Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Printer's Dyslexia

If you’ve ever printed on a platen press (see illustration above), you’ve probably encountered what I call “printer’s dyslexia”. Most everyone struggles with it. It’s not a disease, though it can make you feel kind of sick as you make one mistake after another. It’s when you move your gauge pins (small metal clips that hold the paper) and your printed image ends up moving the opposite direction from what you intended.

This should be simple, I think, as I take a proof of my printed piece inside our Chandler and Price press. I want to move my image one pica (printer’s measure, equal to 1/6 of an inch) to the right, and half a pica (1/12 of an inch) down on the paper. But which way should I move my gauge pins? Right or left? Up or down?

Invariably I move the gauge pins the wrong way on the platen (surface that holds the paper) first. Oops! Careful, don’t tear the tympan paper. Measure again. Try again. Right or left? Up or down?

Then there’s the uphill/downhill dilemma. If the gauge pins are set unevenly, your lines will wander up or down. Try to correct it and you invariably overshoot. What once ran uphill now runs downhill. Time to try again!

It’s easier to avoid “printer’s dyslexia” on a cylinder press or a hand press. But since a platen press works like a clamshell, it presents challenges. Usually the top of your would-be printed piece is on top when you put the form into the press. So the top of your printed piece will print on the bottom of your piece of paper, on the part closest to you.

Confused yet? Now try to move your printed image to the left or the right, up or down. Try to fix uphill or downhill. Which way with the gauge pins? And which gauge pin? Good grief!

I really should try to work out a chart to help me remember how to move the gauge pins. Why I’ve never done that in all these years of printing on a platen press, I’ll never know. Here’s an attempt: 1) To move the image right, move the gauge pins left. 2) To move the image left, move the gauge pins right. 3) To move the image up, move the gauge pins down. 4) To move the image down, move the gauge pins up. 5) To correct an image running uphill, move the right gauge pin up, or the left gauge pin down. 6) To correct an image running downhill, move the right gauge pin down, or the left gauge pin up.

I think that’s right. Now I’ll try it again. Right or left? Up or down? Which gauge pin? Oh, drat! One good thing I’ve found about printer’s dyslexia – it certainly cultivates patience!

Test yourself! The red impression on the left is correctly placed. On the right the red is a little to the left and goes slightly uphill. Which way do you move the gauge pins?


  1. To me it looks just fine :-) but I think, according to your directions, you'd move the gauge pins to the left because you want to move the image to the right, yes? and if it's slightly uphill, you'd move the right gauge pin up or the left gauge pin down. Having the directions help, but I wouldn't be surprised if I still got it wrong!

  2. You got it right, but you'd be surprised how many times I've gotten it wrong. Seems like I always go the wrong way first!

  3. Oh my, don't think I'd have the patience for that! Obviously, there's more to printing than the average person is aware of! Think I'll just appreciate your work that much more.

  4. Thanks, Julie! It does take patience, or else a willingness to be wrong before you're right.
    Sometimes it's kind of funny, and you just laugh at yourself.

  5. One way I look at moving gauge pins is to remember that the _image_ stays put- it's the paper I want to move. So in your example, you need more white space (paper) on the left, so move the gauge pin to the left.

    Then, if an image is going uphill on the right, the gauge pin on the right would go down, because more paper has to show between the edge of the type and the edge of the paper.

    Hope I explained it to make sense!

  6. Thank you, Marjorie -- that's easier to remember. Image stays put and the paper needs to move. Will I remember the next time? I hope so, but probably not!