Future of Letterpress

I had fun starting a new topic on new press design for smash printing recently and enjoyed the comments — some pretty emotional. Several remarked about their many years of experience and whether or not there was a future for letterpress. OK, let’s discuss that.

I am a hobby printer and teacher of printing. I started in junior high school 60+ years ago. I do not do any commercial work.

I have also been a sailboat guy for 60+ years. It is a fun hobby.
I do not see a resurgance of commercial sailing.

I see printing as I have seen sailing. It is fun. It is a hobby. If someone can make some money from it, OK. If we can keep the old presses from being broken, then the hobby, and perhaps some commercial work, can continue.

Your turn

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@inky, You are what we called back home, a shit starter.


I read the previous thread with interest but thought it went astray with commercial concerns pro and con.

I think your answers to this question somewhat depend upon what frame of time you are thinking of in regard to the future. Mark Twain once wrote, “By forever, I mean forty years.” Forty years ago, the letterpress scene was quite different.

The current revival is hardly the first. This has been going on, generation after generation, since mid-century. The real question is how sustainable is letterpress? What kind of shocks to the supply lines would disrupt it? What can we do to stabilize what we have?

We already know what happened to the metal type foundries when their products were no longer supported. We know that letterpress inks disappeared from the scene during the last quarter of the century. The last true letterpress paper made, Mohawk Letterpress Text, was developed in the late 1970s (for the revival) and disappeared by the early 1980s.

In terms of the majority of today’s production: What if we lose film access? What if industrial photopolymer plate sales fall flat and the manufacturers abandon it?

In my thirty six years as a letterpress printer I have seen nothing but change. It is inevitable. I did have to smile at the comments in the previous thread made by folks who have entered into the field in the last decade and make the assumption that everything will just continue on as is. The present is not what the future will be.



Great points!

I have had lengthy discussions with Fritz regarding film and how the lack there of could really disrupt. Have not really given too much consideration to the production of photopolymer. You are very close to that industry, should this be a primary concern today or in the near future?

Many of us are young (in my case not so young) and dumb, but we do lay awake at night over concerns like that you have mentioned as well as presses, etc.

Not only do we need the consumer to desire and be willing to pay for the product, but the supply chains and equipment must exist to produce it.

PS. When is the ebook going to be available??

Some or all of this depends upon the meaning of the word “Letterpress”. Are we talking about handmade books of limited publication, invitations and other personal printing? Do we include flexography? Die cutting, etc.
Film may go but there is already a move to do it on clear base material in a copier. So we will adapt again.

Letterpress in it’s majority is the printing of ephemera. (Invites etc.) The minority by a small margin are the ones who print books and strain to produce works of quality in regards to the way it’s printed.

Film - slowly on it’s way out - simple as that. I make Film and know what it takes to keep it running. Than I worked for a Service Bureau some 15 years back and we processed 10 Boxes of Film a week, client would check the Film if correct and pay their bills. I make FM Film and get asked if I can cut away all the border because they just want to pay for the 5x7 image area. But you can’t process such a small piece in a processor.

We only have access to the supplies we need as long as we support the Manufacturers and suppliers.

As long as Type is bought on Ebay instead from a Foundry or Hot metal service, you are digging the grave for your own supplies you may need in the future.

The other day took a sample of a letterpress greeting to my day job. One person that had not seen a letterpress job liked the look and feel.

Printing might be dead, but all of us still doing letterpress need to show off our work.

If you want people to want your work,you have to give them a reason.

I plan of printing a nice two sided greeting card, and mail it to as many people I can that still use printers.

I might not get tons of work, but, I might get some people interested in having me print something for them.

If I get zero work from my mailing, I will know the art is dead.

But, I have to try. Mailing out 50 cards, might get one customer. And, one is better than zero.


Re: film. Anyone’s game I suppose. If it all comes to an end (there will be folks here and there supplying in sort of an ad hoc manner), I should state that there have been recent developments in high end ink jet printers and media that may be promising. Too early to tell. An institution I teach at is moving in that direction. Still, support the folks processing film negatives just to keep them around.

Re: photopolymer plates. Not yet. But if we have to go to pre-sheet photopolymer, I’m out of here.

Regarding the postscript: are you trying to get me off my dead ass?


