Setting Up the Blocking Press

Please note that to use the blocking press, students must be supervised by a technician.

Plug in and turn the machine on

For most foils the blocking press should be set to 150.

For most foils the blocking press should be set to 150. The heat level has been reached when the green light goes out but it may take longer for a large metal block to heat all the way through. Allow 30 mins minimum to heat up type, longer for large blocks.

Tip: Coloured foils can usually take a slightly higher temperature than metallic ones.
Whilst the press is warming up, line the base plate with grey board so that the stamping area is completely flat.

Set type or mount your metal block:

To mount a block, select enough mounting blocks to support the printable area and use PVA to cover entire surface with grey board, then use PVA again to stick your design on top. Leave to dry with a light weight on top. (The grey board in the sandwich will make it easier to remove the block afterwards.)

To set type:

Choose a typeface and size and spell out your text to make sure there are enough letters for the job in the type tray. You should also check the letters for damage especially if you are using the lead alloy type. Some of the type has been squashed out of shape or eroded so that it is not “type high” and can be very tricky to print from. Very damaged type should be thrown away by the technician.

Use a composing stick and furniture to set each line of type.

Use a composing stick and furniture to set each line of type. Start with the longest line of text then use the same size of furniture for each additional line. The type is laid out from right to left in the composing stick. Use spacing to space the words and letters as required. You should use the same size of spacing as the text so that the letters are packed tightly with no gaps. Setting many lines of text with the right amount of spacing can be quite challenging!

Lock the type in the chase:

Lock the type into the chase.

Consider which way round it should go in the chase before you move it. Lift the type and furniture out of the composing stick with two hands squeezing it all tightly together whilst you lift and place on the chase. Use furniture and leading to pack the type in and quoins to squeeze it tightly.

Use the quoin key to open up the quoins.
Tip: Your block or type should be placed centrally into the chase whenever possible to keep the mechanism balanced when printing.

Check type tightness in the chase:
Tip the chase forward and over to check that the type is not going to fall out  when it goes upside-down in the press. If any type is loose you will have to add extra packing – small slips of paper can be useful for this. Be careful at this point because if type falls out on to the floor it can become damaged and you will have to start the process all over again.

Load chase into blocking press:

NB. Please note that the chase is heavy and should not be lifted without supervision by the technician.

Load the chase into the press.

Carry the chase over to the press using the two extending black handles. Hook it into the side runners and push it back until the locking pin drops into place. Leave to heat up.


Before you print you will need to make a test print to check for pressure, heat and foil type so make some tester pieces whilst you are waiting for the type/block to heat through.

These testers should be EXACTLY THE SAME thickness as the final job – so mimic the layers of bookcloth, board and any linings on the back. The testers should be large enough to print one or two samples of the WHOLE design. If you are printing on to a single sheet of paper or card use the exact same material for testing.

Make enough test pieces for several prints.

When the type or block has heated up, make a first impression on to the base board:

The first impression should be a light print and is just to show the position of the artwork on the base.

Start by raising the chase using the pressure adjustment wheel. Turn the wheel towards the left to raise it.

Turn the wheel to the right to increase the pressure – to make a deeper impression, and to the left to lift the pressure.

When you have raised the chase, push the base all the way back and lower the long lever on the right to horizontal position. Hopefully the chase is still too high, so start turning the wheel to lower it until the type/block just kisses the surface of grey board on the base. To check for this you may be able to feel a light contact or try looking in. Lift the long lever back up to vertical position and pull out the base. Cut a piece of foil and lay it over the print area, shiny side up.

Push the base towards the wall and use the long lever to make a print. When you bring the long lever down, you should take it back up immediately.

The first impression into the base board is to show the exact position of the artwork.

Pull the base forward and peel away the foil to have a look at the print. If it is too light, make a slight adjustment to the pressure and reprint. At this stage you just need a light impression of the whole text or design. There is a slight slope to the base and you may find that parts of the artwork are fading away towards the left hand side. If this is the case use thin sheets of paper under the grey board to raise the level on the left to try to even out the pressure.

If some parts of the design continue to be weaker than others you can use masking tape to bring them up to print a little stronger.

You may also want to review spacing and spelling at this stage – if you want to make adjustments you will have to carry the chase back to the composing area and you may have to use the composing stick again if the changes are complicated. The chase/type/blocks will be quite hot now so be extra careful handling them. There are some tweezers for picking up hot type and spaces.

NB. Do not put hot chase down on wooden bench without an insulating layer to protect the bench from the heat.
Draw some axis lines from the artwork to help you to place the print exactly where you want it on the book cover. Use a set square to draw a centre line at right angles to the type lines. From these axis lines you can measure and draw the boundaries of your book cover.

Make a test print:

Raise the chase to allow for the material you want to print on – just a little bit for paper/card and quite a lot for a hard book cover. Set the new pressure by laying in one of your testers and adjust to get the “kiss” pressure as before.

Then make a test print with the foil you want to do the actual job in. At this stage you can experiment with different foils – just have lots of tester pieces.
The bookcloths with textured surface do not always print very well. The bookcloths that are smoother will usually produce a better print.

Tips for better prints:

  1. If you over press the print or the temperature is too high you can get a fuzzy edge or bleed to the design. You may be able to rescue this by dabbing the print with the sticky side of masking tape to remove the excess. To make further prints, adjust pressure or lower temperature.
  2. If the print is light, you may be able to overprint to build up more colour in the letters but this doesn’t always work. If you want to overprint, make sure you fix the thing you are printing on to very securely to the base board so that it doesn’t shift in the press.
  3. For light prints you may also be able to increase the temperature a little bit. Also, experiment with different foils as, although they may look the same, some are designed to work on particular kinds of surfaces.
  4. Increase pressure for blind printing but remember that you cannot do this with the workshop type as the extra pressure will damage the type.
  5. For a subtle effect try printing with the same colour foil as the thing you are printing on to. The glossy quality of foil contrasts with a matt surface.
Allow the chase to cool in this position.

When you have finished printing, turn off the press. Pull out the chase and leave to cool either in the composing area or on the press in a vertical position – lean it against the press. Do not leave it in the press upside down as the type may fall out as it cools.

To remove your block from the mounts, soak it in water for 10 mins then ease off with palette knife. Remove all traces of grey board from the block and the mounting blocks.

General Info on the Blocking Press

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