The process of making ready, is one of the most time consuming parts of printing in letterpress. It means printing off several proofs and ensuring all lines of text have the same depth of impression as well as being inked with the same fine layer of ink upon the relief surface of the text or image.
The first print off the press is very rarely (I don't think its ever happened to me!) perfect.
The above image is a first print. Its smudgy due to too much ink, but you can see that some lines have more smudging than others. Since my press is 100+ years old, the rails have been worn down and I have taped them up but they have been worn unevenly, so I have had to tape them unevenly too! It has taken me around 1 year to get them taped so that they are (nearly) even!
This image shows the un eveness of the inking on one of the lines. The reason for this is the un-evenly worn rails at this point. Beneath the script text, the rollers jump in closer, onto the relief of the text and distribute ink to the sides of the text not just the very top of the text as is required.
Not enough impression on the first 3 lines of this proof, more paper packing is needed behind the print to raise it up so each line is pushed in evenly.
An example of a make ready sheet. You can see the different layers that have been built up sometimes one word or letter at a time. This sheet is placed beneath the top sheet or tympan on the platen and sits beneath each hand fed piece of paper raising each line to the right level.
The aim of a perfect print is to get the ink sitting at the base of the valley that has been created by the text or image pushing into the paper, and not have any ink transferred to the walls of the valley. Let me point out that back in the days when these printers were used as the industry standard of printing, anything other than the ink sitting just on top of the paper (the ink 'kissing' the paper) was deemed poor craftsmanship, but of course today, an impression is the key!
In order to obtain a perfect print and start the print run, I may need to pull 1- 5 proofs and adjust each time, sometimes a 15-45 minute process depending on 'The Admiral's' mood!