2015 Letterpress Holiday Gift Guide

Round up some holiday cheer this fabulous year with our ultimate holiday gift guide for the letterpress lover & printer. We’ve got great printing supply musts (and splurges!) as well as letterpress printed goodies that you + your crew will gush about for years to come! Let us know what is on your wishlist in the comments section below!

The 2014 Boxcar Press letterpress gift guide has gift ideas for the type-loving letterpress printer in your life - including letterpress t-shirts and more.

1. Hand Quilted Letterpress Job Case Layout Baby Quilt from BettyTurbo | 2. Different cities / tool kids pattern journal from Hartford prints | 3. Cheers for Beers art print from Baltimore Print Studios | 4. 2016 Letterpress Standing Desk Calendar from dittdittowork | 5. Star t-shirt from Starshaped Press (printed using type) | 6. Whole Bean Coffee – Printers Devil Dark Roast from Baltimore Print Studios | 7. Letterpress Printer t-shirt from Outridder | 8. Customizable letterpressed picture frame mats from Typothecary Press | 9. Pantone Universe A4 Sketchbook from Pantone | 10. Letterpress Now DIY Guide to Old and New Printing Methods from Boxcar Press

letterpress gift guide 2015 featuring aprons, books, and letterpress goodies.

11. Letterpress Type floor mat from PaperBellaPrints | 12. CMYK Earrings by Matters of Delight | 13. C&P Throw Pillow by alicing | 14. ‘Staching letterpress card from Boxcar Press | 15. Family or Friends Journal from Journaling Jane | 16. Christmas Holiday L Letterpress plates from Boxcar Press | 17. Letterpress Wallpaper in Silver Typography by Brewster | 18. Press On letterpress greeting card by Penelope’s Press | 19. Big Dictionaries bookmark from Hartford Prints | 20. California Job Case Letterpress Apron from wnybac

Letterpress coasters for The Lab Creative

We recently worked with The Lab Creative — new neighbors of ours here in the Delavan Center — to create custom letterpress coasters for a recent building-wide open studio event. The team at The Lab created a cool video showing their entire process, including the coasters being printed on one of our Heidelberg Windmills. Take a look!

Let’s See That Printed: Primer Scares Up Fun

As soon as we found out the electric and spooky illustration designs of Primer were passing through our platemaking service department, we had to learn more about eye-catching letterpress poster designs. The printer behind Primer, Brian Isserman, and his wonderful wife gave us a sneak peek at the chilling yet beautiful tale behind these letterpress pieces.

Brian Isserman's halloween and spooky illustratrations going through the letterpress plateaking process from film to plate.

Brian helped fill in the blanks on how such captivating project came to be:

“Primer is a brand development agency located just north of Philadelphia in the historic town of Hatboro, Pennsylvania. We specialize in brand strategy development, graphic design, web development and video production, but what we really love, is print.”

Our "Let's See That Printed" article features the spooky letterpress posters by Brian Isserman (and wife) of Primer.

“Several years ago we purchased and restored a GEO. P. GORDON platen press circa late 1870’s. It was a 6 month labor of love to get it back up and printing (and see here for the journey!). Especially considering we knew nothing about letterpress printing when we started. Now we use it every few months for personal projects and small promotional runs for our clients.”

A beautiful Chandler & Price letterpress press stands ready for printing fun at Primer.

“Every year we put together a Halloween promotion as a thank you to our clients, friends and family for their continued support. It allows us to step away from coding and web development so we can get back to our roots, ink and paper. We usually create a short run limited edition series of prints. Two years ago the theme was Day of the Dead, last year it was the Universal Studio Monsters, this year we decided to go with vintage Halloween.”


“Once we had the concept in place, we collaborated with the super talented Michele Melcher to illustrate a series of three iconic Halloween images. The flat graphic, off-registration look of those vintage Halloween decorations gave us a safe zone margin of error that helped us tremendously. This was our first multi-color print run and we wanted to create a design that was forgiving. It really worked out well. The prints that were in perfect registration looked awesome, the ones that were really off looked even better.

The print run itself ran over 15 hours and for the most part went pretty smooth. We learned a lot from the experience and I am totally looking forward to tackling another multi-color job. Everyone really loved the prints. We received numerous calls and emails and got lots of social media love.

PRO TIP – Our press is old. I mean really old – and although it still prints amazingly well, we knew it would be extremely difficult to keep the plates and prints registered. We do not have a paper cutter so we opted to not include crop marks of any kind on our plates and ordered pre-cut paper instead.”

Brian Isserman of Primer sets up manual color registration mock ups for his letterpress broadside poster.

“So, how do you keep everything in register without crop marks? Boxcar sent us a large press proof. We cut out the individual images and spray mounted those proofs onto our paper. We placed a small piece of tape on the front of the plate and aligned it face down onto the paper. Once in position we removed the sticky back of the plate and ran it through the press. The plate would then attach itself to our base. We then carefully peeled off the paper and tape, and we repeated the process with each of the 3 plates per illustration. Using the master proof helped keep all of the plates aligned.

