Looking for Info on Letterpress Brand/Model Options for Small Business

I am a graphic designer who is looking to purchase a letterpress machine for use in creating custom/handmade wedding invitations. I don’t know much about letterpress and hope to take a class soon and purchase some books on the subject.

Wanted to investigate start up costs for the machinery. For runs of around 200 quantity, usually 1-2 colors, but sometimes 4 colors, 90% of the time printing from plates, and not too large of a machine (would like to work out of garage). If there is a machine that fits this criteria that one person can operate alone, then all the better. I don’t know what I want to spend so even one low end option and one high end option (increased speed and efficiency) would be great.

If anyone has any insight or can point me to some good information I would greatly appreciate it.

Many thanks!

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Updated. here is a good place to start for information.


and these links


Good idea to take a class first, you’ll find all the info about the type of press you may want to print on, a Platen Press would be my suggestion.

Fantastic resource site for a beginner! Thank you very much and from the looks of it, a Platen would be a good start for me. I will have to travel to take a class, but might start with some good books and a small press to experiment. Many thanks!

One more thing…. would you use photopolymer plates on a C&P Pilot press? Like the idea of a Vandercook since I would be doing around 200 runs, but looks like those are harder to find and quite a bit more $$$.

I think it likely that you would best use a platen press like a C&P 8x12 or 10x15 or Kluge or Heidelberg Windmill (if you have the bucks). Printing 200 of something with possibly 4 colors on a Pilot or Vandercook would drive me nuts! (Some may say that has already happened)

The rhythm of feeding items to a handfed platen press can be theraputic if you are not in too much of a rush. These presses can be found in corners of many old shops and can be purchased for much less than a Pilot or Vandercook.

I started with a 10x14 foot-treadled platen press, and still use it for some jobs, even though I have more automated equipment. They are great for short-run jobs like invitations and announcements.

John G. Henry
Cedar Creek Press

This probably won’t help but thought I would let you know that I am in your same situation, graphic designer and aspiring printer. I just purchased a small tabletop press for about $150 plus it came with about 6 or 7 full fonts. It is such a simple press that just cleaning and configuring it has taught me a ton already. I am going to start printing this weekend and am sure that this endeavor will teach me a lot too. So the moral is that you can always start small for a minimal investment then trade up.

Let me know how it goes with the new press. I am thinking it best to buy something small and inexpensive to play around on and then trade up. If you like the model you are using, let me know what it is. Good luck and thanks!

Well, did not get a chance to print this weekend but spent Sunday at the Hamilton Wood Type Factory in Two Rivers, WI, www.woodtype.org . Wow what a place. Anyways, I have a Kelsey Excelsior 3x5. Probably too small for most people but I just want to play around with it. If I were you I would look for a Kelsey Excelsior 5x8 or a C&P Pilot. I will keep you updated on the learning process.

As a letterpress man that has been around it since the late 50’s early 60’s. The best place to start is reading and understanding the basic layout of letterpress printing. Start with a short run card job. Set a line or two of type and lock it up in the chase. Print a few cards, adjust the inking so that you learn that it only takes a small amount of ink to print the card, adjust the press the type on card. You will soon learn that it doesn’t take a lot of pressure. Start slow and learn as you go. Thinks will work out if you ask what happen if you can tell us what you did.

For those who want to start from the basics with a very simple and basic guide, I encourage you to spend $10 (plus postage) for a very well done reproduction of the original Kelsey Printer’s Guide - the book that launched a thousand print shops - no kidding. While I personally prefer Ralph Polk’s The Practice of Printing, for an overall background in letterpress as it was taught from 1900-1970, that one is hard to find and can be pricey. However, the guy who sells his reprints on ebay has done an excellent job of reproducing the out-of-print Kelsey Printer’s guide in a far more readable format - 8x12x11. It’s clean and clear and sharp and far more usable than that charming little original Kelsey Printer’s Guide which so many of us read in our youth. Just search for “Kelsey Printers Guide” on eBay and you will find his store and the reprint. I endorse it for all who are starting in letterpress - particularly with any of the Kelsey or simiar table top presses.

see also: http://ExcelsiorPress.org/kelsey.html for links and info which I hope you find helpful.

- Alan


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