6000 cards in 12 weeks on Vandercook… efficiency?

I am hoping for some suggestions on printing a large number of greeting cards efficiently. I have virtually unlimited access to a letterpress studio for the next 12 weeks (and feel very blessed.) I would like to print a lot of A6 or A2 greeting cards (the folded kind)… something like 6000-8000, in 10-12 different two-color designs. I will be using photopolymer plates and most likely be printing on a Vandercook. I’ve done small runs in this way. If you have experience with folded greeting cards on a Vandercook I’d love to hear from you!

I’ve spent weeks poring over the most efficient ways to print these cards and have a lot of questions. I’m on the verge of ordering a significant quantity of paper but I really want to make sure I’m approaching the printing process in the right way before I do. (I also really want to order this paper soon so I can start printing… the clock is ticking now on my studio access.)

My main question is:

Should I get parent sheets to print multiple designs at the same time (less press runs) and then cut them apart, or would it be better to get individually pre-cut and pre-scored cards at a greater expense? I have access to guillotine cutters, but scoring the folds would probably have to be the exacto knife/ruler method which seems really time consuming.

Here are some of the factors I’m considering in (much) more detail:

Is there a more efficient paper size for printing cards than the 19 x 12.5 I’ve convinced myself would work best? I’m open to doing either A2 or A6 cards.

Cost vs.Time: With the parent sheet method I can get the paper for about 8 cents per card, the pre-scored ones are about 30 cents each. (I want about 110# cover paper with a some texture and that will take an impression well. The availability of colors would be a nice bonus.) Do you have any suggestions for good-value paper? Or a source for pre-cut and pre-scored cards that is less expensive?

Printing multiple cards at the same time:
I usually see printers printing one card at a time even on the Vandercook, but I’m considering printing 2 (or possibly 4) designs at the same time and then cutting them apart, for less print runs. The 19 x 12.5 (or thereabouts) size seems like it would work well for 4 A6 cards. (And the 40 x 26 parent sheets can be quartered in to 4 roughly 20 x 13 sheets.) I’ve had success cutting 19 x 12.5 sheets in half to do two cards at a time for small print batches. However, what’s the reason that they are usually done one at a time? There must be something I don’t know. I think it may be tied to my next question…

As I mentioned earlier, I have access to guillotine cutters, but scoring would probably have to be done the exacto-knife and ruler method. Are there papers that I may be able to fold decently with just a bone folder and no scoring? It doesn’t need to be perfect, as most people probably don’t look that closely on the fold on their card, but professional enough that it isn’t noticeably bad. (I know Lettra, for example, would definitely need to be scored because it’s cracked easily on me without scoring.) I’m kind of tempted to just do flat (not folded) cards to save all of these steps… but they wouldn’t be nearly as nice. Certainly a lot easier though.

Custom Cutting/Scoring by Paper Companies:
I’ve pored over the BP message boards and some printers mention getting the paper cut and even scored by the paper company. I’m really interested in those details/costs/specifics as it seems like it might be an excellent compromise between time and money. (Ideally I could get the paper cut to two card size and scored, then be able to print multiple at the same time, and cut them apart myself.) Do you have any experience with this that you’d be willing to share? Also, a lot of sites mention that custom jobs are not returnable, so if I’m getting this much paper cut, I want to be sure it will be done well. Specific recommendations would be highly appreciated.

Grain Orientation:
Assuming the 19 x 12.5 size be folded long-side, these need to be short grained, and I’d have to run two at a time so that I could run them with the grain oriented correctly for the cylinder. I’m finding much less selection in short-grained papers though, and getting a long-grained paper cut to the right size so I can run it the right way seems like it would create a lot of waste. Any thoughts on grain orientation/layout/optimizing paper use?

More economical 8.5 x 11 cover:
I’ve considered making two A2 cards out of 8.5 x 11 stock (so simple!) but haven’t found that size in a good price in 110# cover… the larger parent sheets are more economical in what I’ve come across for the quantity I need. Do you have any suggestions?

Phew! Thanks for reading this, I have learned so much from reading these message boards. There is so much knowledge in this group, and I’m really impressed with how helpful printers are to one another. As you can tell by all the questions, I’ve got a lot to learn!

p.s. There is a floor model C & P in the studio too which would be more efficient, but it is out of commission for now and I have no control over when it will be fixed… so that’s a possibility, but I’m not counting on it.

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Whoa, that is one long post! My apologies and gratitude… just read the parts that seem relevant to what you know.

Before you do anything, please tell us you’ve done something this ambitious before. This is a sizeable project even for a professional shop with automated equipment.

