An Overview of Registration

Good registration is extremely important to any method of printmaking.  Even if you're only printing one color, you need to have control over the width of your margins.  If you're using multiple colors and/or multiple plates it becomes even more important.  Proper registration will help you place the right elements of your image in the right places and maybe even keep everything right side up!

Problems with perfect consistency have awoken many a printmaker's inner nerd and lead them to come up with complicated registration systems.  So, there are many different methods available to you.  I tend to feel that simpler is better.  But it is important to be able to work with more than one method because some registration systems work better for some print methods than others.  Below are a few basic ones that we will work with this semester.

1) The Basic Box Method

This method works best with thin matrixes like intaglio plates, unbacked linoleum plates, or relief prints from thin sheets of ply wood.

For this one you'll simply draw one box inside of another.  It's important to point out that this method relies on you tearing your paper to the finished size before printing.

- Lay out a sheet of newsprint or mylar and then lay your plate in the middle.
- Use a light pencil, like a 6H, to trace closely around your plate.
- Now you need to mark where your paper should lay. Measure from the plate edge for your margin.  For example, if you want a 2" margin, measure 2" from the plate edge and make a little mark.  I like to measure in two directions from every corner, to the side and to the top or bottom.  (Remember to make your bottom margin a little bigger than your top margin.)
- Once you've got your little marks all around the plate box you can lay a ruler down and connect them up.  You should end up with something that looks more or less like he guide below.  In this example the printmaker didn't fully outline the boxes. 

When you tear your paper it's got to be the same size as that outer box.

You should also mark the back of your paper in some way so that you'll know that you have it oriented the way you want it on the press.  I use a small up arrow on the top of the back side.  This isn't that crucial when you're only printing one color.  But, remember that you're looking at everything backwards and it can be easy to lay your paper down wrong.

Here's another version with the boxes fully outlined the inked plate in place.

Now, you can easily control the consistency of the margins for your edition.  You can ink your plate and lay it in the smaller box face up.  Then you'll lay your paper over it face down, lay the blankets over, and run in through the press.

Here you can see Linocut Boy pulling the paper back after printing.  You can see that it's not actually necessary to draw the boxes all the way around.  As long as you have two corners you'll be good.  If you click on the caption he gives a pretty good explanation of what he's doing including his registration method.
And here's his batch of prints with professional, consistent margins.  Notice that he's added black and that it lays perfectly over the blue.

2) The T-Bar Method

This is a great registration method for lithography and any printing technique that works well with the box method.  This technique also requires that you tear your paper to the finished size before printing.

This method is just as simple as the box method.  It might actually look simpler.  However some students have had trouble keeping it right side up.  And, if you don't tear your paper very carefully and consistently, you're going to have to do a little math for each piece of paper in order to find it's exact center.  So, in a way this simpler method might be a better choice for more exprienced printmakers.

A center finding rule is a handy thing to have when using this method, although not by no means necessary.

- Tear your paper to the correct size.
- Tear a larger sheet of newsprint for the registration template.
- Carefully measure and mark the center points on the top and bottom of the back of each sheet of paper.  Don't just measure in from one side to where you think the center is, find the specific center of each piece.  If your paper is not all perfectly consistent, which it probably isn't, your margins can end up being off by quite a bit.
- At the top of each sheet make a T or cross shaped mark running off of the center of the paper.
- At the bottom simply make a line or Bar running off of the center of the paper.  Use a straight edge so everything's nice and neat.
- To make a T-Bar registration template, lay one of your marked sheets of paper face down onto a sheet of newsprint. Trace the T and Bar marks off of the paper and onto the template. Again make the top mark into a T and leave the bottom just a Bar like in this pic:  

New Directions in Printmaking .ca - bar registration

- When you print, if these marks are lined up carefully so that it looks like the mark was started on the back of the print and ran off onto the template, all of your margins will be correct.

3) Jig Registration.

Crown Point Press - Jig Registration

Crown Point Press has provided excellent directions for registration using a jig.  Click this sentence to get to that page.

After reading their page you may find yourself wondering where's the bin full of scrap copper?  There is none.  Copper is too expensive for most students to make plates, much less jigs.  Instead you might use a couple of pieces of a cheaper metal, plexiglass or even heavy card stock.  Just be careful with porous materials if you're doing anything wet, your jig may absorb moisture and expand causing your registration to fail.

The way Crown Point uses this method you don't need to tear your paper to its final size before printing.  The main thing that the printmakers at Crown Point are doing with their jigs is getting the plate in the middle of the press bed.  They leave the paper long so that it will remain trapped in place under the blankets.  Then they can print one color, swap plates, print another color, swap plates and so on.  As long as the paper stays trapped under the blankets and they place their plate in the same spot each time, the colors will line up correctly.  After all of the colors are printed and the paper has dried they tear the paper to it's final size.

Oehme Graphics - Printing the last layer of David Row's Aggregate.

You don't have to do it quite that way.  Especially if you're only printing one color.  You can tear your paper to the correct size before printing.  Then, instead of making your jig reach to the side of the press, you can make your jig the same size as your margin.

4) The Big Jig

For relief prints your matrix is thicker.  Often about an inch.  That creates problems.  The actions of laying the paper down and then laying the blankets over it can easily knock your registration out-of-wack.  Another method is needed.

John Steins .com - Relief Printing on an Etching Press

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