Testing the New Sláma Press

The new Sláma Graphic Ball Press is a handheld printing press for use in relief, intaglio and lithographic techniques. Made in the Czech Republic, it is designed to be flexible, portable and easy to use on thinner Eastern style and thicker Western style paper. Based on the traditional Japanese style baren, the press consists of a round metal disc, with an ergonomic wooden handle, housed in an attractive wooden storage box. Whereas the Japanese baren works very well on thinner Eastern style papers, it is less effective on heavier western ones. The Sláma Press contains metal balls that rotate around the axis of the disc to achieve a more even print, without requiring alot of pressure.


Slama Press Options

The press comes in two sizes, and you can also buy extra disks to provide additional weight (recommended for techniques where higher pressure is required such as intaglio printing or on very thick paper) The small press, for prints up to A4 size, is 75mm Diameter: 50 x 6mm Balls. The large press, for larger size prints, comes in two size options Model 60 which is 118mm Diameter with 60 x 10mm Balls or Model 150 which is also 118mm Diameter : but has 150 x 6mm Balls. The Model 60 is recommended on lighter weight paper (up to 250 gm) and the 150 is for heavier weight paper. For a detailed discussion on printmaking papers, see our article Everything You Need to Know About Printmaking Paper.


Testing the Sláma Printmaking Press

For this article, I tested the large press (Model 60) on A5, A4 and A3 prints. It is worth pointing out that Sláma recommends using the smaller press on prints up to A4, but I didn’t find it difficult to print a small relief print with the large size press. I found printing with the Sláma Press really intuitive and easy. I unpacked the box and it was ready to go. It is incredibly sturdy, with a robust wooden handle and shiny metal body, and is easily carried around or stored in its box. It is much more portable than a standard press, and there is also no need for blankets. All you need is your printing plate, paper and the Sláma Press. Relief Printing With The Fome Etching Press is a useful comparison if you are considering whether to buy a traditional printmaking press or the Sláma.


Relief Printing With The Sláma Press

I tried out the press using a small A5 woodcut block using thin Japanese Awagama washi and a larger (A4) linocut block on Somerset Satin printmaking paper. My inks were Cranfield Safe Wash Relief Inks, mixed with a little extender to loosen them up.


Printing A Woodcut Block On Japanese Style Paper

I would normally use a cheap Japanese style baren for the small woodcut block, with thin Japanese style paper (see our article Hilary Daltry Re: Woodcut Prints Without A Press for details) As the print block has a smaller surface area and the paper is thin , there is not as much pressure required. Hand printing also makes it possible to vary the pressure in different areas of the print and to lift the paper slightly to check the print as you go. I found the Sláma Press printed the woodblock extremely well onto Japanese paper (I used Awagami Kitakata) with minimum effort. Rather than rubbing the back of a print vigorously with a standard baren, the ball bearings slide across the paper, giving a much smoother experience.


Printing A Linocut Block With The Sláma Press

A slightly larger linocut block would normally be printed on my desktop press. I find a press gives better coverage for lino prints than a baren – especially if they are larger than A5 and on Western style heavyweight printmaking paper. Using a handheld baren or spoon can be hard work and can result in an uneven print, especially on large prints or heavier weight paper. For more information on linocut printing, see our article Linocut Printmaking For Beginners – What You Need To Get Started.

The Sláma printed the lino block onto heavyweight printmaking paper (I used Somerset Satin) very evenly, with minimal pressure. I found I had to be quite methodical about moving the press over the back of the paper, working over the whole surface in a circular motion. I was able to lift the paper slightly every so often, to check coverage. The ball bearings were quite noisy, but I actually quite liked that, as it felt like it was working! The linocut block printed very well, with a very even coverage of ink, despite the heavier weight of the paper, and I did really enjoy using it.

I think the press would be a great alternative to a relief press for anyone who doesn’t always work in one place, or is short of space. The ergonomic handle was comfortable to hold and the disc slid across the back of the paper without requiring much pressure.


Intaglio Printing With The Sláma Printmaking Press

The Sláma Press can also be used for intaglio printing, which requires more pressure than relief printing. I tested the press on a drypoint etching plate, printing from an metal plate (roughly A3) onto damp Somerset Satin paper, using AKUA intaglio inks. I normally use my huge converted mangle etching press to print drypoints, as a baren or relief press will not exert enough pressure. The damp paper has to be forced into the etched lines to pick up the ink, and an even consistency can be hard to achieve with a handheld press.

The drypoint print required slightly more pressure than the linocut and woodcut, but you can buy additional weights for the press if you plan to use it for intaglio techniques. More weight means less physical force is required when printing. As recommended on the Slama website, I placed some thin dry paper on top of the damp paper, to avoid damaging it. I held the paper in place with one hand, while printing with the other.

I was more sceptical about printing a drypoint print with the Sláma press than a relief one, as my experience so far is that a traditional press is required for successful prints. I was pleasantly surprised however, as the print did turn out well. In addition to inking the plate with paynes gray, I added some plate tone (the greens and yellows) in the background. All the colors printed well – the paper picked up the dark ink from the lines and the very faint lighter tones. I did find it useful that I was able to lift the print and check coverage as I printed, which is not possible to do with a traditional press. Sláma advises that their press is suitable for intaglio techniques with the exception of very deep etchings. For larger, more complex prints or large editions, some extra weights would make the process easier.


Conclusion

I was very impressed with the Sláma Press, and it performed well in all my experiments. As someone who prints with a variety of techniques, this really could be a ‘one stop shop’. I currently own three presses and numerous barens, all used in different scenarios. The advantages of the Sláma are its portability, its performance over a range of printing techniques, and its ease of use. Sláma themselves say it is great for children to print with, and I would certainly let slightly older children use this with supervision. It is also recommended for fabric printing and for lithography. When choosing the size, Sláma recommends buying the one that suits the majority of your printing. If you usually print A4 and below, the small is best (although it can also be used on larger prints from time to time) For larger prints, the large press is recommended, and the type of paper you prefer will determine which version you choose (Model 60 or Model 150) For a complete printing solution, Sláma suggests buying the small and large presses. The Sláma would be an excellent choice for anyone who works or teaches in a variety of locations, or is short on space for a more traditional press.


Further reading on Jackson’s Art Blog:

Intaglio Printing With The Fome Etching Press

The Best Way To Transfer Images To Lino

Safer Intaglio Printmaking

Emma Jones

Emma is an artist and printmaker based in the Scottish Borders and runs Wee Blue Press. She is endlessly curious about art materials, and loves combining different techniques such as linocut, monoprint, drypoint and painting. She runs workshops and classes in printmaking techniques.

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