National Stationery Show Tips for Newcomers

Less than two weeks and counting until the Big Apple hosts the National Stationery Show in the heart of midtown Manhattan. If you’re new to the show (either as an exhibitor or first time attendee), you’re in for a treat: the show hosts the latest and greatest in stationery & letterpress goods. Today we’re sharing some helpful tips & hints direct from NSS veterans themselves. If you have a tip you’d like to share, join in on the conversation and post it in our comments section!

Rachael Hetzel – Pistachio Press

My tip is to remember that something will go wrong. Only you know what your plan is for the booth and for new product. Everyone else will love what you’ve done and once you’ve started meeting with buyers, you’ll forget that you were upset about not having enough time to finish that specific task.

Also, remember that everyone else is stressed out, too. The camaraderie and friendships that are formed from this shared experience are really wonderful and unique to our business!

(photograph courtesy of Oh So Beautiful Paper)

Shelley Barandes – Albertine Press

Don’t underestimate the value of comfortable flooring (and shoes). Standing on concrete for five days straight can do a number on your body.

Allison Chapman – Igloo Letterpress

Pack water and snacks to keep in your booth.  You don’t want to be ‘hangry’ while helping customers!

There is a lot of pressure and stress as you prep for the show.  Be sure to treat yourself (and your booth neighbors) kindly.

Kevin and Carly Nelson – Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress

Our best advice to a new exhibitor is to find a reliable shipping company. In the weeks leading up to the show, several shippers will contact you and ask to give you a quote. Last year, we made the mistake of going with one of these random shippers because they seemed professional and had a good rate. Unfortunately, our shipment was partially lost en route, our booth walls were damaged, and the company threatened to sue when we demanded a discount. I recommend asking other exhibitors who they have shipped with. Go with a referral over a company you don’t know.

Heather Wiese-Alexander – Bell’INVITO Stationers

Of course, your business card speaks volumes about your business, to this crowd especially. Have more cards than you think you will need. If your “nicer” cards are expensively produced, bring a back-up of something inexpensive to pass out to the masses.

Second, I always visit the supply side first. There are so many great resources there, and the crowds tend to move into that area last.

Brad Woods – Maginating

1. On my first show, I forgot to create order forms with carbonless copies. It didn’t even occur to me that I’d have to have a copy of the order for myself and give one to the buyer as well. Most people probably already thought of this since it’s common sense but I’d never placed an order before – the NSS was, quite literally, my first selling experience! (if you need a reference for an order sheet, email me and I’ll share our version with you).

2. Another suggestion is to try to avoid using the FedEx at the Javits. They charge a fortune! There are a gazillion copy shops in NYC that charge regular rates, do great work, and turn stuff out really fast.

3. This suggestion is almost too late, but there’s still time to cobble something together. Make sure you have either a line sheet or a catalog. If this is your first show, don’t produce too many, 250 at the most. The worst problem you could have is to run out, but you can always make something inexpensive that can be reproduced at one of those inexpensive Manhattan copy shops while you’re at the show.

(Photograph courtesy of Oh So Beautiful Paper)

4. Put up a “Reps Wanted” sign at your booth but don’t have it hang out into the aisle. You may think you don’t want reps, but really – you do. I wouldn’t survive without my reps!

5. In fact, don’t create any signs that hang out into the aisle. Freeman will make you remove it.

6. On Saturday night, Freeman will lay down the aisle carpeting. If their carpet doesn’t come up to the edge of your floor tile, carpet, whatever – go to the Freeman service center (usually close to the LOUIE display) and put in a request to have a little piece of carpet put in to cover the cement floor. Make sure, however, you ask them really, really nicely. They’re happy to help but really appreciate your gratitude.

7. They don’t run the air conditioners during setup time. It can be really hot in the Javits, so dress accordingly.

8. There’s a secret place to buy food at the back of the Javits during setup time. I can’t remember the name of the place but it’s where all the teamsters buy their grub. It’s not fancy but it’s good food (and a lot less expensive than the food at the front of the convention center in those fake subway cars).

9. Since NSS doesn’t begin until Sunday, try to visit the ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) in the lower hall on Saturday. Your NSS badge will get you in for free and it’s amazing!

10. There’s this amazing Halal (Muslim equivalent of “kosher”) food cart at the intersection of 53rd and 6th. GO THERE! At one point, the Michelin food guide rated it one of the top 10 restaurants in NYC. There will be a very long line (maybe 50 – 75 people) but it moves very quickly (like, 10 minutes, tops). For $7 you will get a very, very tasty dish. Note: don’t get it to go – grab a seat and enjoy it there. You will find huge bottles of “white sauce” on the side of their cart for you to soak your dish in. It’s amazing!

11. If you’re coming in from an airport, either JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark and you’re on a budget, book a Super Shuttle bus in advance, online. It’s cheap, especially if you book a return trip. You have to, however, tell them in advance how many pieces of luggage you’re bringing with you. If you go over two, you might have to pay an extra fee (or tip generously). You can also take their shuttle bus. This is really inexpensive and will drop you off in the city. You’ll probably want to get off at Grand Central Station but it’s obviously going to depend on where your hotel is located. Don’t worry about it – grab a cab for the trip from Grand Central to your hotel – it’s probably going to be under $10 and totally worth it.

12. Get some padded flooring or cushy carpet for your booth. Your feet will thank you a thousand times over!

13. Make sure you take time to walk the show. I usually walk it on Saturday, late afternoon, or Wednesday morning.

14. Eat! Make sure you have a good breakfast and eat lunch! There will be people handing out menus for sushi and the like. See if your booth neighbor wants to join forces and order some take out. It’s usually pretty tasty and they deliver to your booth.

15. Make sure you have inventory in advance of the NSS. Don’t create too much product for your first show – maybe 250 pieces (max) of each, but if you don’t you’re going to be printing (as Lionel Ritchie says) all-night-long…

16. And lastly… it’s going to be difficult, but try to not compare yourself to those around you. Each company is going to experience (and benefit) from the NSS in their own unique way. Making sales isn’t the only goal at this show. Contacts, exposure, experience, conversations that might not lead to something right away, building relationships, blog exposure, media exposure, making friends, experiencing NYC, etc. – there are a lot of other ways that NSS will benefit you! Oh – and just because one company is having a “mad rush of sales” in the 1300 aisle on Sunday morning (and you’re not) doesn’t mean anything. There will be ebbs and flows in a variety of different areas within the show. What’s happening in one area isn’t necessarily what’s going on in the rest of the building. If you love what you’re doing people (and buyers) will be drawn to it. The card business is a more than $5 billion industry. There’s plenty of room for us little guys on those store shelves!

16.5. …come by the Maginating booth (2062) to say hi! Or email us at maginating@hotmail.com – we remember when it was our first show and are happy to help you in any way we can.

If you have a tip for NSS that you’d like to share, join in on the conversation and post it in our comments section!

Taking the Plunge Into Letterpress

Curious about what it takes to make the transition from letterpress printing as a hobby to a career? We chatted with some inspiring printers who have made the leap from hobby printing to either full or part time printing. For some, the plunge was just natural; it came to them the first time they ran the press, for others, the story is a serendipitous chance of events. We gathered some of letterpress’s best to give their testaments to the alluring power of printing. Read their stirring stories and then we’d love to hear in the comments section about what it was that made you want to take the full plunge into the world of letterpress!

Cara Matocha – Im-press-ive Letterpress

To be perfectly honest, when I first got into letterpress, it was on a whim. I am a graphic designer and have owned a boutique design firm since 2003. Chris (my husband) is a project manager at a software company. We both thrive on creativity which leaves us short on time and too many expensive hobbies.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

In 2010 I planned a family trip to Santa Cruz for the week. Other than going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium we made no other plans for our trip. On the way to the airport we were brainstorming ideas for a new business that Chris could do on the side; something creative that he could make his own and be profitable at the same time (as a way to balance these expensive hobbies). I threw out the idea of letterpressing. A friend of mine had recently purchased a table-top press and I was very interested in the process. Chris instantly loved the idea, so we hashed out the details over the course of our Santa Cruz trip and upon our return we began searching for a table-top press.

We ended up purchasing a C&P Pilot Press in July of 2010. The press arrived refurbished in November of that year. We knew very little about printing, but Chris tirelessly researched the ins and outs of printing so it took him no time at all to realize we needed to contact Boxcar for a base among other things.

By February of the following year we had our website up and were getting letterpress inquiries. It only took us 2 or three jobs to realize that we loved the process AND we needed a bigger press!

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

We came in contact with a wonderful man in Oklahoma who sold us our C&P 8×12 old-style press in August of 2011. Little did we know we would be making the trip two more times to pick up a Heidelberg Windmill 10×15 and eventually a 14.5×22 C&P!

Once we had 2-3 jobs under our belt we were hooked, but I will admit we were VERY nervous each time a new job came in. There was a big learning curve to printing beautifully: from packing, to platemaking, inking as well as learning the quirks of each press. It was a bit daunting, but we knew we had to continue taking on the work so we could become more comfortable with the process. Our part-time shop grew very quickly, at times it was too busy! I learned to dial back the marketing slightly so that we could maintain a comfortable stream of business. Chris and I enjoy our day jobs, so we are happy with our part-time status. Do we hope to go full-time in the future? Absolutely, but for the time being we are happy with things as they are.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

Danielle Bliss – Wishbone Letterpress

We started Wishbone Letterpress because I lost my job, and was unable to find a decent paying job. I had been commuting to NYC from the Hudson Valley, and we didn’t want to move to the city, and I was exhausted from commuting for 5 years.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

My husband still has a full-time job, and he helps me at night and on weekends. But I started Wishbone Letterpress full-time right from the beginning. I was laid off from my job doing design and animation for a national morning television show. We were taking letterpress classes and researching business development while I was still working, but hadn’t planned on starting a letterpress business so soon. Local jobs were scarce so we figured it would be best to start our own business. After the first class that we took at the Center for Book Arts we fell in love with the process, so it was an easy decision.

Sharon Braun Hutton – Letterpress of Tulsa

I think letterpress found me more than I went looking for it. I had learned some of the most complex motion graphic programs with a career in Los Angeles working at Geffen Records and then developing the DVD for MGM assembling over 5000 DVD’s including the James Bond collection but I missed something. I’m what I call a “designosaur” a graphic artist from pre-1985 before the Mac was introduced – someone who used T-squares, triangles and wax machines. I missed using my hands and having skills that everyone with a computer didn’t think they could do. I missed the days when most people didn’t know what Helvetica meant. Being part of the letterpress community now I feel like a true craftsman again. Every time I pull out my pica pole or tweezers that I’ve owned for 25 years, I get a sense of accomplishment and nostalgia that hitting the print button on the keyboard couldn’t do.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

David Armstrong – Sevanti Press

There are two major aspects of a business: producing goods, and selling them. In the context of letterpress, producing is the fun part―printing is why we got involved in the first place. Actually turning what we have made into a living can be an entirely different matter. One danger is to minimize the importance of this second aspect of business: ‘When they see my beautiful work, it will sell!’, or ‘I can sell online―the world is my market!’ However, the world―and especially the internet―is a noisy place, and it is hard to be noticed at all, let alone make an impact.

One of the top marketing minds in the world, Terry O’Reilly, recently pointed out that some of the most successful brands have become that way by focusing, not on what they sell, but why they are in business. And in letterpress―where anyone with a computer can order a plate and crank out thousands of great-looking impressions―the “why” is vital. Ask yourself “why do I print?”, “What makes what I do different from everyone else?”

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

In the case of Sevanti Letterpress, our “why” grew out of an already-established business: vintage fountain pens. My wife, Michele, had purchased a fairly expensive greeting card for a friend with her usual care and thoughtfulness. But when it came time to write the message, she was disgusted to see the ink from her favorite fountain pen (a Parker “51”, which writes with a relatively dry line) bleed through the paper, ruining it.  The ensuing conversation, edited for family viewing, went something like: ‘If only there could be a line of high-quality, classically-designed cards, guaranteed to be fountain pen-friendly. Wait a minute! If you want something done right, do it yourself!’ And a major part of our “why” was born.

The other facet of our “why” stems from our love of classic typography and design. No funky angled printing, multiple colors, or 1950s clip art here! All of our printing is done with movable type, and with original cuts; white space rules. Every card has an enclosure explaining the origin of the graphic and, whenever possible, the location it can be found in century-old specimen books. While this limits us to some extent, it also appeals to an enduring, and literally ancient, aesthetic. And it marks us as different.

Once you have a “why”, trumpet it everywhere. In your logo, on your website, in your email signature line, on the back of everything you print. Having that “why” will make you stand out, and will also be a constant reminder of what makes you different, and better, than everyone else. And in a noisy world, that will go a long way towards being noticed.

Of course, this all takes time to accomplish. Many years ago an experienced entrepreneurial friend of mine told me that, when starting a business, “don’t expect to make any money for at least two years. And even then you will be working like a dog, but at least you won’t be broke.” So don’t quit your day job.

It may be tempting to lease out the shop space of your dreams, surround yourself with type cases and presses, and revel in the printing life. But remember, dream shops like you see in online photo galleries have taken lifetimes to build up, and at great cost. If you can sell what you print out of your living room―or in our case, off the dining room table―then do it. If you go into debt to start up, then you don’t really own the business, your bank does. If you expand when you can afford it, and only as much as is safe, then the result will be a stable and established business, wholly owned and controlled by you.

Printing doesn’t require a huge infrastructure, and if you keep your eyes open you might pick up equipment for a song. Shortly after finding our press, I struck up a conversation with a “living history” exhibitor at a local museum. “You should talk to our registrar,” he enthusiastically stated. “The basement of one of our buildings is full of donated printing gear we can’t use, because it is out of our date range!” Several sweaty afternoons later, and after a donation of some nice writing boxes and implements that were in the appropriate date range, we had a small printing shop full of type, furniture, and the paraphernalia needed to print anything our hearts desired. So ask around. Attend the local wayzgooze. Make friends with printers. You never know with whom you can trade equitable favors. The details of what you print, and how and to whom you sell, will vary depending on your location, your market, and your circumstances. But the founding principles―the “why,” and the financing― are what will make a big difference between a zealous hobbyist and a lasting professional.

