In this first article in our series about the Fome Etching Press, our printmaking expert, Jill Watton, shows us how to set up the popular Fome etching press, to get the most from this great little printing press.
Setting up the Fome Etching Press
by Jill Watton
This affordable, small etching press is incredibly popular because it punches well above its weight when it comes to producing high-quality prints. The press is available in three sizes: the 25cm size has been a best-seller for many years, we added the smaller 18cm press last year and we have a new larger 30cm press coming soon. Manufactured by Fome, just north of Venice, these small-scale, well-engineered presses are marketed for a school setting and beginners and are very popular with customers across the world. After reading our customer reviews of the press, we thought there might be a few things useful to know before you begin printing. In a series of three articles, we will take a look at the setting up the press, getting the best out of printing with it for intaglio, and using it for relief printing. In this first post, we will discuss the assembly, set up and securing of the press ready for printing.
Your new Fome etching press
Fome have created their lightweight and very portable press in three sizes: 30cm, 25cm, and 18cm. The dimensions refer to the width of the bed, meaning you can print up to A3 on the larger press and A5 on the smaller press. Keeping the scale small means the solid steel rollers and 3mm steel bed don’t add too much to the overall weight of the press. With external dimensions of 27x42x17cm for the middle-sized 25cm press, this press won’t take up too much space in your studio but you should think about positioning the press with plenty of room around for printing. Of course, it will be very easy to move into position from storage as the weights are 8.5kg for the 25cm press. But, not being heavy will mean that it requires securing to a bench or table when printing and we will take a look at that a little later.
Here we are unpacking the 25cm Fome etching press ordered with the blanket. On opening the box you will find just a few component parts and some very short and straightforward instructions for assembly.
Attaching the handle
You will find an allen/hex key included with the press and this is used to tighten the screw into the hole on the roller shaft. A little wiggling will help to locate this and you can then proceed to tighten. The screw is aligned exactly with the handle shaft so space is a bit tight (this looks like an aesthetic design decision). After a bit of fiddling it is easy to tighten up, but make sure the screw is well in so that it doesn’t catch on the table when turning. The crank handle is designed to be removable for transportation or storage of the press. You will see that this is a direct drive press, no gears are needed on a press of this size, and you can achieve a continuous turn of the roller with this design of crank handle.
Lifting and lowering the rollers
Both the upper and lower rollers are made from solid steel with diameters of 3.5CM. The lower roller has a serrated surface which helps it to grip the press bed as it turns. When adjusting the top roller always try to lift or lower both sides simultaneously, keeping the roller level as it moves up or down. This will prevent too much force being applied to the roller bearings.
The top roller can be lifted to a height of 1.7cm giving you the option of printing from the thinnest of intaglio plates as well as many types of relief plate including our 9mm Baltic Birch Plywood. Some adaptations are required when printing high relief and we will discuss that in the upcoming relief printing article.
Press Bed / Press Plate
The press bed, or plate as it is sometimes called, is made from 3mm thick steel. You will find that it comes with two metal pins that drop through holes either end of the bed. This is an optional safety feature and will prevent the bed from slipping out from between the rollers and you may choose to make use of them.
Felt mat / press blanket
The press is supplied with or without a single blanket of compressed wool felt. Take care when you order to select the option you want. The single blanket should suffice for most of your printing, you can experiment but you may find you lose definition of fine etched lines if you do add a second blanket.
Securing for printing
The 25cm press weighs about 9 kilograms, which makes it very portable, but it really needs securing to a bench or a tabletop for printing. The steel side plates have holes cut near the base at either side and these should be used to attach clamps or bolts in a variety of configurations depending on your chosen set up. The holes are wide ovals of height 10mm and width 23mm at the widest points. The holes are also positioned with 10mm of side plate below them.
If you want to secure the press to a tabletop then the simplest option is with C shaped screw clamps. You will only require one pair in order to successfully secure and print. Fome make a special clamp set RFCLAMP for the press, available separately. You will see a small notch in the top of the C which will grip the press side plate and prevent movement. The maximum aperture of the clamp is 45mm and an allowance of 10mm needs to be made for the side plate, therefore your tabletop needs to be under 35MM thick in order for the clamp to fit over it.
It is possible to seek out other C shaped screw clamps from hardware shops but do keep in mind the size and shape of the holes in the side plate. You may find it easier if you trace a template for the side plate and take it with you to the hardware store for reference.
Securing to a solid bench
If you want to attach the press to a solid benchtop you may find the clamps are not suitable. We spent a little time shopping for just the right tools for the job, taking a paper template of the side plate for reference. Taking into account the size and position of the holes, we opted for two pairs of angle brackets with the holes appropriately located. These were screwed down onto a benchtop allowing a gap wide enough to accommodate the metal side plate of the press. We then used nuts and bolts through the brackets and plate. It is simple enough to undo the bolts to move the press.
Another method we have seen adopted is to permanently secure the press to a heavy piece of plywood or MDF thus adding to the overall weight and then use C-clamps to secure the base to a tabletop.
Any of the above methods will secure the press adequately for printing under pressure without any movement.
Calibration and setting the pressure
This press has no gauge for calibrating, in fact for most presses, except the very large, calibration is best done by feel and by test printing. Before you start printing you can check that the pressure is adequate and even, by running your plate and printing paper through before you ink up. Doing a ‘blind’ print will allow you to inspect the plate marks (in the case of an etching) left indented in the paper, a good measure of correct calibration. By comparing the plate marks left by the sides of the plate you can check that the pressure is even across the roller. If you run your dampened paper through with the uninked plate you should be able to see all your etched marks embossed in the paper. Of course, an actual print will be the final indication that correct pressure has been set.
If you want a rough indicator, you can of course make your own gauge. Some printers glue a rule to the side plate or you can count the threads on the roller screws. But adjusting by eye and feel as you prepare for printing is a good warm-up exercise, while remembering that there are many variables in printing, not just the position of the roller. For example, the plate thickness, the paper quality, and dampening, as well as the plate inking and wiping – will all affect the final print.
Printing with the Fome etching press
The crank handle design means you can keep a continuous smooth action as you turn the roller. It is best to avoid stopping at any point during the pull through, this creates uneven pressure that can show as marks across the print. As mentioned before, the time you have taken to set the pressure by eye and feel, and doing a proof or two with the same paper you intend to print on, will mean that you will be ‘in the flow’ – warmed up and ready to print.
More Printmaking Articles on the Blog
- This is a part of a series of three articles on the Fome Printing Press
- Mokuhanga: Japanese Woodblock Printing Materials
- Chris Pig Introduces Sunome Senaka Printmaking Paper and Van Son Rubber-based Ink
- Akua Intaglio & Akua Liquid Pigment
- Linocut for Artists and Designers
Links to the etching press and materials at Jackson’s
- Fome School Etching Press in 2 sizes (third size coming soon)
- Fome Clamp pair
- Jackson’s Baltic Birch Wood Blocks
- The Printmaking Department at Jackson’s
Postage on orders shipped standard to mainland UK addresses is free for orders of £45.