Benjamin Eakin: New Beginnings with Quite Simply Cards

Letterpress finds us all and captivates us in one way or another. Benjamin Eakin of E. W. Card Crafts is no exception. From a rich printing history with his father in the newspaper business in Quanah, Texas, to navigating the transition from the old-school style of hands-on typesetting to the digital and modern age of letterpress printing, Benjamin has taken up the gauntlet of the challenges of starting a new part-time letterpress business. Armed with a small but mighty Craftsman Superior (that rode shotgun in his car on the return journey home after acquiring it), he is testing out the waters and is finding himself discovering new projects, a new greeting card line and championing the zealous ambition all letterpress printers share: the dream of getting back on press for just a little bit longer.

Benjamin Eakin of E.W. Card Crafts (Texas, USA), letterpress prints hand-made text-focus cards with brilliance and panache.

A RETURN TO LETTERPRESS To my utter dismay, I find I will soon turn 64. No idea at all how that happened but, well, here I am. I’ve worked at many things over the years, including a 16-year stint with my father and our book publishing company, software support for a book publishing software company, some time with a CPA, and my current position is the cash office of an international kidney dialysis company, among other things. Eakin Press originally published mainly Texas history and began as an extension of Nortex Press which had been printing county histories for a number of years. In turn, Nortex Press started as an extension of the Quanah Tribune Chief newspaper for the express purpose of printing county histories.

PRINTING TRADITIONS I grew up in the newspaper business in the 50s and 60s in north Texas. My father was the editor of the Quanah Tribune Chief in Quanah, Texas. At the time, the population was about 5,000. When we moved there when I was five, the newspaper had letterpress presses only. Even after a new building was built, the presses were moved the block down the town square to start a new life there.

Quanah Tribune (Texas, USA) early printing days in the 1950s-1960s.

Our pressmen and Linotype operators were all a little rough around the edges but that only served to make them more interesting. I worked at the newspaper collating papers and doing cleanup for many years. Not everyone in town knew my name but most everyone knew me as “Little Ed” – that editor’s kid. That made it rather difficult to get away with much. Eventually, the newspaper switched to offset presses but kept the Linotype and one or two of the letterpresses for job work. I used to deliver funeral notices to the stores on the square since this was a weekly paper and Wednesday might be too late to get the word out about a recent death in town.

Benjamin Eakin of E.W. Card Crafts (Texas, USA) posing for photos for the Quanah Tribune newspaper.

My brother, sister, and I did a lot of posing for photos to accompany news stories – for instance, posing in a wheat field for a story about that year’s crop. My father’s gone now and I’m afraid I don’t remember all the presses that were originally in the shop. There are some great memories, though, about the noise and smell of the press room.

Benjamin Eakin of E.W. Card Crafts (Texas, USA) as a book production manager before starting on his journey into letterpress printing.

I used to do the design and book layout for the book publishing company after years as the production manager. I was the one to first bring in a PC to test out typesetting on a personal computer instead of our dedicated Penta typesetting system. We gradually transitioned to PCs only. The designing I do now for the greeting card line, in addition to writing the text, has mostly to do with choosing a typeface for each card. My intent with the cards is to focus solely on the words to paint a visual picture for the recipient. We are so bombarded with images today that I cherish the chance to use my imagination to come up with its own visual. I’d like to think there’s a niche audience for the words I write and the look and feel of handcrafted cards.

PRINTING IN THE LONE STAR STATE My current shop is a small bedroom at home that operates as my home office and now home to my Craftsmen Superior press. I purchased the press last year from a couple who’d purchased it a couple of years earlier in New York. They ended up moving to Houston, Texas and life apparently got in the way – babies and such. I found it on Briar Press  and met the sellers just north of Houston to pick it up. The press rode in the passenger seat of my car for the trip back to Richardson – a part of the Dallas metroplex.

Benjamin Eakin of E.W. Card Crafts (Texas, USA) and his Craftsmen Superior tabletop letterpress on the ride home.

PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN Sadly, I don’t print full time. In fact, the new online store was pushed back several months after I agreed to be a cousin’s executor. Sooner than expected, she died in late March of pancreatic cancer and several things were placed on hold as I tried to figure out how to handle that new job. My goal with the new online store, Quite Simply Cards, is to try to put myself in a position to give up my “day job” and concentrate on printing my greeting cards. I’m hopeful I can transition to printing full-time sometime in 2017. E.W. Card Crafts is named after my partner Tom Hayes and I. Edward is my middle name, William is Tom’s. Hence, E.W. – or Edward-William. We both worked for Eakin Press for many years in the past.The 1980s photo supplied of the two of us shows me on the left and Tom on the right. We’re a tad older now.

PRINTING FEATS I tend not to see my own accomplishments and rely on other people to point out that I’ve done something worthwhile. Yeah, I’m working on that rather poor self-image thing. Recently, however, I printed Shakespeare’s Sonnet 154 for the Oxford Bodleian Library’s call for entries to print all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death. While I pushed it to almost the deadline, I managed to get my entry there on time. I printed the sonnet under my private press name Little Boy Blue Press. I was a fun challenge taken on for the pure enjoyment of it.

Benjamin Eakin of E.W. Card Crafts (Texas, USA) and his Craftsmen Superior tabletop letterpress press.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar Press has been there from the beginning with help in determining how I was going to set up my press. That included walking me through why I really needed to work with InDesign to produce print-ready images for ordering the polymer plates. I also now have two of Boxcar’s Deep Relief bases to help in a faster setup and press change for printing. Answers to questions have always been readily available from Boxcar.

PRINTING TIPS Neat tricks? Well, I’m a little too new to have much in the way of tricks except for one thing. Since my greeting cards all have the same basic layout, I’ve set up Excel files with a representation of the grid on my Boxcar base. I export the type for a card to a PNG file with transparency. Once I position the polymer plate exactly where I need it, I place the type transparency in the Excel file for that card. Now I know exactly how to position the plate for subsequent runs of that card.

Benjamin Eakin of E.W. Card Crafts (Texas, USA) simple but efficient production and design set-up headquarters.


Also, setting up one card aids in quickly positioning a new card since I can position based on the previous card – if the saying is wider than the previous card, I can center the type for the new card over the previous and so on. I save a file for each greeting card for quick reference.

WHAT’S NEXT Plans for 2017? Hopefully, I’ll be able to print full-time. No plans right now to expand beyond the greeting card line but would like to think we’ll be successful enough to perhaps purchase something like a C&P 10×15. That would be too large for my home shop, so would mean finding a small commercial office. That’s the goal in the long term. I don’t see myself officially retiring. I have no reason to believe I’d be happy without some new project in my life. And it seems I never tire of finding new projects.

We’re cheering on Benjamin as he starts his new greeting card line and a huge round of thanks to him for letting us get the scoop on his wonderful printing heritage. Catch him here on Facebook!

The Stouffer Gauge: A Platemaking Pal

Whether you are processing photopolymer plates by hand in a DIY set-up or creating photopolymer plates with an industrial platemaking unit, the Stouffer 21-step Gauge is a commonly referred-to item and an invaluable tool to have in your platemaking arsenal.  The gauge will help you figure out the exposure times needed for your processing set-up and allow you to make calibrated, quality plates time and time again.

