Running a Press in a retail environment? (Another concern about SOLVENTS)

Is anyone doing this? (If you do know of anyone, please let me know who so I can direct questions to them.)

I have a unique opportunity to run my press within a high-end retail store.

I understand a press is unequivocally most suited to a print studio, but I truly feel this could be a win-win: my customers will get to see a working press and consequently I get the free inherent advertising that this provides.

I am challenged with finding a way to significantly reduce the odor of cleaning my press as well as safety of using/storing solvents. The store does not have a ventilation system or open windows. I will be located near a door that opens for entering customers, but remains closed otherwise.

What can I do to make this arrangement work, even if it’s not the most ideal solution?

1. What solvents should I use to reduce odor (read: no odor)?
2. How do I keep the environment safe?
3. Can I use an air purifier? If so, what kind would work?
4. Other ideas I haven’t thought of?

(Please don’t tell me this won’t work, but rather offer honest support and solutions! Thank you!)

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As far as cleaning solvent odor goes, if you used rubber based inks which stay open (do not dry) on the press for a long time, you could at least do your last washup after the store closed and the customers were gone.

Also, you could try to arrange your press schedule to print all jobs of the same color, one after the other, so you wouldn’t have too many washups during the day.

You could also give the customers a good but limited range of colors to choose from, instead of showing them the entire PMS book to choose from. Since there would be less colors, it would increase the possibility that multiple customers would chose the same color, and that would also decrease the number of washups. (If a customer insisted on a special color, you could always make an exception so you wouldn’t lose the job).

However, if you are going for absolutely no odor, keep in mind that when ink is on the press, the ink has a small degree of smell as well.

As far as air circulation in the store goes, if the windows don’t open, I think there probably is air circulation, probably from vents in the ceiling (unless the building is ancient). There are probably more air changes in the room than you might suspect. To check on air circulation, it might be interesting to light a candle and see if the flame moves somewhat. Also, when you blow the candle out, see how the smoke moves around the room.

hello bethanybp

now have print shop
in front window of book store

from what learned
working in job shops

ventilation is a must
run duct work to vent fan
vent fumes outside

lucky own the building
so don’t need landlord permission
run duct work and cut hole in wall

air purifier is not going to do the job
see other listing people using oil
to wash rollers
but in the end you will need to use
some solvents

high end retail
means picky customers

the only way i can see you
getting away with it
is with a dedicated
for print shop ventilation system
set up to remove fumes
before they go anyplace
other than outside

yours truly

Thank you, Geoffrey! You are spot on. I feel remiss, I didn’t even think about limiting the colors and/or focusing on scheduling the print runs, but they are great suggestions.

Yes, you can probably make this work if you are willing to work hard at it and jump through some hoops. I saw such an operation several years ago and thought it very good.

First check with the local authorities to see what rules they have. In addition speak directly with the local building or environmental inspector. Some of these make their own rules. Perhaps not right but they have the ball and the bat and the playground. If you want to play, you have to play by their rules.

I think the best solution to reducing the odor in the store and to comply with the inspectors is to install an exhaust hood and exhaust fan. Think kitchen range exhaust fan. Of course it will probably have to run up through the roof and the motor and fan can be up there. The hood can be made to raise up to above head height when printing and to pull down when cleaning the press. The fan can run even when the hood is raised and it will exhaust ink smell.

I think a fenced area around the print shop will be appropriate. It would have a gate. People will ask to come in and have a close look. You accept them when you can.

I would store your solvent off site and bring a small amount in your car each day. Take all of your soiled rags home each day.

I would jump at the opportunity to do this. Do the numbers for cost and check off with your landlord and authorities.

Share with all your results. Pictures too.

We set up a mini print shop in a Warby Parker store over the holidays. The press was a C&P Pilot and our workstation was comfortably nestled into a corner. We used rubber base ink, washed up with Gamsol and had a pretty good time. The press ran on weekends and special events for about 6 weeks.

What type of press were you intending to use? Certainly nothing with a flywheel, motor or treadle I hope.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

You could just clean your rollers outside, and also spray solvent on a rag while you are out there, and then bring it in to clean off press. You’ll be fine. What kind of solvent, ink and press will you be using?