I think one of the most interesting parts of printing is figuring out the little tricks and treats to make your vision come to life. We could not have done it without the guidance, plates and custom ink colors from Boxcar Press. Thanks Boxcar!”

Huge round of thanks out to Brian and his lovely wife at Primer for letting us get a closer look at these brilliantly colored poster designs!

Let’s see that printed: Dueling Dictionaries

Here at Boxcar Press, we may be centered in the photopolymer world, but we love the look of print blocks and old time illustrations as much as anyone. So we were instantly intrigued and excited to see the artwork from John Carrera of Quercus Press come through for platemaking.  His art makes us feel nostalgic and paired with the one word text, we definitely wanted John to know we were eager to see what he was printing.

John Quercas' letterpress files are going through the platemaking process at Boxcar Press very quickly!

John not only told about his project but sent us a final copy of his fascinating book – Dueling Dictionaries. The artwork came from two dictionary companies, G. & C. Merriam and Worcester, who were rivals in the nineteenth century and tried to outdo each other with their illustrations. What’s fascinating is that the two companies shared the same engraver.

The Dueling Dictionaries letterpress printed book looks beautiful!

This saloon-door styled book also has another feature to it: by flipping open each page, the words that read across on the top and bottom change meaning with each pairing. The book also includes a great use of silver ink on the front cover, and intricate illustrations on the backs of the pages.

John also shared some of the experiences of his process on this print job.

“You can see that after I printed the first run of pages that I had laid out for the initial plates, I then cut up the plates to get the proper overlap and look. This is one of the benefits of polymer – you just can’t re-arrange and cut magnesium or copper blocks as easily. (I remember cutting many a block on the band-saw). I enjoyed working with the Vandercook on this project because it allowed me to look at each of the images as I printed them and tweak them before I got too far along. Printing these backsides has been one of the most exciting parts of the project so far.”

John Carrera of Quercus Press adds black and cool grey ink to his "Dueling Dictionaries" letterpress print project.

Using polymer plates also added some interesting aspects to the job that John describes:

“I have given a lot of thought to the difference of using polymer vs. using magnesium plates. One of the things that has been a challenge for me is that somehow knowing the plates are plastic has made me more prone to sending in copy that is not quite ready for prime time. This has happened twice to me and I don’t think I’m alone in this sloppy attitude. Although I have cut and pasted copy it’s better to remake the whole page and I have to take a little more time with my files.”

Inset details of the Dueling Dictionaries by John Quercas look beautiful!

“I also think I have pushed the envelope of how long these polymer plates can hang around, too – as I printed on some of these after they had been sitting for almost two years – the trick was keeping the edges from peeling up. In some instances I went ahead and folded them down so hard that they cracked – and in some of the plates I believe you can make out the hairline cracks in some of the images – the flunk fish had lots of little cracks. Most people won’t even notice nor will they realize that some of the lip actually broke off the image.  However, I kind of thought they looked cool and fit the book style.”

We thank John for revealing the story behind this gem of a book and for the enjoyment of his illustrations.

Green printing: tips for being an earth-friendly letterpress printer

One of the biggest ways a letterpress printer (newcomers and veterans-of-the-trade alike) can make a positive environmental impact is to incorporate eco-friendly practices into their business and workflow. Actions as simple as recycling paper, re-using scrap materials, or partnering up with a non-profit organization whose vision for a greener planet is as sharp & clear as yours. We reached out to some earth-friendly letterpress printers for ideas on how to lighten your shop’s environmental footprint.

Sierra Zamarripa – Lovewild Design Sustainability is a huge priority for us at Lovewild Design. We have a full range of letterpress goods, screen printed gifts and bath products all handmade in our Brooklyn studio. We do much of our printing on a Vandercook SP-15, as most of our letterpress items are small batch. All of our papers are made from post consumer waste or renewable resources like cotton and made with the use of hydro or wind power. We also try to be pretty waste-free. Be it paper scraps, rags, etc. – everything gets reused as much as possible.

Eco-friendly Lovewild totes featuring NYC designs.

Before starting Lovewild, I worked in the public sector. This really woke me up as to how much was being wasted in day to day operations be it money, resources or materials (paper!). I knew that if I was going to do my own thing, I couldn’t in good conscious contribute to the massive amounts of waste many companies make.

We’re constantly inspired by other companies or initiatives, and we’re always looking for ways to be even more green. Eco friendly paper is a start, but is often wrapped in packaging that will end up in a landfill. We’ve switched to “plastic” that is plant based. It’s sustainably made and is compostable. Some of these materials have limits as there isn’t yet an eco plastic that is rigid. We have to be creative with our packaging to make sure it meets market standards while staying green.

Eco-friendly Lovewild coasters featuring NYC designs. Lovewild Design utilizes eco-friendly practices in her letterpress printing operations.

