Need plates fast? Like, really fast? We are excited to announce that same-day rush plate orders are free. If you submit the order before 1pm Eastern, Monday through Friday, we can ship the plates the same day for no additional charge. Just select Rush Service on the “Choose Your Shipping Method” step:
Orders over 120 square inches can also receive free 2-day shipping within the US.
And one other improvement for 2017: we’ve added PayPal as a payment option for supply orders.
Combine best friends, nerdy artsy passion, part-time printing & designing, and cheery, brilliant letterpress cards and you have the formula for the winning dynamic behind Wolf & Wren. Colorado-based Lauren Stapleton and Chicago-based Liz Wolf have harnessed their love for letterpress, passion for printing, and “go get’em” attitudes to flourish from a small ten card line to a 78-card line sold all over the country.Both sat down with us to discuss how they’ve been able to manage working across the country, the loving support of friends & family, and the happy, coffee-soaked moments when they get a chance to meet up throughout the year.
THE CREATIVE DUOWolf & Wren Press is best friend duo, Liz Wolf and Lauren Stapleton. We collaborate to produce special letterpress printed cards and other paper goods.
We met in childhood as budding artists. As adults, our background in the arts ranges from printmaking and paper-making to painting and bookbinding. Our sustaining mantra is combining good ideas with diligent planning, elbow grease, patience, and a little fun. We started Wolf & Wren Press to create unique and heartening products. All cards are illustrated, printed and packaged by us!
LS:I live in a beautiful old town neighborhood of Longmont, Colorado with my husband, Matt, 1-year-old son, Micah, and our Newfoundland, Beatrice. In my spare time I try to fly fish, print for pleasure, eat s’mores by a campfire, cook, and drink beer.But spare time doesn’t really enter my lingo very often as my husband can attest to.
LW: I live in Chicago, IL in the Andersonville neighborhood on the north side. My husband Will and I are expecting our first baby in 6 weeks. I love to draw, hunt for vintage treasures, go out for walks and brunch, drink coffee or red wine, and laugh with friends.Currently, I love to binge Netflix, go for short walks, and prep our apartment (whoa- nesting is real!).
Our workload with Wolf & Wren has increased a ton in the last year, but Lauren and I are able to keep our lives in balance. I attribute this success to running a business with your best friend. It is so satisfying to accomplish our goals together.
LETTERPRESS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHTLS:In college at Colorado State, I was a printmaking major, and simultaneously worked in the preservation lab of the university library fixing books. After college, I moved to San Francisco and became a bookbinder at Taurus Bookbindery, and took some classes at SF Center for the Book on letterpress printing. I realized that letterpress was the commonality between books and printing and fell in love.I immediately found a job as a letterpress printer to learn the trade further.
LW. My last semester of college at University of Illinois, I took a book arts class. My professor Bea Nettles introduced me to the Columbia College Chicago Book and Paper program. Soon after I started the MFA program and delved into the world of papermaking, letterpress, and bookmaking. I still concentrated on drawing which was/is my main interest. I was able to produce all of my drawings into printed matter, which was awesome. I love letterpress.
PRESS HISTORYLS: I bought a Vandercook SP15 in 2008.I actually ran the business hand-feeding every piece till 2015!Now that I have a Heidelberg Windmill 10×15, that seems unimaginable.I do all my scoring on a Golding Pearl No. 3.
PRINTING HAVENLS:I have a shop at my home.It’s actually a shop and not a garage, with no heat in the winter which gets pretty interesting.It holds all our stock of cards, the Pearl and the Vandercook.I had to get a different shop when I bought the Windmill.It’s just a couple blocks from my house, and holds the Windmill and the guillotine.
DESIGNER + PRINTERLS: Printing is my wheelhouse, though I can dabble in design work.This work suits my skills to a “T”.
LW: I do the drawing and designing of our plates for printing. My knowledge of letterpress printing helps immensely when designing plates (hey- no full page color washes).
