After some years operating my website I have finally decided to have a go at writing this blog. I often wonder whether the effort of putting a blog together is worth it….well we’ll see!
I begin with a record of some experiments I’ve been doing with a little press – the XCut Xpress; made by a company called Docrafts as a die cutting and embossing press for card making etc. They seem to be available all around the world; although they also appear to be getting in short supply in some places as more and more printmakers realise the potential use as a small, relatively cheap printing press.
I got mine here https://goo.gl/AtYh6z
I have two beautiful old presses in my studio which print linocuts perfectly. But I can never resist a little technical development and experimentation with a new idea. There are a few of these little roller presses around; all designed for embossing and cutting shapes for craft card making etc. This one seemed very sturdy and also has an all-important pressure adjustment knob. Although I have to say that on the first XCut I brought home, this knob was seized tight, so I had to drive 30 miles to return it for exchange. What also appealed to me about this particular little machine was that it folds up to handily transport it. My idea was therefore to use it as a little demo machine at shows and talks etc.
The Xcut comes with three base boards; one 1.5mm metal, a 3mm plastic and a 12mm plastic. The thicker plastic looked like it would work well as a printmaking bed, so I popped an old small lino block on to it (I pre-mount my lino on to 6mm MDF board before carving) and rigged up ‘forme’ to lock it in place and support the paper from strips of the same MDF’ just as I do on the big presses. I a cut a piece of ordinary felt to use as a packing/driving blanket, found some off cuts of my usual 300 gsm Somerset paper and guessed the pressure setting; which turned out to be almost at the maximum gap on the Up/Down dial adjustment.
I was really surprised and pleased with the initial results. Really no problem at all with the evenness of pressure and the ease of gearing of the little handle. The only limitation was the lack of press height i.e. the gap between the rollers, which is only about 21 mm (type height is 23.4 mm) and therefore ease of pressure adjustment if I used 6mm MDF. Bearing in mind too, that my lino is Marmoleum commercial flooring lino, which when sanded flat is quite a bit thinner than the usual (and I think expensive) grey art lino. I also disliked the cramped space to work on the 300 x 200mm base boards provided.
See a video of this first attempt here
So the next experiment was to make a longer bed and use a thinner mount and forme for the lino.
I could have made a bed from 10 mm MDF but I thought this might bend and would quickly get dirty and tatty. I liked the 12 mm polyethylene board supplied and realised that a large commercial food cutting board I found on Amazon https://goo.gl/b7NdGI would make me two 600 x 220 mm beds. OK another 28 quid, but if a job’s worth doing….
This time too I decided to test the press’s ability to print in register using the ‘Ternes Burton’ Pin system (more on these later). So I took an old used linocut plate off its 6mm block and remounted it on 4mm hardboard (Masonite). Again I made a forme support of the same hardboard and attached TB register pins. This enabled me to print with the dial set at about number 9 (offering some leeway) on the same 300 gsm paper.
I duly ran off half a dozen perfect prints in the first colour with no problems; removed the block from the forme, cut some more; replaced the block and printed the second colour. Spot on register and even printing - even slightly wet on wet using Caligo Safewash inks. (See pictures below or a video here)
I believe this little press will revolutionise small scale home and hobby printmaking. It is very limited in the size of image and paper it can accommodate of course, but I know others are already using it to successfully print etchings, drypoints, collagraphs etc. As I write, I hear suppliers are running out of them as word has spread on social media. I hope the manufacturer/distributer Docrafts have the sense to develop and encourage this market and at least make a longer bed available.
Personally I will certainly be using mine to demonstrate at shows and galleries as often as I can. I have a ‘residency’ planned at one of my galleries at Easter this year (more on this later too) and I will be producing something for that to show its potential. Indeed, if I had the enthusiasm for it, there would no doubt be a big demand for short courses/workshops on how to use it.