Sarah Almond – Shed Letterpress

I still distinctly remember the night after my first letterpress class at the Center for Book Arts in New York City. I met my husband for drinks nearby and declared, “Oh man, I’ve finally found the thing that I want to do!” It really was like a light had been turned on in my life, and everything was suddenly illuminated. I loved the meditative process of setting type, as well as the historical anecdotes our instructor, Barbara Henry, told as we worked. The smell and patina of the lead on my fingers reminded me of days spent in my grandfather’s shop as a child, and the presses…well, the presses completely fascinated me. What I loved best, though, was the sense of accomplishment that I felt after pulling a print—the instant gratification of it, combined with the knowledge that every impression was slightly different. I felt humbled and elated by the process.

Sarah Almond of Shed Letterpress with one of her presses

I think I knew, even at that early moment, that I would end up as a printer. I was lucky enough to land an apprenticeship in the garment district at a commercial shop, where I quickly learned the difference between futzing around with type and making sure that stationery for Versace and the New York City Ballet looked its absolute best. What surprised me, though, was that I loved all of it. For me, the art was in the process, not the end result. It didn’t matter if I was printing for myself or the fanciest society soiree; when I was printing, I was happy. Almost immediately I started thinking of how to make letterpress my full time job.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

There were many schemes that were tried and discarded, including working as an under-the-table Windmill pressman at a large commercial print shop on the docks in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The press was in terrible shape and most of my work consisted of die-cutting and numbering, which I hated. Through these piecemeal jobs, I was learning that what I wanted to do was all of it. I wanted to design beautiful things and print them, too. Maybe it’s because I learned on a Windmill, a more traditionally commercial press, but it never occurred to me to just get a C&P and make some stuff in my spare time. I went from working for someone else to dreaming of my own Windmill, and my own press.

My husband and I began to toss around potential names. We had already planned to leave NYC, but hadn’t yet set a date. I scoured Briar Press looking for a Windmill to call my own, but everything was still very hazy and dreamy at this point, an idea but not an actualized one.

On our first wedding anniversary, all of that changed. I’d decided on the name Shed Letterpress for my business about a month before, and my husband surprised me with my very own letterpressed business cards as my paper gift. He had designed them and had them printed by my former mentor, Tim Chapman of Press New York. For whatever reason, the cards made everything very real. I bought a Windmill in Pennsylvania within the month and, since there was no place to put it in our third floor walkup, we picked up speed with the move out of the city. I quit my job and, four months later, we found ourselves in North Carolina and Shed Letterpress was born.

The original Shed was hastily picked more for its convenience than its appeal. It was a flex space in a storage facility that one of my clients described as “kind of sketchy.” For the first year back in NC, I printed when I could while working other odd jobs and getting settled in my new city, but I knew that I had to find a better spot.

The decision to go full-time with Shed Letterpress was really just a matter of finding the right space. Once I found my current studio, in the heart of downtown Durham with a wall of windows, I knew that I owed it to myself to give Shed Letterpress everything I had. It was actually scarier, to me, not  to go ahead and do it! My husband, as always, was incredibly supportive of my venture and agreed to float me for a while until I had things figured out. In hindsight, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and am still having “duh” moments every day, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. Ultimately, what made the decision easy for me was the unwavering support of family, friends, and letterpress colleagues that I’ve met along the way. Knowing that there was always someone on the other end of the phone, or even just asking the same question as me in a Briar Press post, made me feel less alone and more able to take on the crazy responsibility of becoming a small business owner. I’m three years in now, and going strong!

Amy Rau – Green Girl Press

I was looking for a creative outlet to provide an escape after my corporate workday. Initially, I had been searching for a calligraphy class – something I could practice at home without designating a ton of space. But alas, calligraphy was not being offered that session so I enrolled in another class – Intro to Typography, a beginners letterpress course. Our first project was to sort a bunch of type into a California Job case. I was instantly smitten.

I knew really early on that I would be growing a business out of my passion for letterpress. The story goes: within 10 minutes of my first letterpress class at the Genesee Center for Arts and Education, I had fallen in love. By the end of the second class, I was dreaming if quitting my day job. 6 months later, I did. For me, the excitement is in the creation. I knew I would have to sell my work in order to pay for more creation. And I was OK with that because I was producing far more than I could ever keep!

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

As with every successful letterpress project, start from the end and work backwards. Make a business plan. Ask yourself, where do you want to end up? Then list out the steps you need to take in order to achieve your goal. It doesn’t have to be a super detailed, even just a short list outlining your goals and expectations can be really helpful. Defining what you want your business to become is the best way to manifest your goal. And as a bonus, you sound smart and confident when you talk to people about your new business because you’ve taken the time to establish a foundation.

Misako Rothery

My transition from hobby printer to full-time printer happened about two years ago but it was about ten years in the making. I took my first printing classes as an undergraduate student, continued dabbling throughout graduate school, and then took my first letterpress printing course at The Center for Book Arts (NYC) in 2010.

Letterpress printing examples by Misako Rothery

I knew I wanted to do letterpress full-time when I realized two things: how happy doing it made me feel, and how happy a custom piece of stationery made my clients feel. Taking the plunge, for me, involved an uncomfortable balance of desire and uncertainty, but it was a willingness to challenge myself that ultimately set me in motion.  Having studied environmental design, then landscape architecture, I used that formal education to develop my first projects. I still try to incorporate artwork involving architectural elevations or place mapping whenever appropriate.  And of course, as a print maker, the precision skills do come in handy.

For what it’s worth, I think that when transitioning into anything new, it’s helpful to see everything you’ve done as building blocks for your future.

Patrick Masterson

In my case, clarification came in an unambiguous and unwelcome form—I was laid off from my job in February 2009 as the economy was tanking. I had been running a small letterpress shop for a design firm in Birmingham, Alabama whose main clients were a large regional bank and various real estate developments. Not the best clients to have at that time.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

Had I not been laid off from my job, I’m not sure if I would have ever gone out on my own. Health insurance and a steady, decent paycheck are difficult things to turn one’s back on. Fortunately (or unfortunately), all I know how to do is run a letterpress so it made the next step undeniable. I looked for the cheapest space available, which was a dingy storefront that needed a ton of work but only cost $350 a month. I spent six weeks making it into a habitable printshop and had $6000 to my name at the end of it. I figured I could last 3 or 4 months without earning a dime, longer if I slept on the printshop floor. Business came slowly at first but I made enough to get by and keep the doors open. Word of mouth does wonders. I am now entering into my fifth year of business and am grateful every day for my good fortune.

Taylor Valliant – Noteworthy Paper

I am a true believer of serendipity; I think things happen for a reason, that if you’re listening, your life’s work is calling out to you like a soul mate. Print work has been following me around for most of my life. As a child I would regularly skip school so I could go to art school with my mom, who was attending the Museum of Fine Art school in Boston and later received a Masters in Printmaking from Tufts. Her studio was my happy place… I was always enamored by the smell of print: fresh sawdust in the wood shop where plywood became relief, the earthy smell of ink mixed and spread, turpentine in the air everywhere.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

(photograph courtesy of Green Door Photography)

I went off to college for creative writing and back again for graphic design. And after struggling to find my place in the graphic arts world, I worked for a newspaper and a great little magazine called MaryJanesFarm, where I was exposed daily to the cast iron trappings of a bygone era. During that time, I got engaged and discovered letterpress printing. I hand illustrated my wedding invitations and had them printed in Provo, Utah by Bryce at Bjorn Press, who was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge, spending what seemed like hours on the phone discussing the ins and out of my project and the art of letterpress. He said if you are going to get into letterpress you’ve got to get a Vandercook Proof Press and something about if you could find a number 4, you’d be set. I loved, loved, loved the way my illustrations looked (and felt) pressed into that soft cotton paper… so I followed his advice posthaste. I found one on ebay for what now seams like a steal in “perfect working order”. It arrived from Baltimore on a freight train in a huge crate. I plugged her in, inked her up, turned her on, and with paper in the grippers I rolled the cylinder over some type I’d found… and wala! … nothing! (or at least, nothing to write home about). Well, there were a few things going on there…first and foremost, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and there were in fact several parts missing or broken (so much for perfect). That’s when I found Fritz at NA Graphics. Through phone conversations and emailed photos, Fritz was able to diagnose and treat my ailing press (he is a true hero of letterpress… and there are many more out there that if I mentioned them all here this would be a hundred pages).

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

(photography courtesy of Green Door Photography)

A month or two later, I printed my first set of wedding invitations for some friends. It was bliss: in my garage, radio blaring, dancing a little as I rolled the cylinder back and forth getting into a rhythm. I look at those invitations now and I see a lot of “mistakes” (you know the regular suspects; too much ink, too much impression, rollers in need of replacement etc.) but I also see a girl who was driven to figure something out by a passion that she could at that point just barely taste, but she knew it was good. From that first job, I knew I wanted to print full time, but there were things that had to be done first, like learn everything I possibly could about letterpress, get as much experience as I could, start a family and begin raising two small children to name a few.

By 2007, totally over the ever changing climate in my garage I was ready for a change. I attended the National Stationery Show in New York as an artist with my youngest child strapped to my chest. Needless to say I was in awe of and I’ll admit pretty intimidated (still am!)  by what  I saw there and decided I wanted to bring all that glorious paper and design to Missoula, Montana in the form of a brick and mortar store.

Literally the day after returning from NY, I ran into Amy, then just a casual acquaintance, at a local restaurant, where we decided to open a store together. The store would bring together beautiful handmade cards and stationery from around the country while featuring my Vandercook #4 proof press as part of the retail environment. Our customers could watch while we printed anything from greeting cards to wedding invitations right there on the sales floor or through the large picture windows that looks into our tiny pressroom from the arcade of our historic building. That was five years ago this June. In that five years we have had to put a lot of focus on the retail end of our business, but in the meantime we have been building up our letterpress forces in our 1,000+ square foot basement. Amy and I are a great design team; she’s the people person and I tend to communicate better with large machinery… and she fully supports my 1,000 lb habit. The basement studio now houses a beautiful hand painted peerless gem guillotine paper cutter, 2 C&P,s and our newest edition, a Heidelberg Windmill. And this May, after five years of attending NSS as buyers, we will be exhibiting for the first time as a part of the Ladies of Letterpress booth (booth #2374-80!).

Taylor Medlin – Crosshatch Printing Co.

Crosshatch Printing Co. was formally started up in 2012 as a collaboration between myself and my mom in Raleigh, North Carolina, but I first got into letterpress out in San Francisco, California in 2009.  As a birthday present for a close friend I tracked down an old Kelsey 5×8 platen press in Los Angeles and hid it in the trunk of my car for the next couple months.  I’m an architect by training who fancies himself a graphic designer and had no idea that the cast iron weight in the back of my Honda would become a mild obsession for the next four years. After catching the letterpress bug I moved to Philadelphia and eventually found a C&P Pilot in Washington, DC and started working out of a small studio on the third floor of a rented apartment.  My first paid job was a series of business cards for a photographer in town, and since then I’ve worked on a variety of wedding invites, greeting cards, Christmas ornaments and others.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

After a cup of coffee one of the first things I do every morning is to get on the classified section of Briar Press and see if there is any old equipment that needs rescuing. I was lucky enough to find a C&P 10×15 in my hometown of Raleigh, NC a couple of years later and with the help of family, friends, and forum searching moved it into the family garage. Fast forward a couple more years and a job change, and I was back in Raleigh and looking to get the press up and running.  With all of the equipment finally in one place, my partner and I thought it was time to finally move from hobby to a part-time business and Crosshatch Printing Co. was born.  We currently share a studio/shop space with The Raleigh Architecture and Construction Companies in an old tire shop and have been continuing to work and collaborate with clients and artists in the area.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

For others wanting to get into the letterpress business, I recommend spending time finding people you respect to work with and taking on jobs that you’ve never tried before. Every job presents its own challenges, and even a routine run can turn into hours of troubleshooting, head scratching, and pacing.  Keep patient, phone a friend, search the forums and remember that each challenge is a lesson learned for the next job. We’ve made a habit of constant experimentation in our studio and use new jobs as a way to test out techniques and different mediums. We’ve been lucky to work with talented individuals that trust us and get most of our inspiration from healthy communication during all aspects of the project.

Fritz Swanson – Manchester Press

My mother was the village librarian in Parma, Michigan, where I grew up, and I was always surrounded by books. There was a book, a history of the village called CRACKER HILL CRUMBS and I remember my mother telling me that the Friends of the Library owned the plates from which the book had been printed. They were, stereotyped plates (or perhaps photo engraved cuts) taken from forms built up out of linotype slugs. I didn’t know the exact name for those things when I was a little boy, but I do know that one of my earliest memories of the library was thinking about how this thin little volume existed, somewhere, in the form of 196 metal plates on galleys in Brooklyn, Michigan at the Exponent Press. So that was always there, the idea that books were made, that metal and pressure and gears were involved.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printingBoxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

I did not get into the whole thing as part of any clear plan. I just couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by printing and by how books are made. I gave different people different explanations for why I had bought the press, but really, it was just something that I had to do. I didn’t tell lots of people about it at first, and when we had friends over for dinner one night I invited them down to see the press. My friend Ben, who I had known by then for 7 years looked at the press and then turned around and offered me his hand. “Hi,” he said to me, with a look of amazement, “I don’t believe we’ve ever met before.” That’s how I felt, too. Like, when I bought the press, I was meeting myself for the first time.