What is a Stouffer Gauge?

The Gauge itself is a small strip of reusable film negative that has numbers ranging from 1 to 21 corresponding to small blocks (or wedges) of tones ranging from light grey to a deep dark grey/black. The numbers are clear on the film allowing full light to pass through the film.

Like a normal piece of film, the Gauge had a dull side (emulsion) and shiny side (non-emulsion). For the gauge that we sell, the dull side (emulsion) shows the numbers in a wrong-reading orientation. The shiny side (non-emulsion) shows the number in a right-reading orientation.

When making plates, the dull side (emulsion) should face down and touch the plate.

How to Use The Stouffer Gauge

You’ll treat the gauge as a normal positive or negative film and process a small test plate. We recommend that you have a pad of paper & pen handy to record your test results and settings so that you can keep track of what times worked and which ones didn’t. If changing variables, change them one at at time and record your findings. This will keep your test (and results) organized and you can go back to previous tests if you have to backtrack.


Before starting, make sure that your bulbs are at 100% and the correct type (UVA bulbs in the 360nm-400nm range – if using black light bulbs – confirm the range). If using the sun as a light source, you’ll need to choose a sunny day, preferably with no cloud coverage. Recommended timeframes are between 11 am – 3pm when the sun’s rays are at their strongest and highest in the sky.

Your goal is to achieve the manufacturer’s recommended Stouffer Scale range for that particular plate.

Place the Stouffer Gauge (emulsion side down) on a small square or rectangle scrap of unexposed photopolymer.


If available, use the manufacturer’s recommended processing times as your starting point. If you need help with determining a good start time, contact us as we’d be more than happy to help out!

Expose per instructions for Main Exposure. You should see a faint outline of the stouffer scale when you hold the plate up and at an angle. Follow with Wash-out for the instructed time. If you are uncertain of the time for washout – check the plate at intervals to see if the edges of the exposure are clean and the plate doesn’t feel slippery or slimy. After rinsing the plate and sponging off extra moisture, you can check your Stouffer reading.

How to Read the Stouffer Gauge

To determine your exposure reading, read the lowest number of solid relief visible next to the clear exposed section of the Stouffer Gauge.

For example, the plate sample seen below has a recommended 16 on the gauge. The photo illustrates a good representation of the 16 wedge. The number (and corresponding wedge) is completely visible (e.g. not fattened, blotchy and not thinned out).

KF95 correctly exposed Stouffer Gauge test strip

Use the Correction Table (as marked on the back of the envelope that the Stouffer Gauge comes in) to increase or decrease your exposure if you need to.


Example: Using 40 watt UVA bulbs and aiming for a 16 on the Stouffer Gauge:

First trial’s main exposure time: 100 seconds resulted in a solid 15 (with the additional observed results of a blobby 16). A 15 is considered “underexposed” and too low.

Since we’re aiming for a solid 16, we’ll need to go up a step. Using the Exposure Correction Table, to go up a step (increase step guide by…) we need to take our original exposure (100 seconds) and multiply this by 1.4. The next recommended exposure time is then 140 seconds.

Example: Using a single Nu-Arc UVA bulb and aiming for a 16 on the Stouffer Gauge:

First trial’s main exposure time: 600 seconds resulted in a solid 17 (with blobby edges around the top of the 17). A 17 is considered “overexposed” and the exposure time is too high/much.

As we’re aiming for a solid 16, we’ll need to go down a step. Using the Exposure Correction Table, to down a step (decrease step guide by…) we need to take our original exposure (600 seconds) and multiply this by 0.7. The next recommended exposure time is then 420 seconds.


Why are my numbers wrong reading when I’m looking at the fully processed plate?

The film strip was incorrectly applied (it was flipped) when placed on the unexposed plate. For the 21-Step Stouffer Gauge, the emulsion side should be face down and be touch the emulsion side of the unexposed photopolymer. If looking down at your set-up, you should be able to see the number and text in a right-reading format.

My target number is blobby or washed out What’s happening?

If your wash-out and dry times are correct, then you are underexposing your film. But you are almost there to your ideal exposure time. This means that the photopolymer hasn’t been hardened up enough to be able to hold on the plate when your plate is being washed and dried. Try boosting up your exposure time by 1/2 a step. This is where keeping track of your test times will be important. You are narrowing in on the time.


All of my number and tones are completely hardened up and I can’t see anything at all. What gives?

If your wash-out and dry times are correct, then you are overexposing your film by a bit. This means that all of the photopolymer has hardened up beyond what you need and is running into the risk of being over-exposed and flaking off. Try shortening your exposure time.


I’m recording a really, really long exposure time ( about 10 minutes + ). What’s going on?

A likely suspect is that something that is affecting your light source. Common issues are:

  • Bulbs are low wattage (e.g. 15watt): A low bulb emitting a low wattage of light will take much longer to harden the plate as compared to a higher wattage bulb (e.g. 40watt). Some platemaking units were not designed to hold higher wattage bulbs. Also consult your platemakers recommended bulb specifications to avoid malfunctions.
  • Bulbs are not outputting at full capacity: Bulbs should be changed if they fall below 70% output.  Longer and increased exposure times from your optimal time are a sign of diminishing output.  We suggest changing them out for new bulbs as this will give you the most accurate results (Boxcar Press can provide you with new light bulbs). You will need to run a new stouffer test every time you replace your light bulbs.
  • Bulbs are too far from your plates or there are not enough of them or close enough together. Bulbs work best at 1.5” – 3” max away from your plate. Multiple bulbs next to each other give the best results for good plates as the light comes from both the sides and top to create strong relief on the plate. Your exposure unit may need some re-configuration.
  • Using the sun: the sun’s rays will not be uniform in strength or duration as ozone, potential cloud coverages, and other spatial interferences will make the light emission vary in intensity. As powerful an energy source the sun is… it fluctuates and will take a lot longer to expose a plate properly as compared to an industrial exposure unit with calibrated bulbs. But it’s free and plentiful and a long exposure time may be what it takes.  This is where your Stouffer scale reading will guide you.

I’m using a Nu-Arc. Any tips?

The Nu-Arc unit measures in light units and typically only has one bulb that is farther away from the plate.  Times for exposure will be longer because of this light source.   You will have to rely heavily on your Stouffer Gauge for pinpointing your time.  If you have a large model, you may not be able to make a plate as large as the glass frame.  The exposure times at the edges of the machine may be different than your center.  A stouffer test at the center and corners will help determine that.

For more helpful tips on the DIY platemaking process and set-up, has a plethora of information to check out here.

Mirka Hokkanen: Linocuts and Letterpress

As a full-time mom and part-time printer, naturalist Mirka Hokkanen exemplifies the can-do printing spirit. The fine arts printer has enjoyed the challenges and joys that also come with relocation as her wonderful husband is active in the Army. The results are astounding and show the love she has for the printing tradition as seen in her beautifully detailed nature-themed linocuts and letterpress print work. We sat down with Mirka to talk shop, what it’s like to catch up with letterpress after all these years, and of course her upcoming wood engraving teaching position in Finland next summer.

