Which press to buy?

My husband and I are in search of a press and I am really trying to focus our efforts in the right direction. I am a graphic designer and have recently become smitten with the letterpress bug, which is a good thing! It would be just a hobby, but perhaps in the future I could make some things to sell. But that’s not really my goal at this point.

I have been reading and researching and scouring ebay and Briar Press and Craigslist, etc. We are willing to spend the money for a good press, or spend the TLC that might be needed on the right one for me. We are both mechanically inclined, so that’s no problem, but I would rather get my hands on one in fairly good condition since it’ll be my first one.

Unfortunately, we have no space for a full-size platen or cylinder press. Unless we were to put it in the garage, but I am weary of that because it seems that it would get filthy. Or is that an option? Do people keep them in their garages and still use them? If so, then a full-size platen is what I would really want.

If not, then my only options are table-tops. I would want something like a C&P Pilot. I think Kelsey’s are too small for what I am wanting to do (printing everything I can imagine, from stationery to small poster-sized prints). Or perhaps a proof press.

Yesterday we visited a man that used to be in the printing business years ago and now he restores and sells presses, among other things. I drooled over the type and cases and presses he had! He did have a 14x11 Line-o-scribe in good shape that we printed on, but he wants $695 for it and I have no idea what those are worth. It seems high to me. But again, I really don’t know because I can’t find any of those online for sale to compare.

So I feel like I am rambling. Any input or advice would be greatly appreciated!

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I don’t know where you are located, but if you are in the upper Midwest, the place to be next Saturday would be Mt. Pleasant, IA. The 21st Annual Midwest & Great Northern Printer’s Fair will start at 8:00 am in Museum B in McMillan Park. We will have about 22 tables loaded with type, presses, and all things letterpress.

We will also be open all day (and into the evenings) on Thursday and Friday for folks to come and talk to other printers and play with our equipment. We have LOTS of equipment. A fantastic opportunity to ask questions and learn about various types of presses, etc. We usually get over 100 printers to show up for this event.

The Saturday swap usually “craps-out” around noon and everything sort of fades away after that.


First say where you are. This is to allow other printers in your area to contact you. Most of us are quite willing to share our opinions and experience. The second reason is to help you evaluate the garage option. A detached unheated garage in the far north in winter doesn’t make a very good place for a shop.
Why do you have a concern about the press getting filthy in the garage? Do you have a filthy garage? There are lots of presses in garages.
Often you can get a floor model platen press for less than a table top press. The latter are in higher demand from people who do not have a garage to place a floor model.
The price for a press is far from an exact science.
They are no longer made so the fair price is that upon which the seller and buyer can agree. There have recently been some floor model platen presses offered for free. They may be at the other side of the country from you.
Keep looking and reading and talking. You will get your press.
Get some ink on your shirt.

There are good resources all over the US (assuming you are in the US!), from the Museum of Printing near Boston to the International Printing Museum near Los Angeles, and lots between. For a limited space and a good flexible press for short runs, a Poco proof press or similar can give a lot of satisfaction. But given the current state of the equipment market $700 for a Line-O-Scribe is probably in range. As was said above, though, bargains are where you find them — the recently-offered free 12x18 C&P in your garage would let you do just about anything you chose to try. My first print shop was in my garage.


If the Line-O-Scribe 11x14 is in good condition, $695 is an OK price. The average price seems to be in the 3-600 range on eBay IIRC, but being able to see it in person and not have to ship might be worth the extra few bucks. I’d say the pros of the Line-O-Scribe is that it is relatively compact, very light for a press, has grippers and is a cylinder press, so you can do larger prints. The biggest con is the lack of good registration options, though the grippers help. Oh, and the gridded bedplate tends to be destroyed.

If you have a floor-model press in your garage, I’d be more worried that your garage gets oily from the press than the other way around (maybe that is what you meant). Either way, there are relatively easy measures you can take to minimize this problem. They are generally cheaper than tabletops, but you want to be able to inspect in person and see it run. And get some instruction if you havent already.

Before I got my press, Inky helped me out with valuable tips and a chance to run his floor model press. So, like he said, let us know where you are, so that any nearby printers can offer you additional assistance :)

Best of luck,

Thanks, already, for the great advice. I’m sorry I didn’t say where I am - I’m in Atlanta. My garage is attached and it doesn’t get too terribly cold here - more often it gets very hot. I just wasn’t sure if a garage area was clean enough - like I said, I’m very new to letterpress, so I didn’t know if that was something that I needed to be concerned about. My garage isn’t filthy, just the average garage that houses cars and tools and a large dog crate for kenneling the dog when we’re not home, so nothing out of the ordinary.


Seems to me like there used to be a southeastern printers association group that held occasional or annual gatherings and might have been based in Atlanta. I couldn’t find them in a quick Google search, so I don’t know what the actual name is and if they still exist, but if so I suspect their members could be very helpful.



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In the long run, you will want a full size platen or a cylinder press - you will get frustrated quickly with the limitations of a table top.

A garage is a good place for a press - but in the south, you will need to get some a/c in there - stick a window unit in a window or cut a hole in the wall to install -

you can keep your supplies in your house if cleanliness is an issue - but in time, you will want a clean work space for safety reasons as well as keeping your output clean as you print.

good luck and have fun!

LetterpressDad, there are many printers who are perfectly content with their tabletops and have been for many years. They are only limited if your work exceeds their limits, producing varied and quality work within the limits of a tabletop press is an artform in itself.

I live in Memphis and have my 8x12 C&P New Series in my un-air conditioned or -heated detached shed (former garage). It’s pretty miserable in the middle of the summer I have to admit, but it’s certainly possible to use. I have several fans to keep air moving and doors at both ends of the shed I can open to allow air to flow through.

Oh, and if you REALLY get the bug, you’ll want all of the above; tabletop, freestanding platen and cylinder press (and if you’re like me, a handpress, too)! All have strengths and weaknesses. I do have to admit, though, that I think a jobbing platen (i.e., free-standing rather than tabletop) is the most useful all-around press. It’s certainly the most bang for your buck these days. Tabletops and cylinder presses go for absolutely ridiculous prices!

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN