Neil Woodall

Printing Woodcuts on an Etching Press

I'm pretty sure that I learnt about this from a print book that described "Gladys McAvoy's way of avoiding creep". A very useful ability. I'm afraid that I can't find which book it came from but I'm sure that was her name. She had the brilliant idea of surrounding the wood block with a frame on which to lay the paper in register. As with all the great ideas it is so obvious in hindsight.

I would like to add a couple of refinements that might help to get the registration a touch more in register.

I have shown the etching press as two rollers to make the diagram less complicated

Printing Woodcuts on an Etching Press


1 Rollers of the etching press.
2 Press bed.
3 Frame around the wood block.
4 The very important extra bit of wood.
5 Woodblock
6 Registration marks.
7 (See below) Outline of the paper, placed in
position next to the registration marks.

The etching press is well suited for printing woodcuts on as the pressure used is very low. Also the press bed is a lot longer than it is wide, thus enabling larger prints to be made with ease. The fact that the pressure travels along the print, rather than being applied all at once from above, gives the etching press its main advantage and its major disadvantage over the Albion press.

The advantages are the low pressure and the ease of setting up. I just put the woodblock into the centre of my press and tighten the pressure screws hand tight. Slight adjustments during printing fine tunes to the exact pressure needed.

The big disadvantage is the creep that so bothered Gladys McAvoy. When you are producing a reduction print registration is of prime importance.


View of the Frame and the Woodblock from above

Select a piece of plywood (or MDF if you are in europe) that is about 5mm (2") shorter than the width and at least 300mm (one foot) shorter than the length of the press bed.

Alternativly choose a size of board that is 5mm (2") larger than the standard size of paper that you use. I have a 600mm (24") by 900mm (36") piece that I use for imperial sheets 560x760 (22"x30").

Mark out the size of paper very lightly (Everything transfers with this stuff - pencil everywhere) on the plywood. Decide where you want the print to appear on the paper and mark out the position of the woodblock.

Drill a corner and cut out the space for the woodblock.

Set up the registration system. Cut mountcard (Matt) to make one "L" shape and two short strips. Place the paper in position and attach the "L" shaped card with double sided tape to the top corner and one strip about 5mm (2") from the opposite top corner one to the same bottom corner. See diagram.

The woodblock should fit snug into the frame. If there is a gap I use strips of card held in position with double sided tape as packing. If the block is too large, file down the frame.


Set the pressure by putting the frame into the middle of the press bed and tightening the pressure screws hand tight. Place the important extra piece of plywood alongside the top of the frame and wind the press onto this.

Cut out between five and ten sheets of cartridge paper that are 5mm (1/4") or less shorter than the dimensions of the wood block.

Place these in the hole in the frame. They are to act as a makeready to give the woodblock a slightly greater height than the frame.

Ink up the block.

Place the paper in position, resting against the registration marks. Wind the press off the important bit of wood and onto the frame till it just catches the paper. I mark the bed so that I always know where to stop.

Lift the paper over the top roller. Place the woodblock into the hole in the frame.

Take the important bit of wood and place it in position by the bottom of the frame.

Pull the print, winding the press onto the important bit of wood. Remove the paper.

Take the woodblock out to be inked again. Turn the frame round 180º and place the top against the important bit of wood. Put the sheets of cartridge back in position and you are ready to start printing again.

That is if you have adjusted the pressure until it prints right.


The reason for all this messing about is so that the paper stays in the position, and it goes through the press in the same direction (ie. from top to bottom) every time a print is pulled. There is a slight creep because the paper sits on the ink and is wound through by a cylinder, but this way the creep is constant throughout the printing and the registration stays pretty good.

I think that you will find that this is a great improvement on the other method of printing woodcuts on an etching press, the one I used to use. You put the paper on the woodblock on the press bed. Spin the wheel, try to lift the press bed so that there is enough of a gap to fit the block between the rollers. Wait till the block catches and then watch as the paper goes between the rollers leaving the block stationary.

If you have any refinements on theis method I would welcome any sugesstions, please email neil woodall with your ideas.