photopolymer or magnesium die expense?


I’m wondering if anyone out there has information and experience getting photopolymer and magnesium dies made? What is the price difference? What is the relative environmental impact of each process? I love setting type, but am limited by my type, and the fact that I have very few dies for images.


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Generally, wood-mounted magnesium dies will cost you more per piece than Photopolymer will. PP has a much higher start-up cost though, because of the base. However, once you have the base, Photopolymer will usually be less expensive. I say usually, because if you get into high square inch quantities (by ganging your images) and larger image areas (because smaller images mean more cut charges), then magnesium could actually end up being cheaper.

I’m not sure about environmental impact of each, though I’m sure others here will chime in on that. I do know that if you use Boxcar for your PP plates, they will recycle your used plates for you.

One thing to note, if you are wanting to work with type and a custom die in the same forme, I would use mag dies. The base that you will need to use with PP will make it difficult both to lock up properly and to get your make-ready perfect.

I use 1/4” mag dies from Owosso, i get them unmounted to save on shipping then i mount them on my furniture. they cost a little more than the thinner mag dies but the background never prints, Good Luck Dick G.


Hard to say regarding a price difference. If you have a base (honeycomb) for magnesium that might save you money, but like photopolymer, as JamieK suggests, it is up front money. Not sure how much price comparison there is between the two, I’m sure if you shop around you will find some variations, if that is your concern.

I don’t know of any photopolymer plate processor charging for a cutting charge though, so I am not sure why that would be a comparative consideration.

I’m quite sure there is a nasty environmental carbon footprint for magnesium, and I am quite sure there is likely the same with photopolymer plates in their initial manufacturing. Photopolymer looks very benign in the processing end though, comparatively.

One thing you do not mention in comparison is quality? Not a concern?


I’m sorry if it was unclear. My point with the cutting charges was this:
Once you get into a large enough square inch area, magnesium dies could be less than photopolymer. However, ganging up a lot of smaller images (in magnesium) will negate any savings because the cut charges will bring the price back up (along with the extra space required between each ganged image, which doesn’t happen as much with PP).

I was trying to make a concise answer to a question that really doesn’t have one. Bottom line is that there are too many variables to give a declarative answer to the question.

Each system has its benefit and its downfalls. I would recommend reading more of the discussions on here regarding the two, trying both and deciding from there. I personally, use PP, mag, and copper (as well as hand-set type) depending on the job.

Hope this makes more sense.

Thank you, everyone! I can see that I will have to employ both methods because I want to set type as well. I also see that I need to gather a supply of die images that I can use!

With regard to quality, I’ve seen a lot of letterpress work that I can tell was done from photopolymer because of the type face and/or image that was used, and the way it was set. Digital setting is very distinct from lead setting. I prefer the look of lead type setting, though other than that it seems the two are of comparable quality.

Thanks again!

Don’t know where you are located or what you are looking to do, but if you like setting lead type and have some room you should look into getting a ludlow, you will always have new type, its like setting hand type, and the machine is pretty easy to maintain. Good Luck Dick G.

I thought I might chime in, even though I’m not an expert by any means. I went ahead and got every possible method right out of the gate. Boxcar base and photopolymer, handset type and dingbats, woodmounted mag, honecomb base and mag cuts. I know, it was a big startup cost, especially the damn boxcar base. So far, I like the handset type best, but I think I am just still enamored with it, as all become that give it a try. I like the wood mounted mag WAY better than the photopolymer. Way better, There were inconsistencies with the photopolymer that were just not worth the time it was taking to sort out. I just got the honeycomb base and I really like the look of this system. I’ll report back on it soon I hope.



I so agree about the handset work—it is so distinctive. Thank you, everyone, for your comments and experience! I went ahead and bought the Boxcar base, and will be trying out my photopolymer, mag dies and handset type all together in one holiday card!


Why worry about the Carbon Foot Print, that is some Hog wash made up by Al Gore. Letterpress Printing is about as Green as you could get, most everything is reused again and again. It’s alot greener than Offset printing, figure chemicals it takes. So, PLEASE people stick to the actual concerns & Truth.

Sorry I just had to get that off my chest.


Concerns & Truth?

The carbon foot print is the initial determining incident. Letterpress type, photomechanical engravings, photopolymer plates, all the printing presses and equipment, etc. Give me a break here.

There is no green in letterpress unless you are printing with green ink. Anyone who sells letterpress as green or sustainable is really after the green and the sustainable in your wallet.


Am I correct in thinking that if you buy magnesium plates they come mounted ready at type heigh?

You can get the magnesium plates mounted or unmounted! their price list shows a complete comparison.