My wife and I immediately decided we need to professionalize. We couldn’t exactly believe we had just spent $1200 plus travel on an antique print shop. In 2005, letterpress was still very new as a product. That’s a weird, but true, description. The industry had collapsed by 1993, and in the early 2000s letterpress was as dead as it ever was going to get. There were craft printers in major urban centers, and some shops who still had letterpress equipment, but Martha Stewart (ie the Broad Public) was only just re-discovering the form.

When we set up Manchester Press in 2005, I remember that our Google Ads regularly appeared on the first page of search results for “letterpress”. The broad public was just starting to think about letterpress as a luxury printing option. We figured out how to get plates made at Owosso Graphic (just north of us!), we made some sample wedding invitation designs, got a few clients, and did some jobs. We quickly made back the money on the press.

But by 2006, letterpress shops just started sprouting everywhere. And I realized that I had a day job teaching, a night job writing, and neither my wife nor I had any real design training. I wasn’t always happy with my presswork, and I just knew that we weren’t going to be able to compete with the really great shops that designers were setting up on their own. Boxcar Press, and its amazing products, figured heavily in my decision to pull back from full-time press work. I didn’t want to make an inferior product.

We went from almost full-time down to hobby pretty quickly. I was obsessed as ever with the press, and with learning about type and design, but after the short burst of business we did, I didn’t feel any pressure to justify having a press. I wanted to learn, and to get good at it.

So, I spent time after work on floor 2a East of the University of Michigan Graduate Library where the letterpress printing books are shelved. And I started reading. I read everything I could from Joseph Moxon to Ralph Polk and his textbook. At the same time, my friend Jason Polan was building a career as an artist in New York, and we started developing projects to do together on the press.

When the opportunity came up to drive down and profile Theo Rehak at the Dale Guild, I just did it. I wrangled a grant, drove all day, slept on Jason’s couch, spent a day in New Jersey with a recording device, and wrote for a month. That long essay, “The Last Man for the Job”, wasn’t something I had to develop or think through. It was exactly what I had to say at that moment.

That’s what the press is for me now. I try not to compete with what every one else is doing. I just try to add the thing I can add. I’m not a printer who writes. I am a writer who prints. I like to think that even if I am never a great printer, I’m a pretty good chronicler of the movement because I understand it with a level of detail most other writers wouldn’t have the inclination to acquire.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

I try to only do things that I am compelled to do. I try not to do things I feel like I SHOULD do, or that would be GOOD for me, or my career. I try to focus on things I MUST do. Obviously everyone has to eat. I try to diversify my income, I try to follow a lot of threads and see where things take me, I try to keep my options open. But mostly I am stubborn and I want things the way I want them. There was a printing press shaped hole in my life. I filled it. I did what I felt compelled to do.

Amy Arndt Lesniewicz – Alice-Louise Press

Ultimately it came down to the fact that there were not enough hours in the day to have another job on top of trying to run a business and get orders out promptly. It got to the point after 6 years that if I didn’t take the plunge or figure out a way for there to be an eight day week, it was going to start hurting working relationships that I have built up over the years. I definitely had enough work to support the choice to quit my other job, and although it was scary not knowing if the good success would continue, it gave me the time to make sure that it did. One of the biggest recommendations I have for people is to grow slowly and avoid excessive overhead whenever possible.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

If you’ve got a story about your transition from hobby printer to career pressman, please tell us about it in the comments section below!

Think Ink

For this roundtable discussion, we invited a handful of talented letterpress printers to let us in on their best (and some quite startling) inking techniques to share with you. As always, we hope to hear you dish about the inking secrets that make your press runs smooth, so be sure to add your advice in the comments section below!

Sarah Almond – Shed Letterpress

As a largely commercial shop, a lot of our printing caters to the whims of whichever talented, awesome designer we’re currently working with. I’d be remiss if I said I hadn’t noticed some trends in design, though, that are very specifically related to proper inking and getting the most out of the press.

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As requests for floods and knockouts have become more popular, I’ve had to adjust the way that I think about the inking process. In my work as an apprentice, I spent the majority of my time printing wedding invitations and focusing on type clarity and sharpness. Knockouts and floods present a different sort of challenge, however, since one is simultaneously trying to get great coverage and pull a clear, tight print.

The first step for me is to add the rider roller to my Heidelberg 10×15. Though the roller is traditionally used to prevent ghosting (and is spectacularly good at doing so), I’ve tinkered with it enough to discover that it’s also a great way to get a little more ink on the rollers. What is key with the rider roller is to adjust its pressure against the other two—you really want it to just lay against them. Once I’ve tightened down the screws, I run the press, uninked, a couple of times through to make sure that it’s spinning freely but not too loose.

Another step I’ve stumbled upon is to add a little bit of tack reducer to the ink to make sure it is being distributed evenly and smoothly (I use Van Son 2162). Once I’ve mixed my Pantone, I add just a bit so that the ink is slightly less tacky than usual (side note: this isn’t always the best idea for darker colors, but I frequently warn clients that a dark flood will more than likely not be even). I then ink the distributor roller towards the back of the press with tiny dots of color, building up slowly until I feel that I’ve reached the maximum amount that the rollers will hold. Visually, I can usually tell when I’ve gone too far; the rollers will take on a “glazed” appearance, and then it’s time to wash the press down and start over.

It’s rare to get a great flood from one impression alone. Frequently I have to skip feed the press to get the consistency that I like. This can present a problem, however, as double feeding darkens the Pantone. When I know that I’m going to need to run something through the press twice, I will add a bit of transparent white to the mixed ink in an effort to maintain the color. I’ve also found that, when skip feeding, it’s better to err on the side of underinking and then build up very, very slowly.

Last but not least, I’ve found that the lighter Pantones with large amounts of transparent white can take on an almost mealy effect. The color tends to tighten up towards the end of a short run, but it can be frustrating to wait it out. A great way to prevent this, which I learned from Tim Chapman at Press New York, is to add a small percentage of plain white ink in the place of the transparent white. I never use more than, say, 20% of the total amount (for example, if the mix is five parts transparent white to one part black, I’ll use one part white, four parts transparent white, and one part black), and I haven’t noticed that it affects the appearance of the Pantone.SarahAlmond_IMG3

All this being said, however, the real key is to just play around with your press until you find a way that works best for you, and communicate the limitations of the press to your clients. I always like to let designers know that a letterpress flood isn’t going to look like an offset flood, and it’s helpful to have some examples around the shop so that they know what to expect. I’ve attached a couple of my own here.

Ben Sargent

Of the elements of making ready for a letterpress job–gauge, impression, inking–that pesky inking is generally the only one that requires the printer’s attention all through the press run. While gauge and impression can ideally be adjusted, set and then left alone, the ink is being used up a little bit with every impression, so the pressman needs to keep a bright lookout to make sure the ink appears on the page with proper and consistent density and color.

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The right ink is a good place to start, and in our shop we have always depended on good old rubber-based ink, which is easy to work with, consistent in color and consistency, and comes in Pantone colors which make custom color mixing a relative breeze.
To ink up the press (and we’re talking here about a 108-year-old C&P job press; certainly many people have presses with more sophisticated inking systems), always start light and work up to the right amount of ink (even though it might wind up being a lot!) . A good smear the width of your ink knife across the ink table is a good start. And if you go too far, of course, there are high-tech ways of taking ink off the table, such as carefully letting the rollers run over a sheet of newsprint draped across the ink table (followed by five or six impressions to even up the remaining ink.)

As in just about every element of the printer’s work, patience can be your best friend, and ink management is no exception. As you run the job, check the ink impression frequently, and have the patience  to add ink as often as necessary, even if it’s after only a few impressions. Occasionally, as well, the inking characteristics of a job may demand “skip-feeding,” or taking an impression only on every other rotation of the press. This may be required particularly with a form that has both broad areas of heavy inking and other elements that are more delicate, or it may be necessary with a form that has a bleed onto the tympan sheet, where you will want both hands to remove the printed piece without smearing. Again, sometimes patient printing takes time.

Adding ink initially, of course, is best done without the form in the press, but in mid-run it is certainly possible to add ink without stopping the press (removing the chase can potentially make  minuscule changes in the gauge), if done carefully. Put just a small dab on the top right corner of the ink table (being alert, of course, to keeping the ink knife away from the rollers), and smear it leftward around the edge in as thin a film as possible. Let the ink even out for seven or eight impressions, and you’re ready to continue feeding.

The other essential element in inking, of course, is the proper care and feeding of rollers. Good composition rollers should give you a long life of reliable service, but they do need replacing every once in a while (see what your supplier or fellow printers think in terms of how often). Never leave rollers on the ink table, of course, and if they’re off the press, they should ideally be stored vertically, somewhere where they won’t be unduly affected by temperature extremes or ultraviolet light.

Many inking problems may be traced to roller height on the press, up to and including those dramatic moments when part of a form just disappears, even though the type or plates are still clearly making an impression. Different presses have different systems for adjusting roller height, but a type-high roller gauge is an excellent investment for being sure the rollers are properly just kissing the form, and for making adjustments if they’re not.

Keeping consistent inking through a job can sometimes be a time-consuming exercise, but having the impression look just right in strength and color is well worth it! Hope these ideas help!

Matt Robinson – Studio Four Three

While I believe ink (both mixing and application) is  incredibly important when it comes to letterpress (or any print media for that matter), I think the discussion of ink should begin with a discussion of color.

As I am sure a majority of the Boxcar Press community is aware, color is very important, but depending on who you ask, the individual’s perception of color can vary from one person to the next, which makes mixing “green” or “red” ink a sort of an arbitrary guessing game if you don’t have a good reference to go off of.  There are several factors that determine our perception of color: gender, the cones and rods in our eyes, ambient/natural, or artificial light, a person’s age, surrounding objects, and even the time of day can all change the way we see colors. Knowing there are so many variables that can and will change the way we perceive color, it becomes imperative to have a standardized way of calibrating the correct color.

One of the biggest issues I run into with clients (and in the grand scheme of life, it’s by no means is it truly an issue) is trying to explain how the color they are viewing on their desktop printer or their computer monitor might not be the same color I’m using in the design and seeing on my computer.  All of those previously-mentioned variables now come into play in a practical way, and it helps streamline my job if I ask the client to mail me a fabric swatch, a paint chip, or pick out their color using on of my ever-so-trusty Pantone swatch books.

I rely on my Pantone books to help myself and our client pick out the correct color, which essentially removes the ambiguity of what they see and perceive on their computer monitor.  Once the color swatches have been picked out, the designs have been approved, and Boxcar has produced the photopolymer plates we use to press, the next step is to mix the inks.

Mixing inks was initially an intimidating task but is made fairly easy by my trusty scale, Pantone formula guide, and a few different putty knives.  While most printers I know have their “proprietary secrets” that they won’t divulge to anyone, a little trick that was taught to me by a friend (a fellow printer) is to mix inks on a piece of glass that’s elevated by some rubber sticky pads.  Underneath the glass, simply slide a piece of the paper you will be printing on and use that paper to help gauge the color as you’re mixing.  My favorite ink is Van Son Rubber, which is generally transparent so the color of the paper changes the perception of the color of ink when its applied.

Learning the hard way, when applying ink to the ink plate, start with a little and work your way up…its easier to add ink than it is to clean the press and start over.  If there is heavy inking on the plate, its always possible to adjust the rail height by adding rail tape or painter’s tape (I use a combination of both of them) to elevate the trucks, which move the rollers off of the artwork just enough to reduce the amount of ink that’s applied each pass.

Bridget Elmer – The Southern Letterpress

At The Southern Letterpress, we are big fans of the rainbow roll. Printing a multi-color gradient can be particularly challenging when you’re aiming for a consistent edition and printing on a press with an oscillating roller. My first rainbow roll edition was for my own wedding invitations, which my husband and I co-designed in the spirit of vintage, handset Lucha Libre posters.

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Once our complicated lock-up was ready to be printed, we quickly discovered that it was difficult to maintain consistency with the rainbow roll and that the colors quickly began to blend and become increasingly muddy at the center of the rollers as we printed. Hmmm…

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Let the troubleshooting begin!

We did some research on Briar Press and the Ladies of Letterpress forum, both of which offer incredibly helpful resources and advice from fellow printers. At the time, my studio was located at 7 Ton Letterpress Collective in Asheville, NC, so I picked the brains of my incredibly capable 7 Ton colleagues as well! With all of this shared knowledge in hand, we cleaned the press and started over, following a few simple rules for a more successful and consistent rainbow roll. At Blogxcar’s request, we’re happy to share them with you!

1) Turn off the motor as soon as your ink is sufficiently distributed on the rollers. This minimizes oscillation and blending, which will occur only as you travel down the bed of the press and back. Of course, you’ll need to turn the motor back on when adding ink, but again, switch that motor off as soon as initial distribution is complete.

2) When adding ink, add more of the lighter color in your gradient. Keep adding consistent amounts of ink along the inking roller, but extend the coverage of the lighter color further along the roller.

3) If you’re planning to print with more than two colors, we suggest placing your lightest color in the center of the rollers. If you’re printing three colors, you can easily add only that lightest color to the center of your rollers when re-inking.

4) Don’t be afraid to clean the press in the middle of your edition and begin again with fresh ink. Once the ink begins to get muddy, there is only so much you can do to bring it back to it’s original rainbow glory! It may seem like a pain, but it can save you a lot of frustration in the end.

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After the wedding invitations were in the mail, we just couldn’t get enough of the beautiful gradients that the rainbow roll creates. The experiments continue at my studio in St Petersburg, FL, and at our storefront shop in Northport, AL! Many thanks to Boxcar Press for the invitation to share what we’ve learned at The Southern Letterpress.

Eric Woods – The Firecracker Press

Some inking tips [are]: VanSon Dutch Fireball (PMS 185), straight out of the can, always looks pink unless mixed with another, darker tone. We usually mix in a little black… we call it Firecracker Red. Opaque white, when printed on chipboard, will change color while drying. We print a proof, let it sit for a minute or two, then pull a fresh proof and compare the two. The difference in tone is sometimes very dramatic. We’re still looking for a good white.

