A step-by-step guide to letterpress with Dave Wofford | Arts Feature | Indy Week
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A step-by-step guide to letterpress with Dave Wofford 

1. Today, Dave Wofford is letterpress printing debossed titles on the offset-printed covers for a forthcoming book called Phototourist from Carrboro imprint Daniel 13. Wofford designed the title on a computer and sent a digital file to Boxcar Press, a plate-maker in Syracuse, who returned it in the form of a photopolymer plate. After peeling off an adhesive film and mounting the plate on a machine-milled metal base, Wofford places it in the bed of his Vandercook proof press. (The plate pictured here is from another project, David Need's Roses; the Phototourist plate is already in the press.)

PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

2. Wofford mixes the red color the title will be printed in, using rubber-based ink. "Some colors are very difficult to mix," he says, "like very light colors and lower intensity dark colors. A warm red is pretty easy, mixing three different reds with black to get a high level of saturation and deep tone."

PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

3. Wofford uses an ink knife to spread the ink on the oscillating roller, which distributes it on the rubber form rollers that bring the ink to the plate.

PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

4. Though the press is hand-cranked, it does use a motor to turn an ink drum, which Wofford activates with this switch when he's ready to start printing.

PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

5. Wofford steps on the foot pedal that lifts the paper grippers.

PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

6. Wofford hand-feeds the paper into the grippers, registering it flush against the top and side guides. Then he releases the foot pedal to clamp down the paper.

PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

7. Wofford turns the crank to roll the cylinder assembly over the bed of the press. The drum pushes the paper down on the plate, which has been inked by rollers. For this project, Wofford says he needs to re-ink every 75 impressions or so. Until then, he quickly rolls out sheets, moving back and forth. "It's like a dance," he says.

PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

8. Finally, Wofford inspects the finished sheet, using a pica stick to make sure the baseline of the type is perfectly square with the paper's edge while checking the color and depth of impression.

PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

This article appeared in print with the headline "Fit to print"

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