From variable-frequency drives
to hand-bound books

It’s been about a month since I wrote my last blog. It was about variable-frequency-drive high voltage motor controllers and a 1935 book sewing machine. The relevance of that is cloudy, but suffice it to say that I have been deeply involved in bookbinding for the past two months.

The motor controller works perfectly, thank you. The machine also works now, but it still needs some work. I made a new drive belt and added that to the machine, and it works nicely. The problem now is the clutch, which needs to be disassembled, cleaned and reassembled. I am eager to do that, but I cannot, because I am now in isolation at home. I am not allowed on campus, so my machine is standing idle, waiting for some more effort to get it into perfect working order.

In the month since I wrote last I have been teaching a delightful class called Book Design Technology. It’s a course that is required of some of our students. It’s senior-level, and most of the students are graduating this week or in June. I had 34 students in the class.

We start the quarter as advanced typographers practicing what I call long-form typography. The students are required to find a book manuscript, edit the manuscript, and prepare a book from that manuscript. This involves cleansing the manuscript, editing, composing it into pages in Adobe InDesign, and preparing it for print. It is in this part that the students learn about GREP searches, and learn about the importance of tagging everything in the book manuscript with Paragraph and Character Styles.

Once the book is readied for print, we learn how to fold, collate, sew and bind books by hand. We start with a blank book to prepare the students for their much larger and more complex finished books. On several mornings this quarter I was in our book bindery with 16 young people, each armed with needle-and-thread, glue, brushes and book cloth. We stitched our signatures together using a traditional butterfly stitch (a hook-stitch).

The students begin by poking holes in 16-page signatures using an awl, then sewing with bookbinder’s thread in and out of the centers of those signatures. Each successive signature is sewn to the previous signature using the butterfly, where the thread exits the signature, is passed under the same stitch in the previous signature, then back into the signature to pass to the next set of holes.

This shows the sewing technique. The first signature (bottom) was sewn first, followed by the second, which is sewn individually, and simultaneously hook-stitched to the previous signature. The process continues until all the signatures are sewn into a book block.

It’s a relaxing and fun activity, and it requires manual dexterity, attention to detail and confidence. This was the first book-sewing experience for these students. They all did well.

Once the signatures are sewn, the spine is glued, the book block (the collected signatures) is trimmed square on three sides, and a cover is made. We used common buckram fabrics for the first books, but the students graduated to more refined materials for their final books. Some chose satins, others made their own cover materials (one young woman laser-cut her cover boards on thin sheets of wood). One adventurous student used velvet, a material that I have never seen as a bookbinding cloth before.

The covers, when complete, are laid out on the work tables, and the sewn book blocks are glued-in, using linen fabric for the spine, and decorative end-papers for the bookends. The results were spectacular. I have taught this class numerous times in my career at Cal Poly, and the work is always extraordinary.

I was working in parallel while my students were making their books. I chose a manuscript written by the late father of a dear friend. That manuscript, accompanied by about 100 family photos, I turned into a handsome hand-bound volume. I was working side-by-side with my students so that I could answer their questions about the process with fresh experience. I had not bound a book since last summer, so I needed to brush-up on my skills.

This is the book I created in my class. I was working in parallel to the students all quarter long. Then, at the end of the quarter I added the slip-case.

When I was finished with the book manuscript for my book, I decided to foil-stamp the cover, and to build a slip-case for the book. Slip-cases are not part of the assignment for my students, but then can make one if they wish. I had not done this before.

I took it on like a packaging project. I drew a detailed die-line for the slip-case, including scoring and cutting lines. I drew a detailed cutting diagram for the wrapper. Then I built mine and it was a disaster. I had chosen board too thin for the task, and I failed to line my box. On the second try I did better. I lined the boards, built the box, wrapped the box with book cloth, and the book didn’t fit inside! The addition of lining paper had made the fit so tight that I could not get the book inside.

I threw out both drafts and redesigned my case. This time I approached it differently. I made separate side boards, abandoned scoring and folding, and simply glued-up a box to fit the book (plus extra for the cloth and lining). I used the same board I use for book cases, so it was much thicker and thus much stronger.

This is my completed slip-case. It is lined with fine paper, and covered with traditional bookbinding cloth called Buckram.

The third time I succeeded. My slip-case is a nice addition to the project.

The experience came in handy when on the last lab day I accidentally ruined one of my student’s books while foil-stamping the cover.

She was crushed. I was crushed. The cover was melted (she had used a book cloth whose washable surface was made of plastic). I offered to make a new slip-case to replace the one I ruined.

The recent experience making my third, successful, slip-case proved valuable. I made the replacement slip-case for her, and it went together easily and quickly.

As a result of this I made a complete instruction manual for slip-case making.

Click here to download a copy of my slip-case instruction document.

In any event, the book design class was a tremendous success, marred only by the end-of-the-quarter arrival of the COVID-19 virus. I was forced to cancel the final exam, which was to be a book show, and I never got to see most of the finished books. Instead, I had the students photograph their books and submit the photos. From those photos I have made a slide show that I will share with them as a final exam.

The books are amazing!

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Electronic motor control
and my obsession with a 1935 bookbinding machine

This is the second part of my obsession story. To read the first part, please click here.

And that’s where my odyssey began. Alternating current induction motors use the frequency of the line power (60 Hz in our case) to set the speed of the motor. To change speed, one must vary the frequency. For that there is a relatively new technology on the market call the Variable-Frequency Drive. These devices, all solid-state, are miraculous for this purpose. VFDs can be obtained that convert single-phase electricity to three-phase (solving one of the great machine shop problems of the world), and converting three-phase 60 Hz to three-phase almost-any Hertz for motor control.

I researched these and bought one made by a Chinese company called Teco, a company affiliated with Westinghouse. They are solidly built electronic devices that will take one kind of power in one side and then push a different kind of power out the other end.

