Friday 25 March 2016
People have often asked me about my printing press, so in this blog post I explain a bit about it and how it works.
My press is an Adana Eight-Five.
It is a small press, known as a ‘tabletop’ printing press. The name ‘Eight-Five’ or ‘8×5’ comes from the internal dimensions (in inches) of the space where I lock up text or printing plates. In practice the usable area is much smaller than this, so the press is best suited to printing very small items such as business cards.
Adana describe the press in their literature as a ‘hand-platen printing machine’. The term ‘platen’ refers to the fact that the paper and the printing surface are both flat. In modern printing machines both of these surfaces are wrapped around a cylinder. Having flat surfaces has advantages, however, as it makes it possible to print on much stiffer and thicker materials which wouldn’t go around a cylinder. The thickest material I have printed on is Kemikal Cotton White from Fenner Paper, which is 1,500 micron (or 1.5mm) thick.
In my press the printing surface and the paper are brought together in a clamshell operation – giving rise to the name ‘clamshell platen press’. You can watch a very short clip of me printing by clicking on the image. You’ll notice that I print, or ‘hit’, the same piece twice. This is in order to build up ink coverage and sheen with a metallic ink.
Despite Adana referring to these presses as ‘high speed machines’ the speed comes from the operator as the press is completely manual. And this is where the term ‘hand’ comes from. Each piece of paper is fed into the machine by hand, the printing operation is done by hand, and the finished piece removed by hand.
In commercial printing speed has always been an important objective, so as presses developed they first added a foot treadle, then power from steam or electricity which was delivered to the press via a drive belt, but ultimately the technology developed away from platen presses towards cylinder based systems in order to achieve the highest possible speeds.
Each Adana machine has a serial number – mine is C.11099. I like to imagine where it has been since it was manufactured, and what it has printed. Adana no longer exist as a company and the brand now belongs to Caslon.
I contacted the ever-helpful Roy Caslon to ask him if he had any records which might fill in the gaps in the life of my press. Unfortunately none of the original sales records survive, but the serial number points towards the fact that my press was originally manufactured sometime between 1980 and 1992. It was completely stripped down and remanufactured to new condition in 2013 when I bought it. So I like to imagine that my press was manufactured in 1980 – making it the same age as me!
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