 Mirka Hokkanen of Texas prints beautiful letterpress and linocut fine art prints.

THE TRAVELED PRINTER I’m a printmaker, mom, army wife, Finn, and an animal and nature lover. I was born and raised in Finland and came to the US after high school to go to college as an international student. I took a printmaking class my first semester and have been printing ever since. After my MFA, I got married to an Army guy, and we have been traveling the US (and Europe) since. Our family now consists of my husband and I, two kids, a doggie and fish.

The kids are finally old enough to be at a part time day care, and I am starting to work in the studio more efficiently. I feel like there is so much work to catch up with after being a full(er) time mom for several years. We love spending time outside (as much as the Texas heat will let us). The kids are just as interested in exploring nature as I am.   

Mirka Hokkanen of Texas prints beautiful letterpress and linocut fine art prints.

FOR THE LOVE OF LETTERPRESS There were some awesome letterpresses at the University of Dallas, where I got my MFA from. No one knew how to use them, so for my graduate work, I set some type on my own, and did embossing for a book project I had. The experiment was fun, and as a printmaker, I love all presses, no matter how they print. The seeds of letterpress were sown and I went on my way with etchings. Fast forward about six years, and several state-to-state moves. I was trying to look for a medium that was easier to move than etching equipment, but something I could get high detail in. I exposed polymer plates at home for intaglio, and was getting into color reduction linocuts. Letterpress drew me in, because of the ease of registering multiple plates. I proceeded to drive an hour and a half to take letterpress classes at SVC in Seattle and met Carl Montford who then taught and got me involved with wood engraving.   

Mirka Hokkanen prints beautifully detailed linocut prints.

PRESS HISTORY My very first press was a blue Dick Blick etching press. I used it quite a lot, but when I started getting into letterpress, I first got a tiny Sigwalt from eBay for almost nothing (because it was in horrible shape). Obviously that did not take me too far after fixing it up (I don’t think I ever printed anything with it) and within a couple years, my studio had an assortment of about 5 letterpresses in all shapes and sizes. 

Mirka Hokkanen prints on a Vandercook beautiful nature-themed linocut prints.

PRINTER ON THE MOVE Wherever we move, we do our best to get a house with enough room to have a studio in it. That way I can be at home and pop to work in the studio as much as possible. Compared to most other printers, my shop needs to pick up and move every three years, which limits the amount of things I can accumulate. I barely have any type for that reason or huge presses, and use polymer plates or carve linoleum if I need text in my work. My current studio is tiny, I can’t teach classes in it, but the best part about it is that it is right here, and I can go in there whenever I have a spare moment.

If I had to pick one thing to save in case of a fire, I’d grab my Morgan Lin-o-scribe press. I think everything else I could bare to part with or could replace. It’s like a loyal old dog: he follows me around everywhere we move, is a little shaggy and rough around the edges, waits for me patiently when I can’t get to printing for months, and makes a great impression whenever I need to get work done quickly.      

Mirka Hokkanen prints on a Vandercook beautiful nature-themed linocut prints.

THE PRINTER AND DESIGNER I’ve always considered myself a printmaker, but recently I’ve been becoming more of a proper business owner too. I come from a fine art background, so I’ve always done everything from designing the images, and carving the plates, to hands-on printing and then photographing and marketing to sell the finished product and sending them off to their new homes. 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS I usually have a mix of ideas in my head for new prints. I think it kind of looks like alphabet soup in there. Over time, I might sketch things on paper and let them marinate some more. Sometimes things will mull for over a year before the time is right to start working on them. When I finally have the finished idea of what I want to do, the execution goes pretty fast.

I often don’t sketch things too much. Many times it’s just one drawing that I might work over and over, which gets transferred onto a block and then carved. It’s fairly mechanical after the idea is complete. For multiple plate blocks, with several colors, I might do thumbnail sketches with watercolors, or scan my drawing and play with color options in Photoshop.

Cutting and printing with linocuts by fine arts printmaker Mirka Hokkannen.

I’d say I work as an art business as close to full time as I get from the kids. I’ve done my fair share of odd jobs over the years, from adjunct teaching, to volunteering and then staying at home with kids. With the moving, my studio is the only thing that travels with me and that I can work on consistently. My dream one day is to make prints full time and have an assistant who would do some of the business end of things. It won’t be until after we settle down one day, though. It’s fun to dream in the meantime, though.

Mirka Hokkanen prints beautifully detailed linocut prints. "Mr. Carpey".

PRINTING FEATS I’m proud that I’m still printing with passion after all these years. I have more confidence than ever in my work, and have figured out how to challenge myself and grow without the consistent support of a local artist/printer/gallery community that many others have. My friends live far and wide, and the peer community who I rely on offers support through emails, phone calls, and social media groups.

On the flip-side; picking up every three years, has forced me (a sworn introvert) to become super fast at networking every time we land in a new town.  

BOXCAR’S ROLE I’ve been ordering unexposed plates from Boxcar for about 5 years now, and the service has always been flawless. I’ve even ordered a couple ready made plates, when I wanted something to turn out perfect or needed lots of detail that I didn’t want to risk exposing myself. I have some ideas for prints with larger plates, that I care not to carve as engravings, and Boxcar will be my go-to plate source at that point.

PRINTING TIPS I usually print linocuts and engravings, which in some ways is different than type. I’ve got a lot of tricks up my sleeve to get things to print right. First, I almost always prefer to ink by hand, which gives me more leverage on ink coverage, and how the paper lays on the plate while printing.

In this video, you can see I use pieces of foam on big prints to keep paper off the plate until the press rolls over it. It keeps the ink from making stretch marks in solid areas. If you use a different system, like a Vandercook or an iron hand press where the paper meets the plate differently, this wouldn’t make a difference.

Really, the biggest advice I can share is: have lots of patience and have a group of people who you can call on for advice. The best way to learn is just to do lots of it. You will have a different problem with each edition to solve, so you become really smart by the time you’re a seasoned printer. LOL! I try to keep up with a blog of tips and tricks. It’s a record for myself to remember the things I’ve done with editions and hope it’s something for students to reference also. You can find it here!

  Mirka Hokkanen prints on a Vandercook beautiful nature-themed linocut prints.

WHAT’S NEXT At this point it looks like we will be moving overseas in the middle of 2017. Packing and unpacking will take up most of the year, so I am working really hard to build up a mailing list now, and release a collection of prints in March-April before we pack up. Join the mailing list here!

Secondly, I am also really excited to be teaching a wood engraving beginners class in Finland next summer. The technique is all but died out there, so I hope to invigorate and inject some enthusiasm about engraving into graphic artists there.  

A big round of thanks out to Mirka for letting us get a sneak peak at her beautiful printing world!

Melissa Livingston: Falling For Letterpress

Melissa Livingston of Livingston Press is located in the sunny city of Oakton, Virginia. On this warm fall day, she shared with us a small peek at her printing world and the wonderful printing community that inspires her daily—from running letterpress workshops, printing mentors (and family), and the itch to get back on press.