Alicia Rohan – A&P Design & Co. We are a custom invitation studio & letterpress print shop. We have been in business for 5 years, and we have 10×15 C&P called Lupe, and a C&P Pilot called Lola.We are all about incorporating eco friendly practices into our print shop the best we can. We letterpress on tree-free 100% cotton paper, our printing is all done manually by hand with a foot treadle. Our cutting is also done manually. We recycle all paper scrapes, plates and shipping materials.

We love that we do everything by hand. It helps to reduce errors and allows us to make sure everything is printed to our expectations. I think our brides appreciate it when they see how their invitations are printed and when they see its all done by hand they appreciate the process so much more!

A&P Design uses hand-powered printing presses to cut down on carbon footprint. A&P Design uses hand-powered printing presses to cut down on carbon footprint.

Joe & Margot Borges – Pomegranate Letterpress When we decided to jump into letterpress in 2007 and buy our first press, we made a few upfront decisions on what we wanted to be and how we were going to do it. Partly because we understood that there were already many big players, especially in the United States, and a couple in the Toronto area. So did the world need another letterpress printer? We had to carve our niche and the best thing we could do was be ourselves and make business decisions based on our values. After all, that really is the only difference between us and everyone else.


Both Margot and I are very aware of how we live our lives, and how our decisions impact the world around us. We don’t see ourselves as fanatic eco-champions, nor do we shy away from the fact that we print on paper. Our view is that we can find a way to live better by making simple personal decisions on what to buy, when to buy it and even where it buy. We shop at places we feel match our core values and to try, whenever possible, to shop local. This translates into our business goal: to lessen our environmental impact, provide a quality service and run a fun business.

Our first decision was on the types of presses we were going to go after — non-electric, non-motorized. All three of our press are hand-cranked, and that means a few things: reduced electricity use, shorter print runs and less waste. When you can only print 150-200 impressions an hour, you do everything you can to be as efficient as possible during make-ready and rarely print more than you need! This means all our wedding designs are bespoke — no catalogue and very few samples. As a result, we’ve become a well-respected, local print and design studio, working face-to-face with all our clients. When you work directly with the client you become a team and the projects are more fulfilling.

Earth-friendly letterpress printer tips from Pomegranate Letterpress

Our next big decision was our ink choice. In addition to considering the environmental impact of the ink, we wanted an ink that did not smell — our studio started in our basement and we needed something we could live with. We found and use Caligo Safe Wash inks, a smaller, independent, family run operation in Wales. The inks are non-toxic, wash up with soap and water, and there is no smell. They take a little longer to dry, and although we may not always achieve the same opaque colour and coverage as rubber inks, we feel that it’s the best choice for us and the environment. Not only are we extremely happy with the results we’ve achieved, so are our clients, and we recommend Caligo to any fellow printer who has ever asked.

Next: paper. Trust us, we appreciate the irony of printing on paper while promoting an environmentally sustainable conscience. We are constantly searching for papers that maximize the recycled content and give preference to Certified Processed Chlorine Free paper (PCF). Whenever possible, we look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. We have also tested other non-tree paper but we have to ensure they work well with our inks. It’s difficult to find paper for letterpress that fits all these criteria and in smaller quantities for craft printers. We use Neenah Classic Crest, which is manufactured Carbon Neutral and is Green-e certified. We also love using Saint-Armand, Crane Lettra and Mohawk Strathmore.

Some of our most popular products have been created from the off-cuts of other projects. Our PomeMini cards and gift tags are printed on the remnants from wedding invitations, our PomeNotebooks are made from repurposed posters and the inside sheets are art paper we found in the garbage. Last year we purchased some cutting dies destined for landfill. One of them was a Christmas Ball ornament. We had a few Christmas cards that weren’t selling well and with a few passes through the press we had brand new ornament cards — a popular items at the fall craft shows. If a product isn’t working, why not give it a new life?

“Going green” for some is a fad, or something to attract more customers. For us, we don’t see ourselves as “green,” we just try to be sustainable and it’s truly how we roll. Pomegranate is an extension of Margot and I together, and the core values we live by. We print everything from wood and metal type, to polymer plates and lino carving. In our studio, we currently have a Vandercook SP15 proof press, C&P Pilot table top platen and a small Showcard press. We have a very nice collection of wood and metal type as well. We love what we do, and we love when people appreciate letterpress.

Jeff Marrow – Percolator Letterpress Co. We are located in Austin, Texas, a community that is very mindful of the environment and green business practices. At our shop, we try to minimize our environmental impact as much as possible. In Central Texas, water conservation is a top of mind issue. It can be very hot and dry down here, which means we run the air conditioner a lot during the summer months to keep the shop at a practical working temperature and low humidity level. In addition to making cool air, the A/C also makes a lot of distilled water. We harvest this water and are able to use it in many ways including watering plants, trees, and grass, which then take greenhouse gases out of the air as they grow. The A/C does use electricity, but our philosophy is to maximize all the benefits we can from any machine in the shop.

