Makeready: A Pressing Question

I have manuals…old ones. I have text books…new ones. I have read post after post on blogs and webpages. There are rants…there are raves…there are verbal fist fights over what this compound word, makeready, actually means and how best to perform it. You can feel the passion and anger in the words of printers coming through the void of the white page, time, and the internet. It’s kind of scary.

I keep picturing myself, someday, facing a wizened printer—decades, of experience on his/her face, I’m talking ink stains in his/hers crow’s feet kind of experience—and she/he is waiting for my reply to the improbably, but somehow inevitable question, “So, what do you do for makeready?”

So before this conversation actually occurs, what is makeready?

In a posting on Letterpress Commons, editors, Kseniya Thomas and Jenny Wilkson state, “makeready is literally the process of making the press ready to print.” This seems fairly straight forward—and I have to wonder the big deal is… but then they continue, “in the narrowest sense [makeready is] the diagnosis of defects, the selection of the best remedies for correcting defects, and the application of those remedies, so that the form will produce the best possible print on the sheet.”


Prior to printing, at least on my C&P 8×12, there are a series of steps that need happen if the press is to work properly and for the impression to be consistent and as perfect possible. This series involves 1) preparing the press; 2) preparing the forms, packing and inking system; and 3) tweaking the form, bed, and platen with underlays, overlays, and interlays.

Oddly, there are inherent imperfections in the bed, platen, and forms (the type or image to be printed) that prevent the form from being inked and pressed uniformly onto paper. As well, since many presses are old and well used (my press was built in 1892), the bed, platen, rails, chase, etc. tend to show uneven wear and this accentuate the problem. This means that when the press closes and the inked form presses against the paper, the pressure isn’t uniform. This results in a print that is darker is some areas, mottled in others, and may not show at all in others. Makeready involves adding layers of paper to the back of the form and/or under the tympan as packing to counteract these imperfections—resulting in a clean, clear, and even print.

This first picture shows a print pulled prior to makeready
This second picture shows a print after adding underlays (behind the form). Note that the impression is more even.
This third picture shows a print after overlays are added under the tympan (note that I was having a bad ink day…an issue for another post)


This is, of course, reductive…and the issue takes patience and skill. Though, if I’m lucky, this explanation might get a small laugh with a twinge of disdain from the wizened printer, or a pat on the head meaning ‘you tried kid,’ or maybe, just maybe, a nod.


I’d like to think it’ll be a nod…


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