Do your prints often come out crooked on the (expensive) printing paper? If you are just guessing its straight, and hoping for the best, then this post is for you. You can end hit or miss registration forever with this handy method, and as a bonus it will also help you to keep your press bed clean so your prints have a neat white border all round.

Decide the size of your printing paper

First get a piece of plain paper bigger than the sheet you plan to print onto. Anything will do – newsprint, lining paper or the back of an old poster. Cut it down to size if it is bigger than the press bed.

Lay your printing paper onto the plain sheet and mark the corners.

Draw a square the same size as the printing paper, using a clear dark line. A sharpie pen is good for this.

Position your printing plate on the registration sheet

Position your printing plate within the square so the borders look right. This usually means the same width at the sides and top and a bit deeper at the bottom, but whatever looks good to you is fine. Mark the corners and draw the outline of your plate. If your plate is an irregular shape just draw round it.

This is your registration template; lay it on the press bed.

Simple registration sheet

Simple registration sheet

Protect your registration sheet

Florists cellophane

Florists cellophane

Cut a sheet of florists cellophane the same size as the press bed.

Set up on the press bed

The set up on the press bed

Lay it over the registration sheet and tape each end down well at either end of the press bed. This will help to keep the press bed clean, thereby giving nice white borders round your prints.

By covering the paper registration sheet with cellophane you can be sure that your pen marks will never mark your printing paper. It should last for quite a few prints before it needs replacing; read on for details of how to clean ink smudges off it.

Change your registration sheet easily

If you are using a different size paper, or printing a new plate it is easy to make a customised registration sheet and slide it under the cellophane. If you regularly make prints of the same sizes you can keep a supply of registration sheets ready to use, or follow Aine’s advice (in the comment below) and use a sheet with a multi purpose grid on it.

Tissue paper sliders

Here’s how to position your inked up plate on the registration sheet and avoid annoying smudges from the back or sides of the plate (or your mucky fingers).

Keep a supply of clean tissue paper by the press; the sheets should be a bit bigger than your plate; lay a clean tissue sheet on the press bed, anywhere convenient and then lay your inked up plate on the tissue paper.

Moving your plate around on the press bed

Moving your plate around on the press bed

With CLEAN fingers gently slide the tissue paper until the plate lines up with the correct registration lines.

If your lines are clear and dark they will show through the tissue. This is much easier than trying to position an inky plate precisely the first time, and the tissue paper helps to keep the press bed clean if the plate has ink on the back, (which it will I am sure).

Recycle the used tissue as paper wipes for your intaglio plates.

Position your paper

See the post ‘preparing paper for printing’ for information about wetting paper.

Using paper fingers

Using paper fingers

To position your printing paper on the registration sheet hold it by diagonal corners using ‘paper fingers’.

Lay one corner on the corner of the template; slowly and gently lower the paper keeping an eye on the edge of the paper and the line on the registration sheet.

If you get it wrong don’t try to move it, this will make smudges on the paper; just leave it where it is and cut the paper down after printing if necessary.

Cleaning the press bed

whiting box with rag

whiting box with rag

Even with the tissue paper you will probably end up with some ink on the press bed at times.

To clean it off efficiently I have a box of whiting* with an old rag handy. Use this to rub away the ink marks and brush the dust off before making the next print.

The whiting cleans the ink off and leaves the cellophane on the press bed clean and dry with no greasy marks.

*Whiting is calcium carbonate and you can get it from art suppliers e.g. Lawrences, Jacksons etc.

A simple elegant solution

Once you have used this method it will seem logical and obvious. It is pretty fool proof and will help you avoid crooked prints with messy borders. I am surprised by how many of my students haven’t come across it, and the comments of ‘oh so that’s how you do it!’ accompanied by a big sigh inspired me to write this post.

Registering plates is often a tricky area and printmakers have come up with lots of different tricks to achieve good results – it would be interesting to hear any of your own tips on registration.