Printing Lead Type with Photopolymer Plate

I am new to letterpress and am trying to figure it all out so sorry if this is a dumb question.

My goal for letterpress is to use my own illustrated designs which I am assuming I would need to have photopolymer plates created for. Obviously along with the illustration/picture I would need type.

The press I am purchasing has a boxcar base already and I will also have some lead type.

So - the way I understand it, photopolymer images go on the boxcar base but the base takes up the majority of the chase (at least the one I have does) so where does the lead type go because it is already mounted type high?

Should I consider mounting each of my little designs on something else type high? Can I do that and if so, on what?

Should I have my type created as a photopolymer plate and then what do I cut out each letter individually?

Thank you in advance for any advice/help you might offer!

Brandi Powell

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Brandi, the simplest would be to print the photopolymer plate first and print the type in a second run positioned as you want it. This allows the possibly different makeready for the two to be separated into two runs. It would also let you use two different colors. Depending on how many pieces you are printing the two runs should not take much longer than getting everything to print together.


I print from mixed lead/photopolymer forms all the time, but it really does take some experience in makeup of form and lockup, and a good assortment of leads and slugs and furniture, things often irrelevant to the Boxcar Way. I mount 145-thickness plates on .854” high-base (cast on the Elrod, available from M&H Type or NA Graphics), and 100-thickness plates on .875” high-base or blank Linotype slugs. I use steel-backed plates, and double-sided tape; haven’t tried any of the Boxcar plates, which I bet would be more sensitive to any slight diferences in height between pieces of base. Steel-backed plates can be cut with tinsnips; I have a 24” office-type lever cutter which works nicely. With either, on the outside of the cut, the metal will deform and need to be back-trimmed, so allow space betweeen images, at least a quarter-inch.
The base material I buy is 18 points thick, and a printer’s saw would be best for cutting it, but a hacksaw could work also. 36-point base is available, but I find the 18-point material easier to work with, and to remove the plate from after use. The cut lengths of base can be reused many times.

We routinely print PP plates in conjunction with lead type. It’s easy. We mount our PP onto 3/4 HDO plywood blocks, and then shim them up to type-high. One piece of green pressboard works fine for a shim. Once set to type high, they work just like the old magnesuim or copper cuts.

If you are a fan of Boxcar Bases (I’m not….) then you’ll most likely have to print the two images seperately since the base tends to fill up your chase.

Ad lib - that sounds pretty reasonable however, I am not exactly sure yet how to get two plates to line up - although I will need to learn that once I actually get my press!

parallel - it sounds like you have an excellent system, I am just having a hard time wrapping my mind around how it would work with all those big words.

winking - your process sounds very doable. I am not sure what HDO plywood is? So basically you just make a block for each of your PP designs just like you purchased them that way like the type - is that right?

This is so fun - I plan to pick up my first press this Saturday - I am pretty sure I am not going to get too much sleep this week!!

Thanks again for all of the tips - I am sure you are going to be seeing me a lot around here!


winking - forgot something - you had mentioned that with boxcar pp I would have to have two designs printed.

I dont know much about boxcar - the base is coming with my machine - so I am not set on anything right now - it is just an option.

Anyway, their PP’s can’t be used the way you are talking about?

I am not brave enough to try my own PP’s yet so is there another option you would recommend?

I would really like to be able to print both design & type all at once in the same chase.

bpo- HDO is “high density overlay” plywood. Unlike regular wood, it is very flat and very stable….. it does not warp, even when exposed to high humidity. You can buy it at Woodcrafters, or similar wood-working stores, and cut it to size with a saw.

Yes, we use our PP plates just like they were old-style cuts…. each one mounted onto a small block so that they can be locked up with lead type.

If you use a boxcar base to support your PP plates, it typically fills up the chase so you can’t use lead type at the same time. To print both lead type and PP plates with a Boxcar base that fills the chase, you first print the PP plate and then the lead type (or visa-versa).


Your best efforts to start might be to get Boxcar to make plates for you with both the text and image on one plate and get accustomed to your press. Then as you see the need to use the metal type, you can remove the base and lockup the type in the chase as is traditionally done.

I think it would be less confusing to start with one system and branch out from that. If you have a Boxcar Base, you can send imaging files directly to them to make the plates, and that’s not a bad way to get your feet wet. Check out their website at, and click on the platemaking tab on their homepage.

If you really want to print both images from your designs and metal type at the same time, maybe you should order some wood mounted magnesium or copper plates from someone like Owosso. If you go this route, the cuts will be mounted onto wood the same size at the cut, giving you plenty of room to lock up type and images.
I mention Owosso because they’ll give you your first order for free (plus shipping) so you can try it out and see what you think.
Of course if you already have a polymer base from Boxcar, it sort of makes the most sense to just incorporate your text and image into one plate. You might still have to print them in two separate runs, however, depending on the needs of your image.

Thanks everyone for your help. I do have one question about the Boxcar process - they seem quite expensive which is why I just wanted them to print my images and then use type that can be set and reused.

Simple example - if I have a design of a flower(whatever) and I want to make cards from that for several different occassions such as easter, sympathy, ect. The words on each plate would be different but the image would be there.

The way I figure it - each 5 x 7 plate is like 22$ so that means instead of ordering one plate for $22 with the image to use in combo with the metal type. I would have to order a plate for every occasion with the same image which would be a LOT of money!

Maybe I am seeing this incorrectly but it would seem winking cat has the right idea - financially - to just mount your images like the type is already mounted.

Am I making any sense here?

Many people put as many designs as they possibly can on a polymer plate and then cut the designs out and attach it to the boxcar base. Thus, you could reuse the flower and only have to create additional plates for the different text.

daremo - so you are saying create a type treatment and treat it like an image. I can reuse the actual type treatment just like image - like a fancy Happy Birthday - I could cut that out and use it many times. Hmmm.

That brings up one more question though - what if you are doing invitations of whatever sort - do you just throw away the type treatment since it would have clients names/ect. so you would not be able to use it again? I suppose it would not take up that much space. Hmmm.

Then I could really pick any type/font I want instead of being limited to my metal type.


yes…most beginner letterpress classes teach you to do the whole design with crop marks for whatever size paper you are going to print on. Sort of wasteful. I’ve always thought it was easier to use the polymer plate not to lay out the design, but to place the elements of the design. I then proceed to cut out the elements and lay it out on the boxcar base. This gives you the ability to reuse any element for any new design much like having metal type.

Of course plates with people’s names on it might be thrown away. But if you are doing holiday/greeting/special occasion cards, I don’t think you will be using a lot of last names…so you might be able to save the first names from the invitations that you create.

just an idea to throw into the pot…
if you do end up using a photopoylmer plate for invitation text, rather than throwing it away or just keeping it lying around your shop, how about offering it in a nice presentation? maybe mount the plate text in a shallow, shadow-box-type matting and frame them with a photo of the couple or occasion?

That is so funny that you mention this because my husband was talking with a coworker about invitations she had made for her wedding many years ago and the printer at the time gave her the mag plate as a keepsake. She thought that was really cool!