Let’s examine what the ‘blanket layer’ does as part of the ‘sandwich’ a printmaker puts together when taking a print on any roller press.
The two tasks of a blanket relevant to any printmaking method are: firstly as a ‘friction’ layer; enabling the smooth metal roller to grip the print ‘sandwich’ and feed it smoothly through the press. Secondly, evening out to a degree the pressing of the paper down on to the ink and taking up some of the variations in surface of plate/block and paper.
Then we come to the key factors in the choice of an appropriate blanket layer: the method of printmaking being used; and the particular requirements of each different pass of a print through the press.
The blanket layer is potentially very flexible under high pressure and this flexibility can be finely controlled according to the results desired. So, for example, the plate/block might be required to be printed ‘intaglio’ - either a deeply bitten etching, or a collograph with several different levels and textures. In these cases the paper will probably need to be damp (and therefore more flexible) and the blanket’s job is to push the paper right down into the inked areas to pick up all the marks and textures of the image. Hence, over the years the typical combination of a thin, smooth but flexible ‘swanskin’ topped with absorbing and ‘driving’ layers of coarser weave blankets have been adopted on most ‘etching’ presses.
If we then compare that with the other extreme of printmaking technique: a ‘relief’ print; such as lino or woodcut, with fine detail – both positive and negative – carved on a smooth level surface. Here the artist will only want the (probably quite thinly rolled) layer of ink to be transferred cleanly, but totally, to the (usually dry) surface of the paper. Here the blanket must act as a ‘driving’ layer in the sandwich and at the same time even out the roller pressure; but not bend the paper at all down and around the edges of the inked parts of the image. So – in this case one layer of thin felt or even just a layer or two of thickish paper might well do all that is required.
So….what will the average printmaker user of the XCut Xpress need to have to hand in the way of blankets?
As always with creative printmaking, personal experimentation is a must. (But I would add here that all trials and proofs should be done as far as possible using the same paper, ink and other elements as are planned for the final version. A quick proof on thin copy paper in the wrong ink will tell you very little about the real potential of your block/plate!)
Think about what you actually want to happen as the rollers press the paper to the ink and try different combinations to make that happen.
One piece of non-woven 5mm felt such as that sold in the UK by Handprinted https://goo.gl/dJStK3 will probably be a good all round starting point. It is thick enough to push dampened papers right down in to intaglio plates, but can have a piece of dry thickish paper placed between it and the paper to be printed if a lightly inked relief surface only is being printed.
Personally, for printing my lino blocks, I still use just one piece of thin craft felt, perhaps with an additional layer of thinner paper between it and my preferred 300gsm Somerset. And such intaglio as I have printed on the XCut – which is not a great deal I have to say – seemed to work fine with just one medium density 5mm blanket and one sheet of acid free tissue over well dampened paper.
As always – interested to hear of and see others XCut Xpress XPeriments!