I use Grafolac dry film with Canon ipf 750, RIP Photoprint dx 6 for the opacity, absolutely fine for polymer


I have been looking at this response all day. What exactly does “absolutely fine for polymer” mean? There are certain specifications that photopolymer plates and film negatives have to meet for minimum letterpress standards.

Are you supplying plates to clients? or is this just a personal use assessment?


teaching photopolymer to students, printing d73s and b94f plates, seems to be very satisfactory indeed with the media in above post, nice clear sharp plates.

Gerald-will be happy to post you a sample neg for your evaluation in the next couple of days if you would like, I would be very interested to hear what you think, used it for Torelief plates too, the other plates referred to previously were Miraclon.Been making plates some 18 months now, obviously not a lifetime experience..!

Hi Jonathan

Yes, I would be very interested in seeing the sample neg. My contact information can be found at the top of the page here:



posted today some stuff a.m. Gerald…….

I happen to be optimistic about the future of letterpress. Ours is a 55 year old + commercial shop that prints letterpress, offset and digital, and we’ve experienced the changes that the economy and the internet age have forced on us. I’ve seen many colleagues go out of business in the last 5 years in the commercial printing industry, and the paper market is in turmoil. Why have we survived? Its been the designers desire to set themselves apart with letterpress. We’ve always been a high end vanity shop, so designers historically have come to us when it needs to be special, and nothing serves that need better than letterpress. Because I’m involved in the greater industry, I know that letterpress’ market share is tiny in comparison to other sectors, but I truly believe that although small, the foothold that letterpress has recently gained in the market is permanent. I feel that now that its back on designer’s radars as a unique print feature, there is no tangible reason for it to be forgotten. It may ebb and flow, which might force suppliers to change their offerings accordingly, but as long as there is money to be made, suppliers will supply. I feel that letterpress suppliers are accustomed to the small game, so overall print market volatility wont effect them like it will other larger companies.

As letterpress shop owners, its up to us to continue to present our work to the larger market in relevant ways, not only using letterpress as a means to print beautiful ephemera, but used in combination with other processes to add interest. I believe there is great potential in our little industry to gain more market share, because designers are artists, and artists have a inherent desire to be unique. Letterpress fits the bill perfectly.

To those Encouragers…and those that seek encouragement …

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
- Mark Twain

The world of Letterpress is a wonderful thing!

T & T Press Restoration


Thanks for sending this stuff.

The negs look quite good. Better than any similar that I have seen. .25pt/2mm are weak though. Bit too weak for me.

The detail on the washout is a bit off. Very good information set that you provided by the way. The thin lines are quite disturbed below .75pt on the vertical and 5.5mm on the horizontal. The small reversed type in the solids seems disturbed (erratic fill in) as well. The washout looks correct so I am suspecting that this is more a film problem.

But, this looks very good, very good indeed. As long as folks do understand there are limitations as to the possible. Not sure I would offer this on a commercial basis. I get an awful lot of stuff from graphic designers who have no clue that there are limitations even with imagesetter film. Add to that deep impression…


THANKS for your evaluation-glad you got it safely-plates come out a bit better when they are d73s instead of b94f, also when finer detail is more grouped together-only been at it about 18 months off and on amongst all the other things I must do-as I said so more practice and refinement will be involved I am sure…..!
If you get the chance to play around with a decent RIP and dry film and the right balance of settings then I hope you give it a go, it seems to be fairly straightforward for students getting into this process and encouraging them/getting them grounded in it which should be good for letterpress eg 3 ex students buying tabletop Adana’s and one buying an Arab platten to help set up businesses in UK,working with Indesign and Mac , , worth trying Toray relief and Flint plates I think they are slightly better quality too, a bit crisper?
I will try to get hold of a perfect plate from film to compare…………………!
Best wishes


Just getting back to you on this. I’ve recently seen some film produced on a high end Epson with rip and it is quite impressive. Near there. Proprietary stuff I think. Not sure the entirety of the purchase would compare in any way to just buying a used imagesetter or less troublesome just buying silver-based film negs on an as need to basis. But there is some significant headway if and when the film industry just closes house.


