Printing: the Presses

Chapter Two: Gravure

There were many advantages to Rotary Gravure printing over silkscreen; once set up, huge numbers of transfers could be printed rapidly & continuously on the roll, & up to seven colours were available, making full colour a simple matter (although whereas full colour printing on normal, opaque paper only requires four inks, transfers require a fifth — white — as a background, since the plastic itself is transparent).

However, there was also a disadvantage; the printing cylinders were expensive in themselves & were costly to set up. This meant that once a job was underway, it had better not require changes! With both silkscreen & litho, minor alterations (for instance, to change a logo for a different promotion with identical artwork) were straightforward; with gravure, these kinds of revisions would necessitate a whole new set of cylinders.

The Rotary Gravure press Letraset installed at their new factory in Ashford went back to using sheets of Crown size, which is to say that the artwork would be prepared on Crown sheets. The transfers themselves were printed on the roll, of course. But it still makes sense to talk of 'uncut sheets', even though no Action Transfers sheets ever occupied all that space, & normally a cut sheet of transfers, as supplied with the finished product, would be very considerably smaller.

Fun Doodles, for example, would be 5" by 7" — slightly less than one eighth of an 'uncut sheet' after trimming.


As you can see, the uncut sheet is divided into eight panels (which is a very common arrangement), with each of the Fun Doodles sheets occurring twice.


For a typical variation, have a look at the full uncut sheet of Veteran Cars transfers, PR82.


The panels were printed portrait rather than landscape, & the six 'packet' panels are 5¾" x 5¾". See the Veteran Cars page for further information on how this particular sheet was divided up for various different jobs…

Another sheet (half an uncut sheet, since it's 10" by 15"), for the Patterson Blick Instant Picture Book No.1 "Monsters to Caveman", demonstrates what can go wrong with printing on the roll. It's been guillotined incorrectly. It's also interesting in demonstrating how the artwork has been repeated inverted on the sheet.


Here's a detail to illustrate a potential problem with the translucency of the transfers. Letraset were still experimenting with techniques & materials at this time; this unusual effect occurs on other 1971 Panoramas. We haven't tried applying the 1976 reprinted transfers, but since the problem was no doubt due to the choice of inks used at the time, I'm sure it would have been fixed! It just needs a good, solid white ink to form the backing…


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• Next Chapter: Ashford →
• See also: "A Brief History of Letraset & Action Transfers" →
• See also: "Printing: Dates & Serial Numbers" →

I am obliged to state that this document, the information contained within it, & its arrangement are all © Tom Vinelott 2007-2018.

Picture Credit: The SPLAT Scan Archives