Thanks for the link. Could you shine some light on the differences between using 16ga and 1/4” magnesium please? There seems to be a significant difference in the prices

Gerald, What I said in the beginning still stands. I was replying to ones worry about Being “green with letterpress”. I was telling them to stick with the Concerns of Letterpress or the truth about it. There is nothing more “GREEN” as they say, than letterpress. Mostly everything is reused again and again. There isn’t much to worry about. Carbon Credits are just planting trees.. Besides, it’s something that someone with alot of time on their hands MADE UP, such as Global Warming…
So here is your BREAK, it’s very GREEN.


Well, I wouldn’t agree that any manufacturing process is green, mainly because if you are consuming resources and materials are wasted in production one could hardly make that stand.

Reusing is something I very much subscribe to—rather than let’s toss our old stock and buy a bunch of new stuff because it is labeled as “green.” Why cause more consumption? But that does not make reusing green. It’s just depression era good sense. I buy old envelopes rather than those that are newly manufactured and marketed as green or environmentally friendly. What the hell is environmentally friendly about new consumption.

I would agree about the carbon footprint thing. No new consumption, no harm… except that it doesn’t help the current economy :—)

And carbon credits, um, yeah, someone with way too much time on their hands. And living in an approved make believe world.

Global warming?, well, the initial studies were flawed, this has been recognized and acknowledged. One prominent scientist believes the weather patterns have been altered by Sun patterns, solar flares, etc. He “was” blacklisted in the scientific community for this, but the probability is not disputed, only his politically incorrect stand. Time will tell.

Forget the word Green, it is becoming more and more meaningless as it becomes more and more commercialized.


Gerald, I can’t seem to get green out of my head. Today at work I was listening to that famous Italian “Joe Green”
and last night Al Green was on the local college station.
I work in the recreated presence of Gustave Baumann’s
printshop his press is green, most of his tools have green
painted handles. I’ve printed on Kluges that were green,and above all I’ve worked with my fair share of green horns. Attaching the word to letterpress is a fad As for global warming it has been happening since the last ice age started to retreat. What the issue is, mankinds contribution to its acceleration. I had green chile stew
talk about a carbon footprint. best james

James, i got some green apple pie in the fridge left over from Christmas, i’ll send you a piece. Dick G.


I was wondering how I could slime my way under the door on this one. :—)


ahhhh, but isn’t slime itself VERY Green… both in color and in Earthiness?

OK…. on to the topic: Neither PP OR Magnesium are in themselves particularly good for the planet…. but then again, they probably are not going to cause the Artic Ice Shelf to break off, Miami to flood, or the Sea Turtle Shells to turn into Jello. It’s all a matter of scale, and subject to some debate as evidenced above.

BUT if I had to pick the most “Eco-Earthy-Friendly-Hold Hands and sing Kum-Ba-Ya printing methods” I’d go with hand-carved wood blocks as is practiced by the Buddhist Monks at the Degre Monostery in Tibet….. except that my woodblocks would only be carved from wood salvaged from centuries-old buildings that are being torn down to build Walmarts, or maybe high-school pianos that go un-used nowadays due to everyone texting on their X-Pods. There’s probably enough wood just in the pianos to last fifty years.

The inks would be water/starch (organic, of course) based, with iron-oxide or other natural mineral pigments…… and I’d use all re-cycled paper, made via a soda pulp / hand laid method. AND I’d do all of this in a sun-lit, unheated or air conditioned shop….. using a lever operated press, or maybe just a big wooden spoon used as a baren.

Even then I could not claim to be totally Earthy, since I myself would have to eat whilst doing all of the above. Hhhmmm maybe I’d fast whilst doing my printing, and thus gain some spiritual insights at the same time.

Fortunately for me, I’m not overly concerned about my printing’s environmental impact on the planet since it is all off-set by my extraordinary good-works, brilliant writing, and artistic insights, anyway. As a result, the planet is actually better off WITH me printing than it is without. The way I figure it, by the time I die of old age, some OTHER printer will inherit thousands of my “Earthy Goodness Credits”…. and will be able to print without guilt for the rest of HIS life as well. (My invention of Gummy Bear Rollers alone should be worth a lifetime of non-green printing plates!) Isn’t that how all of this “Credits / Off-set” thing is supposed to work?

So…. I guess the choice between PP and Magnesium Plates is a rather moot point, at least as far as I myself am concerned. However, if some of you other guys aren’t as goodly as I am, then you might not be able to claim the moral offsets. In that case, you’re just out of luck…. and are running the risk of spending all eternity in whatever place of torment that is set aside for folks who make Sea Turtle Shells turn to Jello. Sorry.

ChrisLord depends on what your doing with the cut and how heavy you want the Mag. I just ordered a cut, I think it was a 11gauge and I will do over a million impressions with it. I will print 40pt chipboard with it. If you call the Owosso Graphics or any company that makes cuts, they will help you decide your needs.

Thanks Theo, I’ll do just that when I need them making!