Proofing Press Proves DIY Is A-OK

Back in the day when most people read the news on wood pulp, newspaper outfits would run off a test print on a small proofing press. This gave them a chance to check for typos before printing off thousands of newspapers on the real press.

These presses can be used for more than letterpress proofing, as [Paul] proves with this DIY version (YouTube, embedded below). They are simple machines that use a heavy roller on bearings to provide uniform pressure, so they’ll work for lino-cut printmaking and aquatint etchings, too.

The roller is the most important bit and is easily the most expensive part of a build like this one. [Paul]’s was fashioned by a UK machinist that he found through ebay. The total cost was £220 (~$300 USD), which is well below the thousand-pound mark where commercial machine prices start.

[Paul] made the base and handle out of plywood and CNC’d the side panels out of aluminium. These side panels contain bearings that hold the roller’s ends in place. As the roller moves back and forth, it slides along on another set of bearings the underside of the press. These bearings ride thin metal rails on the underside of the press so they don’t wear grooves into the wood over time.

[Paul]’s press looks fantastic and looks like it does a great job with everything he throws at it. Some uses require raising up the surface to be printed on to get a good transfer, so [Paul] might make it adjustable in the z-direction at some point in the future. Check out the build and walk-through video after the break.

If [Paul] looks familiar, it’s because we featured his equally impressive large-format book press last spring.

17 thoughts on “Proofing Press Proves DIY Is A-OK

    1. Very true, and even the ones who are “honest” are regularly practicing “Deception by Omission”. They do it at a strategic scale by controlling the overall news agenda, what you even get to hear about, and they do it at the tactical level by twisting individual stories by giving you a limited and skewed set of facts.

  1. Now this brings back memories. I ended up not taking photography or ceramics as electives in art school because I took every printmaking class I could. That press looks easily upgradeable, and those monotype (non-repeatable prints versus etching/woodcut) prints look great. I’m not sure if a crank wheel or a proper set of wool printmaking blankets would be the next best upgrade. Sadly, either could double the cost of his build.

    1. Hi Damian, i also fell in love with printmaking at uni, we had some amazing facilities! Im slowing trying to build my own printmaking studio in my house. Crank wheel and rack would definitely make it easier to move it across the bed. Also a paper gripper would be a nice addition. The blankets are proper wools ones that were kindly donated to me from a local art shop :)

  2. I don’t know what dimensions the roller was but you might be able to find good rollers if you can find old mimeograph machines, they usually have really nice rollers of a decent size. I somehow lucked into one many years ago.

  3. I had a look at current prices of stainless steel, and just the material would be around EUR150, so he’s got the machining practically for free.

    There are two other simple enhancements for a press like this.
    First: He suggested making the table thicker for more stiffnes (especially for a wide press). An alternative is to glue either steel or aluminum plates over the whole surface of the wood on both sides. Steel has a much higher young’s modulus then Aluminimum (for size) but compared to the weight the results will be comparable. (1mm steel has about the same effect as 2.5mm thick aluminimum).

    The other thing is that the roller rolls over the material.
    @06:35 you can see that the roller also pushes the paper forward.
    This can be stopped by laying a (thin) metal sheet over it all, and fixing that sheet with a hinge to the end from which you start rolling. With the hinge the sheet can not be pushed aside, and everything under it will therefore also not move.

    1. Hi Paul, yes I mentioned in the video I got the roller machined for a good price (£100). I got quotes from various ‘no-demand’ services like xometry and the cost to have this roller machined was around 200EUR. The rest of the materials are very cheap. Even factoring in the roller cost this press is incredibly cheap compared to what is available.

      1 – Great idea regarding improving table rigidity. Do you mean laminating each side of the plywood with a sheet of steel the same size?

      2 – Yes ive fixed this issue by using dowel pins and quoins (they are small clamps that you use on letterpress machines). Ideally you would place whatever you are pritning in a ‘chase’ which is just a metal frame and then clamp that to the bed but I like the idea of using a hinge.

  4. Not just for newspapers. Advertising typographer shops used them as well. Typically they’d run out the ad using a Linotype Machine, and composite it into a Galley. Then they’d run off a few proofs to see if the idea survived. Then it would be run out using a letterpress. It happens there are still a few shops out there who do all that. It also works for books.

  5. Not sure on the spec of this, but Jackson’s art supplies sell proofing presses from £218. They’ve got adjustable height (height also = pressure, so it’s a very important feature, though you can shim your paper with makeup).

    1. Also, this design lacks a bottom roller, so it’s likely to have issues with consistent pressure across the print – pressure will be good at the sides, but the bed will bend in the middle giving insufficient pressure. A proofing press has 2 rollers (top and bottom) to prevent this.

      1. Ah, ok, his press is substantially larger than an etching press for the same cost. I didn’t catch the scale from the thumbnail. Would be good to put the size in the article.

        He doesn’t seem to have problems with pressure, though that may be as he’s only printing in the middle, and the sides would be at too high a pressure. Or it may be it’s just fine for the type of printing he’s doing.

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