When we first started out we had trouble with ink offset as we stacked finished prints. We thought the ink was too wet and devised elaborate drying systems (I think we even tried microwaving each print) with clothes lines all over the studio. It was time consuming. An old-timer pointed out that we were over-inking everything. Ink was getting onto the shoulder of our type or woodcut, collecting as a microscopic halo around everything, and transferring onto the printed sheet. When we stacked the prints, after running them through the press, the ink halo was offsetting on the back of the previous print. Messy and unprofessional and not the fault of the ink after all!

Ke Francis – Hoopsnake Press & Flying Horse Press

One of the interesting things about Boxcar Press is the variety of artists and printers who use their services. I would assume that each of these clients has a different perception of the “correct application of ink to matrix” depending on their demands. Generally speaking, the aim of most printers is to consistently duplicate an image in multiple. If a machine, even a simple machine, is used in the process then cleanliness, neatness, and attention to detail are part of the successful mindset. There are printing and inking benchmarks for the industry and a conservative approach to inking is a must with sophisticated presses. We probably all agree on this point and maybe we will agree on the following characteristics of ink:

The first thing to remember about ink is that it does not respect your shop’s “Immigration Policy”. It will migrate at will. The minute you pull the tape from the top of the can it is on it’s mischievous way. If you enter the print shop with a nice sports jacket, stand in the middle of the room, and don’t touch anything, in about four minutes it will be on your jacket.

If you place the correct amount of ink (you think it is the correct amount) on your platen or distribution rollers and let it run for a while to “even-out” and then pull a proof you will often discover there is too much ink on your rollers. How did the extra ink get there? The same way it got on your sports jacket.

Ink, if left to it’s own devices, will turn a civil gathering of the medium into a riotous mob that will “black the eyes of your Es’ and turn your pristine type into “sloppy rag-a-muffins”. Over-inking a complex press means that the machine has to be shut down and ink cleaned off to get a fresh start. This is the case even with Vandercooks and platen presses and especially true of vacuum fed machines like the Klugy and the Red Ball. So the lesson to be learned about inking these presses is to apply the ink to the distribution system very slowly until the correct amount is reached.

Do everything you can to thwart ink’s natural inclination to gather, preach revolution, and cause problems. If you do not have anal retentive tendencies (lots of printers do and that is of great benefit) then you need to button the top button on your shirt,.put on your cleanest apron, put a clean rag in your back pocket, and get out your loupe. If Nurse Rachet from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is in the alley taking a break and a smoke then invite her in, give her some of those head-banded magnifiers and sit her down next to you to help keep the ink under control. Promise her anything (booze, counseling, cigarettes, snuff, Red Bull, etc.) to look carefully at the proofs while you slowly add ink until the type is crisp and black. Then print away until the type starts to lighten and then add a little ink. If there are artists in the room (including your alter ego) then this is a good time to chide and cajole them and point out how little they really know or understand. This will help your attitude immensely. Quote Michel Focault or some other contemporary French critic…One little quote will do…or better yet quote a few stanzas of Emily Dickinson to show them that you are REALLY sensitive, but also capable of doing the REAL work while they must live their little desperate lives with only their concepts for support…I promise this will help keep the ink under control [laughs].

 

We know you must have a really good inking tip or two that you can share, so tell yours in the comments section below! We’d love to hear how you get your print runs to go smoothly!

Letterpress That Changes the World

With tidings of good cheer and peace on earth to all men in full swing, we thought it’d be fitting to celebrate the holiday season with a tribute to the remarkable letterpress pieces of truly talented & dedicated printers giving back to their communities. We gathered some of letterpress’s finest for this installment of our  roundtable series. Check out the uplifting responses this immensely talented group has to offer and find out how they’re changing the world, one card at a time. Be sure to tell us about your own charitable projects in the comments section below!

Kathryn Hunter – Blackbird Press

The notebooks: Madeline Ellis of Mimosa by m.e., a local jewelry maker, in town (Baton Rouge, LA) and I started a conversation about collaborating on a project together. So after conversations we decided to do something focusing on our US states, a handmade notebook and necklace. We started right before Hurricane Sandy, but we also knew from living in many hurricane seasons in Louisiana (and felt the impact) that the “state” sets had potential to help with relief whenever the people of a state are affected by some sort of hardship. We started with the states Louisiana and New York (because I was going to exhibit at an Indie craft market in Rochester). As soon as Hurricane Sandy made landfall we agreed to make a New Jersey set as well. At that point when the New York & New Jersey sets were ready to sell we decided to give 50% of the sales to Hurricane Sandy relief. So far we’ve donated to the Red Cross and to the Humane Society to help with recovery (we are both big animal lovers too).

The community reaction so far has been good. Most people are amazed that we are giving anything to charity which is so strange to me. But I think it makes people feel good when they spend money on things that help in some way.

We’ve also had a month long sale in the past to help Tsunami relief in Japan, where we gave 50% of sales. We’ve also given a percentage to the Natures Conservatory or other groups that help restore the Louisiana coast from the sale of our last three limited edition calendars.

Basically, it’s my intention to always give back. And letterpress is such an amazing way to do that. With the history of manifestos to Constitutions, letterpress printing has spread the word of progress and restoration. Honestly, I haven’t had the time to do more projects like this (hustling to keep this small business growing keeps me busier than ever) but we try wherever we can. I’m excited about the “state” notebook/necklace sets because I think they will be able to help when places need it.

Jennifer Parsons – Tiny Pine Press

I got involved with the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2008 when I designed their first Gala invitation. I had worked with Mariska Hargitay (founder and president) in the past on her custom stationery orders, so they reached out to me to see if I would be involved. It was a very simple invitation which was printed digitally because of the quantity and scope, but I was honored to help such an amazing group get the annual fundraising started. It was obvious from the get go that the Tiny Pine Press aesthetic really meshed perfectly with JHF. I quickly became friends with everyone who worked at the foundation. I went to the first Gala and was incredibly touched by their message and vision for helping heal, educate, and empower.

Jen Parsons Joyful Heart

Joyful Heart particularly spoke to me and my own personal healing as a survivor of abuse. One of the things that JHF focuses on in its programming is art therapy: working with your hands to express yourself. They put a lot of emphasis on the healing effects of being creative and putting things on paper. Journalling and collage help the mind relax and in a way focus on self healing. When I learned about this, I realized that printing and graphic design does this for me. Once I am focused on the press, I am able to feel free–which is the ultimate goal.

As I got more and more involved with Joyful Heart, I noticed they focused very much on gratitude. And what way to express gratitude but through the old fashioned mail. So as a gift for the 3rd annual gala, I designed the gratitude cards (it’s my handwriting!) and printed them up on my Chandler & Price 10×15 press. Loving every one. Then I glued rhinestones, as a nod to the sparkle of life in each of us and the element of fun and silliness. After the response from the gala, I decided to produce them in bulk and donate all of the proceeds to Joyful Heart. It was the least I could do after they helped me so much in my healing.

In life it is important that even though things are tough and overwhelming sometimes, we have to keep breathing. This is another message that Joyful Heart has given me that I wanted to give to everyone else. So a couple of years later, I decided to create the “inhale peace, exhale joy” cards, and we put them on Etsy with all the proceeds benefiting the foundation as well.

Overall, the response to the Joyful Heart cards has been great. Sometimes people buy them for themselves and some give them as gifts. Either way, I am happiest when lots are selling so I can keep making more. It makes me feel really great to give back in a way that comes easy to me.

Another special project that I’ve worked on was creating one-of-a-kind pieces for a Japanese letterpress project to benefit orphans of the tsunami n Japan last year called Letterpress of Pray by Bluemoon Letterpress. For this one, I was in a stamp store and so inspired by beautiful vintage Japanese postage stamps that I created a letterpress piece around that. I wrote in my handwriting my prayer for the japanese orphans, and I put a Japanese stamp and an American vintage stamp in “to:” and “from:” boxes. I made twenty of these and shipped them off to Japan with hopes that someone would value this little piece of art enough to help a worthy cause.

Maggie Cambell – Campbell Raw Press

I’ve wanted to build giving back into our business for at least the last year. When I heard Harold talk about the way Boxcar & Smock have made this into part of their business, I felt like I had found a model and wanted to do the same, sooner rather than later. I think making beautiful stationery is as noble as any other pursuit you love, but I also wanted to give something to folks who were doing the hard work in the world, making life better for whoever they could.

Maggie Campbell Autograph

There are a couple of areas that appealed to me right off the bat. I knew I wanted to do something with women and children who needed more than they had or were in bad situations. I found Safe Horizon through Charity Navigator and we support them now with 5% of the sales from our Autograph Cards. They assist victims of domestic violence and child abuse and have offices in many of the NYC courthouses, so they’re very present and accessible.

Maggie Cambell Over Through Woods
Maggie Campbell Joy

We also had a dear friend from high school, Josh Casteel, who died this past August of stage 4 adenocarcinoma lung cancer almost certainly because of his military service in Afghanistan, tending burn pits, after he became a conscientious objector. 5% of the sales from our new holiday cards (Over the River & Joy to the World) go to Iraq Veterans Against the War in his honor.

Maggie Campbell Calendar

Finally this year, my mother in-law was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, which has been a pretty terrible way to put all of our priorities front and center. $15 from the sale of each 2013 cyanotype + letterpress calendar and $5 from the sale of each Book of Days perpetual calendar go to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, which funds research to prevent and cure Alzheimer’s.

We’ve gotten incredible feedback about all of these donation initiatives. My mother in-law is extremely proud of our contribution to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and that organization actually interviewed me recently and will feature our calendars in their upcoming newsletter! Also, customers who come up to my table at craft fairs and who buy my cards online are excited to find out that they’re doing a little something extra good with their purchase. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I’m excited to write some substantial checks to all 3 of these organizations at the end of this year!

 Shauna Rue – Purple Ink Press

Shauna Rue Purple Ink Press

I had the Boston card available for sale in my etsy shop, so when I heard about Owen Carrignan, I knew the card was a perfect fit. Owen was a 6-year-old boy from my town who passed away from complications related to a sudden E. coli infection. The Owen E. Carrignan Sports Scholarship Fund was established to keep alive his love & spirit, and to celebrate his love of Boston sports; 100% of the proceeds from the Boston card are donated to the fund in his memory. To hear that a young boy died so suddenly was heartbreaking, but I was shocked to learn that he was actually my cousin’s wife’s nephew–although I had never met him.  Selling a card in his honor was the very least I could do.

Shauna Rue

The card has been very popular, despite only being available on Etsy.  I look forward to selling it at next year’s fundraisers, which will certainly generate more sales.

In terms of other projects: just last week I sold an assortment of letterpress cards at Kai’s Holiday Village, a fundraiser that was held in memory of a local 2-year-old boy who recently lost his battle with an inoperable brain tumor. 100% of the sales went to support Kai’s Village, a newly founded, (truly!) grassroots group that provides support to families affected by a serious illness.  Kai’s mother, Kerri, expressed an interest in creating a line of stationery that can help support some of the organizations that were invaluable to her son during his fight, so I look forward to making that a reality for her in 2013.

Additionally, I will be adding a donations section to my wedding suite offerings (sometime in early 2013): when couples give a designated amount to a registered charity, I will print coordinating reception cards, coasters, etc. for free.

I love what I do.  And when I can help others in the process, it makes my amazing job even better.  Sometimes I feel like one card sale isn’t going to help much, but then I remind myself that following is worth remembering: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margret Mead)

Tess Darrow & Kara Yanagawa – Egg Press

We have donated to organizations large and small, all to organizations that we believe in. We teach an elective class on letterpress and screen-printing to one of our local schools, the Metropolitan Learning Center. The class had fun learning about business, technique, and art while having fun with hands-on training and talks of the printing industry. Cards sold at a sale in March, 2012 went to benefit the MLC.

Egg Press Mercy Corps
We have proudly printed pieces for American Foundation for Equal Rights, Tie The Knot, Mercy Corps, Operation Hope and Rock and Roll Camp for Girls. Last December, Egg Press was able to donate their time and printing expertise while partnering with Mercy Corps on their holiday card. A piece that supported the Mercy Corps vision of worldwide education, providing communities with emergency response, conflict management, micro lending, and more.

Egg Press Breast Cancer

In addition we have donated countless gift baskets for fundraisers to benefit public schools and local organizations. Last year, Tess designed a “good luck with your boobs” card to send to friends with upcoming mammograms or those dealing with breast cancer. A percentage of each card sold is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Tia Blassingame – Primrose Press

Tia Blassingame Blues Print

I approached musician and composer Dave Eggar of Deoro, whom I had met during an artist residency at MacDowell Colony, about collaborating on a project. I really wanted to work on a piece about blues music, which I adore and constantly have playing in the studio. He was amenable to such a piece. He was on tour and I was in graduate school at the time, so we tried to conceive of a collaboration that would work despite our schedules and distance. I felt it would be interesting for people to hear a musician verbalize the significance of blues music, particularly a musician that is not specifically a blues musician.  The idea that this music would affect musicians across genre seemed intriguing to me. I particularly liked this idea of an artist expressing themselves in a manner outside their discipline. In this case, we have a musician writing a poetic piece about blues music.

From its inception, Primrose Press has had a charitable aspect to it. A portion of all sales are donated. Over the years, Primrose has donated to local organizations like the Connecticut Food Bank, as well as international charities like HelpAge. Dave and I talked about donating the sales proceeds to a music-related non-profit organization. He provided invaluable input regarding organizations that were not only reputable, but whose mission we might wish to support. The Blues Foundation with their Hart Fund (Handy Artists Relief Trust) just seemed like the perfect organization for the project. As a lover of blues music, it always bothered me that those talented blues men and women are too often forgotten as they age. In the scheme of things and in relation to the joy that their music has given me, it is a tiny thing to print these cards and donate the proceeds.

