SP-15 Form Roller Imbalance

Hello Vanderfriends,

Would love some to get some thoughts on a roller issue.

First I should mention that I am working with new rollers and a press that is new to me so I unfortunately don’t have a frame of reference for past performance.

I’m experiencing an imbalance with noticeably heavier ink coverage on one side. When I raise the rollers on the heavier side- even the tiniest bit (and I do mean by a micro-millimeter), the coverage becomes grossly more uneven with no ink coverage in certain spots. If I lower the rollers on the side that is hitting lighter, it seems to throw the coverage even more out of whack and I get no ink coverage in other spots (which logically makes no sense in that I am lowering the rollers and would expect heavier not lighter coverage).

Also, I’ve used my roller setting gauge to set the rollers evenly from side to side, but it does not result in even ink coverage. In order to get coverage close to even I have to blindly adjust the knobs little by little until the coverage is somewhat acceptable.

Any advice is greatly appreciated.


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Gerald Lange
13 years ago

Hi Dafi

Actually, relocation had nothing to do with leveling. I always level my presses, and in regard to the “problem” actually tried to adjust the leveling to compensate, just on the outside chance. Nope.

A couple of my ex-students have picked up F.A.G.s. Very nice presses, quite envious.

Best and cheapest way to level a press? Clean the bed and put a shiny ball bearing in the middle. It will immediately roll if the press is not level. Keep adjusting until it just stays where it is put.


13 years ago

I am actually not working with Vandercooks but with FAG Control presses, which are Swiss made presses from the 60ies.
I don’t know if what I am saying could affect your inking problem, but anyway.
In the manual of my presses there is a
notice about leveling the press. It says that it is very important to put your press absolutely even. Especially the ones with adjustable beds. If the press is placed unevenly, this could affect
the pressure allocation. But I can imagine, that this could also affect the inking.
They also say that you can check the leveling by pushing your pressbed down with both hands in each corner of the pressbed: If the gauge of the adjustable bed moves while pushing one of the corners, then it is probably out of level.
They recommend using a high precision water level. (0.02mm / m)
These are very expensive. So I borrowed one from a local engineer…

Hey, as I said, I dont know if this is helpful at all – but at least worth trying. And this could also be a reason, why relocating a press could help.

Best wishes. Dafi from the cold swiss mountains…

Gerald Lange
13 years ago


There is another way. Admit you are defeated, you have nothing more to offer in the way of sacrifice or tribute, and then bring into your shop a bright, promising young printer (preferably one who lives far, far away). The infestation will vanish the next day. Do not respond to subsequent emails or phone calls from the said printer that are in the nature of a plea for help.


Gerald Lange
13 years ago


I can’t tell exactly what your exact problem is but if the ink is migrating from the operator side toward the non-operator side it’s a problem for which I have never heard an adequate explanation.

It is the one great Vandercook voodoo thing.

This happened to me only once (on several presses in rapid succession), I tried everything imaginable and then some, and the problem was only resolved by my relocating to another shop. It vanished. I assume it has to do with environmental issues and the rollers. Or demons.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Steve Robinson
13 years ago

Hi Beth, two more thoughts. Have you spun the rollers in the press to be sure they were not manufactured out of round? That is do they spin true or wobble a bit? Second have you checked to see if your impression has too much “bearing play”, which can, and will lift the lead end of the carriage up when you apply impression (pull a print). This phenomenon usually shows up on a print about 3-4″ from the grippers or the distance from the cylinder nip point to the ink rollers. A quick way to check is throw on the impression, without a print sheet roll the carriage to the center of the bed and try to lifting up on the “corners” of the carriage. you should get no discernible movement. If you do then an adjustment may be in order. Caution! Caution! Caution! do not get wrench happy, this adjustment is very touchy and should only be attempted with a firm understanding of how to do it. There is a “how to” somewhere on this site.

Warm Regards

The Arm
13 years ago

Hi Paul,
In that case I would suggest checking that the ink drum is properly seated and has no play. I’ve seen a lot of worn ends on rider rollers on SP-15s, but as far as I can tell this has little to no effect.

I only mention the galley height bed issue because Beth told me that her press is .968.

The rollers are new and the Nyliners are fine. I helped Beth reassemble her rollers after they came back from re-casting sitting on the couch at The Arm!


Paul Moxon, Moderator
13 years ago

Thanks Daniel for going deep.

I’ve run into this issue on a few SP-15s. In each instance they had standard .918 beds and new rollers. The oscillator frames weren’t bent but in only one instance were the bushings on the rider worn.

The Arm
13 years ago

Hi Beth,
The SP-15 doesn’t have a skew adjustment like the 219 or #4. I would guess that the issue comes from something else. Some possiblities- the ink drum isn’t secured correctly, the gear wobbles on the back form roller, or the top frame where the oscillating and rider rollers mount is bent.

It would help to eliminate some variables- your SP-15 has a galley height bed, right? Are you taking the roller reading with the bed plate on or off? If you have a .968 gauge you need to take the bed plate off to get a useful measurement. If .918, leave it on.

What is the condition of the bed plate? Does it sit level on the bed or bow? Is it clean? Any flaws can make a real difference.

Since most of your printing is from Boxcar plates I would suggest asking Boxcar to make a custom base that is .050 over the standard base thickness. This way you can use the base without the bed plate and put the base right on the bed. You will need to use a .968 roller gauge to set the rollers.

Keep the bed plate handy for any time you want to print from type.

Let me know if you are still having trouble. I’d be happy to visit your studio to take a look at it with you.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Paul Moxon, Moderator
13 years ago

It’s worth following up on both Eric and Ray’s suggestions. The shim that Ray mentions are the white plastic split bushings called Nyliners

In April, Fritz posted about a similar ink migration problem on the Vandercook 219. (https://vandercookpress.info/vanderblog/2010/04/ink-migration-problem). I will get him to make a follow up comment.

Ray Nichols
13 years ago

I think this is unlikely but you might look at the gears that the rollers track on while moving down the press. They come from the factory with a shim (long plastic thingy with holes in it. Once you take those off (someone before you) those can be hard to get back on and are often left off because they don’t seem to do anything important. If the roller core is higher on one end than the other setting them to the right height seems like it might not get the rollers level.

One other thing to check is that the rollers are absolutely even all the way down. You can lay the roller on a very flat surface (bed of the press) and stand a piece of steel furniture up against it on both sides and then measure between the furniture. Try to measure with something like a point ruler and not just a regular inch ruler.

Honestly, I don’t think it is either of these things but it doesn’t take look to check.

Eric Holub
13 years ago

Always set the rollers with the roller seting gauge so they are parallel to the bed, otherwise they won’t ink a level form properly.
One possible reason for the uneven ink is that the ink drum is not level. Some SPs have levelling screws (small Allen head screws) at each end. First do a stripe test, where the ink is distributed and then you drop the rollers briefly and then lift them; advance the carriage and look at the stripe of contact. It should be even, between 1/8 and 3/16. If it is thicker at one end, adjust accordingly. Where there is heavier contact, it often squeegees the ink to the other side.
Another possibility is uneven pressures from the riders and oscillators, and you can do a similar stripe test there.

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