Melissa Livingston cheerily prints on a Chandler & Price Oldstyle in her letterpress shop in Oakton, Virginia.

INSPIRED BEGINNINGS As a small child I fell in love with letters while watching them dance across the big screen the first time I saw the movie 101 Dalmatians. The opening credits were revolutionary at the time. The spots on the dogs morphed into words; it was art to me. Because of my love of letter forms, color and paper, I studied commercial art in college and then worked as a book and calendar designer.

Melissa Livingston's gorgeous letterpress business cards for Livingston Letterpress

A RETURN TO THE PRINTING ARTS After taking a long sabbatical to raise my 5 wonderful children, I decided I wanted to get back into design. By that time everything in the design world had changed from waxed columns of type placed by hand on the art board to being completed on a computer screen. I missed the hands-on experience, so one day on a bit of a whim I decided to buy a 6×10 Kelsey Excelsior Victor tabletop press that came with a Boxcar Base, despite not actually knowing anything about how to print.

Melissa Livingston prints on a Chandler & Price Oldstyle in Virginia.

PRINTING MENTORS After an on-line search I discovered Alan Runsfeldt at Excelsior Press Museum Print Shop in Frenchtown, New Jersey and took the little press to him to learn how it worked. Alan became a mentor and a friend. I purchased my first drawer of type from a basement in Bethesda, Maryland and with the patient guidance of Rebecca at Boxcar Press, learned how to submit a file to create a polymer plate. I was printing! I printed my niece’s wedding invitations, Christmas cards and lots of other projects. I set up a little designated printing space in my basement and loved creating on that little press.


One day the little press broke and seeing my disappointment, my husband searched on eBay for a press. He came across a 10×15 Chandler & Price Oldstyle not far from our home. A dear friend helped us move the press into our garage and through YouTube videos and the kindness of other artists in the field (including Alan who taught me how to properly oil my machine), I continued to learn the craft of letterpress printing.

Melissa Livingston prints gorgeous letterpress pieces in Virginia, USA.

THE CREATIVE FLOW My passion is really the hands on aspect of the craft. I prefer a machine powered by foot treadle. I have also collected quite an array of wooden and lead type and I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of setting type. I stock only primary colors of ink and mix all my colors by hand. I have also added a Potter Press for poster making, which does not have an inking mechanism, so all inking is done with a brayer.

Hand-set type locked-up in a chase by Melissa Livingston.

I do some design work with Illustrator, but prefer to leave the computer-related tasks to others. I work with a wonderful designer, Holly Osborn, whose work you can find on my website. It has also been a joy to collaborate with my daughter Megan as she has designed a few wedding suites.

Melissa Livingston prints gorgeous letterpress pieces in Virginia, USA.

VERY VIVACIOUS IN VIRGINIA Livingston Letterpress began with the Chandler & Price in a corner of our garage. In the cold winter I would use a space heater and a candle under the ink disk to keep it warm enough to move the ink. In September of 2014 I moved into a real studio we added onto our home. The studio is a sacred, beautiful space to me; a physical reminder that dreams really do come true! I have a stunning composing table that found its way to me through the kindness of a jewelry artist who had inherited it from a printer friend. I have cases of type that sat for decades in basements and now have new life as letters are inked and pressed to the paper to print once again. I am connected to my tools as I have cleaned and scrubbed and made them functional again. It is an amazing feeling to look around the room and be surrounded by love; love for the craft, love for the kindness of others who have taught me or passed along tips or equipment, and the love of a family that supports this passion of mine.

PRESS HISTORY 6×10 Kelsey Excelsior Victor tabletop press, 10×15 Chandler & Price Oldstyle

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar Press has been a wonderful resource to me. I use a 5×7 Base, a 9×12 Base and also very small bases that allow me to mix polymer plates with handset type. I love the flexibility that platemaking allows a letterpress printer. I recently ordered plates in Korean, Arabic and Russian!

I think the thing that impresses me most about Boxcar is the kindness of the staff, especially their patience as they have walked me through how to confirm my artwork is 100% black.

Melissa Livingston prints gorgeous letterpress pieces in Virginia, USA.

PRINTING FEATS I am so grateful for the opportunities that have come my way through letterpress printing. I treasure the connections I have made with people who have come to print and I love seeing their reaction as they create a treasure. I am inspired by the words people choose to turn into art. I was thrilled to get to print the menus and booklet covers and hand-stitch the bindings of the booklets for the 2015 Kinfolk Dinner in Washington, DC, but my favorite projects have been to print wedding suites for my oldest son and daughter.

Big round of thanks out to Melissa for the fun happenings at Livingston Press. Keep up the amazing work!

Letterpress art prints by George Davis on display in the Adirondacks

Earlier this summer, we teamed up with George Davis to create letterpress art prints for his latest exhibit, “The Doodle Show,” which is currently on display at the Depot Theatre in Westport, New York. We letterpress printed the trio of art prints on our Heidelberg SBB cylinder press to ensure even ink coverage of the designs, which all make great use of negative space and feature heavy floods of classic black ink. Today we’re sharing George’s inspiration behind the designs, which will be on display until October 15th.

Black and white letterpress art prints from Boxcar Press

Let’s start with Soar, a dizzying bird flying skyward. The seed for this image was a ceramic tile I spotted in Taos, New Mexico. Rusty red glaze painted onto a white tile, yellowing with age. Simple image, sparse brush strokes. It struck me that this carefree creature was trapped in the grid of tiles. Cubicled. But it yearned to escape, longed to fly high into the turquoise dome. Freedom. So I liberated it. I simplified the silhouette and added the concentric silhouette. Echoes. Slightly vertiginous.

Soar, a letterpress art print designed by George Davis and printed by Boxcar Press

Design Shoal began with a 2-3 foot tall, hand painted ceramic vase, one of a pair that stood in opposite corners of a room in Anguilla. As I recall, the pattern on the vase was blue-green, maybe aquamarine. The background was white. The walls were white. And the vases — exotic artifacts from afar — were balancing the upholstery. Or the immense chandelier. Or the panoramic view of the Mediterranean. Designed. Decorated. Carefully choreographed, perhaps a little too carefully. The vases, though intricately detailed, seemed less self-conscious, more alluring. I loved their texture, was distracted by the possibility of the same vase underwater, sunken treasure, tropical fish schooling and shoaling around it. The fish is actually a single image duplicated, tweaked, and rescaled, and it was sketched quickly after snorkeling.

Design Shoal, a letterpress art print designed by George Davis and printed by Boxcar Press

Soar and Design Shoal are included in 40×41: Midlife Crisis Postponed, a collection of meditations on middle age. They are visual poems, an experiment that I’m revisiting in a second edition due out by year’s end. 

Letterpress art prints designed by George Davis on display

Soar and Design Shoal interspersed with drawings by artists Kevin Raines and Judy Guglielmo.

