Big Fag Press

Archived entries for Technical Post

Artist Run Space Resource

moreland council artist run spaces brochure image

Alongside a bunch of artist run groups, Big Fag Press recently contributed ideas to a publication produced by Moreland Council (Melbourne) about setting up Artist Run Spaces. Friends of Big Fag might find some useful info in there, regardless of where you’re located.

The resulting document is linked here as PDF. It was researched and written by Andrew Gaynor and Jane O’Neill.

The Daughters Project Responding to global #genderviolence

tammy brennan daughters zine big fag press

Tammy Brennan is a writer and performance artist who creates music theatre work about the lived experience of gender violence and sexual trauma. You can see some of her previous work on vimeo.

The Daughters Opera is a piece of collaborative contemporary music theatre about gender violence in the 21st century. It is currently being produced by Sydney-based performance artist Tammy Brennan, between Australia and India. A powerful monodrama that spans a massive emotional terrain, the audience enter a mythic realm engulfed by fear, condemnation, sacrifice and ritual directed by acclaimed Indian theatre artist Anuradha Kapur.

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New workshop available>> Share a PL8 :)

Pilot Programme $250 – Saturdays, 14 and 28 June

Have you ever wanted to print your own limited edition artist work but couldn’t afford it?

The Big Fag Press are launching a new workshop series, and in exchange for your feedback, we’re offering an exclusive start-up offer for 8 people.

The Big Fag are a group of artists who run a 4 tonne FAG-104 proofing press which is no longer commericially viable. It is however, a real boon for print-makers, artists and activists who want to print a short series of special works. Unfortunately printing on our beloved fag press can be rather pricey, which is why we’ve devised a system where 8 people get to share a lithographic printing plate (hence the “Share a PL8″) over a 2 day workshop, 2 weeks apart to create a one-colour A4 sized limited edition print.


Lucas Ihlein, inking the press

Lucas Ihlein, inking the press

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Emerging Artist Residency – Pat’s Notes

I’ve printed on the Big Fag before, but that was a pretty simple job so I was really excited by the prospect of spending three weeks in the company of the big rig.

Drawing drawers
Drawing drawers

I make zines and comic books. I’m not really interested in fine art or gallery work but I really love carefully produced published material and art books. My favorite kinds of artwork can be sent through the mail.
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Big Fag Press Emerging Artists Residency – Laura’s Studio Notes

I should begin by confessing that I am a novice printmaker, my only firsthand experience being crude linocuts and one attempt at etching back in high school. In many ways my current practice could be seen as the antithesis to printmaking, using video, performance and installation to avoid a finished work. Yet there is something in the methodology of printing that resonates with me; perhaps it is the re-mediation of an image into multiples or the construction of a work through layers.

working sketch

A print can imply the history of its own making if you know how to read it; colour variation though halftone, spatial depth by overlap, movement by misaligned registration. In most cases a correct image does all these things and erases evidence of itself in the final product. This may sound fairly obvious to someone fluent in design and picture making but to me it is a perplexing sequential process for which I’m missing the instructions. Which perhaps suggests why I am drawn to disciplined compositional work like Joseph Albers’ Homage to the Square series.
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Working with Old Plates

knab everyday plate cleaner

photo by Louise Anderson

Warning!! Boring Technical Blog Post

Sometimes we store offset litho plates we’ve used, thinking, “maybe we’ll do a reprint of this one”.

Rarely do we do a reprint…

But we’re in the process of getting around to reprinting the popular Mapping Sydney prints of Jane Shadbolt, and also those of Naomi Stead, Katrina Schlunke and Trina Day.

We still have the plates from way back in 2009 when we produced a non-editioned set of these works for a show at UTS.

Yesterday, when we retrieved the Sydney Letters plate, it looked pretty rough. It still had old ink on it, which we couldn’t remove with our normal plate cleaner (“gum washout”), and it looked like it hadn’t been “gummed” before going into storage.

Usually this means that the non-printing areas of the old plate have been exposed to air, and thus corroded, and the ink will be attracted to the raw metal corroded ‘pits’.

When we tried to print it (as part of the process of testing whether we needed to get new plates made), the non-print areas of the plate were indeed ‘dirty’ – and we were getting specks and smudges transferred to the blanket and thus the paper.

Louise and I were resigned to the idea of having to chuck out the plate and get a new one made.

But before we gave up entirely, I googled “lithographic plate corrosion” and found this fabulous name for our problem: Ink Dot Scum

Ink Dot Scum:

A printing problem found on aluminum plates used in offset lithography characterized by thousands of tiny, inked dots in non-image portions of the plate. Ink dot scum is caused by corrosion of the aluminum, which forms thousands of tiny pits that, when the film of fountain solution wears off, fill with ink.

The corrosion is commonly caused by adding a layer of water to the surface of the plate and allowing it to evaporate slowly, providing enough time for oxidation of the metal surface to occur. It is also found frequently in a band corresponding to the position of a wet dampening roller.

If the scumming is caught in time, and its effects are still localized within a small region of the plate, a solution of phosphoric acid and gum arabic can be used to eliminate it. If it has progressed far, the plate may be unusable.