This is the Teco/Westinghouse Variable-Frequency Drive. It is a solid-state power device that can take 208 VAC three-phase at 60 Hz, and convert it to the same voltage out, but with variable frequency. Connecting it is relatively simple; programming it is a bit harder.

But it’s not that simple! In order to run a VFD, I would need an electromagnetic contactor, a circuit breaker, three fuses, a 24 volt DC power supply (to operate the contactor), and a cooling fan to keep it all from overheating. All of this went into a large steel utility box. And, into that box I had to drill and saw about 50 holes. I also designed and built a handsome remote control box. That box is now mounted close to the operator’s seat while the rest of this equipment is 18 inches away, on the top of the machine.

A warning: high voltage electricity can kill you! It’s potentially dangerous, and adventures like this should only be undertaken by those with skills and knowledge of electricity and electrical wiring. Always disconnect from the source power, or turn off the main circuit breaker when working with electric components, and never assume that the power is off. Check to be sure, using a meter to test for live current. Believe me. If in doubt, don’t do this! Hire a licensed electrical contractor.

Since this is a State of California installation, and strict safety rules apply to all such things, the whole system was built to-code (which would be smart in any case). All the wires had to be of the correct gauge and color, and all of the connectors had to be properly prepared. The external wiring was run in oil-tight conduit.

In the process of building this device, I learned about DIN 35 standards and DIN 35 rails. DIN is the Deutsches Institut für Normung (German Institute for Standardization).  These are systems devised for industrial electrical equipment, and they are impressive. If you need a flux capacitor, you can find one on eBay with the standard DIN 35 rail to mount it to your assembly. I bought several sections of DIN 35 rail, and put one strip in the back of my box. All of the other components simply clip onto to the rail, making assembly and wiring very easy. The whole thing has a clean, professional look as a result.

This is my draft schematic diagram. It shows how the wires connect to make the motor run. Included are the safety devices: the circuit breaker and three fast-blow fuses, which are recommended by the manufacturer.

On projects like this I like to start with a schematic diagram to get the wiring figured out, then I advance to a scale drawing, with wiring, to-size. I do these drawings in Adobe Illustrator, and I am compulsive about them. The components must be accurately drawn, and the wires must be run correctly in the drawings. This allows me to see if things won’t fit, or if I am making a colossal error in putting the breaker to the right of the power supply. In one instance, I realized the the electromagnetic contactor should be mounted upside down. This allowed me to wire it more logically, and for the wires to move left-to-right, and never over or under the electrical components.

This is the final wiring diagram, which I drew to-scale. In this way I can see if I have left enough room for the wires and the components. Notice that the electromagnetic contactor is mounted upside-down. This gave me the chance to install the wires to the fuse holders more efficiently. The National Electrical Code requires only that the circuit breaker be mounted right-side-up, so that up is on and down is off. This diagram also includes the low-voltage power supply and the low-voltage control wiring going to, and coming from the remote control box.

In this way I build my electrical projects more effectively by carefully following the drawing. If every wire is in the drawing, and I follow the drawing carefully, there is little chance of an error. With 208 volt power, errors have consequences I cannot afford.

Two steps in the construction of this electrical system were out of my normal routine. I seldom work on steel in my shop; usually I work on aluminum and wood. This one required a steel utility box with lots of holes. I drilled some, I cut one with a saber-saw, and I used chassis punches to cut three others. The chassis punches are the cleanest and easiest, as they cut a sharp edge with precision, and there are no metal chips that get loose.

This is the box with the finished electrical components in it. The power comes in on the lower-left, then travels up the left wall and over to the circuit breaker, then on from there to the 24 VDC power supply, the electromagnetic contactor, and the fuses. On the right is the Variable-Frequency Drive. Power ultimately exits on the lower-right to go to the motor. The coiled white wire is the remote control low-voltage line. It leaves the box and travels about 18 inches to the remote control unit on the front of the machine, then back to the VFD.
The cable that comes out the front of the box is the wiring to the emergency-stop button on the box cover. I made a special programming shunt to put on that cable when the front cover is removed.

To get all the holes in correct position, I made templates, cut on my CNC router, in an aluminum material called Alupanel. This stuff is a laminate of polyethylene with two outer layers of aluminum. It cuts easily on the router. Once those were made, I clamped them to the electric box’s sides, and then drilled or punched the holes through the holes in the template to match. On the top of the box are a pattern of 1/2 inch holes to vent heat. I drilled those on my drill press (not much fun).

Once the holes were drilled, I cut the burrs off, sanded the outer surfaces, and painted the box with a medium gray spray paint. This covered all exposed steel edges and made the box look more professional.

From there is was simply a matter of mounting all the hardware, and wiring the devices together. That took me about a day in the shop. I was careful to crimp, then solder, then shrink-tube most of the connectors. Adding lugs to the ends of wires proved unworkable in some cases; others worked fine. In the end, my finished motor control box looks a lot like the Adobe Illustrator drawing. Every wire is in its place; every tie-down is in proper position to keep the wires from getting confused.

This is the new motor and electric box, with controller inside. The new motor is a totally enclosed, fan-cooled motor. The motor controller box has a cooling fan which draws air in from the bottom, expelling it from the top. I am confident that the new power will drive the machine effectively. On the face of the box is the emergency stop button, which cuts power to the entire system by removing power to the electromagnetic contactor coil.

At the museum, I attached the control box to the top of the machine, I then installed the conduits for the motor and the power cord, and I wired the remote control box, and mounted it to the front of the machine on a steel bar that was already there. For this I drilled and tapped two holes for machine screws to hold the box in place. The control wiring is all low voltage, either 10 or 24 VDC, neither of which require conduit, so I ran the shielded control wire out of water-tight grommets on the back of the control panel, and into the control box. It looks great; it works great.