This piece [, the Blues Letterpress Note Card,] involved an extended print day of playing around with metal typefaces, ink, and sending probably too many photos and text messages to my collaborator. The text that Dave wrote was so beautiful. I always enjoy setting type for poetry. Usually it is my own poems that I am setting, editing, and obsessively re-editing, so it was a pleasure to pick a subtle typeface and set his writing.

I mixed up a blue ink, printed a background layer, and then realized that I wanted to build up the background with multiple colors before printing the text. Knowing that I had a limited time on the press, but not wanting to short change the piece. I figured the best way to do this without losing time cleaning the press, and re-inking was to add and mix colors on the press. Obvious for most seasoned printers, but at that time I was a bit of a purist wanting a clean press between color changes. So the piece started from one blue, and then builds into several that are all within the same family with just the addition of blues and blacks. During the print run as I was texting photos of lock-ups and pieces in the drying rack, Dave announced that he had just been nominated for the Grammy. So after my “Shut up!” text had been sent to him, I nervously locked up the final layer of the piece: his text.

People have reacted amazingly to the piece. It was a limited edition piece, and is almost sold out. I printed some additional small postcard size prints on variety of blue-colored Crane’s papers, and those are still available at the Print Center in Philadelphia.

I recently discovered Black & Missing Foundation, Inc. This is an organization run by two woman in D.C. that helps publicize the plight of missing African American children and adults. Basically, they give a voice to invisible people whose stories are not featured in the media. A percentage of purchases made during the month of December from Primrose Press’ Etsy shop is donated to Black & Missing. I look forward to offering additional collaborative limited edition prints that will benefit ailing musicians.

Tia Blassingame Al Mutanabbi

Other charitable projects: [I am a part of] the Al-Mutanabbi project. It has several parts, and the first was letterpress broadsides. The current one features artists’ books. It involves letterpress printers/bookmakers from across the globe. I created a print (handset letterpress & etching) for the broadside portion; and am finishing up my artists’ book (letterpress). The project was inspired by the bombing of the bookselling street in Baghdad. The broadsides have been exhibited internationally, and soon the artists’ books will be, too. The artists’ books will also become part of the permanent collection at the National Library of Bagdad.

Jennifer Larkin – The Paper Peony

Jen Larkin

I’ve been designing and printing wedding stationery and invitations since 2002.  In 2006 I began taking letterpress classes in the evening at Columbia College here in Chicago.  I, like many, became smitten.  I enjoyed the time intensive task of pulling each card, by color, off the Vandercook. Inspecting every lovely unique print. For over a year I rented time through the college printing custom cards and stationery. In 2007 I opened The Paper Peony on Etsy.

Excitingly in late 2007, with the help of Briar Press, I acquired a sturdy well kept Chandler & Price Pilot press from Milwaukee. For $1,000 I considered it a gift, and luckily my supportive husband Shaun agreed.  It came with ink, cotton paper, 2 drawers of metal type, tympan and more…we were able to carry the 250 pound press to the basement to the sweet little studio my husband built for me. In 2009 we began searching for a larger press. By October ‘Gretchen’ was delivered in the rain to our garage from KY at 7am.  An 1,100 pound Vandercook #4 that needed tons of care.

A few years later I released the lettersass™ card line including sassy sayings, petit cards and simplicity with rounded corners and stripes.  The cards bring some humor to life milestones like marriage, having a baby, birthdays, graduations and more.

In 2011, I found out my lovely college roommate Jenny was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had no risk factors, she did everything right. Her cancer had been forming for a while, and was only going to get worse. It was an easy and an instant decision to create a lettersass card that would spotlight breast cancer.  Most importantly, because I could donate a part of the profits to help find a cure. I’ve had amazing feedback locally – especially from sisters of cancer survivors and the ones still fighting. One of the things Jenny most wants women to know is how ESSENTIAL it is to have mammograms, as SOON as possible. Her cancer would never have been felt. A mammogram is the only way she would ever have found out.

If you’ve got photos online of your letterpress work that is for a great cause and you’d like to share them, please include a link in your comment!

The Letterpress Roundtable VI: Letterpressing the Issue

With the 2012 election just a week away, we thought it’d be fitting to poll some of the printers we admire to see how they’re using letterpress to inspire political change. The results are in, and they’re poignant, humorous, intelligent and – above all – stimulating. We gathered some of letterpress’s best for the sixth installment of our letterpress roundtable discussion in an effort to light the way for what is yet to come. Read the stirring responses this group has to offer and be sure to tell us about your own projects in the comments section below!

Sarah Meyer Walsh & Erin Miller – Haute Papier

We love our political coasters – which represent both sides of the current political culture – because they are fun and flashy.  No matter where any one person falls in the political divide, it’s important to vote and that was our focus with the political coasters!  Plus, we think they’d be a ton of fun for an Election Night Party. And we just can’t call ourselves proud Washingtonians without getting a great product to market that represents our area’s past-time – national politics!

BONNIE THOMPSON NORMAN – THE WINDOWPANE PRESS

My artist’s books often relate to political content and encourage change. I have been creating them collaboratively in weekend workshops that I teach for beginning letterpress printers. The classes are taught in my home studio through the University of Washington Experimental College. The books are conceived, designed and directed by me with the participation of whoever shows up for the workshop that weekend, so there is often a surprise element in the content and direction of that content. At the end of the two-day workshop, each participant gets five copies of a finished book which has been produced in at least two, if not more, colors/press runs.

Pictured above is my “Homeland Security” artist’s book, and the project below is ”A Primer for Democracy”. The primer’s main theme, VOTE, is repeated and reinforced: CALL and/or FAX your elected representative, often, because your voice – and everyone’s voice – matters. Essentially, this alphabet book [printed on a 10 x 15 Chandler & Price] can be constructed, reconstructed and deconstructed in countless ways. Like democracy, as a completed structure, “A Primer for Democracy” is a little bit wobbly and requires care in constructing and maintaining.

EMIKO WATANABE AND KOICHI SATO - BIG BANG FUN SNAPS

Our first project, “PARTY PEOPLE IN THE HOUSE: Who will it be? Presidential Election 2012” is a set of 11 coasters, bearing the faces of American politicians. We thought it would be interesting to capture the facial expressions of these desperate politicians during this US presidential election, and create a coaster set which could appeal not only to those who are interested in politics, but also to those who couldn’t care less one way or the other…or better yet, to people who hate politics, but can find humor in it. Our intention is to make people think and talk about serious issues with a little humor, or even just to look at them.

The expression, “PARTY PEOPLE IN THE HOUSE” obviously stands for the political parties and the White House. (It is also intended to portray these characters as party people, who you may invite to a house party…and that they would be “in ‘da house!”.. which has been borrowed from street slang, but is cleaned up a bit in spelling). This product is not to be taken too seriously about political opinions, but with irony and humor. When you open the box, all the party people come out and sit with you while you drink! You can make a toast to your favorite politician, or make a stain on your least favorite one.

Each original illustration was hand-drawn and printed on a vintage letterpress (Adana 8×5), then edge painted by hand.

PATRICK CRUZAN

As far as my own work in letterpress, I use it almost entirely to support my photographic work, which is centered around recording local farming traditions and preserving local history as it is slowly stamped out (from an on-the-ground perspective that is, whilst the City of Portland would call themselves great preservationists…).  There is this idea that in order to move forward as a city and as a county, we have always to be looking ahead and shedding our skin, and what nobody realizes is that the system that accomplishes this on a base level, also runs family off their land and out of houses that they may have had for generations and generations.

My family has been on the same land that I live on since 1863.  Within my lifetime, I expect to see our ability to stay here challenged and quite probably yanked from under our feet.  Most immediately, my passion is to record everything I can about the small community that I live in, stories, images, [letterpress], textures, etc., and further down the road, I’m tinkering with some legislation that I’d like to see passed that would give protection to longstanding farms and encourage them to become centers of family identities. It is my hope to raise social awareness of immigration laws and their immediate effects.

Within all that, printmaking and photography in various forms play a central role.  The ability to capture just about everything but sound and taste is hugely important, as all the work I produce will eventually become key to my argument for protective legislation, as well as a dedicated record of the existence of everything that exists here, should it ever fall away.


KYLE VAN HORN AND KIM BENTLEY – BALTIMORE PRINT STUDIOS

We don’t print shirts.

No really, we just don’t do it. We’re a strictly paper-based shop and we like it that way. But, every 4 years, we arrive at a time that we feel is important enough for us to break this hard and fast rule. So, for the second election in a row, we printed PLEASE VOTE and PLEASE F*CKING VOTE shirts (and this year, totes too). Election posters have a rich history in the world of screen printing and letterpress, but we wanted a more mobile, thought-provoking item and T-shirts fit the bill.


Our message was deliberately simple, nonpartisan, and clear. Just VOTE. And if you REALLY felt strongly about it, “Please F*cking Vote”. By making shirts and totes, we found ourselves reaching an audience in a completely different way. The message became a quick reminder to the public and often, a conversation starter. We support the idea that everyone has their own stance, reasoning, and beliefs that will shape their vote, and that’s great. We have our preferred politicians and so do you. At best, we hope the shirts open a dialogue and encourage everyone to stand for what they believe in, and take it to the polls on November 6th.

Please Vote.

Jill Morrison – Ruff House Art

We here at Ruff House Art are proud to offer an eco-friendly line of letterpress products that push the boundaries of traditional stationery. When we decided to launch our line of political coasters (which are printed on 100% biodegradable paper) we just wanted people to get excited and involved in the upcoming election. It is important to stay knowledgeable & involved, and if our coasters can act as a reminder to vote, a conversation starter or merely a touch of patriotic decor, then we high-five that! Our entire election coaster line is on sale right now, too — 35% off while supplies last!

If you’ve got photos online of your work that stirs the mind and you’d like to share them, please include a link to the photos in your comment! We are taking the inspiration one step further and offering 10% off election-related plate orders retroactively until November 30, 2012.

The Letterpress Roundtable, Part V: Ink in the Blood

For the fifth installment of our letterpress roundtable discussions, we asked some of the printing and designing world’s die-hard denizens to show off their love of all things printing via their tattoo work as well as the stories behind the ink. And trust us, there’s always a good story to be told.  As always, we’d love to hear of your own stories embodied in tattoo-form in the comments section!

Mark Herschede – Haven Press Studio

I decided to get a Fuchs and Lang litho press tattooed on my back as a kind of homage to what is no longer made, and had plans to compliment it with an old style C&P 10X15 eventually; obviously not two at a time. These were by no means my first tattoos, and so I knew what I was getting into and knew what I wanted out of the artist. I found the appropriate engravings and took them to a few tattoo shops and talked to some folks/had consultations, and eventually settled on a fellow named Josh Egnew at 3 Kings who I had worked with before. Firstly, he did such a great job with the Fuchs and Lang that I was excited to bring him the drawing of this C&P; he kinda balked at it at first, as it was even more of a p.i.t.a. than the litho press, but after taking the time to trace it out for a transfer – he seemed happy enough, but a little bit reluctant. It took 2 sessions: one to outline and handle some of the shading, and the other to finish up the shading. By comparison, the litho press took him one session. I’m sure I squirmed a lot more for the C&P.

In the end I know he was very happy with the results, and the work is slightly out of character for him, but it was first rate work and the whip shading he used was top-notch. I can honestly say I will not be very likely to get anything as ornate or difficult to work with as this press, but I feel it is a commitment to what I love to do – and a fitting illustration as homage to this lovely breed of art that, if you are reading this blog, you undoubtably know and love yourself.

Stephanie Laursen – StephanieLaursen.com

When I was about to graduate from CCA (California College of the Arts) with a degree in Graphic Design, I knew I wanted a bit more of a hands-on approach to design in my life than most of my classes had emphasized (I took a lot of letterpress and bookmaking on the side to make up for it). On a whim I applied to the Hatch Show Print internship program for the month after graduation, and I got accepted! Thus, my boyfriend and I relocated to Nashville, Tennessee for 6 weeks.

While at Hatch I got some AMAZING experience playing with type, designing and printing, and learning about the history of letterpress. I knew I had found my calling, and I felt that it was such a milestone experience that I wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate it. I have always loved the Caslon ampersand, and ampersands in general (my cat is even named Ampersand), so when I saw a Caslon ampersand woodblock at Hatch I knew it was the tattoo I wanted. My other tattoos are kind of hidden, so I also knew I wanted it in a place I would see (and others would see) all the time, which is why it’s on my wrist.

I pulled a print of the woodblock, and took that to the tattoo artist to copy. I specifically wanted it to have some woodgrain texture so it would look more like woodtype, and less like digital type. Overall, though getting the tattoo hurt a lot, I absolutely LOVE my tattoo. It is a constant reminder of my passion for history, letterpress, and things that are well crafted and handmade.

Nicole Monforti – Headcase Press

While I was at the Ladies of Letterpress conference this year, I decided to get a type related tattoo as a souvenir. It’s a less obvious version of mind your p’s and q’s. When I look at it, it is a p and q within curly brackets and from the perspective of someone else, it is a b & d.

My part time employee at the shop Bill also has a p’s and q’s themed tattoo. His is much more obvious with the actual moveable type forms tattooed with the wording of “mind your” I’m not entirely sure why he got his, beyond a love for letterpress.

Roberto Hidalgo – Unrob.com

I had the tattoo done just a few months after dropping out of college here in Mexico City. My job back then required me to do a whole lot of print work for the company I used to work. However, being so inexperienced and contact-less after dropping out, I had to try quite a lot of print shops, most of which produced less-than-stellar results.

