Improvised photopolymer bases

I was recently asked about a homemade photopolymer base I use at The Arm and thought it would be of value to post the reply here where it might be of use to others.

“The base you saw at The Arm was an acrylic base with an aluminum surface laminated to it. It works okay, but I must say I really prefer the Boxcar bases we have here. That homemade base doesn’t have the dimensional consistency of their bases. If you can’t afford that Boxcar and are willing to do a bit of work you can also get some plate aluminum from these guys and then have a good machine shop mill it down to the appropriate base thickness for the photopolymer plate stock you intend to use.
Machinists are often only able to mill to a consistent thickness over a small area so you could take more than one piece of material, have it machined down to your base thickness and puzzle it together on the bed of the press. I personally think it is better to have a base that is in multiple pieces so that you can later decide to use only part of it. This allows you to lock up type with photopolymer and not have to run the same color through the press twice because the plate base has gobbled up too much of the bed.
You won’t get the nice anodized grid as provided on the Boxcar bases, but at least you’ll be printing!”

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

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Gerald Lange
16 years ago


Well, we are on the Vandercook list. These aren’t exactly production printing presses now are they? One basically has to stand on their head to get them to edition with any kind of consistency.

Mixing forms on a Vandercook is a bit nuts. Referencing Daniel, it doesn’t matter if this is for fine printing, job printing, hobby printing. Job printing on a Vandercook? You’ve already cost your client a ton a money. Hobby printing? Have fun.


Eric Holub
16 years ago

I do much of my jobwork from mixed forms, saving the customer the expense of extra press-runs, using metal-backed photopolymer plates on lead high base or Patmag, locked up with metal type of all kinds. (For me the key is mounting plates one or two thousandths below .918″ so they get a lighter contact with the rollers, relative to the lead.)
One of the problems with plate-based Vander-centric letterpress instruction is lack of stonework; that is, preparing the form on the imposing stone. People may just learn to work on the bed. But being able to prepare a form (in a chase) that is true to layout, that won’t workup, and that will LIFT is one of the fundamentals of traditional letterpress. A form of dissimilar elements (plates, type, slugs, rules, furniture) may be a problem, but solving such problems is exactly how I learn.
Of course if one works exclusively from photopolymer plates, exclusively on a Vandercook, some fundamentals don’t matter much. But if metal type is used, or you get a press that uses a chase, those fundamentals still have relevance.

Gerald Lange
16 years ago


A manufactured flatbase, such as a Boxcar or Bunting, is going to be a far better investment. “at least you’ll be printing” is bad advice. Photopolymer is very sensitive to your demands and will give you exactly what you ask of it. If the density or precision to type high is off in any regard, the consequences of that is what you will get. Both of the aforementioned bases are guaranteed to be within .001 plus or minus, and parallelized. For the money and effort spent, very few machinists are going to guarantee that.

Running type or any other element along with a photopolymer base is just asking for problems. Who needs problems on press? that is when you should be in the zen-like state of “perfect” printing (as Joseph Moxon sort of put it—he didn’t know about zen); which is accomplished by attention to the preliminaries; materials, equipment, approach, attitude, etc. Get your “junk” precisely in order, works out fine. If not, well then, fight with the press all day.


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