Spark's 2011 Calendars! Accordion style

I'll let our lead pressman Jim do most of the talking for this project, as he is the one responsible for using our "small" cylinder press to do this fun inking technique - split fountain.

We've been working on a number of Spark promotional pieces lately and have wanted to make sure each stands along to a certain extent. Whether it is the printing technique, design or materials, it is fun to give each piece it's own spin.

For the calendar, we knew early on that we would be doing a split fountain which not-so-simply has one color on one end of the ink fountain and another color on the other end. They subtly overlap somewhere in the middle giving us a gorgeous gradient of sorts.

Our retailers will be receiving our calendars early January 2011, so go take a look! The calendar features all of the patterns featured in our design book with a wash of blue to green inks across the calendar. Happy early New Year everyone!

Technical info from Jim:
For this job we first laid out several different pairs of colors which could produce a nice blend. Once chosen, the ink was loaded into the fountain with a hard rubber divider block in the middle. It is possible to do as many colors as you wish as long as you have enough dividers, within reason of course!

This method can be used to print two or more separate colors in one pass if the two design elements are far enough apart to avoid mixing of the colors, which can also be minimized by setting the sideways roller oscillation to zero (if possible.) For our purposes we cranked the oscillation to its maximum.

The Heidelberg cylinder allows infinite setting, where the windmill has a fixed setting, unless you rig a way to disconnect the arm driving the oscillation. Probably too much work to bother in most cases. For other presses (with which I'm less familiar) it depends on their particular roller/rider configuration. Note that this only works on fountains with a linear arrangement; with an ink disk you'd need to ink the rollers manually with two ink knives, and/or disable the rotation of the disk.

Initially I was concerned that the oscillation of the rollers would increasingly contaminate the two sides of the fountain with the adjoining color. It turned out that as long as the fountain roller has more ink on it than the ductor roller (at a given point of contact,) it transfers in one direction only, from the roller with more ink to the one with less ink. As the job ran I actually found myself wishing for more oscillation, but it worked fine to add color occasionally with the ink knife onto the rollers to make the gradient even smoother. Since the distributor and form rollers were less heavily inked than the fountain roller, it was possible to add blue ink to the green side without it working up into the fountain.

Printing with a split fountain will always make the results more "one of a kind" than usual, but in this case it turned out to be surprisingly controllable with some cautious setup. Even if the results are a bit surprising, some experimentation can produce some very nice results.

Back to Joy- There you have it! The New Year is one month away! Enjoy the rest of your holiday season!

J.D. Gordon Stationery

Our friends at J.D. Gordon Advertising in Sioux City, Iowa, are slowly working their way toward becoming letterpress junkies. We printed their stationery suite (business cards, letterhead and envelopes) late last year and I still am so pleased with the final look. They used French Paper Muscletone 140# cover in pure white for the business cards and French Paper Dur-o-tone 80# butcher in white.

One thing I found interesting about the final look of the stationery was how using letterpress really allowed the paper's unique butcher paper finish to shine through. I think in this instance letterpress printing really adds to the design because each piece is slightly different from each other depending on how the ink covered from sheet to sheet.

Windmill vs. Cylinder

As I was running a job on our KS cylinder this week I was again reminded of the differences between a platen job press and a cylinder. The latter aren't called "buchdruck" (book printing) presses in Germany for nothing – they are truly better suited for long runs of one big job than a bunch of smaller ones. Things such as roller installation and adjustment, oiling, etc. take significantly longer with the cylinder. The minimum amount of ink required for the fountain is three to four times that of the windmill.

More than these, the key difference to me is momentum. The cylinder is a juggernaut; you can't stop and start it instantly like the windmill. The windmill is perfect for short runs because you can stop it dead with a sheet in the grippers, tweak the register, and run just one more sheet for another proof. You can run a few hundred sheets while wasting only a couple of sheets. The cylinder needs to get up to speed, and then you must run at least two sheets as the first will have excess ink from multiple roller passes. Then you can either print two more sheets using the stop lever at the delivery, or you can get by without printing any more sheets by using the quick stop lever. This will run two sheets through without printing, which must be returned to the feeder.

That said, for the right kind of job the cylinder is unstoppable. Nothing can lay down a heavy solid as well, and of course they came in L, XL and XXL compared to platens. Ours is the "baby" cylinder (KS for Kleine Schnellpress) with a 15"x20.5" sheet size. If you have the room and can find one that hasn't been butchered into a diecutter, Heidelberg made them up to a sheet size of 25"x35". The register is easily tweaked without tools, and some other adjustments are very easy and precise as well. The cylinder will also handle most any printing, diecutting or scoring job you throw at it. For the vast majority of jobs you get the feeling the machine isn't even breaking a sweat, where you can tell with a platen press that it's starting to work hard past a certain point.

To me what makes the windmill endearing (as much as a machine can be) is that it's human-scaled. When you stand in front of it, it's all right there and there's a lever for each of your hands. It's tall and narrow and you can get all the way around it quickly. Despite its strength it almost feels delicate. The cylinder press is a car-sized brute. It's quite intimidating and you always are aware that there's a lot of metal moving around that could thoroughly ruin your day. The windmill has that too of course, but friendlier somehow.

So, as long as you know what you're getting into, each machine is genius in its own right. Also, as you have just read, the mind has lots of time to wander on those long jobs...

Spark's Big Friday

Today is a great day at Spark and here's why:

Spark’s Online Store is Open
Our online store is open for business and can be accessed through our web site. All of our new product lines are featured and we can’t wait for you to see them. Click on the Shop link on the right side of the page to go to our shopping site.

Here are a few images of our newest products:

Read our Blog
We're making a renewed commitment to keeping our blog up-to-date since we have so much we want to share and so many people we want to share with. Our blog will be a great source of images and articles about our client work, technical information about letterpress printing, and all of the latest happenings at Spark.

Here is our post schedule:
Monday - Client Projects
Tuesday - Wedding Projects
Wednesday - What's New
Thursday - Letterpress Institute
Friday - Stationery
Weekend - Hot Off Our Presses

Visit us on Flickr

Visit our Flickr pages to view images of our shop, our presses and our work. We are still trying to get caught up with photos of past client work – for design firms and private clients – so continue to check back for new photos.

Have a great weekend from all of us at Spark!

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.