Meanwhile, in bed at night, I read the instructions for programming the Variable-Frequency Drive. Since it’s a solid-state device, and it has a programmable logic circuit within, there are many adjustments you can make in software. One can control minimum and maximum frequencies (translate to motor speed), speed ratios, and you can turn on the remote control wiring if you have it. That moves the power switch and motor speed controls to my external box. Inside that box are a simple power switch and a potentiometer. The potentiometer varies a 10 VDC signal from the VFD, causing it to speed up or slow down in proportion to the resistance of the potentiometer.

I couldn’t test these settings in my shop because I didn’t have 208 three-phase power to work with, and the motor was already mounted on the machine in the museum, so I postponed programming the VFD until the device was wired and ready to run on the Smyth machine. Once I moved the box to the museum and installed it atop the machine, I was able to apply power to the VFD and test it (the motor turned!). I was successful with the wiring of the control box and motor.

The fast-blow fuses and fuse boxes were purchased on eBay, and shipped from China at the same time as the Corona Virus outbreak. I was told by e-mail that these parts would be delayed. So I built the rest of the system without these optional but important parts. For testing, I still had the circuit breaker in the box. I left space for the fuse boxes once they arrived, and wired them in once they arrived. The DIN 35 parts are like building blocks; I mounted the wires, installed the fuses, then clipped the boxes onto the rail.

This is the front view of the machine. At the top are eight spools of thread; in the center, those threads go through a series of needles that sew the spines of book signatures together. The process involves three different parts: punches, which poke holes from below, needles, which push thread from above, and crochet hooks, which pull the threads sideways, allowing them to be pulled back up through the signature. Each needle/punch and hook combination makes a chain stitch along the edge of a signature, and each signature is sewn to the previous signature. Together, they form a beautifully-sewn book block, ready to be glued and encased in a book case (the cover).

Mechanical problems were my next challenge. The original motor was about 50 percent larger than the new motor, and the mounting holes were further apart. At the beginning of the project I took the large cast iron frame to my shop and drilled and tapped four new mounting holes for the replacement motor. That left the new motor about one inch lower than the original. After installing the electric box and all of its connections, I put the drive belt back on, and it was too loose by about one inch (surprise!). The motor mount can be moved, but not enough to make up for the slack created by moving the motor down as I did. I had several possible solutions: 1 – move the motor up (couldn’t do this because the old holes were in the way), 2 – modify the mount plate (couldn’t do this because of the details in the iron casting), or 3 – get a shorter drive belt. This proved to be the best option because they are relatively easy to get, and the 1935 drive belt is well-worn. I ordered a two-inch (circumference) smaller drive belt from McMaster-Carr, the industrial hardware company in Los Angeles.

Another mechanical problem was that the new motor has a larger drive shaft than the old one did. I took the 5.5 inch phenolic pulley off the old motor and took it to a local machine shop to have it machined to the larger diameter, and keyed for the new shaft. This took a few days, but was expertly done. I installed the modified pulley on the new motor and it fits with precision.

Now all that is left is to install that belt and test the machine. I’m sure I’m not finished yet, as I have not cycled the machine under power yet. Once the new motor and all of its fittings are in place I will do that. I hope that there are no more problems, but I will not be surprised if there are. It is, after all, a machine that once worked in production, was then put out to pasture for several decades, then revived.

What will I do with the machine when it’s complete? I will sew books, of course! More on that in a future blog.

Posted in Bookbinding, Education, Imposition and Pagination, New technology, Printing and Printing Processes, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obsessing on a 1935 bookbinding machine

I get obsessed about my projects.

My current obsession is the restoration of a 1935 Smyth book sewing machine in the Shakespeare Press Museum at Cal Poly (I am the faculty advisor). That machine sews the spines of hard-cover books. It’s a pretty good bet that every production case-bound book in the world is made with Smyth book sewing machines.

This is the Smyth book sewing machine. At the top, center are the spindles for thread, on the right is the old motor controller, and below that, the 1935 Westinghouse three-phase motor. (The spittoon on the floor is completely unrelated to bookbinding.)

The machine in question is on very-long-term loan from the California Department of General Services. It was used for many years to bind books produced by the State Office of Printing. When they no longer needed it, they put it in a glass case in their lobby, where it sat for many years as an antique curiosity.

Two summers ago I paid a drayage company a tremendous amount of money to move the machine to Cal Poly. They broke the glass case, which didn’t matter.

A Smyth machine weighs in at just under a ton. It’s difficult to move without damaging the machine because its many cams hang below a common main shaft that runs laterally under the machine. Lifting and moving it requires jacks and solid steel rollers. The most difficult part was getting it off of the pallet. The machine was lifted into the air with jacks and 4×4 timbers, then the pallet was taken out from underneath. Once that was done, the machine was carefully lowered onto blocks of wood on the corners.

This is the identification badge that is affixed to the machine. This, and the printed instruction manual both show dates that put this machine’s manufacture at 1935.

Moving it into position was relatively easy. I used “crabs” which are like small steel skateboards with solid wheels. Once in position, it had to be lifted off of the crabs, then gingerly lowered onto the floor. Dropping a machine like this – even an inch – can be fatal. We managed to get it to the concrete floor with long steel pry bars and ever-thinner slips of wood. The last quarter-inch was announced with a bang, but nothing was damaged.

Since the machine had been sitting for years in a glass case, it was in beautiful condition. No rust, no dust, but also no movement. The lubricants in the machine had solidified, and the mechanism was inoperative as a result. The main clutch was frozen, the delivery table gears were stuck. It was, internally, a no-go mechanism. It was also missing a couple of key parts. Two long springs are normally on the bottom of the cam followers, ending on a center foot of the machine. One of those springs was missing. I tried to order one, but couldn’t find any the correct size, so I went to McMaster-Carr in Los Angeles, and they quoted $275 for a single spring to be custom manufactured. Another custom spring maker in Los Angeles quoted $750 for one spring.