Presuming 6000-8000 cards of 10-12 designs in 2 colors means you have a buyer for all this production, and that you can gang cards by color—unless they’re all going to be one color. If you’re printing on soft paper, you probably will be going through a couple pounds of ink at least.

Just because you could print 6000 cards on a Vandy doesn’t necessarily make that the best route. With 12-16 thousand impressions (2 color mind you) you may get the job done (if you can get a 100 prints an hour, it’ll only take you at least 120 hours (3 weeks full time) of printing time—-so say 160 hours (including washups, makeready etc) on the press, then more for bindery. By the time you hit the end of this job, you may never want to print again.

There’s also the serious possibility of giving yourself a repetitive motion injury from all that cranking.

You indicate the C&P is out of commission—are they bad rollers, or something major broken? If the press runs, you could use that to score the stock (ideally with a score matrix). This would give you the highest quality score and go the quickest (6 hours at 1000 pcs per hour). People may not notice the quality of the bindery work as a separate item, but it does register in the overall quality and the price point you can charge for the cards.

In any instance, for the workout you are going to be laying on this studio, I certainly hope you’re willing to spring for some new rollers, materials or some such for the Vandy—that’s a lot of miles on that particular press, especially if going for “impression”.

Great idea on using the C & P to score if it was still running, Mike. Unfortunately, it’s in need of some major adjustment, so it isn’t an option until it’s fixed. If anyone has any other ideas of how to efficiently score, I’d love to hear more techniques.

I realize it’s an ambitious project, but I’m willing to tackle it. I just want to be sure I’m doing it correctly before I delve in. If the way that I mentioned doing it does works out, I would be running layouts of 2 cards through at a time, 4 if possible. So, 6,000 cards in two colors would be 3,000 to 6,000 impressions. Still a lot, but significantly better than your calculations.

Also, to clarify, I’m paying a handsome amount to use the studio. I wouldn’t attempt this scale of a project on a press that someone was letting me use out of the kindness of their heart. I do want to make sure I’m doing everything correctly in order to not put any unnecessary wear and tear on the presses.

Thanks for the input!


A folded A6 becomes an A7! A6 (148.5 x 105 mm) is the size of a postcard, an A7 (74.25 x 105 mm) is the size of a (largish) business card.

Hello LearningAsMuchA…,

I must be a printer because I read through your post with great interest. :-) I’m in a time bind this morning so I can’t offer all of my thoughts, but I did want to throw out a few. First, Dick Blick carries two lines of cards with matching envelopes that work very nicely for letterpress, and the cost per card is a bit less than the 30 cents you mentioned: Fabriano Medioevalis and Arturo, the latter of which comes in several very nice colors. And who knows, they might offer you some kind of quantity discount. The only problem might be exacting two-color registration since these cards have somewhat deckled edges. You should also look at the Waste Not Paper site. They are the wholesaler for Paper Source. You’ll need a resale number; I don’t know how long it takes to get one of those.

Also, you need to check the size of the base on the Vandercook you’re planning to use. Even though the press can handle sheets in the 15” x 20” range, it would be unusual to have a photopolymer base that size.

And please heed Mike’s note about injury from repetitive motion. You don’t want to be “remembering” this job for the rest of your life. He’s right about abusing the press, too. Vandercooks were not designed as production presses and there are all sorts of things that can go wrong with that much stress. Personally, I would farm this job out to someone with a Heidelberg.

Bye for now,


One of the major reasons people produce the cards one up is because they are very short run custom designs and there is no need to run mutiple-up forms. Another reason is in the end the finishing i.e. score is usually done that way, but the 2-up on 8.5x11 is a good option.
Does the cutter have a foot clamp that can be brought down without the power? If so I have used the paper clamp to hold a stack of cards and use a the back of a padding knife or kitchen butter knife to score. Clamp down, score, pull out card and repeat. It goes fast but will tire your leg out.
I am not a Vandercook owner but it does sound like alot of production that this equipment is not made for.

Hope we all have helped.

Another trick for scoring on a cutter that has a foot clamp is this:

Find a piece of score rule, a decent thick steel rule (no tee-head lines gauges). Bring down the clamp and butt the rule against it. Now using plastic box tape (preferably something not to thin and cheap) lay a strip to tape the rule down, ideally without bubbles. Now raise the clamp and tape the portion of the rule that will abut the clamp, to keep the rule from shifting.

This will give you a offset “disrupted” score but goes much quicker than using a score tool against the clamp.

Come on you lot where are the offers to put these through a windmill for them then ! you get the crease done and the foredge trimmed in the same pass have to top and tail the finished cards and the edges will all be correct .

