How Printers Dampen and Dry Paper

Photocopied in a first printing of 200 copies.

20 pages, 4.25 x 11 inches.


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In 2011 I received 3,000 sheets of custom-watermarked paper from the Velké Losiny papermill for my book Specimens of Diverse Characters. As soon as I tried printing on the paper it sent me into a full-blown panic. The sheets were so highly sized that they weren’t absorbing my ink—the fine lines of my drawings and type were coming out thick and slurry. In my panic I embarked on an odyssey of dampening and drying that at this distance sounds like a comedy of errors. At the time it felt more like a tragedy.

While I was tearing my hair out over Specimens, I purchased a small booklet titled, On Hand Printing: 2 Letters from William Everson, published by Anacapa Books in 1980. In it, Everson portrays the process of dampening paper as a relatively simple, stress-free affair:

My method: The day before the run I take my stack then I “paint” every other sheet with a paint brush or sponge. Wet sheet, dry sheet. Takes only about a half hour. Put a damp towel on the heap. That night I reverse them—end for end, not over. Keep the damp towel on them. Next morning you can print. Pressure, in the form of weights or standing press isn’t necessary. It just speeds it up, but it also wrinkles the paper sometimes, so I quit it. It’s all so easy—you’ll get so you love the ritual.

When I first read this last line I almost tore the book to shreds.

Since then, I have asked other printers how they dampen and dry paper and each has replied with a different technique. Through experimentation, I have settled on methods that work for me. Perhaps other methods will work better for you. Give one or more of them a whirl—it’s all so easy!

Participants include:

Cathy Baker, The Legacy Press

Bob Baris, The Press on Scroll Road

Carolee Campbell, Ninja Press

Sebastian Carter, Rampant Lions Press

Susan Filter, Paper Conservator

Helen Hiebert, Helen Hiebert Studio

Russell Maret

Martyn Ould, The Old School Press

Gaylord Schanilec, Midnight Paper Sales