Then I called Smyth, whose headquarters had moved from the original Hartford, Connecticut home to a new facility in South Carolina. After a couple of tries, I reached Jennifer at Smyth who told me that, yes, they still stock that part (they still use the same part in modern Smyth machines). Yes I could order one, but, she cautioned me, “We have a $25 minimum order.” She suggested that I buy two of the springs at $7.95 each, and then buy something else that I might need for the machine. I bought 100 needles and 100 crochet hooks, and two springs, and I spent about $125.00. I am now outfitted for the next decade for needles and hooks. The springs fit perfectly; I had them installed in minutes.

Getting the machine turning was more challenging. The State Printing Office sent a technician to San Luis Obispo to help (it is their machine, after all). He was successful in getting the main clutch turning again, and he and I got the main shaft turning. My friend Bill and I got the feed table gears freed-up with lots of back-and-forth and a lot of penetrating oil. Now it’s moving smoothly again.

Here is a better view of the motor and controller as we received the machine. Both have been replaced with modern technologies that will allow us to run the machine and sew book blocks. In this photo was a pallet I built that ended up not working well under the machine.
I removed it and put the machine on the floor.

The original motor, a 1/2 HP Westinghouse 208 volt 3-phase motor was not in good condition, so I decided to scrap it and start over on motive power. And therein lies the root of my current obsession. The original motor had a speed control that was made in 1935. That speed control consists of huge wire-wound resistors with multiple taps in the middle, connected to a series of copper contacts that are touched by a rotating lever on the control panel. It was old and it no longer was worked correctly. The technician from the State Printing Office also said it was dangerous, so the decision to replace it was made easier. I always strive for historic accuracy, but in this case I chose safety over authenticity. The machine itself is still historically accurate.

I decided to replace the motor with a modern 1 HP 3-phase sealed motor. These are common and easy to install and wire. The problem was the speed control. The motor I bought runs at a nominal 1340 rpm. I need something much slower for this machine, probably 500 rpm.

A comparison of the old motor, top, and the new motor. The original motor was a 1/2 HP device operated by a complex controller that used multi-tap resistors to control speed.
My controller uses a Variable-Frequency Drive to power a new 1 HP motor.

On machines of this type it’s common to see mechanical variable-speed pulleys (our Heidelberg Windmill press has this type of speed control). I couldn’t use that because the main clutch is encased inside the main flywheel, which is also the main drive wheel. There is no practical way to engineer this without making a secondary pulley system; that was too complicated. So I decided to use an electronic motor speed control instead.

This story continues… Read about the wiring and the utility box, and the Variable-Frequency Drive.


Posted in Adventures, Bookbinding, Education, History, Imposition and Pagination, New technology, Printing and Printing Processes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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Running the five-color
Pearl press postcard

Last year I began the restoration of an 1895 Pearl press, a treadle-powered letterpress that was donated to the Cal Poly Shakespeare Press Museum.

That press was a rusty machine when we took delivery of it. I took it to my shop, disassembled it, then sand-blasted the parts and repainted it. After the pieces were repainted, I pin-striped some of the parts then reassembled the press. It was missing some key parts, which I replaced with new ones.

The rusty Golding No. 3 press before I moved it to the shop for restoration.

Finding new parts for an 1895 press was surprisingly easy. There are several people who manufacture castings for the machines, and another fellow who makes modern ink rollers that fit the press perfectly. I bought those and installed them on the machine. It needed new springs, which I hand-wound. I surface-ground the ink distribution plate, and had a welder repair the platen, which was mysteriously broken on its corners.

The hardest part to replace has been the main drive gear, which I could not find. I hired a machinist friend to make one for me. The original has several missing teeth, and had been repaired, badly, several times since 1895. That new gear is still not finished, but it will be soon (wishful thinking always works!).

This is the same press after much of the restoration. The woodwork is not done in this image, and the main drive gear is missing. New rollers and trucks had arrived, but were not yet installed on the machine.

I built new woodwork for the press including the feed and delivery tables, two new drawers for the base, and I added something the original press never had – a drawer cover. Since the drawers are directly under the main parts of the press, solvent, ink and lost paper will occasionally fall down into the press, and I want those not to fall into the top drawer. I machined an ampersand into the drawer top in the same style as the lettering in the press castings. It’s a nice touch.

Meanwhile, I drew an illustration of the Golding Pearl No. 3 press, working from a parts drawing in the original instruction manual. I made the illustration into a poster, which has not yet been printed, and a postcard, which I finished this week. Details about the color separations for the postcard are described in my previous post.

I had my five zinc engravings made for the press run, and I set up the first color – light blue – on the Heidelberg Windmill press (not the Golding; it’s still in the shop). Also, printing with precise register on the Golding would be extraordinarily difficult; that press does not have the precision of a Windmill.

I have never run a multicolor job on a Heidelberg Windmill before. In fact I have only run a Windmill for embossing and die-cutting jobs. I had never put ink on a Windmill press in my life. So this was going to be my first printing job on the Windmill, and my first precision register job at the same time. I like a challenge!

These are the zinc engravings I had made for the postcard run. All of them have been used and then washed-up with solvent after their respective color runs. The plate in the foreground is the metallic gold image with all of the detail of the press.

The press runs began five weeks ago on a Friday. I have a few open hours in my Friday schedule, and I used those to work on the postcard. I bought some 100% cotton Neenah paper for the job, but then switched to a paper that has a bit more bulk for this project. I’ll use the Neenah paper for the poster that I’ll begin soon.

I also ordered Pantone colors from Van Son Holland Ink for four of the five colors of the job. The final color would be gold, and I had five pounds of gold on hand.

The Heidelberg Windmill press is most often run “without guides” (one of its two operating modes). This means that the windmill arms of the press pick up the paper from the center of the feed table, and continue to hold the paper while it is printed, then the arms carry the paper to the delivery stack where each sheet is dropped after being printed. That’s the “commercial” (easy) way to run the press.

This is the Heidelberg Windmill press printing the Pearl press postcard. This run was the dark gray color. Light blue and light gray had been printed earlier.

Click here to see a short video of the Windmill running.