This is another point grain direction is not really a problem if you crease the cards so ignore it and look for cheapest quickest print layout or oy will take longer than you estimate on the print you may feed 700 ph for the first hour but you will drop way below that by three hours in believe me . i have done creased business cards on treadles and while i can feed in excess of 1200 ph in the first hour i barely make 750 in hour three i dread to think how you will estimate the time for the quantity for your job . . I would happily take the job on but i dont think i would want to be promising a delivery date for it ! This is not an offer of help in this case as U.K. cost for shiping it would leave no money in the profits ,

Sorry posted twice.

Definitely sounds like Heidelberg territory.

We would use our Windmills for a job like this. At only 500 per lot, I probably would run them one-up. We have it setup where we print on one machine and cut/score on the other machine, so its a quick workflow. You can start the job and finish it in one quick series. We’ve got some crazy humidity here in Louisiana, so if you let them sit, they’re going to be curling everywhere.

I wouldn’t even consider doing something like that on our Vandercook. Too slow / imprecise.

As the of saying goes, how do you eat an elephant?

If you break it down making 6,000 cards in twelve weeks you’ll need to produce 100 cards a day figuring for a five day work week. That’s 300 impressions a day counting the scoring as the third pass.

I’ve never run a vandercook. Would this be a significant run or such a press? I’ve done run lengths like this (300 in a single day) an a table top hand pulled press with no issue.

Looking at it this way, instead of at the grand total, I would think it’s a doable project providing you have everything ready to go.

A Vandercook was originally intended as a Proof press pr test press for Forms and light runs, When used by the likes of Hamady et al. for edition printing, low and slow was the motto, as precision in inking and printing was tantamount.

Running a production like that on a Vandercook, after a while you go from printing to just cranking the press.

That is why there are Heidelberg Windmills and Cylinders, Miehles and Kluges or C&P with Feeders:)

You can do this.
To many thoughts to type out.
If you’d like to talk about some ideas, email me @
SV[email protected]
Send me a phone number.
There is some erroneous information in these posts about size and grain info.
Steve V.
35 years in the paper business, 30+ years printing letterpress.

I run a Vandercook, and have been doing some large runs on it recently, and can echo the comments that you are in for a tremendous amount of labor here, but it is do-able.
I will try to adress a few of you concerns.

As for running multiple cards-up: This is a great idea and will save you enormous amounts of time considering the quantity you want to run, but is very dependant on the design. You don’t want to maximize the form and printable area, or you will deal with tons of troubleshooting and technical issues along the way. Basically its much easier to makeready and keep an eye on one-up. Running 2-up or more, requires lots more setup and attention during the run, and could stress the press if there is alot of surface area.
Very long forms can also give you registration issues, with paper stretch and the tail of the sheet drifting and inconsistent inking sometimes, so be prepared for some issues of you decide to run a big form with multiple up.
If the designs are minimal in surface area and complexity, you can get away with 2-up, and would be a good way to go.

Grain direction: I would not concern yourself too much with this. It should feed fine either way, unless you are planning on a super thick paper (like 220# lettra, or the 160# DTC Loop.)
It may be an issue in scoring, but if you think a sub-pro score is fine, than don’t sweat it. Just get the most economical paper size that you can manage with your cutter, and expected press sheet.

Scoring: have someone else do it after you print. Lots of shops will score stuff for less than they would print, and if the size on all cards is common, it will save you days (yes, days) on the Vandy. Vandercooks are slow for scoring. I bet you could find a shop to do it for a pretty reasonable price. if the score doesn’t need to register tightly to the printing, and it is one setup, than a finishing shop can handle that without too much trouble.

Timeline: In my experience, if you are really moving along at a fast pace on the Vandercook, with a nice rhythm and no issues along the way, you can crank through about 150-200 sheets per hour TOPS. If you are not super well versed in the press intimately, you will top out at about 100 prints an hour.
If you are dealing with a large form, and large sheet, you will slow down a lot. You should slow down just to be nice to the press anyhow. It doesn’t like it fast.
This is not including set up time, troubleshooting, rest time, lubrication of the press, etc.

It can be done, and you will learn a ton of stuff along the way (particularly that you should not want to run this many cards on a Vandercook), so dig in. You seem like you are thinking lots of the crucial stuff through, so just be practical, and expect some headaches an a sore arm.

good luck.

Natron !
With an indignant growl , we can crease on a heidelberg with better precision than the rusty crock the job is going to be printed on !! Regards peter !