THE CREATIVE PROCESSLW: When designing our cards, we start with a big brainstorm session that usually concentrates on a series of cards we are working on. Sometimes we start with the text, other times it is the imagery. For example, our most recent series is based on natural wonders. We knew we wanted the text to have sentiments like “You are amazing”, so we thought of all of the natural wonders imagery that would fit. We decided on a double rainbow, a geyser, an erupting volcano erupting, and a comet.After I’ve completed an initial sketch, I will send them to Lauren; we will discuss changes, color options, and layout adjustments.I will then create the final drawing, scan it, and work in Illustrator to create the final design.Lauren and I will look at the final file (are the crop marks correct?), and then upload onto the Boxcar’s website (which is so easy)!
FULL TIME FUNLS: Liz and I have been working towards the goal of running the business full time for years and we are closer than ever.We both go to work at our respective day jobs, and run this business at night, on the weekends, and pretty much every spare moment.Luckily, we have had a lot of fun getting to where we are now and I wouldn’t change any of it.We are so thankful for our supportive husbands and families for helping us along the way.
PRINTING FEATSLS: I am so proud of us for starting this business.We have been best friends since we met in 8th grade and we often talk about if we could have shown our past nerdy artsy high school selves what we would be doing as adults, I would have been so happy!Why did I worry about what I was going to do when I grew up?!
There have been a million accomplishments along the way too.Every single time I have moved and taken presses with me has been a minor miracle.
LW: Ditto! I am so happy that we started our business and have sustained our vision. After reading “In the Company of Women” I was struck by the similarities of the successful entrepreneurs interviewed. It is not an easy or straightforward path. You need support from family and friends, a lot of grit, and to continually cultivate your creativity. We started our line with a suite of ten cards that we sold at fairs and on Etsy. Now we have 78 in the line and sell upwards of 4,000 cards per month.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar plates have been the base for all our cards.They are always friendly and happy to help if needed.Uploading files with the automatic color separation is amazing. Registration is a breeze with the plates and the Boxcar Base.
SHOP TIPSLS: Static Guard Spray!Life saver.When I first started printing on my windmill it was last winter.I was having the strangest registration issues.I suspected it could be static.This spray changed everything.Hours and hours of frustration solved.It’s so dry here in Colorado that static is a major issue for me.I was getting shocked every time I touched the press.
WHAT’S NEXT We are always working on new cards, and this year we will expand our line with new products.We don’t want to give away too much, but we will be working on prints amongst other things.Our winter 2017 catalog will be coming out in the next few weeks.
The creative part of our business has always been the easiest part, because there is never a lack of ideas! We have a production plan for our coming projects and will start checking off the list. 2017 will be an exciting year for W&W!
Huge round of thanks out to Lauren and Liz of Wolf & Wren! Keep the amazing work going!
We’ve making a list and checking it twice for must-have gifts for the printer & letterpress aficionado in your life in our 2016 Letterpress Holiday Gift Guide. From type-inspired goodies to printing press-themed gifts, we’ve got you covered. Let us know what is on your wishlist in the comments section below!
Modern letterpress is all about the feel of those tactile, luxurious papers and the bite into the paper. With these attributes in mind, how do you make the decision of cotton or bamboo or 1-ply versus 2-ply?
While we do not sell letterpress paper here at Boxcar Press, we do have some nifty tips to help navigate your way through the sea of paper possibilities for your next letterpress printing project.
Most letterpress papers are uncoated paper stock (a paper with no gloss or shininess to it). Most papers come in ivory or a shade or two of white from a bright white to a natural white. A paper with a nice texture that aligns with your overall project’s aesthetic is a good choice.
Papers sold are categorized by the overall weight of a ream of paper (or 500 sheets of paper) -“lbs“ refers to standard American English pounds and “gsm“ refers to metric grams/square meters.
A traditional 1-ply paper is usually 110lb or 300 gsm. A traditional 2-ply paper is usually 220lb or 600gsm. In comparison, printer copy paper for a copier or at-home inkjet printer is usually 20lb or 54gsm.
Where to start?
Whether you are a newcomer to the letterpress printing & paper world or a seasoned printer who is looking for a new paper, we heartily recommend (if possible) that you purchase or obtain paper samples. If you have a keen affection or interest in a certain paper company’s stock of papers, you will find most companies either sell paper swatch books for a reasonable price or, in certain cases, have free paper samples. We have compiled a list of papers for your musing and contemplation. (Note that these prices do not include shipping costs and are current pricing for the items themselves at the time of this post).