Baum cutter at Percolator Press.

To further save on electricity, we chose a Baum paper cutter with a motor that only activates when a cut is made. It is a tremendously efficient machine. Also, our Heidelberg 10×15 Windmill is a very efficient marvel of engineering. The GE electric motor that runs the powerful press pulls very little electricity relative to its production output.

Finally, we have a shop-wide recycling and hazardous waste disposal program.  Austin has a wonderful single-stream recycling program that allows us to recycle nearly 100% of our scrap papers and plastics.  In addition to recycling paper, we are able to reuse some of the larger paper scraps in other project and we donate some paper scraps to a local kindergarten class for art projects. The kids love it!

Furthermore, the Heidelberg has a very clever, quick-clean mechanism that allows us to reclaim the hazardous cleaning solvents to be disposed of safely at Austin’s hazardous waste disposal facility.  Also, the rags we use to clean the press are old clothes at the end of their wearable usefulness that we purchase from a large used clothing facility.

We are always looking for ways to be more eco-friendly and efficient in our shop.  We love what we do and strive to create sustainable practices to help us create beautiful stationery, while doing our best to protect our natural environment.

Annika Buxman – De Milo Design Studio & Letterpress De Milo Design Studio & Letterpress is a small shop located in South Pasadena, California. Two treadle presses (Franklin Gordon and C&P), one Vandercook SP15, and two C&P Pilot presses get the work done. One wiener dog named Frankie helps out when she’s not busy sleeping on top of a paper stack.

Annika Buxman of De Milo Design Studio & Letterpress gives back as an eco & fair trade paper printer & user.

I think being “earth friendly” and “global friendly” go together. In 2007 I was fortunate to meet some fair trade artisans in Bangladesh who, along with making beautiful paper, have created a supportive and safe community for rural women who have few options for employment. I call the paper line “Sustain & Heal” because the goal is to sustain the earth and heal lives that have been adversely affected by poverty and cultural systems detrimental for women. It’s been so fun to meet customers who also care about these things. I’ve learned a lot from them and they’ve helped to shape the product.

We do other things like using Ecolo Clean press wash, soy inks, and regular trips to the hazardous waste drop off instead of dumping film chemicals down the drain. Also a lot of tricky trimming at the cutter so we get very little paper waste. We save the trim for use in handmade papermaking.

Annika Buxman of De Milo Design Studio & Letterpress gives back as an eco & fair trade paper printer & user.

I am inspired by observing and admiring other people who live close to the earth. My grandparents on both sides of our family were farmers. They composted and reused everything. I’ve met many urban farmers who continue the same practices. I watch them and try to follow their examples.

I used to do all kinds of design acrobatics to detract from the fact that the eco paper is not as bright white. Lots of floods with bright inks and overall patterns. Now I don’t mind the less bright paper and design more simply.

Amy Worsham – Typanum Press Since our last visit, our home studio has grown into a garage shop. Our original and ancestral 5×8 Kelsey Excelsior was joined this spring by a new style 10”x15” Chandler & Price. While proving harder to fit in our living room, the larger press has helped us to expand our capabilities and turnaround time in so many ways. We continue to offer a wide range of services including full design, hand-set type, mixed media prints, and social stationery, all with the ability to handle more jobs and with increasing complexity.  We pride ourselves in our environmentally friendly practices, from press and energy usage, press inking and clean up, to paper selection and packaging. This has been an easy process for us to implement for a number of reasons.

In many ways letterpress printing has an inherently low environmental impact. Merely by continuing to maintain and use our antique presses, rather than committing them to the landfill every couple of years, we, as letterpress printers, are retaining energy. Many of these presses use hand or minimal electric power (like our C&P). In addition to this, advances in ink and the increased interest in post-consumer paper have greatly reduced the waste and toxicity of the letterpress printing process.

Eco-friendly printing at Tympanum Press with Amy Worsham.

Like many other printers, we made the switch from oil to rubber based inks for a variety of reasons. We did a lot of research when we first began stocking our shop. We had a good deal of leftover oil-based inks that worked just fine, and were almost as old as the press, but for our situation, I wasn’t interested in using harmful chemicals with each press cleaning. We printed for a long time inside our home, with young children afoot and I use a lot of natural cleaning products with my home cleaning, why would I want dangerous and flammable chemicals in the house? Not only do we appreciate the print quality and shelf life of the rubber-based inks, but the lack of the need to use harsh solvents during cleanup has been a game changer, especially when we were printing out of our kitchen. Because we mix all of our specialty colors by hand, as needed, we also use very little ink.

For basic cleanup, we use vegetable oil with old cotton rags and newspaper. This quickly and easily removes the ink from the press but leaves an oily residue that will prevent proper inking on the next job. We had been using Bestine or other solvents [e.g. mineral spirits] to remove this, however acting on the recommendation of my fellow printer friend, Martha Beason of nearby Little Cricket Letterpress, we have switched to using a solution of dawn soap and vinegar. It works quite well and has no fumes or other noxious effects.

