Updated: Feb 28, 2021
I've been asked a few times what the big 'roller thing' I often use is, so I thought I'd introduce my Akua pin press.
Some of the first prints I made were monoprints at West Dean College using a nipping press, sometimes called a book binding press. This is quite small but seriously heavy and needs affixing to the surface to enable you to get a good last twist on the handle which screws the top plate down onto the bottom plate. I am determined to own one at some point as they're just so beautiful, but for now it's impractical for me as I don't have a dedicated print space. Although hand burnishing is a marvellous way to produce prints I do like the even finish a press can give. I also find that when producing prints in large sizes or quantities my wrists can get very sore from the pressure and repetition required to hand burnish. I kept searching for a solution and discovered the pin press.
I found the Akua pin press in Lawrence Art Supplies and was lucky enough to put in my order when it was on offer at just under £300; at the time of writing the price tag is £360, reduced from £370. I believe the hefty price tag has something to do with it being solid metal that is as smooth as smooth can be. It was quite an investment but justified for me by lockdown in March 2020; in lieu of paying to visit the print studio (or doing anything else I'd usually spend my money on) I bought myself a piece of studio equipment! It's basically a big rolling pin with handles that also act as feet. The beauty of it for me is that I can pack it away in it's box until I next need it. It's 50cm long and slim so easy to store in it's original packaging.
All the bumf that comes with it suggests that it is designed for monoprints but that it could also give a tight enough squeeze to print drypoints and, therefore one would assume, collagraphs. I've produced lots of successful monoprints with it, haven't tried drypoint but I did try a collagraph. While it undoubtedly produced much more pressure, much more evenly than I would have managed without it, it wasn't capable of the deep intaglio print an etching press can manage. It is definitely capable of producing good results using a collagraph plate, especially one that doesn't have huge differences in the plate height. My collagraph plate was very textured and as you can see from the white on the pictured print, the press couldn't get into the deep intaglio areas on the plate. It did produce an interesting image though. You can see the images produced from the same plate but using an etching press here. Note how the etching press can print all the deeply indented parts the pin press could not.
I mainly produce linocuts at present, on my kitchen table. I have experimented with the set up needed to make the pin press work for me and now use it for all of my prints. I hand burnish cards but should the need arise I could use it for these too. There are some basic things to bear in mind when using it for lino. The main problem is that the lino and/or paper will move unless held in place, smudging the print. Since I use Ternes Burton registration clips and produce reduction prints, I need to ensure I place my lino back in exactly the same place every time so I use double sided tape to secure three off-cuts of grey board to the wooden board I use as my printing jig. This serves the double purpose of aligning the lino and holding it firmly in place.
With the lino in place I clip the paper onto the registration tabs and press away. You can see numerous short videos of me doing this on my Instagram page here. I have found that the press has a tendency to slip off the top and bottom and slightly indent the paper. Often this is not a problem as an indent from the plate on the print is often seen as desirable, it can make it more likely to make the white borders of the paper dirty if stray ink is picked up though, I must start using masks around my lino to avoid this!
The other thing I sometimes use is a blanket, mine's just a piece of felt fabric that I 'reclaimed' from my daughter's making box. When using an etching or Albion press in the studio blankets are always used to give a good squeeze and help produce a good, even print. The science behind which blanket to use where baffles me but I do believe that they're made of some type of felt, hence my choice. I find that as I cut away more lino using the blanket makes it more likely that the paper will become embossed, so it's best used at the beginning before too much is cut away, but after a few layers of ink have built up. For example I used a blanket on the above print in the lower central area where a lot of lino remained. Since there were a about 5 or 6 layers of ink already on the paper it just needed a little extra help getting a really good impression in that area. I had to be careful not to use the blanket further up the tree trunks though, as the paper could have become damaged by the blanket adding too much pressure on either side of the trunk pushing the paper deeply into the cut away areas.
Overall I find my pin press a huge aid to my printmaking. That doesn't mean I won't be investing in something bigger the second I have a dedicated print space; but for now it perfectly suits my needs of something portable, easy to use and small to pack away.