Printing a wood engraving with letterpress founts – my ‘LOVE is … Pink Ferry’ card

Following the success of my Pink Ferry linocut I thought that the Pink Ferry would also make a good subject for a wood engraving. I had also been thinking about designing a card for St Valentines Day using my newly acquired letterpress founts and seeing if I could successfully print both these and a wood engraving. I had tried this first with my Sea Fever card but had run out of time before Christmas to get consistently good prints and realised that the combination of printing pressure, make-ready packing and printing ink were not quite right.

I set about designing a simple silhouette of the ferry on tracing paper, transferring the image using red carbon paper onto a lemon wood block that had been dyed black with a light wash of Quink ink. I was a bit undecided how to depict the water so developed this as I proofed the block. I also decided to include a border to support the ink roller when inking up and to try avoid the cleared areas picking up any ink.

I then locked up the block with the typeface in a chase (called a forme) which I had already composed in 14 and 12 pt Perpetua, with spacing furniture and leadings. I then moved the chase to the moveable bed and checked all the typeface is flush with the bed by loosening the chase slightly and ‘planing’ the forme, using a flat block of wood (a planer) and a mallet or similar to gently tamp down the type before the chase is locked up tight. Initially, my proofs showed that the 14 pt ‘LOVE’ was out of line with the 12 pt ‘is …’ and needed a hairs width of spacing to lift the 12 pt up. I found that a small cut piece of Zerkall 215 gsm both above and below the 12 pt worked a treat!

I currently use an old cast iron Waterlow & Sons copying press to print my letterpress and wood engravings as a cheap alternative to a semi-automated press such as an Adana or Albion. I place the block or chase on a moveable bed made from a rigid flat board covered with a thin sheet of clear acrylic (marked up for registration) which I slide under the platen. You apply pressure by screwing down a platen and with a small block like this a hand tight pressure, with only two sheets of newsprint protecting the card to be printed, seems adequate. The platen seems to apply more pressure to the top left of the block and least pressure to the bottom right so the make-ready needs to be adjusted accordingly.

After quite a bit of trial and error I finally got the underlay and overlay of make-ready producing good prints. I used the blocks of wood as bearers to support the card, stuck down with tape.

I used a strip of newsprint over the card to improve the printing of the lower border. I also added a small square of newsprint over ‘share’ for the same reason.

I cut out a registration card for both the front and rear of the card (using my rubber stamp logo on the rear).

I’m very pleased with how this design and its printing has turned out but I suspect that if I had used a traditional letterpress ink instead of the Caligo Safe Wash Etching Inks I would have got better results still. Another lot of inks to purchase!

For more details see here –

First wood engravings

In January I completed an enjoyable four week introductory wood engraving course at the Red Hot Press with Jutta Manser. The first week we practiced mark making on engraving plastic and selected an image to produce on a small block of lemonwood. I chose a 3 x 5 cm block which perfectly fitted the proportions of a photo of a Koi Carp. The second week we started to engrave our image. I have much admired Agnes Mills Parker’s engravings from the 1920’s and how she used strong contrasts of black against white to bring her subject matter to life and this image really lent itself to this approach.

Working on the Koi Carp image

Having got the Koi Carp block to a reasonable state to get some good clean proofs I moved on to designing my ‘Erosion’ block. I chose a 7 x 9 cm block and engraved the design so that I could proofed it along with the Koi Carp at our last session. Jutta had selected a number of different printing papers for us to try out and I found that the Zerkall handmade printing paper (210 gsm) from Great Art worked well with the relief press. I also tried hand burnishing with a little Yew sugar spoon my mother gave me which worked very well with the lightweight Okashi Japanese paper (29 gsm, also from Great Art) and another lightweight creamy paper (unidentified).

First wood engravings

I was very pleased with the results and how I had been able to develop my recent fine linocut techniques to these intricate designs using the very fine mark making that can be achieved with wood engraving. Jutta’s years of experience in wood engraving was also was much appreciated!