One thing I never got to learn while in school was color matching and the whole printing process, since most of my education was focused around digital output. It took me a really long time to get the hang of these concepts, trying out an endless list of shops and ruining, I’m sorry to admit, quite a bit of paper in the process. At the time, I chose to have the tattoo done since it was very useful to have this comparison point readily available, almost at my finger tips. Now a days, it’s more of a welcome reminder that learning about anything is more akin to a practicing a craft than carrying out a job.

Mark Cooley – Graphic Designer

I’ve always been a fan of type. The obsession started early, practicing the “Metallica” lettering style over my folders in 5th grade. The natural gravitation from music and art eventually led me (narrowly dodging guitars altogether) to a career in graphic design.

It was only natural when planning for a tattoo to use a ligature as my trade symbol. After a bit of research and  exploration, I found this italic ampersand an allegory of my life: … always looking to what comes next...  Over the years I’ve see a few other ampersand tattoos, but something about the way this one’s shaded and the subtle wrap of the terminals around my forearm have kept it distinctive.

Keegan Meegan – Keegan Meegan and Co.

I have many tattoos large and small, some of them pertain to printing and the rest are Victorian Luddite sentiments. The first and second printing tattoos I got at the same time: an ink brayer and a copy of a “poison” skull from ludlow specimen book. The third is the now famous “apathetic ink knife” of which is a bit cathartic now since some how it proliferated the web a bit after I got it. A friend of a friend drew it (lithoshop) and one of my tattooing friends convinced me to get it. The next one will be a little guy of a windmill……

Do you or someone you know have ink in the blood? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

The Letterpress Roundtable, Part IV: Printing Dilemmas

No one knows Murphy’s Law better than a printer. Rarely does a day in the print shop or studio go by without some hiccup or problem to be solved. And while most problems are a speed bump, there are those doozies that hit us, challenge us, and make us wonder why we ever thought printing should be our career choice. For this next discussion, we asked a handful of printers for their ultimate letterpress disaster stories. The one that can now be looked back on with some humor and possibly even a good lesson learned. So read on, enjoy, and please share your own “oops” moment with all of us. You’ll feel better for sharing.


Mark Olson – Innerer Klang 

My worst letterpress disaster occurred in September 2004. I had just moved my shop from Charlestown, Massachusetts to Asheville, North Carolina in August. The move itself was traumatic enough, but it got done. I had just finished painting the shop, getting everything moved into place, and was ready to go when, on September 7, the remnants of Hurricane Francis moved up from the Gulf and it began to rain, and then it rained some more, and then it continued to rain. My shop is about 100 yards from The French Broad River. The water rose on its banks, and continued to rise until the water made it over the banks and flooded the entire area. The next day I tried to drive to my shop but the road was blocked about 2 miles away. No one was allowed in. The entire area was under water. A week later I could finally make it to my shop. Opening the door there was about 6 inches of muck and water on the floor. Looking at the wall you could see the water line at about 4 feet. Everything in the shop below that line had been submerged in water. The fun was about to begin…

I have a few pictures after the flood and a broadside that I eventually printed titled Flood to “commemorate” the event.  The broadside was a poem by Robert Gibbons (a friend from my years in Boston). He sent me the poem shortly after the flood in my shop.

The photo of my office chair shows some of the muck that was left everywhere. The photo of the chipboard is the one redeeming piece of art from the flood. I had stapled chipboard over each typecase to keep the type in place during my recent move. After the flood I pulled this piece of chipboard off one of the cases and found this impression of the case transfered to the chipboard. The chipboard is framed and hangs on my shop wall.

Richard Kegler – WNY Books Arts Center

In late 2010, I was excited to see a Facebook posting for a show by Carlene Carter at the home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Carlene Carter is the step daughter of Johnny Cash (daughter of June Carter Cash) and ex-wife of Nick Lowe. Kleinhans Music Hall is a modernist/deco building desiged by Eliel and Eero Saarinen. Being a fan of them all, I thought it might be great opportunity to do a poster. The Western New York Book Arts Center had been doing outreach to other cultural organizations to create posters (at no charge) for events as a way of getting our name out in the community and showing off our work, and as a good will gesture to help
other cash strapped cultural organizations who could not budget for a letterpress poster. I had emailed the marketing department at Kleinhans Music Hall but hadn’t heard back. We always try to get permission for
gratis posters (or even better, get hired to do actual paying jobs) but rarely would do a poster without some nod of approval from a promoter or artist. Since I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do yet did not hear back, I figured I would just print it, go over and show them one, they would love it and say “yes, we would love for you to print us a poster.”

The main idea was to use an assortment of oversized wood type that was particularly distressed as overlapping shapes in combination with a stylized guitar fretboard made from the backs of wood type blocks. The fret markers were made by drilling a shallow hole with a cordless drill into the back of a few blocks. The holes would not affect the the printing of the other side, and wood type often has some sorts where an industrious printer needed a letter so the back is hand carved; dilemma averted.

The combination of the homage to Hatch Show Print posters a la Johnny Cash and the Art Deco caption text evoking the Kleinhans Music Hall seemed to be a good fit. I confirmed the info from the Facebook posting and
then went to work to set up the poster in the bed of our Vandercook SP-20. To render the guitar strings, various width of printers rule was set to have a full bleed and printed in metallic silver/blue. After getting about halfway through the first color (chocolate brown), something made me double check the show date. Instead of Facebook, I went to the actual venue website. Sure enough, the Facebook date was wrong. Oh well, glad I checked before the second color went on. So in changing from Saturday to Friday, I discovered there were not enough letters to spell everything out that was needed. In fact there were not enough ‘A’s for the Saturday setting so there is a V in BUFFALO. Friday had to be set in the other color – again, not a major problem, just one that needed a solution. On day two, when the second color was underway, some old acquaintances came by the printshop. They loved the poster but rather shyly pointed out that Kleinhans was spelled wrong. At that point I figured this poster was not meant to be since I never heard back and I decided it would all be put away and never discussed again.

Within a couple of days, I heard back from the people at Kleinhans and they loved the idea of the poster and were looking forward to it. I somewhat reluctantly reset the type, fretboards and the strings and tried to mix the colors…and make sure everything was spelled correctly. In the end, we gave the venue and Carlene Carter copies of the poster and she signed one and sent it to us with a nice note. Lesson hammered home once again — proofreading: not overrated.

Kyle Van Horn – Baltimore Print Studios

This is a story about a press move. These are always stressful, especially when it is a DIY operation. It starts when a woman named Virginia Sheard agrees to give me her C&P 8×12 NS for free. I convince three friends to help me, and we show up on a Sunday afternoon with some tools and box truck.

We were, of course, grossly under-prepared. I don’t recall how exactly we did it, but somehow we picked the press up onto blocks and placed it onto a dolly. After removing the doors from their hinges, and just barely squeezing it past the door frame, Virginia mentioned that “Ah yes, I remember now, it came in in TWO pieces.” Once out the ground-level basement door, it had to go up the hill to street level. We opted for the long way around the house, an uneven hill rather than up the steps.

With two sheets of plywood to roll on, and a lot of unorganized pushing, we finally made it to the truck. Here’s where the story gets interesting. The press was strapped to a very large dolly, upon which it moves quite smoothly. On level ground, one person can move it with little effort. And so logic would then dictate that TWO people could easily keep it steady as the lift gate lifts it up. We all agree and push it onto the lift.  I head up to the cab to turn on the engine of the truck (and the lift hydraulics).

In the amount of time it takes to walk back from the cab, the following has happened: The lift gate has lifted and slanted under the weight. The press shifted, and 2 wheels slid back onto the ground. Top heavy, and past its center of gravity, the press smoothly tipped off of the lift to land squarely on its back on the pavement.

We dropped the press.

One friend (wisely) let go, and the other (stubbornly) held on and was thrown 5′ from the lift. Miraculously he landed in a somersault and somehow jumped to his feet completely unscathed. The only fault of the third friend is that he didn’t take a photo.

Since I’m not insured for any of this, I’m not paying anyone, and I asked them all to help me, I can’t be upset. I calmly unstrap the dolly, winch the press back to vertical on the lift, and into the truck she goes. A handful of broken pieces came off with the fall, none of which are critical to printing mechanics. We move the press “temporarily” to the school where I work “for a few weeks”. It remained there for 3 1/2 years.

Finally this fall, 4 years after dropping her, this press is finally being put back together and into service at Baltimore Print Studios.

Here’s the press, just before she fell:

Macy Chadwick – In Cahoots Press

I was working on a new book edition with a tight deadline of 6 weeks. The images were of maps so I wanted to use an antique map color like orange, rust or ochre. I mixed up an orange and printed the entire press run of all 12 pages, edition of 50, only to decide that the color just wasn’t right and I had to start over. I had to buy the paper twice. The orange pages still sit in a box– I just can’t bear to throw them out!!

Margot Ecke – Smokey Road Press

Three years ago, when I was looking for a house to buy, I knew that I  needed a place that could accommodate my letterpress shop. I found a sweet little mid-century brick house in the sleepy town of Winterville, just outside of Athens, Georgia. It had a lovely little L- shaped yard and a decent sized workshop, which had been used as a  tinkering station for the mechanic who had previously lived in the house. Two birds, one stone. I was excited.

I closed on the house and moved my presses into the backyard shop. I  knew immediately that I had shown a lack of judgement when it came to the studio. Wind whistled through the cracks in the walls, which were
made of pallets and plywood. The cement floor was at such a severe slope (an 11″ discrepancy from wall to wall) that every press had to be shimmed, and the ceiling was too low to stand up completely. There were termites in the walls and the place was never clean. Plus, the previous owner had used the small patch of earth behind the shop as a compost and trash heap and so the ground was soft and full of building debris.

The building clearly had to be torn down and a new one would have to be built. However, with the recent move and the financial strain of starting a new business, I couldn’t afford much. I lured friends and past students over with the promise of beer and pizza and in one afternoon, we tore down the original structure. One wall was so termite ridden and water damaged, that it simply peeled right off.

I was lucky to find a carpenter who would to do the work for about $1500 and a trade (for business cards). Next, I hired an electrician who was willing to do the electrical work in exchange for a lasagna-a-week for six months. That trade also appealed to the guy who painted the workshop’s exterior. (Tip: the lure of lasagna even works for non-home-improvement trading: a haircut for a lasagna and hair coloring for an apple pie! I will add that it definitely helps when the person you are trading with is way too used to eating Ramen Noodles for dinner.)

I purchased windows and doors at Habitat and Southern Surplus (the guy gave me a discount when he turned down my offer of the lasagna trade). Lights were purchased from IKEA. And, of course, I did lots of the work myself: from the design, to the removal of debris, to helping the carpenter and pouring concrete. Pressroom patience paid off when it came time for me to operate the bull float…that floor is super smooth! The compost/trash heap was cleaned up and leveled and I brought in a bunch of white gravel and created raised beds. Enclosed within a tall white picket fence and shaded by the branches of a Chinaberry tree, that space is now one of the loveliest spots in the yard.

The total cost of the project came to about $5,000 and was well worth the price. The irony of this story is that I had only worked in the space for about a year before realizing that it was too small! Smokey Road Press will be moving to a new space in downtown Athens, Georgia in January of 2013.

Michael Schwartz – Czar Press

Way back in the Czar early days…one of my first decent sized projects was to print about 40 new greeting card designs.  Each card was two colors, with a one color envelope.  This was way back when I first started (and we weren’t cool enough to be using photopolymer plates : ) …we were using wood mounted magnesium.  These were new designs that were launching at the National Stationery Show.  As any typical important job goes…we were not given enough time by my customer to reasonably complete the job. We had about 10 days to print the approximate 120 different plates, which consisted of at least 30-40 different ink colors…so we had a lot of set up on our hands.

As the plates arrived, I quickly got started, and then noticed that just about every other plate was ruined.  Turns out…and as luck would have it…that the company we were using at the time for plates switched to a new washout solution, but didn’t have it quite dialed in. So the plates were basically being washed out too much and much of the copy was being washed away.  The real killer was, I could not tell if each particular plate was good until I had it on press.  I’m pretty sure I had an overnite shipment arriving every day with replacement plates to replace the bad ones.  So now we were having to do all new set ups for the replacement plates and reprint about half of the colors….so the job turned into more like 200 plates and 60 colors…in less then 2 weeks.  Kinda of a big deal, considering at the time, the company consisted of just me!  Lots of coffee ensued…

I finished everything, barely.  I like to think that I pretty much learn something new everyday that I’m printing…but I learned a lot on the fly from this disaster.

Mark Herschede -  Haven Press Studio

A while back, a printer friend of mine referred a friend of his customer to me. This was in the difficult first 2 years of being on my own and in business for myself. This customer – let’s call them “Customer B” from here forward – had designed a stationery/identity set for a writer.

While several “red flags” went off at the start of the courting, such as the designer being out of the country, as well as the actual end consumer of the production being in the country, but out of state, and the job was an ultra rush (2-3 days to turn around a 4 piece, 1000 piece per style, 2 color suite? Oh, not to mention multiple paper-stocks+envelope runs? Hand cranked on a Vandercook? And I couldn’t gang them up, because the designer sent pre-cut paper?!?!) WHAT was I thinking.

And even though I hadn’t been sent the paper yet….. I somehow decided that this would be a profitable endeavor and thought it would be okay to do the job. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t just turn it down, but I took the job because I like working under pressure, enjoy a challenge, and thought what the heck – it’s good money. When something is that difficult, but I still know I can accomplish it… I can’t say no! It’s a weakness, this can-do-attitude….

Unfortunately, while I did lay out rush terms and made sure the contracting party did tell me about her vision and collected proper direction/art/supplies, I didn’t have the foresight to request any kind of down-payment; I also failed to ask the designer who would be settling the tab at the end, and didn’t really lay out terms that were clear. It was a rush job! There simply wasn’t time for me to turn around and ask all these things of them. Or so I thought. I guess at this point I was green enough not to really thoroughly vet the ‘business side’ of things, and hadn’t really been taken to the cleaners by a customer yet. Live and learn!