General directory of sample packs: visit the following sites for a wide variety of papers and envelopes.
Staff Pick: Legion Paper’s Letterpress Selections is $8, and includes 22 different types of 3.5” x 5” paper samples, including Arturo, Colorplan, Rising Museum Board, Stardream, and Legion Bamboo, to name a few.
What letterpress papers to use?
There are major factors that influence what paper to use for a certain project. Factors may include: budget, thickness of paper for impression depth ability, impression aesthetic, and overall aesthetic. Determine what your projects needs are and research your paper to fit those needs. If you can shop around for pricing… we heartily support it to banish away those barren budget blues.
If you are aiming for a softer impression, try a cotton rag paper like Crane’s Lettra. For a soft but tighter fiber paper, try a bamboo paper or something with less than 100% cotton content (example: Cardenon papers have 20%-35% cotton content). Some might like the natural recycled content of a chipboard or kraftboard.
Don’t avoid handmade papers thinking they are out of the budget. There are paper vendors who make beautiful papers in many colors that are favorably priced and will add a “wow” to your project. Handmade papers, which are a unique style of paper all on its own, will usually have a distinct, pronounced texture or feel to the paper where there are minute differences from sheet to sheet. Think of each sheet as “sisters” – similar look but unique all on its own. Deckled edges (or the feathery edges you see on the edge of the paper) are common with handmade papers, although there are papers that do not have the deckled edge. You can cut off the feathered edge if you wish. This uniqueness is often sought after for custom projects.
Embrace and explore all the options and special papers available to you.
Crane’s Lettra: “soft and luxurious to the touch, yet strong and stable on press, the distinct, extra bulky “letterpress” finish of 100% cotton is rare in machine-made paper.” Crane’s Lettra is a staple for our commercially printed projects here at Boxcar Press as well.
Legion Paper also offers Crane’s Lettra, with a sampler pack available for $5.
Cordenon’s Canaletto and Wild: “Italian paper-making art dating back four centuries with a touch of cotton, creating strength and beauty, durability and class.”
Neenah Paper offers your first swatchbook for free, each additional copy is $14.95.
Fabiano Colored Paper and Fabiano Artistico White Rag: An Italian paper mill creates this luxurious soft, cotton-based paper that has a modified cold-pressed surface texture that provides an intriguing paper feel.
Available through the “Watercolor Paper Sampler” pack from Legion Paper for $12.
(photo courtesy of Holyokedirect.com)
Holyoke cotton papers: A soft paper cotton-based paper with a smooth feel and a good alternative to consider for wedding invitations and similar pieces.
Legion’s bamboo paper: This bamboo paper has a tighter fiber weave and is great for business cards.
Samples of Legion’s bamboo can be found through Legion Paper (pick up a swatchbook with paper and envelope samples for $5) and LetterpressPaper.com – paper and envelope samples start at $5.
Moab Entrada: A 100% cotton smooth fine art paper that is acid- and lignin-free paper.
Two sheets of 8.5″ x 11″ Entrada are included in Moab Paper’s sample box, which sells for $26.48 and includes a variety of other fine art papers. Legion Paper also sells a sampling of thirty 8.5″ x 11″ sheets of various Moab papers for $25.98.
Mohawk Paper: Superfine is a beautiful paper with lush tactility, smooth texture surface and great for all-around projects. The Strathmore Pure Cotton line provides a crisp texture and beautiful wove finish.
Mohawk offers swatchbooks for all of their papers, and prices range from $4.99 – $12.99.
Reich Savoy: “blends old world elegance with new world sophistication making it the perfect choice for a wide range of projects from greeting cards and invitations to hang tags and luxury packaging.”
We hope that this essentials list of paper energizes you to search out and try something new for your next project. As always, let us know in the comments section below how you fared and any suggestions to our list that helped you out. We’d love to hear from you!
