Looking for letterpress beginner help

Hi all!

I was hoping I could get some advice. A couple years ago, I made a hydraulic press with my husband for (3 color) letterpress wedding invites and have fallen in love with the art. I am a graphic designer for a company in NYC by day and my dream is to one day start a letterpress business of my own. I know there is a lot to learn.

Looking to buy a press for the first time and eyeing a C&P Pilot. There is also a C&P ‘Clamshell’ (10 x 15) not too far from my home that is massive and only motorized (no treadle). I have space in my basement and garage, so I think I could accommodate either in terms of space, but I’m sort of leaning toward a smaller press to start out on.

I’m located in Maryland, about 30 minutes from Baltimore, so I intend to take advantage of the print studio there to learn more from workshops as well.

Anything else you would recommend just starting out?

Thanks so much,

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Dear Hannah: I think considering a C&P Pilot as a press to get started with would be a better choice. It is a simpler press to learn on, as is a very straight forward that can be up and running and very easy to get familiar with. You can get the same results as you would get with the C&P 10x15 motorized press after you master the basics of letterpress printing. I will say that you could probably get the 10x15 for less than the pilot based on current selling prices today. the reason for this is that a good table top press is easier to transport than the 10x15, if that is a factor in your decision.Good luck in your endeavor, I currently work with presses, a Kelsey 7x11 Star treadle model and two kelsey table top units, a 5X8 and a 6x10. Letterpress printing can be frustating at times, but can be very gratifng is going well . Stick in there. Gerald Jenny, at The Four Dogs Press, now in it’s 71st year.


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Hi Hannah! If you are serious about being able to print longer runs and larger pieces, I’d go with the larger press, or even better, get both! Where in MD are you? I’m in Monkton, and would be happy to show you around a floor model C&P (I have an 8x12) or other presses. In Baltimore, BPS is a great resource and can teach you a lot. I know they have some Pilots but not sure if they have a floor platen besides a Windmill.
You’ll want to weigh the (probably) higher cost of the Pilot vs being able to buy other equipment along with the larger press- do you intend to print from plates, or will you also be collecting and using metal/wood type?
Consider the move- are you willing to pay for movers/rent a trailer and move the big one yourself, or are you more comfortable with the manageability of the Pilot?
Will you want to print a larger size than 7.5x10 or a very dense text/full-page image? Keep in mind the Pilot, while it can print on a 7.5x10 paper, you are more limited in the actual printing area of text and image, where a larger press could give you more options.
If the C&P is motorized but has a bend in the shaft, it could be driven with a treadle instead, this could make it less intimidating if that is an issue.

Good luck!

Not to throw a bucket of water on anyone’s advice here, but there is a reason that they used C&P pilots for beginning pressmen back in the day.

A large motorized press will make your hand look like Wile E. Coyote in certain Road-Runner cartoons if you do something reflexive, like trying to grab a dropped sheet of paper.

I suppose you COULD crush your hand in a Pilot, but you’d have to work really hard at it. For my 2 cents worth, learn the basics with a machine that isn’t likely to cripple you. Larger motorized presses are infinitely more versatile, but a relatively “minor” mistake could end your printing career before it begins.