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What is registration in printmaking?

In printmaking, registration refers to aligning colours.

Typically, each colour of a print must be printed separately. In my recent woodcut, Winter Woodland Stream, I printed first in light blue. Later, I printed in dark blue on top.

Forest scene

The dark blue needs to align perfectly on top of the light blue. If it doesn't, we say that the registration is "off".

Detail of print with poor registration

There are a number of techniques that help the artist achieve perfect registration. Unfortunately, for this print, I had to try several of them unsuccessfully before I found one that would work. Part of the challenge was the thickness of the block. Most registration instructions assume a thin sheet of linoleum or copper. The other challenge I faced was with the size of my block—24 x 24”. The techniques I normally use proved ineffective at this scale.

After much trial and error and worry I purchased specially-made registration tabs and pins. (I tried making my own first, but they weren't successful.)

Pins and tabs

The tab-and-pin method requires attaching two small plastic tabs to the edge of each piece of paper. These tabs have holes in them that fit over the pins.

Stack of paper with tabs attached

The pins are made of metal. I built a registration jig to ensure that the pins are always in the same place relative to the block, and that they are at the same height as the block.

Registration jig

For each print, I snapped the tabs onto the pins before rolling my paper over the inked board. Even without the second colour, the benefit of the registration system is evident in the even margins surrounding the image.

At this size, simply eyeballing the placement of the print in the middle of the paper is not possible.

Pulling a print

Here are all of my prints laid out to dry after printing the first colour. It's important to not remove the tabs.

Prints drying on a floor

Several weeks later I finished carving the second colour and was ready to print again. This time, instead of a stack of blank paper, I had a stack of blue prints, ready to be printed with their second colour.

The images below show how I used a cardboard tube to roll up each piece of paper. This ensured that the paper didn't touch the inked block until it was snapped into place.

Rolling a print onto an inked block

After printing comes the moment of truth – pulling the print off the board and seeing if it worked.

Pulling a print

The tab-and-pin method proved to provide an additional benefit beyond registration: I stuck a bent paperclip in the hole of each tab, which allowed me to easily hang the prints up to dry.

Prints hanging to dry

I was so nervous about the registration of this image that I put off printing it for more than a year. Fortunately, with this method, I was able to get an edition of 7 perfectly registered prints. They're available for sale now on my website: Winter Woodland Stream

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