St. Joseph’s Steeple is a standing-on-the-ground view looking almost directly up at the tall pointy part of a church located a five minute walk from my home. I’m attracted to unusual perspectives. I’m attracted to texture (tactile and visual). Combining both provides a fresh look at this handsome but restrained country church. Or at least that’s what I was hoping to achieve. The illustration is included in Essex, New York Architecture: A Doodler’s Field Guide, an unconventional handbook intended to inspire architectural curiosity and creativity.

Letterpress art prints designed by George Davis on display

St. Joseph’s Steeple (and Noble Clemons House, leftmost image) interspersed with drawings by architect Bryan Burke.

 St. Joseph's Steeple letterpress art print designed by George Davis and printed by Boxcar Press

All three of these images are what I refer to as digital doodles. A few years ago I vowed to transform my mobile devices from productivity tools into creativity tools. From albatross to adventure, ball and chain to hot air balloon. Less data overload; more whimsy. Less anxiety; more joy. Today we’re so inundated with digital demands, deadlines, commitments, communications that we sometimes overlook the magnificent world around us. We trudge around with our necks doubled and our fingers swiping and typing. When we glance up it’s too often just to document our sexy appetizer or our dog’s antics for our friends and family on social media. We too rarely distill anything enduring from the digital detritus, rarely harness our devices’ remarkable capacity for invention and caprice and wonder. So I decided to try. My digital doodles combine illustrations, photographs, and collage. They inevitably endure multiple iterations in Photoshop purgatory as I play and explore and experiment and remix and strip away and occasionally — if I get really fortunate — a few of these digital first image evolve to a stage when ink and paper and fingerprints are indicated. This is the evasive but glorious goal. Boxcar Press helped me achieve this goal with Soar, Design Shoal, and St. Joseph’s Steeple. And I am profoundly grateful. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

 St. Joseph's Steeple letterpress art print designed by George Davis and printed by Boxcar Press

Many thanks to George for sharing his inspiration behind his impressive art prints! If you’re planning a visit to the Adirondacks, be sure to visit the Depot Theatre to check out the exhibit.

Gallery photographs provided by George Davis. 

Let’s See That Printed: Dana Kadison’s Exotic Flamingo Letterpress Prints

When the intricately-detailed illustrated flamingo graphic passed through our platemaking service, we were eager to learn more about what was to become of this plate and the resulting final pulled print. The printer behind the design, Dana Kadison, let us in on how the illustration project came to be and how she turned a long-mused-over concept into reality.

An illustration by Dana Kadison being made into a letterpress plate by Boxcar Press
An illustration by Dana Kadison being made into a letterpress plate by Boxcar Press

Dana filled us in on beautiful (and long-term) project details: “As a photographer and collector, I have built a library of images and ephemera that is the foundation for an ongoing series based on the Mexican bingo game Loteria. Currently there are eight Loteria images. Each one exists in more than one “state”: my CMYK proofs, which will eventually have reverses and be printed as cards in a boxed set; monoprints, which I produce whenever I want to work out an idea or a reverse (like the Yeats Mariachis); soon, the editioned prints which include letterpress layers; and finally, Ofrendas, of which the Flamingo is the first. The Ofrendas, or offerings, are simpler statements of the ideas in the Loteria card series.”

Dana Kadison on press with a Vandercook printing press.

“The Flamingo Ofrenda is casual and references Jose Guadalupe Posada’s work. About two years ago, inspired by a set of Players cigarette cards, I was thinking about, and scratching, all kinds of birds, particularly finches, but also hornbills, crossbeaks, frogmouths, macaws, etc., and finally settled on a flamingo for card #2. The flamingo, for Americans at least, is undeniably iconic and the males and females look alike.”

“Now there is a suite of 8 images ready for editioning on 18×24 sheets of paper. Each one synthesized from a myriad of “stuff”: you know, the words, texts, images, objects, conversations that make up a life. And the first thing I wanted to add to each image is the text that will be on the reverse each of card when they become actual cards. For the viewer the text would be a clue to what I was thinking. Of course I wanted it in my own handwriting. And this is where letterpress comes into play. It all started with the idea of plates of text in my own handwriting.”

“So I took a class at Robert Blackburn on a Vandy 4. The flamingo, my first plate from Boxcar, was for that class. Using that Vandercook 4, I printed the flamingo two ways, straight and then over monotypes. All the prints have the same degree of impression. I like the straight prints, but am still deciding about paper. The monotype backgrounds please me the most, perhaps because I did not try to register them with the plate. Knowing that, once set, the Vandy would take care of itself, part of this exercise was to let go of the urge to register. While all of this is happening, I did press my first image with Pilar Nadal at Pickwick Independent Press in Portland ME.”

Dana Kaddison prints beautiful letterpress flamingo monoprints with Pilar Nadil.

“Letterpress is an aesthetically and physically freeing experience. We all know that paper is not really 2D, that it has depth. Letterpress layers add visible texture that can be seen with or without ink. And a letterpress registers. It is a little unsettling to use a press, completely unlike pulling the screens myself. Atmospheric conditions in the NYC studio are so variable and water-based inks misbehave in such interesting and frustrating ways that achieving consistency in CMYK prints takes great physical and mental stamina.

With letterpress I can imagine more and physically achieve more. For the editions of the first 8 images, I chose to set the 6.5×10.25 card faces on 18×24 sheets of paper and handwrite the text from each reverse below the screenprint of its card face. The handwritten texts are becoming letterpress plates. And there was more beautiful white space available. So parts of the reverse images are now finding their places as letterpress in that white space. For example, #2 will be embedded in the enlarged body of my scratchwork flamingo.”

A large heaping round of thanks out to Dana for letting us get a sneak peek at the brilliant flamingo designs!

The Handsome Prints of Dapper Ink

In the beautiful rolling landscape of Greenville, South Carolina you’ll find the versatile Dapper Ink letterpress and silkscreen print shop. The down-south shop boasts expertly printed pieces, a great design staff, and a penchant for perfecting the right amount of ink (whether it’s on a tee shirt or cotton rag paper stock). The bright & light-hearted Virginia gave us a tour of her studio to talk shop, expanding to a new location, where to grab a great bite to eat, and of course… letterpress.

Dapper Ink printshop holds letterpress printing press treasures, silkscreen prints, and hand-crafted style.

PRINTING BEGINNINGS We are a custom print and design shop, primarily focused on screen printed apparel. Matt Moreau and his wife Jen started screen printing t-shirts out of their house in 2007, and now employ a full team of printers and designers. Our first letterpress machine, a Chandler and Price, came from a local printshop that had closed its doors. Matt started building a letterpress client base, and would print whenever he had some time to spare. I started learning on the C&P when I interned for Dapper during college. They brought me on as the full time letterpress printer about a year and a half ago.

TYPE OF SHOP We are a full service print and design shop. We have two automatic screen presses, three manual screen presses, a wide format printer for fine art prints, a Chandler & Price, 2 table top clamshell letterpresses, and a hot foil machine. We also facilitate digital, offset, and anything else our customers can think up.