The other mode is “with guides” where the windmill arm picks up the sheet from the left edge of the feed table, carries the sheet into the press, then drops the sheet onto brass register guides at the bottom of the platen. The press then moves those guides up and to the right, registering each sheet precisely against the bottom two, and one side guide for register. After the impression, the windmill arm grabs the sheet a second time, and carries it up to the delivery table and drops it there. “With guides” is the only way to print with precision on this machine. It’s much more difficult, so most people don’t bother. I bothered.

Running the first color was easy, since I wasn’t trying to register anything to anything else. It was just a press run. I was careful to be sure that the image was in the right place on the sheet, and was not moving from sheet to sheet.

The is the metallic gold plate mounted in the Heidelberg Windmill chase. Note that the plate is mounted in the lower-right corner of the chase. This is the correct position for printing “with guides” which means with the precision register capabilities of the press. I used wood furniture here, but also added three strips of two-point leading on either side of the plate, and three strips of card stock on the left. These allowed me to get the plate into register by shifting the paper strips to the right of the plate, then locking up the form again.

The second Friday I added light gray to the postcard. This color had to be perfectly registered to the first, of course. There is a thick light gray border that kisses the light blue. It made it easy for me to see if register was perfect, and it was.

The third Friday I ran a dark gray ink, which registered with the light gray in the press illustration, but not along the border. The run went well, though if I had it to do over I would mix some transparent white into the dark gray to lighten it a bit. It’s too close to black for my taste.

On the fourth Friday I ran the black, which put a trapped border on the edge, and inserted crisp lettering into the title and the detailed lettering at the bottom of the card. The black looks good, but again I wish I had printed the dark gray a little lighter (I’ll fix that when I run the poster). The black was designed to trap the other colors where it overprints, and it did that admirably.

These are the finished postcards stacked on a delivery cart. Register marks are printed above and below the artwork; these will be cut off when the cards are trimmed to size.

The final Friday arrived and I put the metallic gold ink on the press. This color carries all of the fine detail of the illustration – the springs, the gear teeth, the pin-striping. I got it to register quite quickly (three trips to to composing stone for small adjustments of position). And it looks glorious! The gold makes the press look absolutely wonderful.

Along the way I had to make some very small adjustments to register the sheets on the press. These adjustments are facilitated by two small screws on the vertical, and one screw on the side guide. The Heidelberg only allows for 4 points (0.0552 in. of 1.4 mm) total movement on the vertical guides, and slightly less on the horizontal guide. At the beginning of each press run I centered those guide screws so that I had the maximum movement available both up and down. The side guide is harder to adjust, so I left it alone, choosing to move the plate in the chase with my paper strips instead.

This is an example of the finished card with all of its marks. You can see the the metallic gold register mark in the lower-right is off by a significant amount. This is a result of that mark being moved accidentally on the plate. I registered the image to the previously-printed colors, and ignored the errant register mark.

Once in register, the press stays in register. This machine, now 66 years old, runs like new. And when it runs, it makes a delightful symphony of sounds. The air compressor (a large piston pump on the right-rear of the machine) sounds like exaggerated breathing. There are many clanks and pops and whooshes as the windmill arms take the sheets to the press and out again. I love running this machine because it’s a work of mechanical perfection.

Now I have a stack of beautifully printed five-color postcards. I suppose I have to put something on the other side and mail them!

My plan is to use them to invite all of our former student curators to a dinner in honor of the museum’s 50th anniversary. And, after that I will use them to invite people to an event in January to celebrate International Graphic Communication Week.

I’ll keep a handful unprinted on the back, and I will frame one for the wall of the museum. After all, with this job I have created a work of art.

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Reminiscences of a prepress guy

I am an old prepress guy. I owned one of the first PostScript service bureaus in the U.S. I was there at the beginning. It was painful, but overall it was a great business. We had been traditional typographers, and then we adopted the Macintosh and PostScript, and we prospered.

Over the years I developed a skill for reading and modifying PPD files so that our Linotronic machines could output materials that otherwise would not run. A PPD is a PostScript Printer Description file, all text, that describes the capabilities of a printer – its dimensions, color capabilities, resolution and more. These files are still in use in our print drivers. Though archaic, they still perform these functions so that the software knows the capabilities of the printer.

I am working on a cool project right now that involves prepress in a way that I have not explored in years.

This is my five-color postcard design. The colors are shown in the color bars above.
The challenge I faced was making color separation files from the Illustrator document.

It’s actually two projects. First is the restoration of an 1895 Golding Pearl printing press. This was part of a collection of printing equipment that was donated to our university by a local family. Their dad had collected the equipment, and stored it (and occasionally printed on some of it) in his two-car garage. When he died, it became a problem. I helped to solve that problem with the aid of friends from the International Printing Museum in Carson, California. In the end, some of the equipment came to Cal Poly’s Shakespeare Press Museum while the rest went to the larger museum further south.

This is my successful work flow for making color separation files
from the Illustrator document.

I got the rusted Pearl press. It has taken me about a year to restore it. First I tore it down to its parts, then I sand-blasted all of the castings, and repainted them. This was followed by a careful reassembly. I replaced missing parts with replica parts, I built all new wooden parts – the drawers, feed and delivery tables. My greatest challenge was the main drive gear, which was missing several teeth. A machinist friend found a gear blank and then machined it to match the original part on the press. It took months to find the blank, then several months to get the new one made.

And now the press is ready to print again, 124 years after its manufacture.

Project Two is a poster and postcard to commemorate the restored press as part of the 50th anniversary of Shakespeare Press Museum, Cal Poly’s working museum of letterpress machines and type.

This is the Golding No. 3 press in the condition in which we received it.
I have since restored it from head to toe.

I started by drawing from a blueprint of the original press from the parts catalog of the manufacturer. I did this in Adobe Illustrator. As I was rebuilding the press I took photos, and was careful to adjust the drawing to the reality of the printing press. It was detailed work, and the result is a an accurate side drawing of the machine with all of its working parts shown.

