So you think you can build a press?
Making custom printing presses is an industry and skill that has dwindled in response to fine art schools and print shops being the only ones who needed such machines anymore. Of course things like etching presses and Lithography presses are not needed in a economical since these days, but they are still used to make fine art more accessible. There are still people all across the globe that build handmade printing presses. Anyone that really wants to can make a printing press. Experienced makers can build more complex designs of a press, and even fewer can design the parts and assemble them to make a machine on their own. Building your own printing press takes a variety of skills and a good plan. It takes a little bit of space and time, and most likely some problem solving. But once you have your press put together, you will always know how to take it apart if you made a press that has to be dismantled to move. A press gives you the ability to make fine art prints, hand made zenes, or album covers for your band. It also gives you a sense of empowerment when you are done making the machine and use it to reproduce art. When done right, wood can be used just as effectively as metal and can be made with tools that are easier to access. There are many types of presses, and many different skill levels depending on the materials and process your printing press would require. The Print Factory designs and builds all of the printing equipment used for our projects and has been making printing presses for five years. We have made many presses, including presses that we commissioned, and presses done as collaborations. Both metal and wood have different pros and cons when it comes time to build in the shop and potentially transport your press.
You will find a variety of opinions on how precise a press should be made. Printing presses are machines that we invented to distribute information more fairly and efficiently. Now we have many other avenues to get information of course, but the machine that could reproduce an image or decree is the precursor for all of those other avenues of information. Making a printing press today is part homage to the invention, part shop project, and also makes you think about the history of the printed image in a different way. There are a number of ways to go about actually constructing the press, and a lot of it depends on what you need in a press and how much money you have. It can all be made from scratch if you have the skills and the access to a shop. If you are not an experienced maker, and have no access to a shop, there are other options.
If you design a press right, you can get all the parts you need from a metal supplier (have them cut the parts), a hardware store and maybe a lumber yard. From there, you could finish the press with a drill or drill press, and various hand tools. Other ways involve everything from using a CNC router or plasma cutter, a lathe for the drums, making gears and so forth. Some fabricators will tell you that you have to make an etching press within such a tolerance or it won’t work properly. Others point out that Vermeer was printing etchings long before the kind of shop technologies that can offer accuracy like presses today. In other words, a perfect press is great, but the masters made some of their art on machines that were just making do as it turns out. Craft & Concept has made everything from personal printing kits, electric printing presses, to things like our backpack printing press called the S.C.O.P.E.
To find out more about the S.C.O.P.E. see our article C&C’s S.C.O.P.E. and consider coming to our workshop in New Orleans at the New Orleans GlassWorks & Printmaking Studio on Friday March 16th in New Orleans. The Print Factory will be showing the backpack press, and showing participants how to make their own. The S.C.O.P.E. is all about making a DIY press, that is also a highly portable print shop. We have blueprints for presses, and share them with others interested in making printing presses. One of our collaborations in press building comes from the Pakistani Cargo Truck Initiative. The P.C.T.I. is another activist are group started by Asheer Akram. The P.C.T.I. is a project under construction, and will be a 1952 chevy 2 ton truck, converted into a mobile art making factory. The Print Factory will be helping the P.C.T.I. design, construct, and operate a steel and aluminum printing press out of the truck itself as the project travels the country. The truck is inspired by a trip Asheer took to Pakistan, and the imaginative reinventions the Pakistani people make out of these trucks. As long as you have the dedication to follow through with the project, you will be able to build a printing press. An etching press has to be strong enough to exert enough pressure on the plate, while withstanding that same pressure on the joints of the machine. Building a press that prints etchings evenly on a consistent basis is a big project no matter how you look at it. Craft & Concept makes printing presses for hire, and we also help people who want to make their own.
We are print enthusiasts, and we are about showing other print enthusiasts how to own a machine they can’t afford to buy outright. The last press we designed was made of metal and maple, while the drums were rings of baltic birch. You can see a picture of it at the bottom of this article. The Lost Arts Collective commissioned the press and use it in their community to promote the knowledge of printing and the art of their groups members. We at Craft & Concept first became interested in presses when someone gave us some unfinished blueprints of a press he wanted to make but never did. After much prodding and prying at the old man, he eventually gave in to showing us how the press worked, the details he had not finished, and how to gain the skills to make the machine. The result is what we can the Model A. We have helped many others make presses and art ever since. The Model A is a typical etching press that is what most press builders today set out to make.
Making any press is going to require precision at key moments along the process, but making a machine that makes art is very rewarding. If you have no access to a shop, and are not shop savoy, sign up for a wood shop or metal shop class at the nearest university. This way you have the tools, a mentor, and of course you will have a goal. Those three things, along with some frustration and dedication, will allow you to build a press you can use as a shop project, a means to an end, or both. Through our designs and others designs on the web you can make many different printing presses. You can use these machines for so many purposes. A hand made object stands out in today’s world, and that is what a print off of a press is whether we realize it or not. Besides that you can print on more materials than just paper on a press you make yourself.
The ability for information to be mass produced and distributed changed everything about the way we live. Learning about how all of that technology, politics, and art happened changes the way you look at the availability of information. Anyone that wants to make one of these machines probably has their own reasons more than likely though. So you want to build a press? You can contact the shop guys at Craft & Concept by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Craft & Concept group can do everything from help you make a press, to build you one in our shop. If you are a university, or a studio artist, Craft & Concept knows how to make the press that fits your needs. Don’t forget to check our facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/printfactorykc to see links on home made letter presses and more of what we are about at Craft & Concept. Feel free to contact us with questions during your project. Craft & Concept is a group of makers that promote the practice of making things for yourself. The next press we make will be in New Orleans. Thank you for visiting craftandconcept.com.
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Thanks so much for your interest! We are currently, really busy! Please check out the blueprints and plans for the proofing press that we offer for free, under the Printing Presses tab on the main page. Long live print