Offset litho kept film going for years beyond its use, now with the direct to plate laser imagers there is no use for it in trade , I know of one company that screens overprint UV varnish and use film they buy in ready to lay down .
I remember experiments years ago that utilised desk top printers and printing the neg/pos directly to the film and that with a bit of spotting etc would be used to expose the litho plate , Kimoto film comes to mind >,i dont know enough about the burn nature of nylos to make a guess as to suitabilityfor that purpose but i see that being the only avenue left if technology does not step backward and film be re developed so as to be environmentally friendly ,it is the waste from film processing that is killing it off as a useable economic process , silver reclamation aside the waste from film processing is a caustic filthy mess that the planet can live without .
The uk has hung on to the use of isopropanyl and nols in the damping sytsem of high speed litho,waterless offset using toray plates in the early 80s proved costly in paper waste and we re traced back to water and alcahols ,technology has changed the waterless plate and its back again , the future for film i can only see being likely if someone puts some research in again to clean the process up .

I have still yet to find a paperless office , and i still write a letter and put it in an envelope !

Any thoughts on Crown Flexo?


They’re laser imaging plates for flexo and letterpress. These aren’t laser engraved like discussed on another thread, but I’m assuming laser exposed and washed out like normal? Could be wrong.

I looked at Crown’s site, and it turns out I used to know the owner well, as we worked for the same company in the 1970’s, and I saw him afterwards at flexo conventions, etc.

Regarding plates, for several years before I retired, the flexo industry was making digital plates, which were soft photopolymer plates with a thin layer of black material on top. A laser exposure unit would “image” the plates by burning away the black material where the image areas were to be, thereby creating a negative which was an integral part of the plate. Then the plates were exposed and processed in a more-or-less normal way.

Sounds like Crown is making hard photopolymer letterpress plates that way. I would think this process would yield great results for letterpress like it does for flexo. Since flexo replaced film negatives this way, I don’t see why we couldn’t as well.

Crown flexo is awesome. I’ve been using them for a few months now and have only compliments to give. Rolly & Ron are very accommodating. Here is an example of a fidelity test I did with their plates the other day, the number next to the line of type is the pt size in helvetica.

image: Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 3.10.16 PM.png

Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 3.10.16 PM.png

Yes, film is dead. And all of the rumors of the death of Letterpress are premature. We are experiencing the renaissance of letterpress printing! Letterpress has become unfettered of the need for metal. And with digital direct-to-plate photopolymer, letterpress printers can now take full advantage of electronic art to push the envelope of letterpress capability.

Hello to my friend Geoff! Glad to hear you’re retired. I hope to join you soon, but until the family run business doesn’t need me anymore, I’ll be hanging around.

Dan, thanks for the testimonial! The result from your test were eye opening. I’m attaching the pic you sent to me last week. I just want everyone to note you didn’t achieve those results with a “kiss” impression.

While digital certainly provides an unbounded canvas for design, you are still wedded to those vendors who actually have direct to plate imaging machines……….and how many of them are out there vs the current film platform?

One thing I have noticed with the advance of technology is that it tends to become more limited in availability with each iteration—from handtype all the way down to the latest and greatest digital platform.

Oh, and yes, I am a full metal shop—and proud of it!

What is the cry …Adopt, adapt and advance ?

As I look at letterpress items that are produced using computers and photo-polymer compared to items that are produced with computers and offset or digital, I notice that the only difference between them is that the photo-polymer items seem to be excessively dented into the paper. It is too bad that the character of letterpress printing today seems to be only the ability to produce more impression than is necessary to print. The real character of letterpress printing as I know it is becoming a caricature that’s almost indistinguishable from the rest of modern printing.



I would tend to agree but not all photopolymer plate printers are addicted to the smash and run approach. I had to admonish a student last night who was just crunching and quite pleased with it. The inking was bad and the paper was just brutalized, and the imaging had lost it’s initial appeal. Students think this is a give and take. But once a student learns that with proper impression and respect for paper there is somewhat of an amazing turnaround. Once the balance between inking and impression is understood we get back to where we should be.

I suspect it really comes down to a lack of respect for paper as part of the equation. Most newer entries into the field have never even seen a mouldmade or handmade paper and do not see the inherent beauty.

A problem I see with direct-to-plate photopolymer is that just a bit more of the control is lost since one would now be dependent upon a source that would also be shipping the conditioned plate. I’ve made such plates and they do process as promised but really can not say that the plate itself was up to par. And I really like my film provider. But alas, he only has two sources left for film.