My plan is to print this art as a five-color poster, and a five-color postcard. The postcard will be printed first, on the Heidelberg Windmill press that I restored earlier in the year (not the press illustrated in this story). That machine, a “black ball” 1953 press, is now in perfect condition, having suffered from many abusive years in a Calgary printing plant while die-cutting parking permit hang-tags. The press wasn’t even oiled for many years, and it was in bad shape when I bought it from a machinery dealer in 2015. Several years of restoration work allowed me to bring the machine back to perfect condition.

The subject of the postcard: This is the nearly complete Golding press in my shop.
Included are all new wood parts, new rollers and trucks, new cast-steel ink plate
on the middle of the press. The ink distribution plate is missing in this image.
I had it on the surface grinder for refinishing.

I have run the Heidelberg press only a couple of times since its restoration, so jumping in with a five-color precise register job will be challenging. But I have the will, and will find a way.

The poster is planned for later in the year. I will print that on our Vandercook proof press with photopolymer plates. It should be a nice product.

This is the Dark Gray separation image. The other four colors are similar.

To print the postcard, I needed to make either photopolymer or zinc printing plates. I started with the photopolymer plates and had difficulty with those (still experimenting!). I decided to order zinc plates from an engraving company in Michigan. That’s where I ran into color separation problems that I had not encountered for years.

For the photopolymer plates, I used ESKO Artwork software, starting with a PDF file, then made a film negative on the ESKO Spark platemaker. Easy. I exposed the polymer plates in our DuPont Cyrel UV unit, and hand-processed them using water and a brush. This didn’t work well (still experimenting!).

To send out for engravings, I needed to separate the file into five separate Adobe Illustrator files. It seemed easy, but I had difficulty doing it. The company doing the engraving cannot separate from a composite color PDF. I tested; I tried; I failed. Several times.

And ultimately, I found myself working with PPD files again.

When you set PostScript file as the destination, the computer will default to a generic “universal” PPD for PostScript. That PPD will not work for color separations because “universal” is not a color-capable printer. Instead, you must choose the PPD for a color printer. I think any color printer will work. I have a Konica-Minolta printer here, and when I choose that PPD, my Illustrator document can be separated into individual colors, each one a separate file.

It was this process that allowed me to save each color as a separate Illustrator file, and to submit them to the engraver.

It’s not a one-step process. Using Illustrator’s Ink Manager, I exported each color plate as a separate PostScript file, then dragged each PostScript file onto Illustrator to open it. Then I had to crop the image to the artwork size (the page is letter-size by default). Once cropped, I had only to Save As in Illustrator format and send the files to the engraver.

Another rookie mistake I made was to send files with embedded fonts in them (it has been a long time!). After being alerted to this error, I converted the fonts into outlines, and saved again, then sent the repaired files back to the engraver. It worked perfectly the second time.

I now have five zinc engravings of my artwork, ready for printing. I will begin that process next week. My plan is to ink-up the Heidelberg Windmill, apply the lightest color of ink to the press, and make the first impressions. I’m making a 500-impression press run. Then I will let the sheets dry for a day and proceed to the darkest color (black), followed at the end by metallic gold.

I’ll post images here of the press run and will report back on how that press run works out.

p.s. For those who think I might be plagiarizing David Lance Goines with this press poster, I assure you that this is a coincidence! The fact that one of his wonderful posters hangs above my desk proves only that I am channeling him with this work.

p.p.s. You may be wondering why I am not printing the five-color postcard on the Golding Pearl press. Simple: though it is a lovely machine, it is not capable of holding precise register. The Heidelberg has register guides to hold the paper in position while printing. Those register controls make this kind of work possible.

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A tale of Burning Man dust and light

I pulled my bike up to the rack at Center Camp, poking its front wheel into the wooden slats that would hold it there. On the other side of the rack was a man taking his bike out of the rack.

He said, “I can’t believe you let your camera get dirty like that.”

He was referring to my Canon EOS R camera with its 16-35 mm lens, hanging from my neck.

This is my Canon EOS R mirrorless camera after 11 days in the Nevada desert. It is very dusty on the outside. It worked perfectly during the event, and I am unaware of any dust getting into the camera. I certainly can’t see it in my photos.

“I have a mirrorless, and I have it in a water-tight bag,” he said, gesturing to the bag on the back of his bike.

“This is a mirrorless.” I said, as I removed the camera from my neck and held it in my hands, “I find it’s important to have the camera available so that I can take photos when I see them.”

He responded to my foolishness by tisking. I wished him a good evening. I went out to shoot a huge animated steel sculpture of Pegasus, the legendary winged horse.

A lovely Fire-Dancer performs on Saturday night at Burning Man. Later, the Man was burned in a huge fire-and-fireworks extravaganza. It was very photogenic.

This was my fourth Burning Man, the first for my EOS R. In the past I have taken two 5D Mark III cameras and a variety of lenses. I tend to carry only three when I go out onto the Playa, the huge dry lake bed that is the site of all of art projects, and the place where hundreds of “mutant vehicles” slowly meander around. This year I used the R, and had the 5D in my camper as a back-up in case the R failed in some way. I never got the 5D out.

In addition to the camera and lenses, which I carry in drawstring bags in the panier bag on my bike, I carry a Really Right Stuff carbon-fiber tripod. That’s an important accessory for me because I go out every day at daybreak, and I also go out at night to photograph the various pyrotastic events that mark the evenings at Burning Man. I was shooting a lot of high-ISO photos this year, and getting great results.

The Man is surrounded by fireworks just before the fire was ignited. Fireworks photography is fun because the extremes are present: too much light and too little light at the same time. Longer shutter speeds allow the trails of the fireworks to be recorded, making more interesting images.

My belief is that the camera can get dusty on the outside without affecting its performance on the inside. The better (more expensive) Canons all have rubber seals on their buttons and mounts, and they are designed to be “water-tight” in the field. Water-tight is tantamount to dust-tight in my mind. So I just carry the camera and shoot like crazy. I worry about cleaning the camera when I get back to civilization. Sometimes I give it a wash-down in the middle of the week, taking a wet washcloth and wiping the dust off the camera’s exterior. This works fine.