You might check with Hatch Show Print in Nashville. They are an active print shop with a heavy retail presence.

First what press are you planning to run?

A small hand feed press is at home any place you can set it up. Any auto feed press will get you throw out of the shopping area in a short period of time.

I work in a major super market, with about 500 to 1,000 customers per day. Shoppers love to touch things, and kids play before thinking.

Running a press that run my itself is asking for problems.

All it takes in some fool wanting to touch somethings, and there will be problems. The customer will be hurt, another person near the press might get hurt, the damage to the equipment will put you out of business in a second.

I have operated a C&P pilot press at a librarian’s convention in the exhibits area in a hotel successfully. I riggeed up a wooden tray with supports to hold the rollers, ink disk and chase. When time came to clean it up, I put everything in its spot and carried it outside in the parking lot to clean it all up. You could just check them all in a box and carry them out, but somehow I thought this looked a bit more professional. It also served to provide a flat surface on which to lock up the form when setting things up. I got no complaints, and it was probably the most active booth in the place. It promoted a printing history special interest group within the State Library Association, and we printed bookmarks.

There are scented oils for use in old kerosene lamps which have a not-unpleasant odor, and would clean the surfaces, but are, of course, flammable, and may not fit the fire code or insurance requirements for such a store.

Doing the cleaning outside is probably the best option without specialize venting systems, which could run into money.

You will want to have some hand wipes available for anyone who pokes a finger into an inky surface. You can’t control everyone all the time!

Thank you for all your comments!

To touch on some of your questions/concerns:

The store is very high-end and only sees 20 customers a day, so I’m not as concerned about crowd safety. The press will likely not be unattended.

The press is an SP15. I know, it’s big and motorized, but there is ample space for it, and hey, it’s what I own. If I had the funds, what would be a better choice for printing small runs of stationery?

Cleaning the rollers outside is an idea, though not my first choice. It seems like a hassle. I like the idea of printing limited colors and also cleaning the press after closing time. I am considering cleaning with Crisco, followed by small amounts of California Wash. What to do with rags is still a question. I will be in a large city so could I use a rag service or tag onto another shop’s rag service?

The store may be moving to a very large space with 30 foot ceilings. In that case, do I still need to be as concerned about ventilation?

This could make or break the venture. I don’t know anything about rules and regulations for a store…

Am I missing any other practical concerns? Again, I still see this as a unique opportunity, though I admit I’m worried about painting myself into a corner… Someday I dream of having my own shop printing custom work…

A few years ago Aldine Stationary brought a Vandy to an Art Directors event in a showroom in NYC.
It was quite successful.
You should contact Lee or Alan Zunis at Aldine for some tips. 212-226-2870
Good luck,
Steve V.

If your doing mostly stationary, etterpress, business cards & envelopes you may be better served with a platen. Golding or C&P, unless your going to be doing longer runs then you can’t fail with a windmill.

First thing you may want to do is familiarize yourself with the zoning for the building and what’s allowed in that particular zone. Every city has their own sets of zoning definitions and a quick trip to city offices should be able to tell you the details of it for the building. This will trump anything a landlord would allow.

yes… you are missing a vital consideration: OSHA. If you are operating that press in a retail environment and getting paid for it, then it will be a violation of OSHA regulations. The law is very clear that a C&P cannot be used by an “employee” of a business establishment under ANY circumstances. They simply do not meet the legal requirements.

The problem comes in with the definition of “employee”. If you don’t own the high-end establishment, then you yourself will be considered an employee by OSHA….. even if you own the press. Their view is that “contract workers”, which you would be in this case, fall into the “employee” category. Also, if you or the store are incorporated, then it’s illegal to operate it since everyone involved would be considered an “employee”.

The only way around the prohibition is if you own both the press and the business establishment….. and are not incorporated, which is how most of here operate our presses.

I’m not saying you can’t put the press in the retail environment, only that it will most likely be illegal to operate it there.

I myself went to battle with OSHA over a similar situation in a popular “Historical village” setting several years ago when I set up a press to demonstrate historical process. Even though I owned the press, and was paid nothing, OSHA decided that I was an “employee” since the village charged admission and was thus a business. I fought them, but in the end I lost and had to quit operating the machines.