I completed the job to the best of my ability, which is to say it looked and felt great! I was quite satisfied with the results, and hand delivered this boxed set of brand spanking new stationery to the actual end customer – who happened to be in New York City, where I’m based, for a conference. This is why it needed to be rushed! She needed to pass out calling cards and write notes during her stay. She pronounced it to be of a quality that satisfied her expectations and then some, and even complimented me on the work. She went through the sets, fanned the printed matter on a table at her hotel, and I went over the parameters and pointed out all the details, and made sure that she was not only happy with the printing quality, but I went a step further- I spent some time educating her about letterpress printing, ink spread, impression, pointed out the back of the sheets and taught her about the qualities associated with “good” printing versus fine printing, and what she was receiving for her payment. When I left, she was a happy customer and had praised my efforts and seemed very appreciative.

….. But I had still not been paid, and verbal appreciation is NOT currency.

This is where the lesson should be learned folks: Always get paid a deposit worth at least your materials and labor; the other half or portion should be the profit, the fat you are storing for the winter, so that in the case you’re put into trouble you at least retain your investment…..

In this case, I contacted the designer and was given a run around for about a week, at the end of which she informed me that I had turned over “poor quality work” and that her customer was dissatisfied with the results. How would this customer have actually been given the opportunity to look at the results and be as excited as they were, and then turncoat in this way? I was not sure how it worked, and after a lengthy email chain back and forth during which the designer failed to take any responsibility, I realized that SHE had not been paid up front by the customer either, and that we were probably BOTH being taken for a walk – no matter how sweet and appreciative this person was at the time! What a PEST!

Moral of the story is, lay out your terms carefully in a contract looking official invoice format. Do not fudge this or leave wiggle room. Be clear about pricing and commitments/requirements, and ALWAY ALWAYS ALWAYS require a downpayment or a validated form of payment on file, because you never know how it will go at the end of the transaction – even with referrals and friends of friends. Never turn work over, especially hard work – rush work – unless you know you’ll be paid and have been paid a portion up front. It also really helps to know when you’re maybe out-gunned, or when too many red-flags actually do pop up – if you don’t recognize these things, it’ll maybe come back to bite you, referral or not!


We know you must have a disaster story or two that you can share, so tell yours in the comments section below!

The Letterpress Roundtable, Part III: Shop Tool Star

Thomas Carlyle, a satirical Scottish writer, is quoted as saying that Man is a tool-using animal. And what self-respecting print shop or studio isn’t filled with many necessary and important tools? We asked a handful of talented letterpress printers to tell us about the most valuable tool in their print shop, and we got some great answers to share with you (including tips and secrets for geting the most out of these handy tools). As always, we hope to hear about the tool you can’t live without in your shop, so be sure to add your advice in the comments section below!


Mary Mashburn and Steve St. Angelo (Shop Boy) – Typecast Press 

There are so many terrific tools that we’ve been given or purchased while building our business — and letterpress knowledge — that we had to think pretty hard about which is the most useful. Then it hit us at the same instant: Alignmate! (If you don’t have one yet, it’s a thin, see-through, gridded, somewhat-expensive-for-what-it-is and easy-to-lose-in-stacks-of-paper piece of plastic that makes checking the straightness of image to paper so simple, aligning addresses on envelopes such a snap, that you won’t be able to function without it).

But we figured everybody would say that, right? Not that they or we would be wrong. But it got us to thinking about tools at our printshop that have made the almighty Alignmate even better. Mary and Steve — alias Shop Boy — have very different roles at Typecast Press (she the registration, he the repetition) so it should be no surprise that we have a strong difference of opinion here.

Mary went with the loupe. A photographer friend bequeathed to Typecast Press not just any loupe but an adjustable black metal Fuji 4x job that the company had once given away as a promo. It’s overkill. Any loupe will do for magnifying the precision of the Alignmate. By pressing the loupe directly against the Alignmate, Mary can see all the way to straightness heaven. Side to side, centered. Top to bottom, ditto. Stray dots cannot hide. Of course, even without the Alignmate, the loupe is a wonder for looking at ink density (“Get me 30ccs of mag carb, STAT!”) and consistency across the printing area, or for evidence that the rollers are too high or low. And checking those things again. And again. And again.

Steve’s running joke is that Mary looks for reasons to stop the presses; he looks for reasons to keep them going. She insists her tweakiness is the real time saver. Fair enough.

But as his most important tool, Steve votes for those little double-stick foam scrapbooker squares — Uhu is our brand. These dumb little things let you print funky-sized envelopes or pre-cut coasters on the C&P in a hurry, using a Boxcar base and a polymer plate, without the fear of a nicked base and smashed metal gauge pins. Say Mary’s letterpress class from the Maryland Institute College of Art has stopped by for a tutorial on the C&P. They work exclusively on Vandercooks at MICA. About 15 students. Each has a polymer plate the size of a 4-inch round coaster. And we’ve got 90 minutes or so in which to get each kid the experience of creating 25 samples of his or her printed design. No sweat. Pick a dependable spot on the platen. Peel one side of two little squares (it’d be three squares set like gauge pins for a rectangle) and stick them to the tympan, an inch or two apart and angled in just a hair. Tape the impression side of the polymer plate to the coaster and set the coaster between the squares. Press together. Bang. You should be pretty darn close to registered. (“Alignmate!”) The squares pull up and then re-stick for micro-adjustments if necessary. Done. And … next!


Ray Nichols – Lead Graffiti

I didn’t want to go with the obvious, such as one of our two micrometer composing sticks, but I wanted to get outside of the normal a bit. Hmmm. A roller height gauge is critical. Our electronic micrometer for measuring paper thicknesses and wood type height. Our killer old Boston pencil sharpener which puts a seriously long, tapering point to pencils. But overall I would pick Scotch tape. We use it to build up type (and once you get it right you can just leave it on) or woodcuts. We also use it a lot on the mylar on our Vandercooks to build up specific area a bit such as the names on a wedding invitation to give it a bit of extra punch. One small trick that is good if you have enough room around it is to double back one end (not under an area you are printing) so that you can easily grab it to pull it up after printing. We’ll often print right on the mylar, stick a piece of tape to the printed image we want to add impression and then pull it back up so we can see the exact printing area, and then cut the tape out in the right shape. This way you have a nice image to align against. Also we will often use an Xacto knife blade barely stuck to one or both sides to help us get it into position.


Mike Dacey – Repeat Press

After much thought I’d have to say the most valuable tool in my shop right now is my cutter, a Challenge 305 with power back and digital readout. It allows me to order and cut large parent sheets in bulk, which saves a huge amount of time and money. After printing, I can trim down orders with the precision and consistency that my clients demand. The cutter cost more than I paid for any of my presses but I’d buy it again in a heartbeat – I really can’t imagine running my shop without it. I don’t have many secrets for this one, it’s a pretty straightforward piece of equipment. Get some extra knives, keep them sharp, and you’re good to go!


Gerald Lange – Bieler Press

What I have to proffer is not the most valuable tool (in terms of expense) but it is one I rely upon and trust daily, and it has a personal history that I value. It is the lowly roller height setting gauge. I had always admired the long handled gauges used on production platen presses and when a friend of mine offered to make a dead on accurate gauge for me at Jet Propulsion Laboratories, what could I say but yes. They had made a bed plate for me a while before and it was dead on (I think they thought it was going to Mars or something).

Well, he tested the other gauges I had, historic and present, and said that they were not, um, in anyway .918 (he was a bit of a stickler) so off we went, hand-polished to .91800+/-. Somehow we ended up with about four or five dozen of these before he got sick and tired of the hand-polishing thing. I kept a couple and we sold the rest.

At any rate, I like to call it my magic gauge. Everything seems just so right when I use it. And that is just so, so reassuring on press.

Specifications on it are: Gauge is 15-3/8 inches long. Shaft is 5/16 of an inch in diameter. Mirror-polished head is precisely ground to .91800+/-. Head is beveled and measures 3/4 of an inch wide. Weight is 7-1/4 ounces. Knurled tail. Made of 303 high-grade stainless steel. Highly resistant to corrosion. Non magnetic.


Ben Levitz – Studio on Fire

Here are a couple things we use every project, every press:

Digital Thickness Gauge – Don’t guess at your packing. These are critical for knowing what you are placing in the press for packing to quickly and accurately achieve the desired impression. Ours cost about $70 from Amazon.

Depth Ruler – These little $2 rulers have a little sliding clip perfect for comparing the distance from crop to edge of sheet. Perfect for quick comparison side to side and head to tail of sheet to squaring things ups. Crooked printing sucks to correct later on the cutter.


Graham Moss – Incline Press

Back in the day there was a printing supply company in the UK called Cornerstone, and by the 1960s they were the bee’s knees when it came to ordering sundries for serious letterpress work.

They pretty much supplied all the goods you might need, excluding presses and type. They made sets of three narrow rollers with a uniform handle so you could pull two colour proofs with a single line of 10pt type in a second colour; type cabinets with cases that were made of ultra lightweight metal with plastic liners, that ran on nylon rollers and had a safety mechanism so it was impossible to pull the case too far out and drop it; their aluminium furniture was widely used, top quality page cord the like of which we won’t see again, and the make-up galley with a spring lever that told you how many points under or over your page was, another item still in use around here.

But of all their sundries the one I prize most is the type high measuring gauge. The 10 inch square steel base is engineered flat, and connected to one side is a five inch curving arm bringing a dial gauge to a spot over the centre. This has a spring loaded contact point so that a block, be it polymer, zinc, mag, or wood engraving, placed beneath it, gives the exact height, the dial showing .918 centred at zero, and one thou increments up to twenty five thou above or below type high each side of it.

I rely on it, and every block I prepare for printing passes under the gauge before going in the chase. Old blocks, purchased with all sorts of paper packing on the back, can be cleaned and rebuilt, checked and made ready for use with little trouble. Likewise wood type, notoriously various, saving a lot of effort by checking each letter for wear before setting and pulling a first proof. Eventually every piece in the shop will have been corrected through using the gauge, but that will take a while!

My biggest saving was with a book illustrated with ten original wood engravings – all were supposed to be machined to type high by a reputable supplier. One though was twelve thou over, and considering how much work goes into creating one wood engraving, I was delighted not to crush it!


Fred Hagstrom – Carleton College

I recently asked a student how large something was and the reply was “seven and three lines.” So my most essential tool is the ruler, and I am dismayed by the growing number of people–smart, well educated people–that don’t know how to read a ruler. When I do bookbinding with groups I ask them to measure 3/8 of an inch for the spine gap. I have to quickly look around the room. Some will have 3/16, some even 3/4 but they will have 3 somethings. It is not that they are dumb, it is just that they have never made anything before, so there is a huge gap in the physical and mental skills of how things are made. For instance, body mechanics. I can show someone how to cut something, or how to print something, but I can no longer assume a basic physical understanding of how to complete a task. I end up talking about how to stand, how to push down on something etc. That is something I did not have to do years ago. I have found my print tools spread around the building, mangled when used to do something inappropriate like opening a paint can. There is little reverence or appreciation for tools because they are not understood.

Learning these skills is not just a mundane thing. There is an intellectual dimension to knowing how to do things. Too many folks in education see this as devoid of intellectual content. Some highly intelligent people lack the basic ability to complete a task. They would be liberated in an intellectual sense if they had a better understanding of work. And the digital world has only increased this problem. I hope to increase people’s enjoyment of the process, and decrease their fascination with the results-only approach. I had a poor academic preparation, but I had a huge advantage in life experience from doing manual labor. I knew how to learn because I knew how to work.

 


So tell us – what’s the handiest tool in your print shop? Add your comments below!

 

The Letterpress Roundtable, Part II: Letterpress love affairs

For our second letterpress roundtable discussion, we asked some printers we admire to tell us about their favorite press to print on (and don’t spare the details!). The stories are sweet, poetic, and inspiring. Read these responses and then we’d love to hear in the comments about your own love affair with a beloved press.

Todd Thyberg of Angel Bomb Design: My most widely used and favorite press at Angel Bomb is a Heidelberg Windmill which I’ve named Kaiser. I purchased it in 2009 from a printer who had advertised it for sale on Craigslist. I wasn’t on the lookout for a particular press, but I had been using a Chandler and Price for all my printing and wanted to be able to produce higher quantities of printing at a faster pace so I was keeping my eyes open for a good production press. Kaiser is a rock solid workhorse and a marvel of German engineering with an almost Rube Goldbergian sense of complexity. Kaiser had been relatively well taken care of but was filthy and several pounds of oil soaked paper needed to be removed from his innards before being used. His serial number is 104012E, placing his build date at 1954. He bears a badge stating “Made in the U.S. Zone of Germany” which reminds me of the Cold War era where spies lurked in dark corners and the world was a very different place. I use Kaiser to print small and large runs as well as die cut and he is always a hit with open studio events; the chug of the air pump powering the suction is like a siren song to passersby who get drawn in and are amazed at this old equipment that is still being used. Considering that this press was designed around the time of World War II and is still working today creates in me a sense of awe of how things used to be built and joy that I get to use him most every day.


Michael Russem of Kat Ran Press: I’ve recently retired from printing, but the best press I ever ran was my Vandercook Universal IV (SN 21497). It took a sheet measuring 32-7/8 wide by 29-1/2 tall—which was just about large enough for the books I was printing. Not only did it seem to be free of the usual problems that often plague power Vandercooks, but the enormous size of the cylinder and bearers cut down makeready time. Whereas I would spend tons of time making complicated tissue makereadies on my SP-20 and Universal I, there was just no need to do so on this big press. In fact, once I installed this Universal IV, I rarely used the two smaller presses as they weren’t worth the bother. And as the Universal IV was a power press, I was able to print twice as many forms per day without being exhausted and in pain when I crawled into bed. Of course, it took much longer to clean up the Universal IV, so I suppose the press wasn’t perfect. It was close, though. Now it’s with Art Larson at Horton Tank Graphics, and I hope Art finds the press to be as life-improving as I did.