While I am out shooting, I check to be sure my lenses are clean, and I carry a lens cleaning cloth in case they are not. Playa dust is so fine it’s like talcum powder. It comes off of lenses easily, but it sticks to everything else. My shoes gradually turned from black to light gray during the week. It took three washes to get them back to black.

At sunrise, a young man takes in the morning light on top of a metal sculpture.

I shot several thousand photos during the week, concentrating on sunrise and sunset shots. There were times I gave myself an assignment: bicycles, or silhouettes, or light over the mountains to the west. Morning and evening shots are always best since those are the times when there is the least wind and dust. One evening, about 45 minutes after sunset I was out on the “Deep Playa” – a couple of miles by bicycle out on the lakebed – and I stopped to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the light in the western sky. “This is divine!” I said out loud. It was, and I stood there amazed for a few minutes while I shot a 20-shot panorama of the yellow-gold sky silhouetted by the mountains.

This is my nighttime panorama of the mountains to the west of the Burning Man event.
It was a marvelous evening – still, quiet and gorgeous.

I often read with amusement about Burning Man in national publications, and I think: “obviously this person has never been there.” The New York Times featured a story this week about a Nobel prize-winning economist who visited the Playa during the layout and surveying of the streets. It was a good article that covered the ideas of how cities can grow, and how people interact within them. The article was marred, though, by two references to “orgies” in the desert.

I know that there is an “orgy-dome” at Burning Man. I have never seen it. I don’t care.

I also know that there is a camp where coffee drinks are made all day, and another where Yoga is taught. There are two orchestras and a choir at Burning Man. There is a half-marathon held each year on the Playa. There are easily a dozen bike repair camps there. These are but a few of the hundreds of camps in the Black Rock City during the week of Burning Man. It’s a shame that the author resorted to the tawdry orgy reference when there is so much more going on at Burning Man than that. How about this? Burning Man is very likely the city (75,000 people) where the greatest percentage of the population ride bikes in the entire world (nearly 100%). Even Amsterdam can’t make that claim.

Looking down six o’clock toward the Man with a 400mm lens in a dust storm made for interesting photography one evening. The main avenues are illuminated by kerosene lanterns that are hung each evening by a team of marching Lamp-lighters.

For a photographer, there is nothing quite like Burning Man. It is the palette coming to the brush for me. One has to just be there to see the wonderful sights and sites of the annual event. It’s truly extraordinary. And truly dusty. But one must be there to get the shot. That’s why I go.

One of the many Mutant Vehicles on the Playa at sunrise.

And, when I come home, I clean my cameras and go back to shooting photos of classical music concerts – of violas and bassoons making wonderful music. And, I often say (to myself, of course) “This is divine!”

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An EOS R follow-up:
two months later

I bought the Canon EOS R camera in May after considerable research and a one-week rental test of the device.

I am the photographer of the Festival Mozaic, a classical music festival in San Luis Obispo. Each year I shoot three events – one each in fall and spring, and then a two-week festival in July and August. On those occasions I take thousands of photos of violinists and cellists and oboeists and flutists (and others). It is a lot of fun and it is occasionally challenging.

One of my biggest problems in the past was the noise made by my Canon 5D camera shutters. They make enough noise that I can’t be in the auditorium while the players are performing. It bothers people in the audience when my shutter (even in “silent” mode) goes wop-clack-snap-wop (over a 60th of a second). I try to shoot only during the forte parts, or from behind glass doors, or from the sound booth in the auditorium – depending on the location.

But the R has a feature that eliminates that problem: silent operation. It is really silent. Though I can hear a nearly-inaudible tick when my eye is on the viewfinder, no one else can hear that sound.

As a result, I can shoot my photos and not bother a soul. That alone is worth the price of admission for me.

Grace Park, playing violin at the Festival Mozaic during the annual summer festival.
This was taken with the Canon EOS R camera
and a Canon 400mm f2.8 telephoto lens 1/160 sec. f 3.5. ISO 1600
under mixed lighting, mostly incandescent.
This image was cropped from a vertical photo.

I’m in week two of the festival now, and I have shot about 8,000 photos so far. No one hears me click my shutter; no one knows that I am shooting still photos and not video. Almost no one is even aware of my being there. I love that!

In silent mode, the shutter is always open, and the camera samples an image as a slice of time as it passes. As a result of this, I occasionally see a distortion in an image that is a result of the scan of exposure. Instead of exposing the entire sensor at once, the silent mode captures the image as a scan of the sensor, which occasionally bends straight things that are moving (a violn bow is a great example) into strange curved things.

This image of Rolf Haas was taken during the same concert. Notice the curved bow – a result of the Silent Mode on the EOS R. Since the sensor is exposed during the exposure, but the image is recorded as a scan of the sensor, the bow is in different places at each moment of the exposure, resulting in the bowed bow. I have experienced this odd phenomenon in only one or two photos out of thousands .

The R has numerous other features that please me. I have come to love the resolution (it’s a 30.1 Mp sensor; 86MB photos result). It’s nice to be able to crop a bit of a photo and still have 50MB left over!

I shot a series of landscape panoramas while on vacation in June, and they come out 30 percent higher in resolution than my previous work. I like that because it makes the finished images more useful for huge prints. The utility of my panoramas is much greater now, and they are more salable.

The sensor is an integral part of the camera’s auto-focus system. Though it can be slow on occasion, I find the auto-focus is more accurate than my 5D cameras, it’s quick to find faces in scenes (it uses facial recognition), and it results in more photos in good focus than I get with my other cameras. I have become more reliant on auto-focus as a result. I am not skeptical when shooting with the R. I manually touch-up the focus much less than I do with my other cameras. It’s easier to shoot photos in focus, and that makes a world of difference to me.