I still have enough good foundry metal :—)


@Gerald, I agree that not all printers buy into the current fad of crash printing, and that gives me hope, but it takes a teacher such as yourself to teach the proper use of tools. All it takes is a glance at Bookways to see how photo-polymer can be well printed.

I guess I was more referring to the way that typography and graphic design has so much of the same look when it has been processed through a computer, whether it has been printed with photo-polymer or offset/digitally. It loses that hand-made quality that I see as the real selling point of letterpress (without the deep impression).

I see deep impression as a way to circumvent the normal process of make-ready, and indeed the ability to sell a product that looks like no make-ready was even made makes the pressman’s job so much easier. I was trained as a pressman so I know first hand how much work can be avoided if you can just slap it on the press and run it without doing what is necessary to make it look right.

When I had a poster shop a local letterpress printer saw my posters and said that it looked like I had the best of the best, type-wise. He really had no idea how much work I had put into very worn type to make it print well, I guess because he assumed that old type has to print like crap.

I’ve printed from photo-polymer, and if that was the only resource I had I would rather have an offset set-up, because it would give me better reproduction and the ability to do half-tones and four color work. I know you feel differently, and I respect that.

Since I started in offset the appeal of letterpress has always been the ability to build a form, piece by piece, and to have the ultimate control over every single piece. It would have been nice if the renewed interest in letterpress had happened 30 years ago when there actually were press builders and suppliers available. Now really nice offset presses are selling for less than Kelsey 3” x 5” presses; it just seems to me to be an industry that has been turned on it’s head.


Been running Transparency film thru my Xerox, for my plate systems for years now, since 1991. Sold my camera many years ago.


Did you perchance look at that crown flexo link?


I spent last night reading a bit through the new Boxcar Press website.

I am now convinced this is not a letterpress revival. This is more like what happened to the book arts movement. Scrapbooking. We are in the wrong place my friend. We need to find another venue.


Perhaps you are right. I’ve thought that for quite a while. I think it is unfortunate that Briar Press has basically become a clearinghouse for questions about fixing Heidelbergs from folks with no training, or how to resurrect a press that’s been left out in the rain for 30 years. Added to that are the most popular questions, “Can I print deep impression on a 3” x 5” Kelsey?” and “Why do I have trouble deep printing on Lettra paper?” Cute and trendy is in, but so is shocking and offensive. So many choices - oh, what shall I do…

Just to add, while selling my house, without exception every prospective purchaser was completely distracted - fascinated - when they saw the print gear. A whole new conversation developed. Made me realise that getting folk in there would be useful to the future of the business. Engage!

Over the years I have had a lot of people through my various shops, but it rarely translates to dollars. I even got a story on the front section of the local paper, and all it attracted was a third grade girl who had to do a story about a local business. Her father eventually gave me a little job designing a T-shirt, but that was it. I have always felt than one good job always (eventually) attracts another. I’ve also observed that one free job will always get you five other free jobs with ridiculous demands and unreasonable deadlines.


I’m not a big fan of this deep impression, although i made a fair amount of my money doing crash printing. For a while the forms companys would run generic forms then crash print company names on small runs, or once in a while would have a mistake in a large runand i would get to fix it by blocking out something of stamping in a new line. Don’t like to see the old type being smashed up, smash all the poly plates you want, but the old type can’t be replaced. Also bugs me when these new kids hire movers to move heavy equipment then after saving a few dollars cry when the press gets dropped off a tail gate of a flywheel gets broken off. Safety goes out the window, watch some of the videos on utube, some i can’t watch, i’m surprised that more people haven’t been hurt, you get caught in a windmill you are in trouble cause they don’t back up easily. When learning the trade back in the mid sixties we trained for years on the equipment, i remember applying for a job as a linotype operator and not getting it cause i only had 5 years of experience. Today you but a press and almost immediately you are a letterpress printer. Thanks Paul, you got me going again. Dick G.

there is some fab stuff on the various flickr groups eg I love letterpress, letterpress mania, vandercook etc, inspirational to me and hopefully others to get going, keep it going, the www being useful to publicise /get letterpress appreciated…………