I wish you well, and hope you are successful…. but I’m doubtful about the idea, given the Federal Government’s “nanny state” mentality.

I am not sure where winking cat press is located but I think his experience may of had to do more with the inspector. They can make things happen that are not always exactly by the law but there own personal motivation. I have seen this.

That said in Texas a sub contractor is only considered an employee when they use equipment that is provided for them or the hours of work are set for them. I have employed individuals and contractors for about 9 years, though not for printing. I had to learn the difference quick.

But in the end I think it will depend on the inspectors interpretation of the situation. I think the machine you are running is not that threatening to the eye but of course a C&P 8x12 or 10x15 would be. Just looking at it you think you will loose and arm.

My two cents…

Another thought. Are you sub leasing the space you are going to be working in? That might open up a loophole if this problem came up.

The best thing to do might just be to actually call out an OSHA inspector to see what would be kosher in their book. No need to go investing time and energy just to have to waste it all. It is best to play by the book in the end.

Once, again, thank you for your suggestions.

Winking Cat Press, I’m not sure I fully understand… Are you saying it is illegal for a person who does not own the press or the establishment to print on it? That would mean all print shops are breaking the law to have employees running the presses? Please can you clarify?


I think you should research your particular press and what OSHA requires because winkingcatpress is obviously talking about a C&P which you are not going to be using, it appears. So this discussion on that topic may be completely irrelevant to begin with.

However if OSHA has the same requirement on your press then ask yourself; are you being paid hourly for the work done? Do you recieve a check and the company pays your taxes for you? That for sure means you are employed by them.

If the above is not yes and if you are just wholesaling your printed work and the business is selling it then you appear to be a separate business that happens to also be using retail space of your dealer, the retail shop. I think it makes an even more clear division of businesses if you are renting the square footage of the space you will be working in, even if it is $1 a month.

This sort of things happens all the time with grocery chains that let a product manufacturer that they sell the product for come in and set up a booth in the retail store to promote their product. They are two separate business entirely and that is not contested by anyone. As far as I understand they don’t even pay for the booth spaces.

IMO… don’t EVER call OSHA in for anything… they will never leave you alone again….we know we run dangerous machines and accept that fact. osha will not.

A lot of angst over a simple question.

What I read it as is that the press owner is invited to have a space in a larger store to operate the press. If I were doing this, I’d surround the machine (if a power or treadle floor press—platen or cylinder) with either typecases, displays, or a straight out 3 rail fence (keep the lower two rails low enough to deter toddlers from getting in.

I’d probably was the rollers off site, or after hours, and have a carry board to allow me to take them elsewhere—-though if you are of the “oil/Crisco” pre-wash community, you probably can do the final wash with mineral sprits and not worry to much about VOC’s (unless you go nuts with the wash up).

One thing I would do if leaving the press unattended is to have a locking power switch on the press so I could lock off the power, and possibly at the fuse box too. In addition I’d probably put some sort of locking bar on the flywheel to keep anybody who did get in the “corral” to turn the flywheel and hurt themselves.

Anything beyond these issues seems to be just wishful paranoia and killing the project before it gets started. I’d say make sure the lease/agreement protects YOU—especially in terms that if the store owner runs into financial difficulty, that your machine and parts are protected from any financial problems on the (store) owners part.

Have fun!

The truth of the matter is that we can debate it all day, but that doesn’t change the legal status of it. If a letterpress is “large and motorized”, it probably is outside of the OSHA’s requirements.

Personally, I’d love to see these old beauties put back into service….. BUT in a retail location, where folks will be able to see the machine, you are just asking for some OSHA guy, or self appointed public guardian, or contigency lawyer to make trouble for you….. and I am very doubtful if the retail establishment’s insurance would cover you for any accidents.

yes, a lot of us operate dangerous machines, and do so legally as sole proprietors or hobbyist. We accept the responsibility, and take the proper precautions. however, once you put that machine into a shop that someone esle owns, the law doesn’t allow you that option. It’s either OSHA compliant, or it’s illegal. All the debating in the world will not change that.

