our Heidelberg Windmill, plus die cutting the tags into 3” rounds plus a small hole (done in-house).
Notes: The gift tags printed even better than we had hoped. I think these are an excellent example of great design meets letterpress printing. We ran all of the silver plates through our press twice to give it as metallic of an appearance as possible. The registration was tight on many of the designs, but it gives us a nice feeling of satisfaction every time we align something just so. After printing, we die cut the tags (on-site) and that made all the difference. It’s amazing how designs look great on-screen, but once they are printed and finished, they just look even that much better!

More images of this project and others can be found on our Flickr page.

Henry is a real dog!


Our Henry greeting card line is inspired by Valerie & Jim’s real life miniature dachshund, Henry. The original Henry illustration is based on one of the many photos we’ve taken of him over the years. Henry has been a great dog for us, and he even comes to the office every day to help out. Mostly he just barks at the UPS and FedEx drivers and many of our other unsuspecting guests. If his legs weren’t so short, I’m sure he’d be operating a press or working in shipping & receiving.

The Henry stationery products were a labor of love for us. We were planning to keep them simple, but as Henry is a complex dog, we felt it was only right to make his cards a bit more of a challenge as well. Each folded greeting card is printed in three colors – a transparent gold for the type and tail wag lines, Henry brown as it is known around the office which is really just PMS 4625, and then the different designs feature a third color to make the illustrations pop. We also have five different custom-printed envelopes that coordinate nicely with the designs. They come in Whip Cream, Red Hot, Banana Split, Sour Apple and Razzle Berry (paper from French Paper’s Poptone line).

Be sure to check out our complete line of Henry cards, invites, moving announcements and coasters, now available for sale in our online store.

Otto Bock Advisory Council


We recently had the opportunity to work with IMAGEHAUS in Minneapolis for a project they designed for Otto Bock. There were five cards in the set as well as a round coaster. The crisp impression of the rich blue and subtle gray inks against the bright white cotton stock made this stunning.

Otto Bock Advisory Council Welcome Cards and Coaster
Design: IMAGEHAUS
Paper: Crane Lettra Fluorescent White 110# Cover (our house stock) for the welcome cards and 220# Double Thick Cover for the coasters.
Ink: PMS 661 and Cool Gray 3
Run: 165 on our Heidelberg Windmill, plus die cutting on the coasters (done in-house).
Notes: The cards were straightforward and toward the “easier” end of the spectrum to print. The coasters needed two runs through the press to achieve a really solid blue, but it was definitely worth it. The white type and details literally pop off the paper.

Hot off our presses...

It was another busy week at Spark. We had several fun and labor-intensive client projects that we were working on over the past week. Although we can’t show you these creations quite yet – we need the bride, groom and their guests to see them first – we hope to share them with you soon. What I can tell you is that it was a metallic-infused Spark this week due to these orders: copper, ivory and gold inks and paper; sewing with gold thread, binding with copper ribbon, and more.

We are in the process of reprinting many cards from our product lines as we begin to run out of the bestsellers, and ended the week by reprinting business cards for one of our favorite design firms – J.D. Gordon Advertising.

In addition to printing, the true highlights of our week were definitely techy in nature with the launches of our online store, revamped Blog and new Flickr page.

Spark Institute Now in Session



Professor James Curtis Watne
Lead Press Operator, Spark Industries

Disclaimer: These are methods that I've found to work for Spark. I make no claims to complete knowledge and I'm sure there are lots of other ways out there that I don't know about. But since continuous learning is part of any worthwhile craft, I'm happy to relay what I've figured out.


Letterpress and Solid Areas of Ink

Solid areas typically present a challenge when printing on a platen press. This is because of two main factors: inking and impression.

In their original uses, platen presses were not expected to lay down huge amounts of ink and so typically have two or three form rollers. In addition, the rollers must pick up ink from a disk or drum, then pass down over the form and back up. (A cylinder press such as a Heidelberg K or S continually supplies ink to four form rollers from sizable distributor rollers.) As the ink supply is not continuous, at a certain point the roller has used one full revolution of ink and ghosting can occur.

Impression is probably the biggest issue in laying down a large solid. A platen press must make the entire impression at once, versus a cylinder press which "rolls" the paper across the form, with only a narrow band of contact at any one time. A given platen press will have a limit in the amount of force it can exert before something gives. As these machines are no longer made, we don't want to push them near that point! The Heidelberg windmill platen does have a shear collar which is designed to give way before something more expensive does, but a press such as a Chandler & Price will respond with a fracture in its cast iron. So one has to be realistic with what a machine can handle. If a client is set on having a full flood of ink across the back of their letterhead, it would probably be best to have that side offset printed. Printer and client will probably both be a lot happier!

