MAU Art & Design Glossary




A printmaker uses a machine called a press to apply pressure to plates and paper, thereby transferring ink from the plates to the paper.

The press is said to have been invented in the 15th century when a grape press was adapted for letterpress printing. There are different types of presses for intaglio, planography, woodblock prints, and other types of plates. There are also multi-purpose presses that can be used with any kind of plate. Presses range in size from table-top versions to massive motorized presses. The bed plate of the press determines how large a work the printmaker can produce with the press.

Intaglio presses, woodblock presses, and multi-purpose presses have two vertically positioned steel rollers or cylinders. In between the rollers (or cylinders) is a bed plate (a smooth, flat movable plate made of iron, plastic, or wood) that holds the plates and paper in place under pressure. Some presses have a fixed bed plate structure with rollers that move side to side. This type of press is called a cylinder press. Printmakers operate the press by turning a handle located on the side. Cylinder presses have screws fixed to the roller that printmakers use to make adjustments to pressure. Presses for planographic printing differ in that they use thicker lithographic stone plates for printing; these plates are more fragile and require a different press structure. Such presses have a plastic or leather-bound wooden scraper bar instead of steel rollers. The user operates the press by pulling a lever at the top or side of the press. This applies pressure to the scraper bar, which in turn clamps the plate and paper on top of the bed plate. Presses for planographic printing have a bed that moves side to side when the user turns the handle on the side. Users can place lithographic plates directly on the bed. However, when they use aluminum or zinc plates, they must set a metal press plate on the bed, on top of which they can place the plates for printing.

Take special care to ensure that you do not get your clothes or body parts caught when operating a press. Presses are available for order at art supply stores that carry printing materials.


  • Intaglio pressIntaglio press
  • Planographic printing pressPlanographic printing press
  • Motorized planographic printing pressMotorized planographic printing press
  • Multi-use pressMulti-use press
  • The parts of an intaglio pressThe parts of an intaglio press