That sounds pretty much spot on.

I then rummaged around in our chemical cupboard and lo and behold, I found the above bottle. (Who knows where it came from – so many of our printing supplies are “hand-me-downs” from defunct commercial printing presses).

I rang KNAB, the manufacturer, who had cleverly put their phone number on the bottle. Indeed, this stuff was a mixture of phosphoric acid and gum arabic! The very helpful fellow from Knab said it might work, depending on how far gone the corrosion was. Basically, as I understand it, the acid cuts through the ink build-up on the plate, and then a new layer of gum is put over the top. This thin gum-film stops the inking rollers from coming into contact with the corroded pits in the plate.

We tried it (clean soft rag, gently rubbing it in the areas of “Ink Dot Scum”.

It worked! The Ink Dot Scum came off, and didn’t come back.

Here endeth the lesson.

We started with zero knowledge about offset printing in 2004 when we got the Big Fag Press, and it was a steep learning curve. And we still learn something new, pretty much every time we throw the 3-phase switch and our steel monster comes shuddering to life…

Trampoline Day!

Louise Anderson, our “intern”, has been learning the ropes at the Big Fag for over a year now. Her education in running the machine has been sporadic, mainly because the Big Fag’s directors keep doing annoying things like “their own art projects”, or “having babies”, or “getting prestigious jobs in design firms”. Phooey to them!

But finally, the day arrived when Louise was ready to run a whole job herself from start to finish. Apart from quoting and invoicing (and who wants to do that crap anyway), Louise managed the entire lifecycle – design iteration, client liason, prepress, platemaking, printing, postproduction and handover.

In this blog post, Louise gives an insight into the process. This might be a really useful post for those who are thinking of making a print on the Big Fag Press themselves. As Louise notes in her text below, printing flyers is not at all the Big Fag’s bread and butter. But because the Trampoline Day folks are so damn awesome, we decided to make an exception in this case…
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Metal Plate Lithography

the happy printer shows off the plate while the happy artist shows off the print

the first print




















Metal Plate Lithography, a set on Flickr.

a ha! finally!

we were wondering, theorising and fantasising at the time when we would actually start to print images directly drawn onto the lithographic plate.

We knew of the process, the few and simple elements needed, and the potential, but never this far managed to do anything with it.

This is until Fiona MacDonald decided to print with us, using age-old techniques of metal plates lithography.

Researching on the methods Fiona discovered a number of intersting facts:

the last person at the College of Fine Arts (UNSW) to use the techinique was about 20 years ago

most of the information is old and in analogue format

plates/chemicals and drawing implements are still current, but seldom used for any purpose.

Of course we at the BFP would be happy to resurrect such old craft, we LOVE old craft!

Above is a set of images that explain the process so far, and here is the set of instructions we have been using.

The test plate printed well, so Fiona is going to design the artwork now, as part of a mapping project BFP is pulling off with the help of a number of Woolloomooloo residents.

Green Bans Art Walk (GBAW) will be a month-long exhibition at both FirstDraft Depot Project Space (the studio complex / gallery were the Big FAG lives) and at the Cross Art Projects gallery in Kings Cross.

Soon enough a proper presentation of GBAW will come up on this blog and elsewhere, as at the moment we play with tusche!



Preparing your file to print

There has been a request for clear info about how to prepare your file for print. Here is a basic set of instructions.

1. If you are working with scanned images, scan them at the highest resolution. The images should be at at least 300dpi at the final size they will be printed. That is, if the original image is 10cm high, but you are intending to print it at 20cm high, then you should scan it at 600dpi minimum.

2. If your print is more than one colour, perform the colour separations on the image. Follow the tutorial linked here.

3. Prepare your print in Illustrator or Quark or similar programme, if you need to add text or vector graphics or combine images etc. Set the document up as CMYK not RGB. Set the size of the document – the maximum printable area of the press is 1000X700mm – but if you can, make it smaller. This size is slightly larger than A1. Remember to consider what paper you will be printing on. Is the available paper at a corresponding size to your print image?

4. Export the file to a PDF – if your PDF is in CMYK, that’s fine. The platemaker will divide the CMYK image into four plates (or fewer plates if there are less than 4 colours).

5. If you are having troubles, email making sure you leave plenty of time for troubleshooting before your deadline.

[NB: Mickie has made some addenda below in the comments!]

Sustainable Printing

BigFag Press was established with the help of Jens, a printer from a company called Technocolour, who advised us showed us the ropes. Jens also donated much of the equipment, inks and papers that have helped us get up and running at low cost. To date, we have used high quality papers which we haven’t had to buy. However, the day will come when these papers will run out, and we will be forced to make some serious choices about paper stock. Inspired by the Footprint Press in the UK, we’re looking into getting some environmentally friendly papers to print with.

In Australia, here are a few leads to follow:

Please get in touch if you have any suggestions! We’re also currently using horridly toxic inks (which were also donated to us) and it’d be great to find out if we could get the machine functioning well with something better for our own occupational health and safety.

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