Here's an order of approaches that I typically follow on the windmill for large solids:
1. heavy-ish inking with two rollers
2. add rider roller
3. two hits
4. skip feeding (this will be a future topic)

If I can tell at the start a job will need a certain approach I'll start with that. If coverage is insufficient then things get "escalated." A job may require the material to be split into two runs to achieve proper inking for a large solid along with a text area of the same color. Inking heavy enough for the solid to come out nicely can be way too much for the text area. Two hits with moderate inking can give the client's desired impression while being much crisper than one hit with heavy inking. Skip feeding allows two (or more) passes of the rollers, which works very well for eliminating ghosting and maximizing coverage. It requires quick, constant two-handed operation of the feed and impression with each sheet, and so is only really practical for short runs of special items. (This is one thing that is more easily accomplished on a hand-fed press such as a C&P where you only move the throwoff lever on and off, as feeding is at your manual control. You simply pause and let the press cycle once more, while having a leisurely interval to ready the next sheet.)

All of these approaches naturally require use of the ink fountain for consistency across a run. That's another topic for the future...


This example has a 5x7 full bleed solid on the back of 220 lb Lettra. The rider roller was employed, and two hits of ink were required.


This letterhead's large orange block was achieved with the rider roller and use of a thin rubber sheet in the packing. The French Durotone has a varied density throughout, and so does not lend itself to a smooth result easily. The rubber becomes in essence a variable packing to give more push behind the thinner areas. The back's full flood of orange was offset printed in advance, and the letterpress inking (from the same can) adjusted slightly to match. Our offset printer told us that even with their large press the backs required double hits of ink and as hard an impression as possible. Luckily the client expected and liked the slightly mottled look. The envelopes were printed flat on our Cylinder and converted.

Cherry Blossom Wedding Suite



The above wedding invitation set was printed late 2007 for a couple in New York City. The cherry blossom artwork was created especially for their invitation set and thank you cards. The couple selected our favorite Crane Lettra 110# cover paper in fluorescent white. Crane Lettra is a 100% reclaimed cotton paper, so no trees have fallen to make this beautiful paper. The set is a two color letterpress piece in fuchsia and dark brown with small rounded corners. Pay special attention to the arrangement and detail of the blossoms, as well as the tight registration achieved.

We started the process with a phone call with the bride to discuss her design style, colors, typeface likes and dislikes and briefly discussed the invitation wording. After the first encounter, our designer provided the couple with a PDF proof of the invitation panel which included the cherry blossom artwork. This artwork went through a couple renditions before it reached its final format. The rest of the invitation suite was created and approved all in a matter of a few weeks. Rest assured, our bride enjoyed the experience as did we!

The cherry blossom artwork is not featured in our custom album, however we are happy to reproduce this artwork upon request. Please contact custom@sparkstationery.com for more details or simply visit one of our retail stores and mention this entry.

AIGA Wink Event Postcard and Poster

Last year we sponsored a talk by Wink for AIGA's South Dakota chapter, as well as donating the printing of the postcard and poster. As we were going through projects we wanted to share with everyone, this definitely had to be the first one as it continues to be one of our favorite projects that we've printed. The event was a huge success and a lot fun to attend. If you haven't heard them speak, we highly recommend it as they were both hilarious and insightful.

Wink Event Postcard for AIGA South Dakota
Design: Wink
Paper: Most of the postcards were printed on Eames Furniture 120# DTC in White, which was generously donated by Neenah. Just for fun we printed extra postcards for ourselves on Rising Museum Board 2-ply White (which is actually a beautiful soft white).
Ink: PMS 1775 (pink) and PMS 724 (brown). The pink was run first and the brown was semi-transparent so you could see it overlay on the pink cow background. Keeping the brown true to the PMS swatch and still transparent was a bit tricky, but worth the extra effort.
Run: 500 on our Heidelberg Windmill
Timing: This was a pretty easy job for us to run. Straightforward and to the point. The ink mix was the trickiest part, but all in all I think we spent about four hours total running it.
Notes: The Eames Furniture 120# DTC didn’t perform as well as we would have liked. This was our first time working with this stock and thought it would take a crisper impression, but we were a bit disappointed. They turned out nice, just not as nice when compared with the postcards we printed on the Museum Board.



Wink Event Poster for AIGA South Dakota
Design: Wink
Paper: Most of the posters were printed on an 80# cover donated by Duffy. Since we already had the press inked up, we printed extra posters on our house stock, Crane Lettra 110# Cover in Fluorescent White as well as Monadnock Astrolite 200# Cover in Bright White and Eames Furniture 120# DTC in White. It was interesting to see how the different papers fared with the same design. The 80# cover didn’t take an impression as we expected. The Lettra ended up with a beautiful "weathered" look. The Astrolite turned out the most even and probably showed the impression best. The Eames Furniture had the most "weathered" look of the bunch.
Ink: PMS 717 (brown), PMS 872 (gold) and black. The gold was used for his tooth only and it is hard to see in this photo, but he is sporting a nice little diamond!
Run: 600 on our Heidelberg Cylinder
Timing: We ran this job over three days to give the heavy coverage time to dry a bit in between plates.
Notes: The trickiest part of this job was the inking and feeding. The feeding shouldn’t be a surprise since we were running four different stocks and three different colors. The inking was hardest with the brown but we figured it out pretty quickly. In some ways, the posters with the uneven inking turned out the most interesting with their unintended artistic effects. Those of our clients that received the posters in a sample pack liked the weathered look and thought we had done something special to achieve it during prepress.

To see more images of this project and others, visit us on Flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/sparkstationery/