All our primary choices for paper are tree-free, recycled, or produced using alternative energy sources. This has been relatively easy to achieve as these types of paper often tend to lend themselves best to the letterpress process! In cutting, we order paper sizes that best match the project intended so we have very few scraps. For the times that we do end up with scraps, we are rarely at a loss to find use for them.

Eco-friendly printing at Tympanum Press with Amy Worsham.

Packaging is, many days, the bane of my existence. It is with great difficulty that I can convince myself to throw away materials that could be reused. Depending on which day on the week you visit the shop, it may look like a trash heap or an episode of Hoarders, but the truth is, I can’t throw any of my vendor packaging away. Because of this, my customers usually receive their orders in reused boxes. There are many ways to both creatively and professionally decorate a used box to allow for continued use. I am also constantly on the lookout for better, more sustainable ways to package our goods.

Eco-friendly printing at Tympanum Press with Amy Worsham.

Letterpress is a tradition born in a era where sustainability was just as much about economy as ecology, and we find that the same still holds true today. If we truly value our environment, its worth considering our waste for a wide variety of reasons.

We order a fair amount of Boxcar plates, but with good storage technique & care, we’ve found that we’ve been able to continue to use most of our Boxcar plates again and again. We’ll be sending them back for recycling once they are too cracked and brittle for use. We’ve recently taken on the task of creating recycling signs for local offices & friends in town and can’t wait to distribute them!

What does your shop do to help reduce your carbon footprint while creating eco-friendly letterpress goods? Share your tips in the comments section below – we’d love to hear from you! Interested in more ideas? Check out the different ways we’re a green print shop.

2015 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadsides

Boxcar Press has a heart for projects that combine letterpress printing with children, and none is more dear to us than the Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project. This collaboration with 22 artists and pediatric patients always yields beautiful art and prose. The children’s ages range from 5 to 20, and through the Writers in the Schools program (WITS – a poetry program spearheaded by Sierra Nelson and Ann Teplick) the children create amazing imagery with words. The printers at the School of Visual Concepts then give their interpretation of the words. Each year we support this project by donating photopolymer plates for the limited run of 106 broadsides. We reached out to some of the printers involved this year to hear more about their experiences and how they created artwork to showcase each poem – take a look.

Seattle Children's Hospital letterpress broadsidesSeattle Children's Hospital letterpress broadsidesSeattle Children's Hospital letterpress broadsides

Ana Sofia Mariz I was fortunate to find a perfect fit in terms of the poem. My little poet was five and I also have a son of the same age. So I immediately felt engaged and connected as I felt I could hear the boy’s voice in my head. I decided to involve my own son in the project. I told him about this boy who was sick and had written this poem and that we’ll make him a beautiful “drawing” so he’ll be happy and recover faster. My poet wrote about Spiderman, so I brought that idea into the layout within a kid’s visual repertory:  drawing, coloring, and crayons.


As the boy would be the Spiderman, I decided to trace my son’s hands and color them as within a Spiderman suit. They are climbing the text wall and the title would be hand drawn like a web between the hands. All the elements would reflect the imperfections of a hand drawing.

I never got to meet the boy. I guess I didn’t realize that was possible at that time, but I wish to meet him and his family some day. I can easily say that this was one of the top five most enjoyable projects I’ve ever done.


Sarah Kulfan This year was my third participating on the Seattle Children’s broadside project. I chose to print my poem using Boxcar plates because of a tight schedule and I have produced great prints with Boxcar plates previously. The poem I printed is called ‘May I’ and was written by eleven year old Kira Hoffman. I was very excited to work on this poem because the first stanza immediately made me think of my brother’s dog Roofus, who passed away this year.

Sarah Kulfan's dog Rufus was the inspiration for her Seattle Hospital Children's Broadsides project print.Sarah Kulfan's dog Rufus was the inspiration for her Seattle Hospital Children's Broadsides project print.

Initially, I was planning on asking Kira about her dog but I realized my interpretation of Kira’s poetry was part of the collaborative process that makes this project so rich. I helped raise Roofus as a pup and over the years, have created various Roofus inspired drawings and artwork. I dug up some old photos of Roofus and developed a sketch. Through Kira’s words, this would be an opportunity to commemorate the pup that I helped raise.

Sarah Kulfan's dog Rufus was the inspiration for her Seattle Hospital Children's Broadsides project print.

Jenny Wilkson who heads up the SVC letterpress shop and leads the Seattle Children’s broadside project once said that this project is one of the most sustainable efforts she’s experienced.  It’s easy to see this as many of the same printers return to donate their time and energy each year, which is one reason why I love this project. I am so honored to have printed Kira’s poem and create a keepsake for her and her family to share; and my brother got a nice birthday present this year, a last memento of his best pal, the yellow dog, Roofus.

