Hey Letterpess community,
I am a 20-something college graduate of printmaking in Oklahoma. I learned letterpress at university and realized it is my passion. I’m going to be spending my most recently earned honorarium (from curating a show) on letterpress/printmaking equipment. I realize there is a lot more to letterpress than what we learned in the fine arts, and I’m excited to finally find a site that explores this! I guess partially I’m just saying hello, and what’s new, but also reaching out to find out what sort of things I need to know to start off? I would like to say I’m versed in press operations and type-setting, but realize my knowledge is very puny compared to the vast world of printing. If I’m starting my own little letterpress shop (for my own art, as well as for a small base of clientele) what are the bare essentials (obviously a press, type, furniture)? What are good options for these things for a beginner? I’ve looked at ebay and classifieds but find it daunting. I know this is a broad question and hard to achieve an answer, but I didn’t know if anyone had any sound experience and advice for this sort of thing…
I realize there are probably a lot of discussions that might cover these things, so I will be reading up on those. :)

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Find an experienced printer and become friends. Bring cookies and tell him or her that you will sweep floors, clean the press, etc. for the opportunity to watch and learn.

Hi Laura,
If you can’t find a printer near you, try John Barrett’s website He has a page called “Things” which covers the basic equipment needed. David Rose also has an elementary introduction to letterpress at
Have fun and stay safe.

I can relate, although I apprenticed for three years, I’m only now getting my own equipment. Here was my “must have list’, all the accessories so far (purchased from other printers putting who offered packaged deals, or from ebay, or from my own findings) have run me up about 800.00 (for all I have I think it’s rather reasonable). This also includes re-casting the rollers from Ramco (which I’m still waiting to get back, yay!)

That doesn’t include the press, which I also got for a phenomenal deal.

Boxcar Base (still looking for, may get it machined from a local place for about 125)
Roller Gauge - 33 (
Pantone Mixing Guide (ebay)
Paper Guillotine (17” purchased from China on ebay, new for about 270 much less than what they go for here in US)
slug cutter (still need to find)
Picometer (line gauge)
Ink Set (mixing colors)
Galley Tray
Goudy Cursive & Spacing (any lead type, I already had a bunch of mixed wood type)
Paper Cutter 15”
Printers Apron
Paper Scorer (one from Michaels, a little crafty thing but nice for hand stationary)
Butcher Paper
Gauge Pins
Metal Spacing
Composing Stick
String for tying up type
Plastic divided craft boxes for the lead type (bead storage from Michaels)
Some Furniture
Chases (came with the press)
Hex Keys (for adjustments on press)
Craft tins for mixed ink
Foil for making ink ‘tacos’
Rubber Gloves
Ink Knives
Solvent Bottle (solvent spray bottle from Home Depot)
Cleaning Solvent/Rags
Micrometer (ebay for 12 - used to measure type high stuff as well as paper thickness and packing - important)

I also have an old kitchen island on wheels that has a metal top I use for mixing ink. Found that for free, and it has good storage underneath.

It sounds like a lot, but I use everything there. You can gather as you go, but I’m obsessive and like to have it all upfront. I also print both lead type AND photopolymer (which I’ll make myself once I build the exposure unit since I always made it myself when I worked at the printshop) I also went to a school with a bookarts department and I managed the letterpress part of the printshop.

From the book Printing Explained comes this useful list:

I might add that the list will never end once you get started.


Paul’s last line is very telling. You will obviously need a composing stick. Once you have one, you will find another that is perhaps a different style or length. So you get that one too. Then another different one becomes available….. I currently have probably 60 or so now - ALL DIFFERENT. The stuff you don’t have is always better.

This also applies to presses, and ESPECIALLY fonts of type. It is however a grand adventure.


thank you all so much, this is an extremely helpful discussion. I am also a printmaker of other types so I am also acquiring other tools that often crossover into my assembly for my own print “shop” (primarily for my own art). It is essential for me to be able to have access to equipment (I’ll die otherwise ;). But also find stuff at a good deal. I appreciate all your input, it is a daunting task to merely have it all at once. :)


I only know of a few folks who had “it all at once,” and they failed. Probably because they could afford to have it all at once. Something more than that is required.


I will do my best take the comment above with humility instead of offense. The point in general is a fair one.

I’m glad to hear of other 20-somethings with an artistic interest in letterpress. It gives me hope that in forty years time there may still be people sharing their printmaking knowledge and I’ll have someone to talk to on Briar Press when all the wiser-folks-than-we retire (Barry Moser used to say “die or go blind” but that is perhaps morbid). I’m sure you’ll find what you need if you keep at it. Best of luck, I’d love to see your work.


Lots of folks fail, give it up, disappear. Lots. Money and optimism aren’t enough. Best to take it with humility. Offense will get you nowhere. It’s a long run to forty years.



You are very correct, it is that way in all the arts I think. Your work is of course exquisite and that, along with your experience, speaks volumes about what you share here.

I myself do not mean to be passive agressive so forgive anything there. I just don’t like people to assume that my age or any money I spend are indicators of my character or dedication. This particular print method is new to my practice, but I have been a focused, fervent maker (I hate the word artist) for all my short life and have studied relentlessly, paying whatever dues I could, though I’m sure there are more to be paid. It is not optimism that drives me (it is as as you suggest - not enough), but a serious life-long dedication to craft. All my eggs are in this ‘art’ basket, I have no back up career, this is the life I have worked for and letterpress is a facet of that.

Any practice or hobby should be embarked upon with a sound understanding of finances. I saved and worked hard to get the money I’ve purchased my equipment with. I don’t want to buy it all and find I’m suddenly too broke for paper or start printing and realize I can’t cut down my leading mid-run. I hope my comment about the price did not seem like bragging, I was hoping to give a realistic picture of what the basics can cost and how many odd little things you don’t realize you may need.

I appreciate your wisdom, and think is is absolutely valid. I simply do not like the implication that I’m naive because I’ve invested early or that expendable income makes me less serious about what I do. I think this important stuff to talk about, I hope others who read this thread can relate.


Sorry, if my post/s gave you the implication that you are naive. You’ve obviously thought it through. That is actually my implication; very few newbies seem to be thinking it through. Every couple of weeks or so another garage press and sundries goes up for sale. Folks buy a Vandercook and a Boxcar Base and think they are all set. Nope. Encouragement should be tempered and rendered with realistic expectations is all I am really saying.



Regarding the money thing… Obviously, you can’t make it without money. The rent has to be paid every month. As a friend once told me, “rich or poor, it’s nice to have money.” Problem is, money by itself isn’t enough to guarantee success. Hunger, need, passion, sacrifice, survival instincts, preparation, experiences, etc., are probably better indicators of the long-term. Add to that the required circumstance and luck.


What you really need to have a successful letterpress printing business, or any business for that matter, is customers. You can adjust your equipment and sales pitch to address their needs. One thing to remember is that what your customer needs may not be what you want to do. A case in point. This spring, after the invitation season, I got a job numbering 50,000 remit envelopes. The envelopes were all damaged, and difficult to feed, but the job paid the rent and the power and I even got a meal or two out of it.


Just degrees. Pick your own.

Customers, clients, patrons, grants, settlements, trust funds, family/friend’s loans, social giving, etc.

Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art. — Andy Warhol

An artist would murder his own grandmother to have written Sir Thomas Browne’s Urn Burial. — William Falkner