What machine should I get?!

My name is Leenah, I have been trained to do 18th and 19th century calligraphy by a great master and now have decided to merge my art with the art of letterpressing… I live alone in a small apt (well with my two doggies) I am thinking about starting to make and print my own wedding invitations… I can not have a huge machine because I live upstairs and my dogs will go nuts with the noise (they do that with the vacum) lol Do you guys think a “KELSEY Mercury EXCELSIOR 5x8 Studio Letterpress machine” would be a good idea to do wedding invitations and envelopes or would that be too small? I also dont have much money I was laid off in Nov. But I think the art of Letterpress and Calligraphy go together very well and they both need to be kept alive! If anybody can help please let me know or if anyone knows about any good deals for a machine please let me know!

Houston, Tx

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A Kelsey sounds OK but I think you would be better off with a larger press than a 5x8 perhaps a 6X10. Practically speaking you can’t print the full chase size of a press, especially if you want to use a Boxcar base and especially if you want to do deep impression, all standard though by no means necessary marks of printing wedding invitations.

I would write to Maggie at Gamewell Press who started with a 5x8, moved to a 6x10, and now has a Pearl. Read through her blog first as it details her experiences printing on the presses doing wedding invites and other things. I also believe she may be selling the 6x10, 5x8, or both. I’m sure she’d be willing to offer some advice, and maybe a good deal.

Blog: http://gamewellpress.typepad.com/

Email: [email protected]


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ

Wow Rich thank you so very very very much for responding to me! That was sooooooooooooo nice of you to take the time to write and give me some advise, specially because I was feeling down, the letterpress I was watching on ebay went for over $2,000.00 thats SOOOOOOOOOOOO much more that I can afford right now! Thank you for taking the time to write to me and I will email her and go to her blog as soon as possible! Again I am very grateful!



Sounds like you have letterpress fever. Be careful, as it’s a very slippery slope to go down. There are a ton of overpriced tabletop presses online for sale, and you’re better off taking your time to scout for a deal. I did this and was eventually able to find two job presses for the price of one, and in my area no less!

Don’t forget too that there’s a ton of extra equipment to buy that makes for some hefty hidden expenses. Will you need rollers, type, cuts, a base, plates, et cetera?

(You can try sitting in on a monthly meeting for the Houston Printers’ Guild. They might be a better resource for you than something like Ebay.)

If you really just HAVE to print now, why not build a DIY press. Sure it’s not going to be the best, but if you don’t have any experience printing then it might be simpler to troubleshoot.


Maybe this helps?

Vrooooom Press / Coronado Studio
Austin, TX


First of all thank you so much for giving me the advise. Yes I have the FEVER OF LETTERPRESSING! but I have decided to wait as well and save up some money. I am going to the printer’s guild this Saturday and I am going to become a member that way I will learn more about the machines and all that other good stuff that I have to learn. Are the rollers really expensive? Whoa you are in Austin! if you hear of any good deals please do let me know =) Thanks again for replying it has been very kind of you.

Houston, Tx

Leenah….. I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but waiting will probably not work out. Once bitten by the urge to reproduce (artwork and text, I mean) there is no resisitng it. BUT that does not mean you have to spend a lot of money. There are a lot of ways to print without having to buy a whole lot of equipment up front. Below are four ideas that you could consider. I’ve worked with all of them at one time or another:

1. DIY Press: If you do a search here at Briar Press, you’ll find a number of discussions about home-made presses, along with descriptions of how they are constructed and operated. I myself have posted two different hand-made presses, and so have several others. They all work well and produce excellent results. They are, however, slower than a platen press.

2. No Press at all: For small numbers of prints, you can ink up a Photopolymer Plate of your Calligraphic Art, and print it with a hand-baren. Art printmakers have been doing it this way for years. Again, it is slower but can produce nice results. Some of the more technically inclined folks around here may roll their eyes at that suggestion, but it actually works well once you learn how to do it.

(The REAL masters of this technique are the Bhuddist Monks at Dege. They print with hand-cut wood-blocks, but the technique is the same)

3. You can link up with other printers, and use their presses from time to time. This works really well if there are other printers nearby. I have three or four newbies who often use my Craftsmen or Handpress when I’m not using them….. and so do most letterpress people. As a group we tend to be a friendly lot, and love to help teach people.

4. Buy a small Kelsey. The 5x8 is a great little machine for learning on, especially if you are using Photopolymer Plates of your calligraphy. Contrary to some purists, Kelseys are quite capable of first class work. That’s one reason they are so popular. The trick is to not try to print a larger area than they will cover well. Other than that, they are nice presses.

So there are four ideas…. and there are a lot more out there. Printing is not terribly difficult. Actually, it’s very simple and there are hundreds of ways to go about it. No one way is the “only way” or even the “right way”. The only thing that really matters is if the end result is what you wanted it to be.

There’s a lot more to it than just having a letterpress. If you are going to do your own artwork, then you need a room dedicated just to making photopolymer plates. You’ll need either an image setter, or a camera, a plate burner that’s been converted and a film processor. The Kelsey press should do just fine, but you need the biggest one possible. I’ll be happy to let you know about letterpress shops in Houston that can print what you design. There’s a few. You really want a Heidelberg windmill, but it’s several thousand pounds. Watch the movie 7 pounds, you’ll get a good idea.