How is printing with wood type different from printing with metal type?

Howdy folks,

I am about to print with a piece of wood type for the very first time. I’ve had five years’ experience printing with metal type, and would like to know what sort of adjustments, if any, to make for wood type. I’m on a Vandercook, and the wood letter I’m printing is 24 picas tall. I’m printing on photo paper (Moab Entrada Rag Bright 190), and I don’t want to waste too much of it.



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Well, plan on wasting very little of your good paper.
Your type represents a pretty good size solid and it should print well on a cylinder press if you have good inking. You do not say which model press you use. It may be that you will need to hand bray to get the correct inking. Then use a paper of similar weight/caliper to test and makeready. The press doesn’t care if the form is poly or wood or petrified peanut butter as long as it is type high and properly inked.

Thanks, inky. I’m using a No. 4 with power inking. I thought that maybe since wood might be more porous than metal you’d have to have looser ink or something. I guess they shellac the wood or in some other way coat it so that it’s not at all porous? And it wouldn’t crack or compress under pressure? (It’s a borrowed piece.) I’m not going for a very deep impression, but I would like a little bite. I am a total wood-type ignoramus.


You will probably have to give the wood type a little more impression than you are used to, but with your experience you should have no trouble adjust to what you need. Of course the surface of the type will take more ink, but it’s better to add ink gradually until you get what you need to cover. You will also have to ink up more often. Have fun.


Ditto on the above comments. I have decades of experience printing with wood type and basically it sucks up a LOT of ink, probably more than you are used to. Paul is right, ink-up often.


Here’s a helpful tidbit of information for you, Barb:

Wood type is measured in lines, rather than points or picas. A line is equal to 12 points, or a pica, so a wood letter that measures 24 picas is referred to as 24-line type.

Best of luck with your new adventure in wood type!

Be prepared to do some underlay work for any characters that have been previously abused. And you will likely need to kern a bit- wood type is cut on the smallest possible set width to use as little of the expensive end grain material possible. Don’t expect the letter spacing to behave well without finesse.

I’d suggest getting these issues resolved before moving on to your Entrada.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Thanks, everyone, for your advice and encouragement. I did what you said, and the prints turned out great (here they are!). I did indeed need to add packing and to re-ink about every seven prints. But I was prepared with lots of ink, after what you guys said. In fact I think my next six projects will use that nice rusty burgundy color. :-)