As far as “wishful paranoia” and “killing the project before it gets started” goes, there’s no wishful anything in my comments. I just want to make sure that the people who are actually involved understand the potential illegallity of such a set-up. If they know the risks, and still want to proceed, then that’s their business.

However….. if we all say “Yeah, it’s a great idea!” and fail to point out that it’s also probably illegal, then we will have done the person asking the question a great disservice.

As I believe someone mentioned. Hatch Print Shop in Nashville runs motorized Vandercooks and they have obviously been doing this for many decades. They are open to the public which has retail traffic of all sorts coming in right off the street. They employee a number of people. I don’t think her machine has anything to do with being illegal.

I agree that calling OSHA will probably be inviting them to never leave you alone. I don’t think I would do it myself but if you are just so concerned that it is a deal breaker then put the argument to rest and call them out.

Then agian what do I know. I hope it works for you. I personally don’t see why it won’t if you use common sense.

Curious what OSHA says about the Colleges, Universities and Workshops that teach using the Platen Jobbers? I know many more use Vandies than the Gordons, but many do use [and teach] from both. When in a teaching environment, is it still the same as in a retail or shop business environment ?

I have always advised schools to remove these presses as soon as they are able. Before they can be removed they should be immediately chained and locked to make it impossible for them to be turned over.

It isn’t that platen job presses are bad machines, but they are a huge liability and OSHA violation for the school and for the letterpress program they are a part of. They can only be owner-operated in a private studio environment. They must not be used by students and they must not be used by employees.

I feel there are a number of irresponsible people in the letterpress community giving ‘expert’ advice which contradicts this reality and it isn’t doing a service to anyone.

I have personally seen photos of a college student’s smashed hand from an on-campus accident at a college I won’t name (not one I am associated with!). She was fortunate only to have pulverized the bone in three digits. The school was fortunate she didn’t sue or report them, though maybe she should have- I believe the press is still in use at the school.

There is no reason that if a school wants to have letterpress printing facilities they can’t invest in safe equipment. A Vandercook is easily cheaper than a student sent to the emergency room.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress/The Cooper Union
Brooklyn, NY

Have you ever run across anyone using waivers to avoid legal responsibility for accidents in their show when an employee is using a platen?

I have been considering a legal waiver due to having someone who is interested in assisting in the shop but personally I would rather keep them on a Nolan proof or the Conrad combo press I am renovating right now.

An employee simply cannot use a machine in a work environment unless it meets OSHA standards. If you as the employer are in violation, there is no form that can protect you from liability in the case of an accident.

Put your employee only on equipment which is legal and safe for them to use. If they want to run a job press, encourage them to buy one and you can give them a lesson on it in their own space.


That was my inclination as well.

As much as some employers may not like it, employees in this country cannot waive their rights to workplace safety.

This legacy dates back all the way to meetings held right in the basement auditorium of the building where I am writing this (the foundation building of Cooper Union) after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911.

This is not a bad thing!

image: Triangle-Fire-_1.jpeg

image: triangle9_storyslide_image.jpeg

Right, I was looking at it more from the standpoint that this person would not be an employee. I have zero desire to ever have employees, the cost and headaches just is not worth it to me!

BDM….. unfortunately for the originator of this topic, any person who operated the press in question, unless they owned the entire establishment (which they wouldn’t in this case) would be considered an “employee” by OSHA. It’s their “general liability” clause that covers subcontractors.

BUT if you are sole proprietor, and operate your own equipment, then OSHA has no say-so in the matter…… unless you are incorporated. Then it’s again illegal.

And THAT is what happens when bureaucrats and politicians run the country….. instead of working people. It kinda takes all of the fun out of it, doesn’t it?

This is exactly how the quick printing business was born. I worked for PIP Printing for many years and we had printing presses behind the counter, but visable to the customers. Rarely did I have anyone complain about the smell. I can tell you from experience that there is a lot more chemistry used in Offset Printing than in Letterpress Printing. You will, on rare occasion, have someone make a remark about the smell, but where do they think they’re going, the purfume counter at JC Penny? As far as someone getting hurt, just make sure you have your area cornered off so folks can’t get close enough to touch anything. Good Luck!