NUMBER OF PRINTERS IN THE SPACE We currently have two full time designers and two design interns, and Matt, the owner, now focuses on designing for our sister company The Landmark Project. We have between 15-20 full time and part time employees between the two companies.  The designers here do everything from helping people refine their t-shirt or business card designs to full branding for new companies as well as creating designs for our own Dapper Ink retail line.

SIZE OF PRINT SHOP Our main shop is about 1500 square feet. We also have a secondary space that is about 6000 square feet and we originally planned to move the business there, but it filled up too quickly so now we have both spaces. The large space is in a new development called Hampton Station. It’s a warehouse facility that is being converted into shops and green space. There is currently a crossfit gym, a paddle board company, and a brewery operating in the other spaces.

THE LOCATION We are in the Stone’s Point shopping center that includes a dry cleaner, custom denim shop called Billiam, a home goods/gift shop called Urban Digs, and a craft beer and wine bar Community Tap. We have a rotation of five or six food trucks that setup for lunch and dinner outside of Community Tap.

MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL We went through a mile of double sided tape in the span of about a year. I use it for press setup, and we seem always need it for something.

PLATE AND BASE OF CHOICE We have a standard 6×9 Boxcar Base that we’ve used from the beginning, but I’m thinking it’s time to upgrade to the 9×12.

SOLVENT OF CHOICE I just started using Easy Street for cleanup this year, and it’s a real game changer.

ORGANIZATION TIPS I wish we had some organization secrets [laughs].

PRINTING ADVICE Mixing reflex blue into black gives much better coverage than straight black ink.

COMING SOON In 2017 we will be focusing on our new retail/wholesale line.  We are currently in 8 shops around the country, and hope to expand. I am also excited to be training Alexander, one of our screen printers, on the C&P. We are hoping to add another press, and develop our poster printing capabilities.

Dapper Ink letterpress business card that beautifully uses wood grain pattern effectively and brilliantly.
Dapper Ink printshop holds letterpress printing press treasures, silkscreen prints, and hand-crafted style.

Sweet Prints at Typebee

Typebee studio’s very own Breanna White’s extraordinary printing journey started with a curious stumble over a classified for a letterpress internship. After the pull of the trip, the instantaneous (and quite insatiable) hook set in. Fast forward a few years later and Breanna is bridging the gap between old generation printing and new printing techniques at her cozy shop. With a small pile of chocolate at the ready (as she’s unabashedly a chocoholic), she sat down with us between ink runs to talk about her escapades for printing with DOMA coffee, the joy of working with her hands, and her inspirational (and aspiring printer) daughter, Jaedah.

A hand-on approach, cheerful attitude, a love for letterpress, and lots of chocolate are what energizes Breanna White of Typebee studios.

CREATIVE CHOCOHOLIC PRINTER In a nutshell, I’m a biodynamic gardener, book nerd who loves chocolate, not coffee… I know, designer’s sin, guess that’s why I’m a printmaker for a coffee company? Wait, how’d that happen?

LUCKY WITH LETTERPRESS It all began as a child, being handed the assembly-required gifts at holidays. I was attracted to the process of building. Starting with a myriad of unfamiliar objects, working through the technical illustrations labyrinth to arrive at a complete, usable item. One could imagine clicking a mouse eight hours a day wasn’t exactly filling my cup. So when I was tasked to find an internship, I began researching the tail end of design. Printing. I stumbled across a listing for a letterpress intern at Steel Petal Press reading ‘hand skills required’. That’s me!! Embarrassed to admit, I didn’t even know what letterpress printing was at the time, but I remember the very moment when I pulled the trip, making my first impression. I was hooked. Not just the impression, the whole of the process. There is something magical about process, the unfolding of a project over time. Since we are by design process-oriented beings, process-oriented tasks help us connect at a deeper level.

Letterpress work samples from Breanna White of Typebee studios.
Letterpress work samples from Breanna White of Typebee studios.

With that, I found myself traveling to Webster, NY to purchase my first letterpress. A C&P Pilot from Ray Czapkowski at Dock 2 Letterpress. After meeting Ray, I realized his generation of printers understood the process from a practical and mechanical point of view. Which is necessary in the modern, because who are you going to call when the drive wheel from the 1924 New Style C&P decides to fly off at random, rolling towards your boss innocently sitting in the corner? Or when the original wood spool cracks during a lecture to NIC Students causing the belt to slip? It’s helpful to understand how the equipment functions so you can identify and fix malfunctions. The drive wheel was stripped, so I tapped new holes. The spool no longer had an evenly arched surface causing the belt to ride the higher route jamming it against the motor, so I evened it out with duct tape for the sake of continuing the lecture until it could be repaired. These are lessons learned from people like Ray and Ed Regan who taught me the historical and technical aspects of letterpress. There’s a lost generation of printing knowledge, it’s important to bridge that gap, and ask questions because knowing the limitations of the output gives way for good input. Start with output and work backwards.

A hand-on approach, cheerful attitude, a love for letterpress, and lots of chocolate are what energizes Breanna White of Typebee studios.

COZY PRINT SHOP It’s 400 square feet of pure bliss. If there were a shower, I’d highly consider moving in.

DESIGNED TO PRINT My initial training is in Visual Communications with a BFA from the Illinois Institute of Art – Chicago along with typographic studies from HGK in Basel, Switzerland. So I wear both hats but I enjoy printing most. And the fact that I get to wear an apron to work is pretty appealing. I’ve been fortunate to work with a diverse group of clients and designers and enjoy the collective efforts. Having had prior experience with the design process does give the ability to communicate effectively with clients and designers alike.

A hand-on approach, cheerful attitude, a love for letterpress, and lots of chocolate are what energizes Breanna White of Typebee studios.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS Research. Research. Research. Then long walks to visualize the final idea and from there work backwards taking into consideration the output of the design before creating a roadmap, also known as the lost art of sketching. Coupled with many chocolate intermissions. If I find myself spinning the wheel, I take another walk to get the creative juices flowing. Once I have a tight comp, I’ll bring it in digitally. My least favorite part of the process…

FULL TIME PRINTER I letterpress full time in parts for the last two years and have been printing for five. I own my business, Typebee Letterpress Printshop and also subcontract for companies like DOMA Coffee Roasting Co.

COFFEE TIME Finest coffee you’ll ever taste. It’s of an unfortunate irony that I cannot drink it. Here’s the story:

A hand-on approach, cheerful attitude, a love for letterpress, and lots of chocolate are what energizes Breanna White of Typebee studios.

As a recent arrival from Chicago, I soon understood searching for studio space in Spokane, WA would become a Quest of Epic Proportions. And as the universe would have it, a trail of crumbs led me to the front door of DOMA Coffee Roasting Co. in Post Falls, ID. I have had the fortune to work unique jobs in my lifetime, cleaning a coal mine for one but in no way did I know solicitation for letterpress restoration would be one of ’em.

Following my 30-second elevator pitch to Mindy, Jack-of-all-DOMA, I awkwardly lingered in the front entrance. I’d like to believe before words were ever exchanged between Rebecca, owner of DOMA, and I that we knew something magical was already in the making. After The Wonderful World of DOMA tour, we came upon our last stop, The Press. If you have ever felt motionless in a point of time whilst all else carries on around you… The Press was that point. And some employees would admit, a hindrance between point A and point B.