Thomas Leech of Palace of the Governors Press: It was a tough call, but out of loyalty I have to say that my favorite press is my own 8×12 Chandler & Price Old Style that I’ve had since 1979. It’s not the best press I’ve ever run, but it is like a member of my family. The serial number is 26099, which according to the APA website puts its year of manufacture as 1890 – old enough to be my grandfather. It is driven by a leather belt and ancient motor that hums like a lullaby. Its comforting hum and rhythmic clanks put my kids to sleep when it lived below their bedroom.

I’ve owned it now for a quarter of its lifetime. I bought it from a guy who bought it from his brother-in-law, who bought it from a deaf man who printed cards with the American Sign Language alphabet. I still have a photoengraving of the manual hand signs, and printed it again only last year.

On November 23, 2008 the automatic counter, which I’ve never set back to zero, and which only counts to 99,999, turned over for the tenth time, which means that it had printed one million hand-fed impressions: business cards, book covers, birth announcements, wedding invitations, change of address notices, broadsides, poems, keepsakes, memorials, graduation announcements, wedding and baby shower invitations, clothing tags, bar mitzvah invitations, tickets, Christmas cards, Rosh Hashanah cards, art show invitations, book plates, keepsakes, and facsimiles.

While in my possession the press has printed under the names of The Fine Mess Press, the San Miguel Paper Workshop, the Smokebrush Press, and most recently, the Press at the Palace of the Governors. When a major building repair was required here at the Palace the press came back to my house, which felt something like having a grown child move back home. I regret I don’t have a photo to share of this press.


Eileen Madden of Evanston Print and Paper: That’s kind of like asking which of your children you like best. I’d have to say my favorite press to print on is the one I get to print on the least. Our big Vandercook 325 – serial number 6086. It’s my very first press. I bought it in 2007 from Columbia College. That’s where I learned to print, and I never saw anyone use it while it was there. It was mostly used as storage, I’m sorry to say. I guess I’d say it’s my favorite, because it’s the one I do projects of my own on – bigger posters or wood type collages. If I’m on that press it means I’m doing something just because I want to. As nice as it is to print with and for other people, it’s a treat to just play, too. After I acquired the press I found a metal tag on it indicating that it was owned at one time by the Cuneo Press – their press number 1024. The Cuneo Press was one of the large printing companies here in Chicago, and also had a fine book press that created some lovely and amazing work. Bill Anthony, who was a fine bookbinder who came out of the apprentice tradition in Ireland, worked at that press. I love having the connection with that history.

So. That’s my answer. In general I feel luck to be printing on any of our presses. I’m lucky to have this job, but I can say that the 325 is the one I’m the most personally pleased with.


John Barrett of Letterpress Things: The press that’s special to myself and the Barrett’s is B 57516, a new style C & P hand-fed with a Horton variable speed clutch. Manufactured circa 1920, Horace Moses purchased it in 1922 from an envelope company in Springfield, Massachusetts. Mr. Moses, a local philanthropist who founded Junior Achievement, Strathmore Paper Company and numerous other businesses, moved it to a building in Westfield, Massachusetts (formerly owned by the Westfield Whip Co.). There it was installed on the fourth floor as the first printing press owned and operated at Mr. Moses’ newest endeavor: The Old Colony Envelope Company. [The press still carries the original machine tag; a brass plate deep stamped with the number “1”.] It was removed from operations in 1967, about the time my interest in letterpress began to develop. Several years later, for the sum of $50, it was mine. Took it home and therein began my “second” career, Letterpress Services Co. From the beginning my interest was not so much in printing but in perfing, scoring, die cutting and imprinting; a trade service for offset printers, quick copy centers and in-plant printing departments. Old number 1 and me spent many, many hours together cranking out the impressions. Presently, “No. 1’ is semi-retired; eight Heidelberg Windmills carry the work load. But once in a while there’s a job best done by hand. And we step up, wipe the dust off, flip the on switch, coax the hand lever up to engage the clutch. And get goose bumps listening to the clack, clack, clack of the spliced leather belt. B 57516. . . ninety plus years and still pressing the letters.


Mark McMurray of Caliban Press: Well… my favorite press is really my first press, the one I bought with a deep breath, thinking: “in for a penny, in for a pound” after finishing just a week or two of letterpress classes at Red Ozier Press in lower Manhattan in 1985. It’s a 1947 Vandercook model 4T, serial number 10903, which is now tattooed over my heart. It came out of a commercial printer’s shop in New York that I was doing other business with at the time. Although it had been pushed to a corner and was not in use it had been well maintained over the years—which I’ve tried to continue. I remember my horror when suddenly one day one of the inking rollers started to wobble, then shock when I discovered that this was caused by a cracked bushing that was made out of wood (!), then relief to find that I could actually get a replacement (also wood) and fix it myself. (Thank you, Fritz, at NA Graphics).

But my other favorite press (come on, life is too short for only one love) is a R. Hoe Washington. As I recall, Hoe began making these in the early 1830’s when he somewhat unscrupulously appropriated the famous “figure 4” toggle joint from another manufacturer. Most of the Washingtons that I’ve come across have had serial numbers cast on them. Mine does not. Therefore I’m assuming it’s early in their production cycle and I date it somewhere around 1835. I suspect press historians may have some views on this matter. I acquired mine from the late wood engraver Frank C. Eckmair who got it not far from his home in Gilbertsville, New York. A local Northern New York printer, Jim Benvenuto, helped me set it up and adjust the platen height and I’m always surprised at how well it prints, given its age and technology. So there… my two favorite presses.


Brooks Chambers of Mamas Sauce: My main squeeze is an Original Heidelberg. Serial # 49582.
We adopted our Windmill from her original owner a couple of years ago. “Heidi,” as we’ve come to call her, was the workhorse of a family-owned basement print shop in Buffalo from the day she rolled off the line. We found her lovingly entombed with a host of tools, spare parts, and other presses that had been with Heidi since day one. The whole gang came with us to Orlando (no toy gets left behind) and Heidi still sits at the heart of this menagerie. Every time we give a tour, people react to her the same way that I did at our first meeting: they stop, stare, and smile. At that point in the tour, I’ve learned to shut up and get out of the way.

She isn’t the first Windmill I’ve had the pleasure of running, but she’s the best. If I had to put words to it, I’d say she’s delightfully invisible. She’s invisible in the way that every good interpreter ought to be. Other presses often interject, leaving the marks of their own idiosyncrasies throughout the run (even if their operator is the only one who knows). Heidi does exactly what I ask her to. Every. Single. Time. That kind of control gives you the freedom to defer to the artwork for inspiration. That kind of control forces you to become a better printer. Before we got Heidi, I could blame a lot my shortcomings on the press. Not anymore. Now the press gets all the blame for my success. She’s teaching me a lot about knowing when to shut up and get out of the way.


Brad Ewing of Marginal EditionsMy favorite press is the  Vandercook Uni III.  It has an adjustable bed and its rollers are super dialed in!! The serial number is #26318.  It’s currently located on 6th avenue and 29th street in Manhattan.

Leslie Miller from Grenfell Press told me that the press came from Middletown, New York about 20-25 years ago. It was large enough that it was taken apart and brought up to the 7th floor by placing the press on top of the elevator.

I have been printing lead and polymer plates on the press since 2005. I have also printed laser cut plexi, etched copper plates, leather, and even potatoes on this press. The ink splatters that have built up over the years on my Vandercook serve as a happy reminder of many beautiful print projects accumulated.


Is it any surprise that we love our presses? All of these presses have earned our love and loyalty and even a name or two. Now it’s your turn to tell us about the one that grabbed your heart and makes you a better printer. If you’ve got photos online of your press and you’d like to share them, please include a link to the photos in your comment!

Introducing the Letterpress Roundtable: Essential Books about Letterpress

Welcome to the first Letterpress Roundtable Discussion – a new “venue” where we’ll ask a group of letterpress experts for their experienced opinions on a whole range of topics, one question at a time. We’ll ask the question and gather some answers to start things off, but we want all of you to chime in to keep the discussion going. This will be a fun learning exchange as more and more of the extended letterpress community participates, so please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below!

Let’s launch with our first question - What is the one book on printing that everyone should read?


The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

Recommended by: Jenny Wilkson of Wilkson

Why: Not a letterpress manual per se, but it’s still a book that every printer should absorb early on in their career, as most of the information therein applies to hand composition as much as computer typesetting. In one compact paperback, we have a well curated history of type, principles of typographic rhythm, proportion, and hierarchy, and Jenny’s favorite: a fascinating chapter on the geometry of page proportion. The book is beautifully written, but perhaps what makes it most unique and compelling is that Bringhurst draws parallels between typography and music, literature, and the natural world throughout. This book is readily available on line.


Letterpress Printing, A Manual for Modern Fine Press Printers by Paul Maravelas

Recommended by: Casey McGarr of Inky Lips Press

Why: This book speaks to printing on a Vandercook and platen presses, and references printing, makeready, typography, vocabulary, ink, presses, platen, proof presses, and much more. This was the text Casey used in Texas when teaching a letterpress class, and a printer would enjoy this book since it talks about current letterpress practices. Available at Oak Knoll and other online outlets.


Printing Digital Type on the Hand-Operated Flatbed Cylinder Press by Gerald Lange

Recommended by: Casey McGarr of Inky Lips Press

Why: For the practicing graphic designer that wants to print without having typecases full of metal and wood type, this is a must have in the print shop and by the computer (currently out of print- Ebook available soon).


Printing Types: Their History, Forms and Use by Daniel Berkeley Updike

Recommended by: Michael Bixler of The Press and Letterfoundry of Michael & Winifred Bixler 

Why: Bixler calls the two volume set a terrific history of type. He admits it’s a little dry and not everyone will find it interesting, but it’s a #1 must read for anyone interested in type. It was printed in 1922, is very scholarly and worth it for the reproductions of 14th to 18th century type.


Paragraphs on Printing by Bruce Rogers

Recommended by: Scott Vile of the Ascensius Press

Why: Scott’s opinion is both poetic and practical:

To be somewhat glib, the one book on printing that everyone should read is all the books on printing. But if I had to choose one, it would be. Though focused primarily on book design, the amateur with ink in their blood would benefit greatly from the snippets of information on what makes a beautifully printed page. We all have access to an overwhelming number of typefaces, borders, decorations, and patterns. We can, in a day or two, receive a Boxcar plate with our own mental signature of what we believe good design to be, and then print from the plate with bottomless impression. What we desire, as letterpress printers and designers, is a beautifully printed page; this requires much more than a deep impression. It requires study, patience, character, and a careful examination of how design problems were solved in the past. Does the design look as though it were inevitable? That is success in printing.

I cannot state it any better than Rogers:

“Finally, it may be said that the decorative value of a simple page of beautiful type, beautifully printed, is a value quite apart from the esthetic pleasure given us by any other of the graphic arts. So elusive it is that it becomes difficult to analyze or describe; printing in its essential simplicity occupies a compartment all its own amongst the graphic arts. . . . You may be assured, however, that there is no golden road to fine printing. One must continually give his best effort, and only his best, to every piece of work he undertakes. The result will be a lasting thing of beauty—or not—according to his capacity as a workman and his taste as an artist.”


Daniel Keleher of Wild Carrot Letterpress

Recommendation: I cannot name just one book – my printing education came from many different sources. My advice? Seek out basic instructional texts and look for that one little hint that you have not read before.


General Printing: An Illustrated Guide to Letterpress Printing by Cleeton, Pitkin & Cornwell

Recommended by: Peter Kruty of Peter Kruty Editions

Why: Well, here is the book that everyone used at one time or another in their ‘apprenticeship’ to be letterpresser. It was used to teach highshoolers a trade in printing when all was hot metal. I was tickled to see that it is back in print and available from Amazon for $24.95 in a smart new yellow hardcover. No other book is going to show you the right way to tie a form for galley storage using kite string. My only concern is that every other contributor to this blog will recommend this book too, but hey, maybe in the end we are all just big highschoolers slaving away at the machines like it was still the 50′s.


Printing on the Iron Handpress by Gabriel Rummond

Recommended by: Peter Kruty of Peter Kruty Editions

Why: Everything, and I mean everything, about handpress printing, paper dampening, metal type handling, the works. Since nearly all of what we do at the studio is polymer, text and image, it’s interesting that the two books I’m recommending are for hot metal. Ah well, I guess plastic printing is a mast we all tie ourselves to at our own education and peril.


Finer Points in the Spacing & Arrangement of Type by Geoffrey Dowding

Recommended by: Carol Blinn of Warwick Press

Why: It is a classic. One can still get the best education by looking at books designed by the best – W. A. Dwiggins, Bruce Rogers, Giovanni Marderstieg and his son, Martino, and don’t forget all of the private press people who have gone before – plus new(ish) designers – all of these people were considered great for many reasons – use of classic typefaces, clean use of white space, delicate arrangements of type on a page just the right size for a project – open your eyes and look. And another thing, read your heart out to become educated in how words are put together to make sense. Read books by authors whose work and words you love. Immerse yourself with language. A good printer/designer should be educated in all things dealing with printed pieces – so don’t just become a worker bee, become a well-rounded professional printer/designer/editor/artist.

Having a good teacher is still the best way to learn how to do most things. Books with instructions are fine up to a point, but particularly in this world of ours – if you can’t get to the teacher, at least study their books. If they are still alive, contact them, pester them, and ask your questions. Bring them cookies and ask to stay for a day or two to learn how to make decisions in type and space and materials. Be grateful and thank them. And then go on to make your own mistakes and learn from them.


Do you agree, disagree, or have your own must-read book for printers? Tell us in the comments section below. We all hope to take away some great suggestions to add to your printing bookshelves!