Heidi Hespelt This was my second year participating in the Childrens’ Hospital Broadside project.  It is such a joy to be part of it. My poet is a 16 year old girl who, I hear, is now doing well and living in Portland. Her poem was strong and happy, so I chose bright colors and the Gerbera daisy image to illustrate that. I used polymer plates for the text and did a lino block reduction for the flowers.

Heidi-Hespelt-IMG6Heidi Hespelt carves out a lineoleum block for the first ink pass for her contribution to the 2015 Seattle Hospital Childrens Broadsides Project.Beautiful reduction cuts for Heidi Hespelt for the Seattle Hospital Childrens Broadsides project.

I am a bit smitten with the reduction process (to me it can be a brain twister!) where the block is carved between each pass and the parts that are carved away stay the color you just printed. Sound easy? Yep! Easy to get confused! It was a very satisfying project for me this year to master this. ​

Beautiful second color run on the Vandercook for Heidi Hespelt for the Seattle Hospital Childrens Broadsides project.Heidi-Hespelt-IMG5

Darcie Kantor Printed in black and what she calls “Darcie Yellow” because her 15 year old poet specifically titled her poem “Black and Yellow”.

Boxcar letterpress plates in action for Darcie Kantor's Seattle Hospital Children's Broadsides project print.

Many thanks to all of the printers who donated their time and efforts to this amazing project!

Sweetly Printing With Essie Letterpress

In the warm, flowing hills of Citrusdal, South Africa and nestled near the scenic Piekenierskloof Mountains is a tea, flower, and citrus farm. Explore just a little bit deeper into the farmland, and you’ll be surprised that amidst the sun-soaked fields is Essie Letterpress, the cheery printing abode of Ben and Vanessa Grib. From beginnings rooted deep in interior design, illustration, and a need to create, the printing duo took up letterpress as a means to satiate their creative cravings. We caught up with Ben and Vanessa between print and harvest runs to catch the scoop on how beautiful life can be with just a little more letterpress in the world.

Ben and Vanessa Grib of Essie Letterpress stand proudly with their Heidelberg Windmill.

FIELD CUT FLOWERS BY DAY, LETTERPRESS BY NIGHT We are a husband and wife team that operate from a flower farm on the Piekenierskloof Mountains in South Africa. We love creating notebooks, artworks, coasters and everything in between. Vanessa does all the printing and the day-to-day running of Essie Letterpress, while Ben does the design work when he is not farming. We just had our second little boy.

CREATIVE BEGINNINGS Vanessa started out as an interior designer. When she lived in San Francisco in 2001, one of her flatmates was taking a letterpress course and she fell in love with it. Ben has always been interested in illustration and design, and decided to teach himself while he was still a fruit trader. When we decided to move to the country, Vanessa needed a career change and was looking for something creative to do. Letterpress seemed like a new and exciting option, because it was not really done in South Africa at the time. It was quite a story to get the necessary equipment sourced and delivered to the farm, but we managed to find a machine in the back of a University storeroom. The rest was trial and error and Youtube videos.

The flowing hills and farmland that surround Essie Letterpress, one of South Africa's best letterpress print shops.

IMPRESSIVE VIEWS Our shop is a large open space with beautiful views of the farm. We converted an old farm shed into our studio, so we still get the occasional odd surprise, like a flash flood through the roof or a snake living in your drawers. It looks over an awesome dam and is surrounded by daily farm activities, so you have to be careful of speeding tractors.

Flower fields that surround Essie Letterpress from South Africa offers gorgeous views. Farmland views of Essie Letterpress are scenic and beautiful.

GETTING INSPIRED We wished we could have some mentors, but unfortunately they are all very far away. We had to stick to our manuals and run google hard for solutions. We are very inspired by Studio on Fire, Starshaped Press, Letterpress de Paris and Mink Letterpress. Artists that inspire… that’s a list too long to mention in case we leave anybody out. Every year we compile a list of our favorite local designers and invite them to do a calendar with us. That way we get to work with all our favorite people.

DESIGNED FOR PRINT We are trying to evolve to the kind of studio that only prints our own creations. I know this is not always possible, but we design with specifically letterpress in mind and we try and steer all decisions within the process’s limitations. It’s always fun being your own client. That being said, some projects need a specialized focus and then we get in the big guns for peace of mind.

Gorgeous floral and botany coasters printed by Essie Letterpress out of South Africa.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS The design process normally starts with a spark of inspiration while we are walking our dogs or picking flowers. This leads to some rough sketches and normally ends up on the computer. We like to alternate between digital design and hand drawn, as we believe both have an equally important place in letterpress. We try to steer clear of one specific style, and it’s always most exciting to try a new approach or technique. We like to let the product lead us in the direction that it wants to go.

Glamourous and eye-catching gold foil letterpress printed notebook from Essie Letterpress.

FULL TIME FUN Vanessa has been printing full time for the last five years, while Ben pops in through the day to fix the machine or mix a new color.

