Z – Ziploc Bags

To say that letterpress printing is a traditional art is an understatement…and with that are a host of rules and guidelines to follow. From my experience, printers take these rules very seriously…and will openly argue about them with other printers. Briarpress.org is a great site for information on letterpress printing…the discussions section on their page is a wealth of knowledge and experience…and also a realm of disagreement. Most of the disagreements have to do with the ‘right’ way to do things.

I’m breaking a few rules (please keep that to yourself)…or, maybe not breaking, but stretching them a bit.

I was watching my wife make cupcakes one day. She was being ambitious and piping frosting on top with one of those cone shaped bags. She’d twist the back a little, squeeze, and make a neat little circle of frosting. Clean and easy (ok, not easy, but it looked it).  A lightbulb went off in my head.

I tend to need the same ink for several jobs…so I mix a lot of it. I don’t use all I mix at one time, so what to do with the left over ink? The recommendations are to fold into paper (really…), or put it in a paint tube (which I don’t have)…so, I use Ziploc bags the way my wife uses the piping bags.

Not the prettiest picture, but ink in a bag.

Admittedly, it looks odd, but it has some real advantages: 1) cheap and disposable, 2) you can squeeze all the air out of the top, and more importantly 3) you can snip the corner with scissors and pipe the ink onto the ink disk. It’s neat and easy! I know…how dare I…

Another faux pas…I print on acetate sheets (shhh…tell no one). Traditionally, after putting the form into the press, you ink it up and print onto the tympan paper. This lets you see where the image will be printed so you can line up your paper and set the gauge pins to get the image exactly (well sort of, it’s a blind process) where you want it.

Sheet of acetate with registration images

In practice, this is a lot harder than I’d like and it is really difficult to set up reduction prints–where images are printed on top of each other, so accurate alignment is really imperative. In comes clear sheets of acetate (remember overheads in school). I tape a sheet to the tympan and print on the sheet instead of the tympan. This does two things for me: 1) keeps the image off the tympan paper—you can get a ghost image on the back of your printing if you don’t clean of the tympan properly, and 2) I can slide my paper under the acetate with the image and line up the paper and image on the directly. This makes reductions prints much easier to align. After, I just wash of the tympan and I can use it again!

These are not ground breaking and maverick moves, but they are not the traditional ways of doing things. I don’t think I’ll be booted out of the letterpress club, but I might create a few heated debates…and there’s nothing wrong with that!


3 thoughts on “Z – Ziploc Bags

  1. I can’t believe I ran across you at the end of the A to Z challenge! Being a book binder and being smitten with letter press forever, & living in Michigan also I would love to find our more about your journey into this wonderful art form. I’ll be following you. It seemed the challenge had many more writers than visual artists. I’m not finding your email anywhere on the blog for a more in depth conversation.


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