If you can imagine a 5’3” lady weighing approximately 120 lbs. soaking wet wearing denim coveralls too many sizes too big, with nitrile gloves and a half face ventilator mask… well, there I was with wire brush and mineral spirits hand scrubbing a 2,500lb. cast iron beast of a lady clad with God only knows what. I think too often we perceive the old as something to avoid or something to replace. Letterpress printing is more than ink on gorgeous paper; the process represents a historical pivot, one of equal corporative between craftsman and machine.

A hand-on approach, cheerful attitude, a love for letterpress, and lots of chocolate are what energizes Breanna White of Typebee studios. A hand-on approach, cheerful attitude, a love for letterpress, and lots of chocolate are what energizes Breanna White of Typebee studios.

After the letterpress was restored, well someone needed to operate it. For a time I flew back and forth between Chicago and Idaho to fulfill orders. It was in November of 2014, DOMA was having an open house for the Winter Wonderland coffee bags and Lee from Letterpress USA stopped by asking a lot of questions. At first I thought she was interested in the process but later realized I was being tested on my expertise. Less than ten minutes of her departure I received a phone call asking if I’d like to work for Letterpress USA. I said yes without thinking, hung up the phone and realized that I lived in Chicago!! Ha. So naturally I went home and packed the car and then headed west. I currently work part-time for Letterpress USA as a journey(wo)man learning Die Cutting, Perforating, Scoring and Foil Stamping.

On the side, I offer private lessons and lecture about the history of letterpress & the process of printing. Also just began a joint Greeting Cards venture: CardCo Lab is a collaborative letterpress project managed by myself, printmaker Bee, and creative writer Michal Bennett. Our purpose is to craft exquisite and one-of-a-kind letterpress greeting cards that connect brilliant artists, creative minds, and judicious consumers. Each card that we create is printed as a limited edition run and is only available until sold out. Then it’s on to the next beloved project.

PRINTING FEATS The first one that comes to mind, is restoring DOMA’s New Style C&P. It had sat for 30+ years and needed some TLC. When we fired Er’ up for the first time, Rebecca, owner of DOMA, and I just looked at each other in a state of ‘is this really happening?!’. Another was when I finally mastered printing on bag gussets without a break in the ink. The Addy Award was a proud moment too.

PRESS HISTORY My first letterpress was a C&P Pilot from Webster, NY. In a few weeks Bootup (boo-dup), will be having a new home in San Jose, California. Er’ is a well-traveled press: New York to Chicago to Post Falls to San Jose. Tear tear, Er’ will be missed. Other presses in the shop: Pulowech (pul-lah-wetch) a New Style 12 x 18 C&P, Nukumi (noo-goomee) an Old Style 10 x 15 C&P and hopefully coming soon Nakuset (nah-goo-set) a Heidi 10 x 15 Windmill from Seattle. Much needed for my poor back.

A hand-on approach, cheerful attitude, a love for letterpress, and lots of chocolate are what energizes Breanna White of Typebee studios.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Letterpress in the modern would not exist at its current capacity without Boxcar Press. This is where technology and old world methods meet. As I’ve said before, letterpress is a process in a non-process oriented world. People want to push buttons and enjoy instantaneous gratification. If it weren’t for platemaking services like Boxcar, I’m not sure how practical letterpress would be from a turn-around standpoint. Personally, Boxcar has helped me from the very beginning from understanding what base/plates to use, troubleshooting and same-day turn around when you’ve overlooked placing the headline in your artwork. Oops. As Michael at Letterpress USA says, “Print Happens.” Thank you Cathy, Rebecca and the Boxcar team for all you do!! And I have to say, I think it’s important to create and foster relationships within the printing community. It’s exciting to see people joining the craft, which keeps us moving forward. Boxcar has always been that pillar in the letterpress community.

A hand-on approach, cheerful attitude, a love for letterpress, and lots of chocolate are what energizes Breanna White of Typebee studios.

SHOP TIPS Never count anyone out, by that I mean we all have something to teach and something to learn. Ed is a great example. He was considered a mere mover of presses. After striking up a conversation he became one of my greatest mentors. And has a treasure box of information and history one couldn’t believe. One of my favorite stories of his is about simultaneously running three Heidi Windmills as a youth. I remember being in awe, now I can do the same. Picture your vision, and enjoy the process of getting there.

WHAT’S NEXT I’m working towards offering everything under one roof; design, letterpress, packaging and finishing. I’ve spent the last seven years learning each part of the process in depth and would like 2017 to become a year of transition from being a solo printer to having multiple people of their respective fields working together with Typebee. Press on.

LAST THOUGHTS The most important piece to all of this, are my daughter Jaedah and her sidekick MoMo, a rainbow stuffed sock monkey. They’ve always been at my side and eager to spin every flywheel we come across. She’s my little inspiration and aspiring printer.

Immensely huge round of thanks out to Breanna of Typebee for the unique glimpse into her exceptionally awesome printing realm!

File Preparation Tips: Deciphering Spot Colors and Your Swatch Palette

Here in the pre-press department at Boxcar Press, we unapologetically love 100% CMYK black. It’s the best way to send your files 95% of the time. However, on occasion, when you are printing in two (or more) colors, you may be interested in setting up your file in spot colors or using Pantone swatches.


To first understand spot colors, let’s go back to CMYK process colors. We like your files to be 100% of the black only of the CMYK process.

  • C= Cyan
  • M= Magenta
  • Y=Yellow
  • K = Black


100% CMYK black means black is 100% and C,M, and Y are set to 0%.  There is only one color channel visible/used and the other 3 colors are missing and/or removed. If going this route, we are not looking for 100% of all of the color channels – just black.

If you want to print with spring green, in the process color system it might be made up of Cyan 63.5% and Yellow 100%. The mix of these two colors does not work for letterpress and for this, we turn to a spot color approach.


Spot Colors

In letterpress, for a good film and plate, you want just one color and not percentages of other colors. In this example, you want spring green in a spot color or Pantone Swatch.

In contrast to just using 100% CMYK black, a spot color is a special per-determined color, usually identified by a Pantone PMS number or name.  The PMS number will come from a color-matching library. Illustrator and InDesign both have color-matching libraries. For letterpress, you will want a solid spot color, usually from the color library of the Pantone + Solid Uncoated book. A spot color is a separate channel from your CMYK process colors.

Where do you access these libraries to choose your color?

With Adobe Illustrator:
Select your swatches from the color book library

File prep & How to Use Spot Colors for letterpress plates: Adobe Illustrator showing how to access Pantone Swatches (Pantone + Solid Uncoated swatch library book).

(1)  From the navigation bar at the top – Click Window > Swatches. A Swatch palette window will open. In the upper right hand part of that window, there is a set of 4 lines with a small drop down arrow (this icon indicates a fly-out menu). Click on this to open a list.


