How to Register Your Print
Yep, that fickle friend of ours. That necessary evil. And the bane of many a printmaker’s existence.
How many hours have we slaved over a print, pulling test after test, after test, after test, etc., etc., and so on, and so on… Just to pull that “final” test print…and then realize we still have it wrong.
Ok, ok, many of us may be able to REMEMBER that, but now are pretty adept at registering our work correctly the first or second time.
BUT…for those that aren’t so lucky (or who would just really love a refresher course in registration technique), this is for you!
Types of Registration
Before getting into how to do it, you need to know what exactly you’re supposed to be doing. (…I think that sentence made sense…but you get the idea.)
Put simply, there are four main types of registration techniques for the four main types of printing techniques.
We’ll tackle them in the following order: Block/Relief, Intaglio/Etching, Lithography, and Screen-printing. But, not before a disclaimer!
Here, I’ll be coming at this from my own perspective and what I know, and know of. There are many different registration methods out there that people use, and many different applications to use them in. By no means, can I cover all of these, or will I ever choose to. What you’ll be getting is what works for my wife and I as we’ve journeyed through our printmaking adventures.
BUT…If you do have a technique that you use that is not covered here, please feel free to comment with a description!
Ok…now on to the good stuff!
The nature of Block Printing naturally lends itself to Frame Registration, or what I like to call “Common Edge” Registration. I call it common edge because you’re not actually framing in the plate or paper, but have two common edges on both pieces that you butt up against a stop with.
Pictured below, you’ll see what I mean. There is the shorter edge of the frame that the block will set in. It, being just shorter than the block itself, allows the paper, or whatever substrate you’re printing on, to lay over top and go through the press easily. The paper itself will typically butt up against two stops that are typically mounted on top of, or outside the block stops.
There is also a Japanese carving method that may be especially useful for larger prints where the paper guides are part of the actual block. So they sit at the same height, and are routed or carved out and left un-inked.
When creating the Common Edge or Frame Registration, it is important to note that you DO NOT want to create a corner edge, but rather two separate edges that do not meet. This allows for more accurate registration, and prevents you from allowing the paper to stray.
With the understanding of how Frame Registration works, this is a modification of that same method for smaller sized etching and intaglio prints. As I’ve never worked larger than a 14” plate before with Intaglio, I cannot tell you personally how to register a larger plate, but conceptually, you can extrapolate the Frame Registration method. (Please, if you work Large with Intaglio prints, comment with your process!)
So, what I do when working with an Intaglio plate is to do what I call my Window Method (I also do this with very small linocuts when I don’t back the block with wood).
Basically you take a piece of mat and cut an exact window for your plate in the middle of it, and tape/adhere it to the press-bed. (Be sure to cut a finger-grab so you can easily get the plate out). The mat needs to be larger than the substrate you are printing onto so you can mount stops to the top to butt your substrate up against, similar to the frame method. This is typically done by using masking tape to create an edge to butt the paper up against on two edges.
This allows you to have the plate in one exact place, and the paper registered the same each time. This is especially effective for multiple color prints. When both plate and paper is down, you lay the blankets and send through the press. Below I have an image of a similar setup I did with a small linocut to get an idea.
With stone lithography, there are a few things that you have to consider that make registration sometimes difficult. One, is that your paper cannot be larger than your stone because this runs the risk of your press breaking your stone as it passes through.
Another is that the surface of the stone must remain flat, so it can be inked and pass through the press cleanly, so this means a frame cannot be mounted to it.
Finally, whatever markings you use must not contain grease/oil of any sort or it will PRINT! So you cannot use pencil/graphite for this process. Take the plunge and get a marking utensil that marks in silver.
I believe this registration is called a T-line process, but if not, someone please correct me. That’s just what I’ve called it since I first learned it.
Basically it’s a centerline process. You are going to take the centerline of your paper, and make two marks on the top and the bottom across the edge of the paper and onto the stone itself (why you need a non-grease marking). On the top edge, you will also make a line along the edge of the paper on the stone, and one across the center line on the paper.
So, when you pull the paper away, what should be left is a straight line on the bottom that will line up perfectly with the bottom centerline, and then a “T” shape on top that the paper lines up with both the edge and centerline.
On the paper, it is important to make a “t” shape by drawing a line across the centerline so that you can always tell the orientation. This is especially important if you have an image you’re printing that is somewhat abstract or symmetrical. The paper is then just lined up each time, and sent through the press.
If anyone reading this follows my Instagram, you know that I love me some screen printing! It’s the first type of printmaking that I thoroughly enjoyed the entire process. It’s also a versatile printing method, and therefore has many different registration methods with which you can register your prints. The one I want to focus on for this post, however, is for printing on paper with multiple colors.
Now, with screen printing on paper, you’re going to have one screen for each color, and those screens may or may not be registered to each other (that’s a topic for another post). Assuming that they are not registered to each other, you’re going to need to register each color visually to a master.
The interesting thing about screen printing is that the screen is what moves, not the paper! What I do is have a master image for whatever color I’m printing, and tape the edge of that paper to the edge of my table, or outside the print area somewhere like a hinge.
I will lay that image out as best I can to get it in line with how my screen initially sits in my clamps or press.
I will then bring the screen down on that paper, and see that it lines up with where I want the print to land. Once I get that set, I lock my screen in, and put tape down on the edge of the print area where I want my paper to butt up against.
I will then pull a test print. If it looks right, I’ll do the first color run. Subsequent colors work the same, except that I am now lining up a second color visually to the first using a second master and subsequent test-prints. When I have that print landing where I want, I continue with that color’s run. It continues like this throughout each color, and that’s it!
Now You Know
So, now you have a print registration technique for each of the main types of printmaking to try out. Again, this is, by no stretch of the imagination, the only ways you can register your prints. Many people make variations or just come up with their own way that works for them, their materials, and their press. I like that printmaking is like this, and there are tons of ways of achieving what you want in a print!
Now, I know that some people reading this are either going to be confused with some of these processes, and to those I will recommend grabbing THIS BOOK. I am not an affiliate for them, or get any kind of reward for promoting this book. This is really one of the best books on printmaking that I’ve found out there, and it has helped me immensely!
I also know that there are those who are reading this thinking, “I do things completely different!” AND you’ve read this far! Thanks for that! I ask that you comment below with your own techniques that you use! I want this to be an educational and useful post, so your input is essential to creating that!
For all those who’ve made it through this post to this point, thank you! I ask that you share this on social media, and tell friends and other artists about this site! My goal is to bring in a community of printmakers to support each other, and to be a place for continual learning and discovery for printmakers and those interested in printmaking. If you have any suggestions for future posts, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a Printmaker, and would like to be featured on this website, please contact me. If you would like to be featured on my Instagram account, please message me on the app.
I hope that you’ve found this to be both insightful and enjoyable. Again leave any comments below, and spread the word!
Keep on Printing!