Deepening Snow: Part 3

Bed of press showing plates mounted on base and ink rollers

Bed of press showing plates mounted on base and ink rollers (courtesy of Michiko Oishi)

I use polymer plates for letterpress printing. This process turns a digital design into a relief printing surface using a photo-sensitive gel. The depth of the plate, backed with adhesive, plus the depth of the metal base on which it is mounted, equals the standard height of a piece of type. Now it is ready to be printed on a standard letterpress printing press.

Printing a book can be stressful. It requires a lot of organization to ensure that the correct page is printed on the correct sheet in the correct position. This is the result of the signatures that make up the structure of the book. A sheet of paper is folded in half to create a folio of four pages. When one folio is placed inside another, this creates a signature. Two signatures are the beginnings of a text block. Deepening Snow has five signatures; four with four folios and one with five.

The imposition of the pages on the folios results in the pages being out of order. For example, if you had a signature of two folios, the pages of the first folio would be numbered 1, 2, 7, 8 while the pages of the second folio would be numbered 3, 4, 5, 6. I printed Deepening Snow 4-up, meaning that the sheet of paper I fed through the press had four pages on each side. To keep track of the confusion created by folios, page order, and printing methods, I created a dummy of the text in its folios in their correct signatures which I then disassembled and arranged as pairings for the printing sheets. Before each press run the English and the Japanese were carefully cross-checked to make sure that every piece of the puzzle was in its correct place.

Deepening Snow Sheets Drying

Drying sheets showing the impression of Japanese text from opposite side (courtesy of Michiko Oishi)

Once a press run is under way, it can be relaxing and satisfying. You must constantly be on the look out for problems that can occur, but even this becomes a part of the rhythm that develops around checking ink levels, adding more ink to the rollers, and feeding the sheets through the press. As the sheets are printed they are laid out and interleaved with newsprint to dry over night. Once a sheet has cured for a week or so, its reverse side can be printed. Backing up a sheet reveals how precisely the press operator fed the sheet into the press on the first runs. If this work has been done well, the lines of text will fall in exactly the same spot on opposite sides of the sheet, eliminating show-through that can distract the reader.

The last step in printing a book is usually adding in the bits of color to the text. This is the fun part. At this stage the sheets start to resemble the book they will eventually become.

Next, the book itself.