I dont think lettepress is not appreciated ,There are some that remember the look of good letterpress , a book nicely set and not riddled with white space running through the page is a comfort to read .
I dont dislike the look of a heavy impression but its rubs the wrong way , the time spent levelling formes to not have letters at the end of a zinco line digging into the sheet and rules that looked like a fold mark from the back of the sheet was for the reason of correct form and quality work ,there was no pressure bruising etc .
The use of traditional presses built for their purpose assuming proper setting is the angle i work from ,the poor old croppers and tooling from the 1880s are stressed out with heavy impression ,some post i read i would love to put serves you right but there are opportunities to pass on a bit of useful stuff to stop someone else wrecking a press then you have to bite the bullet .
As for the art side of presswork ,that i leave to the people that think a pair of random and huge caps printed over one another is art .I am as artistically bent as a straight edge .

Paul & Dick
I totally agree! It saddens me to see letterpress prints for sale on Etsy and elsewhere that looked like someone didn’t care enough to do a proper make-ready, relying on ‘it’s part of the letterpress process’ it makes me cringe when I hear that! Whatever happened to pride in your work? It all falls by the wayside when you have less than perfect type?
Granted, I’ve only been a letterpress printer for 4 years but my 20+ years as an offset printer drove into me the importance of quality work. I’ve spent several hours on make-ready to get the piece looking perfect without crash printing it. Some customers request a deep impression so I will give them what they want - you can give the look of a deep impression without slamming it so much that you damage the type. I’m running a job right now where the customer wants inside text on a greeting card with their logo and the taglines on the back with deep impression. I spoke with them, and they now understand and agree that both will have to be a kiss impression so there will be no show through on either side.
As I said, I’ve only been printing letterpress for 4 years but before that ran a 4-color web press which instilled in me a huge respect and awareness of what a machine is capable of doing to you. I hear constant horror stories and cringe when I hear of someone new to printing wants to dive right in with a motorized press. I tell anyone who will listen to start slow, get some training and be careful because presses bite!
Wow Dick, I think that’s the most I’ve seen you rant in the whole time that I’ve been here on Briar Press!


Some of you old-timers are missing the point of the revival we’re discussing.

I’m an old-timer myself, began setting type for my dad at 11yrs old (54yrs ago). Ran a Pearl, C&P, Heidelberg Windmill, Kluge, Meihle Vertical and Heidelberg Cylinder presses. I knew how to set up envelopes with a kiss impression, and I still can.

That “smash” printing you’re talking trash about is what the customer wants to see on their business cards and wedding invitations. It means something to them! It has nothing to do with the respect for paper (come on now…) or not knowing how to set up a kiss impression.

Photopolymer plates can go both ways. And at the same time take advantage of up to date digital art forms! Blow the type lice off your computer keyboard at take advantage of it!

Letterpress is making money. Right now! If there weren’t already enough old platen presses and Vandercooks around, then the Chinese would be making them.

@ricehq. There are not enough presses around for the current demand, otherwise why would a Vandercook sell for $10,000 while a nice Heidelberg cylinder press sells for less? The letterpress printing programs around the country are turning out more students than there is equipment available forcing folks to purchase whatever they can find, which is often a press that is too complicated for their level of expertise.

I recently watched a Kickstart video of a couple wanting to enlarge their business, and part of their plea was to have the money to pay someone to teach them how to run a Windmill that was already sitting on the floor of their shop.

Simple table-top presses are bringing huge dollars, while complicated machinery is regularly junked, because that is not what is being taught in the aforementioned programs.


ricehq, i agree that you should give the customer what they want, i have done some deep impression, what i’m not in favor of is smashing old type to achieve this, i’m lucky to have a ludlow so i can smash new type all the time. i think if you use polymer to do this its ok. Uncle Paul makes a good point, how many vandercooks were sent to the scrap yard, they are only proof presses. Hey Steve was this rant better??

I’m going back to the original premise form Inky. I had a career of 45 years in another field and started letterpress printing as a hobby about 18 months ago. Surely things will change in the future, but for the present, it is a delightful melding of craft and artistry which I am enjoying as a hobby (with a few few card sales) and hope to continue. Sometimes the joy in an activity is just in participating and learning and looking beyond those is not required or useful.

I’ve been using Crown Flexo for plates for about six months, and I highly recommend them to anyone looking for a one-stop plate supplier. Extremely consistent results, without any of the variables I used to encounter with exposing and washing out my own plates. Thumbs up!