This is a look at the working end of the EOS R. The small information window is made of eInk, roughly the same thing that Kindles are made of. It is energized when the camera is on, but never loses its image when the camera is turned off. The small touch pad is below on the back of the camera. That touch pad has incurred the wrath of a lot of Canon customers. I simply programmed it to do nothing.

As a person of a certain age (ages starting with the number seven are quickly approaching), I have difficulty seeing through the viewfinder of SLR cameras, and achieving perfect focus has been difficult for me recently. The R solves most of the problems I have with focus, and because it uses an electronic viewfinder, the image is brighter than the viewfinders on my other cameras. I am sold on that, and the LCD screen on the back of the camera (which articulates!). I can touch the LCD image where I want the camera to focus, and it almost always focuses on that object perfectly.

High ISO shooting has become a way of life for me. As I shoot photos of a cellist in Mission San Luis Obispo, which has notoriously bad lighting, I find that ISO 25,600 is a perfectly reasonable speed. This, compared to my SLR cameras, is miraculous. I can gain back one or two stops by using noise reduction in Adobe Camera Raw. The results are excellent.

The R is slightly smaller than the 5Ds, and lighter by a half pound. I enjoy shooting with it; it has become fluid in my hands, and I have made measurable improvement in my work with this camera.

Much criticism has ben leveled at Canon for the R’s poor handling of 4K video. It crops the image on the sensor, and that makes many pundits angry. It makes sense for them to be angry. But I am not angry. I don’t shoot video with this camera. I’m a still photographer. And I love it!

People also criticize the multi-function touch-bar thingee above the right thumb position. I don’t like it either, so I programmed it to do nothing. Problem solved. Maybe they’ll write a software fix for that in the near future, and perhaps I will use it once that fix is made. Meanwhile I’m not bothered by it.

Put me down as a strong supporter of the Canon EOS R camera. I know they didn’t get everything right with this camera, but it’s a professional camera with many features that make my photos larger, better and much sharper than I have been able to make in the past.

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The Laowa Probe macro lens – after a week

I have been shooting with the Laowa lens now for a week. Of course it rained for three days, so I didn’t get out as much as I had hoped.

My overall impression of the lens: it’s well-built. It’s beautifully finished. It’s optically excellent.

I have read complaints that it does not have attractive bokeh, but for macro photography I don’t find its out-of-focus subjects to be objectionable. This is obviously a very specialized lens with very specialized uses. It’s not an everyday 24mm lens. For that it would be awkward. For close-up and super close-up photos, it is excellent.

Milkweed flowers in my wife’s garden. These flowers are about 8 mm. in diameter. I will soon be able to photograph Monarch butterfly caterpillars on these plants, as these are the host plant to those insects. I really like the shallow depth-of-field in this photo, taken at f22 with the Laowa lens. Maximum is f14; minimum is f45.

The lens focuses to 2:1, which means that it’s inside the subject matter much of the time. The built-in LED lights are good, though I did not have much chance to try that. I will in future photographic adventures.

This image shows the out-of-focus effect of this lens. The flowers in the foreground are sharp and detailed while the blue sky and clouds in the background are appropriately out of focus. There is little of the “bokeh” effect that is so loved by photographers.

If you want a unique lens that can take photos inside a glass of beer (submerged) or inside a poppy flower, this is your lens!

This is an inch-square section of an Aloe plant. I shot this at f45, resulting in nice depth-of-field. Even at that aperture, though, the petals in the distance are out of focus. Thus, the depth-of-field at this aperture is probably less than 25 mm at this distance.

I’m not in love, but I am enamored. Love will come with more practice and more experience on my part. I simply don’t have much experience with macro photography, and this lens takes imagination and practice. I also realized that my biggest enemy in the field was the wind. The tiniest of gusts will ruin a flower photo. I think that I might add a large folded corrugated carton to my kit when I go out. I will use that, folded into an L-shape, to be a wind-break for my photos. I think that such a wind-break would add considerably to my success in using this lens in the field.

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More on the Laowa wide angle macro probe lens

In my blog last week I described how the Laowa lens had arrived, and how I illustrated it so that the world would have access to its dimensions.

I have been using it for several days now (though we were hit by an unseasonal rainstorm on Saturday and Sunday which spoiled some of my macro plans).

This is the Laowa lens on my Canon EOS R camera, mounted on my favorite Really Right Stuff tripod at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. The snoot of the lens is very close to an Alstroemeria flower.

Wow! This lens is clever and curious. I took it today to the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, located north of town on Highway One. There I was able to put the lens to several close-up tests. I had a chance to try various aperture settings, and I shot as close as I thought it would go. It goes further than that.

…and here is the Alstroemeria flower from the photo above. It rained overnight, leaving drops on the leaves of these delicate flowers. It’s a delightful combination of elements for a macro photo.

My only enemy today was the wind. Most of my photos were hampered by gusty winds moving the colorful flowers I had chosen as my subjects. Despite that, however, I ended up with some nice photos.

Pistils and stamens on display for all the world to see! I was very pleased by this image. It’s taken with an aperture of f22, which provides for more depth-of-field than the maximum f14 of this lens.

I enjoyed the combination of the Laowa and my new Canon EOS R camera. The best feature of that camera today was the fold-out viewfinder, which gave me the ability to focus on the LCD screen in several places where I would not have been able to get my eye on the viewfinder of a normal camera. It was a winning combination of camera and lens for me.

To say that the lens is a close-up is an exaggeration. You often find the tip of the lens inside the subject flower, which is quite amazing. But, if you consider that this lens will enlarge to 2:1, it is not surprising.

…and here is the Laowa lens inside a flower I was photographing. The wind caused too much movement on this one, so I did not get a good image of this flower.

I have four more days with the lens, and will see how far I can push it. I don’t plan anything wild; I just want to see if I can master the thing. On Wednesday I plan to test it with the built-in LED lights. I’ll report back on my work there.

Stay tuned for more about this curious lens.

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