As soon as Chris Ovdiyenko’s masterfully intricate and eerily beautifully illustrated Arcana tarot card designs passed through our platemaking department, we were eager to learn more about the project and how it was to be printed. Chris from Dead on Paper filled us in on the gorgeous work (and let us know where we could snag a print or two)!
All prints are 11×14” on Stonehenge Natural White, printed with Van Son Universal Black. I’m printing them on a 1907 Peerless platen press. As you can see from the images, I’m using a Boxcar Base (love it!!), and gauge pins from Boxcar Press also.
In order to get good coverage, I’ve cranked up the pressure a fair amount and hand turn the fly wheel. Although my press is motorized, with the increased pressure the motor and belt assembly isn’t able to make it through a full cycle as it takes a fair amount of effort to get it through to the point where the platen touches paper.
There are 45 different designs with a total run of 3000 prints. At this point, I’ve completed about 1800 of them. The most difficult part, as you would imagine, are the ones with large areas of flat black. Luckily I have the technique down to where there’s only a minimum of “salting” which actually adds some nice character to the prints.
Just a quick word about the plates – they are amazing! I started out relief printing with laser etched wooden plates, and what a world of difference photopolymer plates have made for me! I outfitted my press from Boxcar and love the high-quality plates, excellent service, and speedy turnaround!
We’re in love with the fact that at-home do-it-yourself letterpress machines are giving access to the beautiful world of letterpress to those who are hands-on and are looking to stay budget-friendly for printing projects (hand-made wedding invites or business cards, anyone?). But what about the initial setup costs and the essential items needed to make the printing journey a fun and fruitful one?
Below is a list of the essentials (as well as general pricing) to help get you started. We’ve included options for a few select items where you can curb spending or splurge for luxe goods. (Note that these prices do not include shipping costs and are general estimates for the items themselves at the time of this blog post).
Keep in mind how big (or small) your budget will be for your printing projects as this will be a great way to reduce wallet woes and will help make sure you aren’t making multiple trips out to the store or online for more paper (or worse…. finding out you don’t have all your supplies at-the-ready. Eek!).
The letterpress kit:
L Letterpress ($75 – $100) – highly recommended.
Die Cutting / Embossing Machine that is the platform used for the L Letterpress kit.
Photopolymer printing plates Boxcar Press platemaking costs: up to 50 square inches of printed-area-only custom made printing plates (KF152 plate type): $35.50.
Inking roller bearer plate strips Inking roller bearer strips (from Boxcar Press): Free! Just request inking roller bearer strips in your custom-made plate-making order.
Practice paper: uncoated papers, preferably in 80# cover or thicker. This is the paper you will experiment on as you learn to use your brayer and ink correctly. Suggestions are sketchbook paper, uncoated card stock, and bristol stock. Don’t use your more expensive project paper until you are confident in your inking.
Project paper: fine quality letterpress paper pricing will vary on what brand or type you purchase and the sheet size / quantity you need. Letterpress papers are uncoated and mostly or all tree-free (cotton, bamboo, and combinations).
We recommend the following paper mill brands: Crane’s Lettra, Mohawk Strathmore, Holyoke Cotton, Rives BFK Cotton, Reich Savoy Cotton, Legion Bamboo, Revere Cotton and Somerset Cotton. Find a paper that will fit within your paper budget allotment to satiate your printing project’s needs and always remember that ordering a little extra paper is a good suggestion for the inevitable “I goofed” moments.
Additional paper suggestions: don’t overlook chipboard, kraft board or home-made paper options for a different look.
Examples of pricing:
Cotton paper (example: Crane’s Lettra or Strathmore Pure Cotton):
We hope that this essentials list has you energized for your next project and if you are looking for the handy tips and tricks to use your DIY letterpress machine, we heartily recommend checking out these “tell-all” blog posts from our archives:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
THE TRAVELED PRINTERI’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.
FOR THE LOVE OF LETTERPRESSThere 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.
PRESS HISTORYMy 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.
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.
THE PRINTER AND DESIGNERI’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 PROCESSI 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.
PART TIME PRINTING, FULLTIME FUNI’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.
PRINTING FEATSI’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 ROLEI’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 TIPSI 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!
WHAT’S NEXTAt 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!