(2) Scroll to almost the bottom to Select > Open Swatch Library. Click on this for another list of options. Select > Color Books. Another click here to Select > Pantone + Solid Uncoated. A click on this will open this color-matching library with your spot colors.
(3) The top colors are the Pantone colors such as Warm Red and Purple. Next are the Fluorescent colors  followed by Metallics. After that are all the PMS colors by number found in this color library (and your formula guide, if you have one).


Use the Find space to type in your PMS color number.  Click on the color to add it to your Swatch palette where you can now apply it to any text or image in your art board.

We now have spring green defined by Pantone 375 U in our swatch palette and our text is 100% of 375 U. Notice that the spot color will also show up on your Separations Preview window also, at the bottom below the CMYK colors.


With Adobe InDesign, load your color library swatches:

(1) From the navigation bar at the top – Click Window > Color > Swatches. A Swatch palette window will open.
(2) In the upper right hand part of that window – there is a set of 4 lines with a small drop down arrow (this icon indicates a fly-out menu). Click on this to open a list.


(3) Select at the top – New Color Swatch – and a window will open. Change the Color Type to Spot. Click on Color Mode for the list of color libraries and change CMYK to Pantone + Solid Uncoated. Choose your PMS color and it will be added to your swatch window so you can apply it to any text or image on your art board. Your spot color will also show up on your Separations Preview window, at the bottom below the CMYK colors.

File prep & How to Use Spot Colors for letterpress plates: Adobe InDesign showing how to access Adobe Pantone + Solid Uncoated swatch library.

When might you want to use spot colors on your files?

You may also be printing in two or more colors that touch each other. Sending a spot color file will help us output and trap correctly for you. If you are setting up a file to show color selections to a client, it is helpful to choose the actual ink colors for printing by their spot colors. (Please note that unless your monitor is calibrated correctly the on screen color may not match exactly the printed color).

Screen shot 2016-07-13 at 12.28.00 PM

When it’s time to submit your files to our pre-press department, we can output with those spot colors and provide a plate for each color. We encourage you to try your color libraries and some spot colors on your own so you can enjoy a little burst of Pantone in your files.

One Last Dance For Photopolymer Plates: Ink Stamp Pads

Here at Boxcar Press we’re always looking for new ways to give printing supplies “one last dance” before recycling or dismissing items into the wastebasket. One of our clever and resourceful platemaking customers, Meredith Pinson-Creasey of Purple Dog Press shares with us an experimental & last-time use for her custom-ordered photopolymer plates: using ink stamp pads to apply ink to the plates. Meredith weighs in on the pros and cons of using ink stamp pads for printing (and with some rather nice results).

Helpful note: please do remember that our custom-made photopolymer plates work best with letterpress printing inks (such as rubber-based or oil-based inks) which are rolled on to the surface of the plate.  Many other art inks are water-based and since our plates are water-wash out, using these products can degrade the quality of plates. Please use caution and good judgement if experimenting with water-based ink stamp products.

THE EXPERIMENTAL PROJECT I have been experimenting with some of my old polymer plates, trying to get my logo to print on the cotton twill fabric tape and boxes I use to wrap my letterpress cards for gifting. You guys may have already tried this and I may not be sharing new info, but I’ve had great luck.

My 82 year old mother continues to be the most fearless artist and crafter I know. And her father could repair or make just about anything. It is their “eat first, ask questions later” attitudes that inspire me. As a sports, landscape, and baby photographer, and an amateur letterpress printer with a 1940’s 10 x 15 Kluge, I wanted the packaging for my photo/letterpress cards to be personalized with both my logo and the recipient’s name, or a greeting. The most economical route was to purchase blank ribbon, boxes, and bags to customize as needed. I have printed my own packaging using silkscreen and linoleum blocks, but wanted something faster with less set up time. Having dozens of rubber stamps made was too expensive. So I decided to experiment with some of my retired polymer plates from Boxcar Press.

Using photopolymer plates experimentally with ink stamp pads for a final use.

INK PAD TIPS Working with dye or solvent ink pads produced the crispest image, due in large part to the firm surface of the pad. Pigment inks have a foam pad which can cause the ink to go down into the recessed portions of the polymer plate producing a blurred image. A brayer may also be used to transfer the ink from the pad to the polymer plate to provide even coverage and less mess.

Using polymer plates as a stamp works best when attached to a block of wood or a clear stamping block to ensure only the image or text comes in contact with the fabric. The wood block I used has a slick finish designed to release the temporary stamp easily. Three brands of ink pads worked well for me: Ranger Ink; Hero Arts; and StazOn. Ranger Ink’s “Dye Ink Pad” and “Archival Ink” in all colors I tried worked well. Hero Arts makes terrific “Neon Dye” Ink colors. StazOn’s “Solvent Ink Pad” worked equally well. These inks are waterproof, permanent, acid-free. and the pads are refillable. My guess is that most brands of dye or solvent ink would produce great results.

Using photopolymer plates experimentally with ink stamp pads for a final use.

MATERIALS TO TRY (AND ONES TO AVOID) A few of the materials I’ve stamped with polymer plates include: birch wood tags, twill ribbon tape, glassine food bags, kraft gift boxes, and paper. Although pleased with all the results, the glassine takes FOREVER to dry and the wood tends to bleed sometimes. The bleed may be the result of over inking or applying too much pressure to the stamp because some of the images did not bleed. Kraft paper enhanced the grunge look of one of the fonts. Ink wipes off easily easily with a cloth but will stain the recessed portion of the plate.

(Boxcar’s note: One important thing to note about polymer plates versus rubber stamps which can affect your results and determine which materials are best to stamp on. A polymer plate is a hard surface on a thin substrate. In contrast, a rubber stamp is soft, pliable and cushiony. These properties will work for or against you when you are stamping and experimenting will be key).

THE RESULTS Text of various sizes and weights, and line drawings as thin as .75pt printed well. Because the inks are translucent, this alternative use of polymer plates will not produce a silkscreen type effect.  My faux postage cancellation polymer plates worked great and the uneven application of ink makes it look even more authentic. Expect to see the fabric beneath graphics containing large areas of solid polymer. For best results, I recommend using plates no larger than about 4 x 6 inches, or about the size of your hand.

Using photopolymer plates experimentally with ink stamp pads for a final use.

I love it when my tools can do double duty and this is much more economical than having dozens of custom rubber stamps made. Now if I could get my Kluge to churn butter or something, maybe my husband wouldn’t grumble about the space it requires.

WHAT’S NEXT No longer limited to someone else’s rubber stamp designs, I am looking forward to putting some of my own quotes and graphics in polymer. When I gang up those plates for my Kluge, I’ll be squeezing in another stamp idea. While this alternative use of polymer plates may not appeal to a commercial print shop, I do recommend the idea to anyone looking to complete their branding with a personal handmade touch.

THE FINE PRINT So here’s the fine print: polymer plates degrade with water. Rubber stamp inks are water based. Polymer plates don’t really play well with rubber stamp ink and will degrade over time. I think I’ll go through quite a bit of ribbon before that happens, but I’ll keep my stamping plates separate from my printing plates.

A huge appreciative round of thanks goes out Meredith of Purple Dog Press for her excellent advice and tips!