PRINTING FEATS We are very proud our own own little retail space in Cape Town that sells our products to the general public. It is nice to know that people are buying our products and putting it in their homes. It makes us feel that we have a small impact on people’s daily life.

Vintage hexagonal travel-themed vintage letterpress printed coasters from Essie Letterpress wow the eye.

THE IRON-CLAD BEAUTIES A Korex proofing press was our first press. There was a steep learning curve and a very tiresome process trying to print 150 three color wedding invites, one slow roll at a time. We learned a lot about the importance of paper quality and really thin ink.

SHOP TIPS These machines have personality, and as with all personalities, they sometimes have bad moods. So If something is not working, walk away, have a cup of tea, look at the trees, and then try again. It will always turn out better.

Beautifully printed nautical-themed letterpress print from Essie Letterpress.

WHAT’S NEXT We are currently taking it easy due to our new baby and only printing a few select projects. But we are using this time to re-evaluate what is important and molding our company to a more streamlined and effective beast.

Huge round of thanks and applause out to Ben and Vanessa of Essie Letterpress for letting us get an up close look at their wonderful printing world!

Looking for printers to join the new Etsy Manufacturing Marketplace

Today we’re sharing some big news from Etsy, who recently introduced an exciting new opportunity for letterpress printers. For those of you who don’t know Etsy, it’s a marketplace where people people make, buy, and sell unique goods. Etsy has grown over the last ten years to support over 1.5 million designers selling their products online. As these designers grow, they need production help to scale.

Etsy manufacturing is an exciting new opportunity for letterpress printers

As part of this next step, Etsy has announced Etsy Manufacturing, a new marketplace connecting manufacturers to Etsy designers. Printing is one of the largest categories in need of manufacturing help on Etsy. The great thing about working with Etsy designers is that they appreciate the quality and the craft of the letterpress as much as anyone. 

The goal of Etsy Manufacturing is not to inundate businesses with irrelevant inquiries, but to provide quality leads that will result in long term partnerships. When someone contacts you through Etsy Manufacturing, you can browse their shop and products to make sure it’s a fit on both sides. You can also make a beautiful online profile for your business – accessible to anyone – in just a few minutes. Here’s an example featuring Orlando-based letterpress print shop Mama’s Sauce

Etsy manufacturing is an exciting new opportunity for letterpress printers

Interested? It only takes a few minutes to apply and (in case you were curious) there’s absolutely no cost. You can learn more and apply at www.etsy.com/manufacturing/apply.

Stopping In At Route 3 Press

Timothy Fay of Route 3 Press prints in the heart of the Midwest. He left for a brief time to pursue an education in Montana, but he is firmly settled back in the Hawkeye State, sheltered on his centuries old Iowan family farm. He’s passionate about printing and sharing it with others. We welcomed the chance to “visit” his creative space.

Tim Fay of Route 3 Press sits with his linotype.Tim Fay of Route 3 Press prints on his linotype in his Montana letterpress print shop.
(photography courtesy of Linzee McCray)

THE PRESSES: I have a Challenge proof press, a 10 X 15 Old Style Chandler and Price platen, a V-45 Miehle Vertical and a 21 X 28 Miller 2-color flatbed. I also use a photopolymer plate maker and a Model 8 linotype.

SIZE OF PRINT SHOP: 24 feet wide by 36 feet – 864 square feet.

THE LOCATION: My shop is attached to the back of the house I built on our family farm in 1984 — it’s been in our family 150 years now, since the Civil War. My town of Anamosa lies 45 miles west from the Mississippi River. The shop, like the house, is half underground, which makes it easier to heat. I enjoy the improved lighting and ventilation here, as opposed to the old store building I formerly inhabited.

My attached house features a cathedral ceiling, and the floor is made of local limestone. Much native and local oak is incorporated into the design. I like living where I work; commutes are for somebody else.

TYPE OF SHOP: I am a commercial shop, and I print some job and book work in addition to my annual Wapsipinicon Almanac. This annual publication is a 160-page collection of essays, fiction, reviews and various tidbits focusing on Iowa. The 2015 Almanac is the 21st issue.

FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP: It’s nice to work in a space I designed and built. I have a nice sound system in place, and since I’m the boss — no Muzak here…. I’ve been collecting letterpress odds and ends since the 1970’s, so I have a few fun items tucked away here.

MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL: I would say probably the big Miller. It’s a very rare press (the only other operating one in America of which I’m aware is at Arion Press).

FAVORITE INK: For most of my work, I use INX black super dense with no drier.

CLEAN-UP ROUTINE: I use gasoline for type and plates and press wash for rollers.

PROJECT WORKFLOW I set slugs on the linotype. My polymer plates are mounted on either blank linotype slugs or custom bases I had a local machinist make for me. I used to use magnesium plates mounted on wood. Those were expensive and took up too much space. Then I went to metal backed polymer mounted on homemade magnetic bases. Now I use plastic backed polymer and would never go back to metal. I try to avoid having any pied type around.  Lino slugs are re-melted into new bigs.