I agree completely, perhaps my comment on the score wasn’t clear enough.
I was actually thinking that the registration on the Vandercook could be a little loose, particularly if it then needs to go to the windmill, where the gripper and guide may be different than on the Vandy. Also, if he runs 2 up, and then cuts them down on whatever cutter he has access to, then there can be some chance of slightly varied registration that domino effects throughout the process.
I have run Heidelbergs for years, and can agree that the windmill will register perfectly. He just needs to be sure everything else is done just right up to that point.
Especially if he hands it off to another shop for scoring, he can’t expect them to deal with a register issue that started from the begining.


You know the bindery can only score to the sheet. If the printing register is all over the place, or crooked, there’s not much a person scoring can do, save to score in register to the crooked image, fold, and cut it out square from there.

If scoring 2 up—make very certain that the score ruie is not bending in the middle, as the sheet will fold square just fine 2 on, but when cut in half, neither side will fold square at all—though the fold can be “pushed or rolled” but that becomes fussy handwork.

I have always cut a job to finish so not fell in that trap since i was 18 !! that ten minutes making sure the job still works at finished size is always worth it and as we always had to rule a job through to finished size the time spent checking is saving on guillotine time as your calculations go to the cutting for the order of cuts or the guillotine programme is written from your ruling up and woe betide you if its wrong !!

I am with you. Do the final trim, make sure the cards are all cut to the same size, then the score is set to fold the sheet in half. That’s all you can rely on. The press will do its job.


A Vandercook is made well enough to take a lot of impressions , but are you? I printed posters on Vandercooks for years and never exceeded more than 100 impressions in an hour, with a top total output for one day being 1050 posters in a 13 hour period. My reward for years of work has been some lovely posters for which I was never paid enough, and a herniated disk and bone-on-bone in my lower back. The side to side repetitive motion used in running Vandercook presses is not natural for people to do, and I have heard other printers have suffered the same after years of work. Volume card work is much better suited to platen presses, and high-volume printing is safer on sheet-fed presses. I have constructed card scoring jigs from box board (the stuff cereal boxes are made from) and can score by hand much faster than I could on a Vandercook.

The problem with running a smaller sheet on a Vandercook is one of holding the sheet against the cylinder until it engages the face of the type. Too often the sheet will strike the type prior to impression because of the gap above the rollers where hands don’t fit. A production cylinder press would have star wheels or bands to hold the sheet against the cylinder as it goes through a revolution, something Vandercooks lack. You could avoid this problem by setting up your job to run two up on a sheet cut to have four cards per sheet. As the sheet goes through the press the front edge would print two cards, and after that dried you could print two on the tail. That way you would be able to hold the sheet until it contacts the type. If you try to run four cards up, you will encounter a problem of the tail of the sheet hitting the edge of the form causing a smear at the edge of the sheet. Of course this can be dealt with by running a longer sheet and trimming afterwards, but it sounds like you are looking for a bigger variety of both design, and inking.


It might work if the a artwork and type do NOT have to register perfectly. A job of that many sheets you will not have the time to place the sheet into the gripper the same on each sheet.

I think you will have more cards in the trash, because you will not be able to get a perfect register sheet on each pass.

Thanks everyone for all the thoughtful input… you guys really came through in what I was hoping for, which was the nitty gritty on the logistical details. Here’s the update on how I’ve decided to proceed:

I’m having the paper company cut and score the paper so that the cards will be 2 up. This way I can print two at once (half as many cranks on the Vandy was pretty appealing). Hopefully I will have good results with that size at 9 x 12 inches. (Devils Tail Press, printing 2-up on a 4-up sheet is a great suggestion. Too late on this paper order, but I will keep that in the back of my mind for next time if I encounter difficulties. Next time though, I will try to find a platen or windmill.)

The scoring per 2000 cards was $20, which seemed reasonable for the time savings, and the only places locally that do scoring are Kinko’s-type copy places. ( I really didn’t want to take my finished prints there after all the exertion.)

I was planning on designs where perfect registration wasn’t crucial anyhow, but I will be extra cognizant of this based on the chorus of concerns. Also, I’ve experienced the smearing when I’ve stubbornly tried to fit too much on a sheet (despite knowing it would happen.) I’m going to give myself ample margins. (I’m using 8.5 x 11 photopolymer plates with 9 x12 sheets so some margin will be inevitable anyhow… not that filling the whole plate would be ample.) If you’d like to contribute your two cents on what an “ample” margin is, I’m all ears.

Also, I agree it’s a terrible idea, natron, but for curiosity’s sake, how do you score on a Vandercook?

And, what size parent sheets do you all cut into cards (and how many and what size)?

Thanks much!

If you run into drag problems with your two up let me know, I have several tricks that might help.


Hmm, things are not off to a good start on this project. After waiting two weeks to get the scored paper from thepapermillstore.com, it has arrived and they sent me the wrong paper. Back to the drawing board.