OIL OF CHOICE: For lubrication, I use Thirty weight non-detergent or heavier oil for certain spots on the C & P.  I like cotton rags.

ORGANIZATION ADVICE: I try to organize and “straighten up” before beginning each day. I harbor a good deal of big equipment in a relatively small area, so I need to keep on top of clutter.

PRINTING ADVICE: I would stress the importance (especially when running automatic presses) of regulating humidity levels. I don’t have air conditioning, but I constantly run humidifiers in winter and dehumidifiers in summer.

The printing presses of Route 3 Press in Montana are beautiful specimens that Tim Fay uses.(photography courtesy of Linzee McCray)

Crop Marks and Registration Marks – A Printer’s Tool

When prepping a file for platemaking (or any printing job), you may find yourself deciding between crop marks and registration marks. Not sure which one to use? We’ve put together some scenarios where you might find these tools helpful — but first, we’ll start with some definitions and distinctions between the two.

Crop Marks Or Trim Marks:

Crop marks — also called trim marks — thin lines placed at the corners of your artwork that indicate where to trim your finished project. If your paper is larger than your final cutting size, it is helpful and sometimes crucial to include them. Crop marks help the person cutting to know precisely where to cut your piece.

When might it be important to have paper that is larger than your final size rather than a pre-cut size? For presses that grip the paper, using a larger sheet and making a finish cut allows you the paper edge or space to grip and guide the paper while printing, and provides space for you to use a guide pin (which may leave a mark on the paper).

An example of crop marks on a film negative and printed via letterpress.

Crop marks become crucial if you are printing a bleed (which is a design that runs to the edge of the finished piece). A design with a bleed is one where the artwork extends a minimum of 1/8″ past the edge of the finished design. Extending your artwork past that point prevents a blank or unprinted area from showing up along the edges of your design.

Crop marks are added during the design stage of a project, and are an option in most design software. We’ll share tips for adding them below.

Registration Marks:

Registration marks are used when you have a piece that will have multiple applications during production. This could mean two or more letterpress ink colors, die cutting, foil stamping, or embossing. Registration marks are important for precision and placement.

An example of mis-registered multiple color letterpress print.

A piece that is mis-registered (as shown above) will show elements that may be side by side when they should have been on top of each other. There are many different forms of registration marks, but the most common are the “crosshairs” or “target” style marks, color bars and even using the lines of crop marks.

An example of registration marks in the bulls eye or crosshair design on a two-color letterpress printed piece.

These marks will eventually be trimmed off the final piece, and registration marks should also have crop marks added, too. Registration marks will appear on each plate that you make, and they should be aligned to overlap perfectly.

Creating Crop Marks

When creating crop marks in Adobe Illustrator there are two ways to make them:

Option One

Create crop marks in Adobe Illustrator by drawing a box using the rectangle tool (M) with no stroke or fill color the same size and position as the final trim. Using the direct selection arrow (the white arrow tool), click on the box. In your color window, turn off the stroke by clicking the red diagonal line (none).

Step-by-step illustrator instructions from Boxcar Press on how to set up crop marks and registration marks

Now click EFFECT > CROP MARKS (for all versions of Adobe Illustrator). You may also use OBJECT > CREATE TRIM MARKS (this is only available for Adobe CS6 and above). Lines will appear on each corner of the box.

Step-by-step illustrator instructions from Boxcar Press on how to set up crop marks and registration marks

With the box still selected, click OBJECT > EXPAND APPEARANCE. You can now modify your crop marks, if needed.

Step-by-step illustrator instructions from Boxcar Press on how to set up crop marks and registration marks Step-by-step illustrator instructions from Boxcar Press on how to set up crop marks and registration marks

Option Two

Set your art board in Adobe Illustrator to the final piece size. You can set this when you click FILE > NEW and put your measurements in under length and width. If your art board is already open, select FILE > DOCUMENT SETUP > EDIT ARTBOARDS and resize if needed.

Once you are done creating the file, you can save it as a press quality PDF by going to FILE > SAVE AS > ADOBE PDF (file format).

A window will open – choose Press Quality PDF from the Adobe Presets dropdown at the top. On the left, select MARKS AND BLEEDS and click trim marks. You can also set your registration marks by clicking on the Registration Marks box. NOTE: The default trim mark thickness may be less the the required minimum line thickness for your plate type, so adjust this to be higher, if needed.

Step-by-step illustrator instructions from Boxcar Press on how to set up crop marks and registration marks

In most printing jobs, registration marks and crop marks should always be in Registration Black. That means they will show up on every color plate and will not affected by spot colors or other special markings added in design.

Feel free to contact our prepress team if you’re not sure if you need crop marks for your next plate order. They do add additional space and cost to your platemaking ticket, but may save you time and money in the long run.