Letterpress Party at Bay View Printing Co

Ashley Town of Bay View Printing Co. in Milwaukee, WI cultivates printing camaraderie amongst its 75+ members while artfully conducting the printing festivities of the by-day commercial and by-night whirl of workshops, co-ops and print parties. Ashley sat down with us to talk shop about how two and half beautiful years that have flown by since buying the shop (and taking the full-on plunge as full-time letterpress owner) to how teaching, supporting her family, and sharing the joys of letterpress have more in common than meets the eye.

Ashley Town is the creative tour-de-force behind Milwaukee, WI’s Bay View Printing Co.

A PRINTING COMMUNITY TREASURE A little about me…I’m a mother, a teacher, a wife and a super curious and anxious body that prefers to be in constant motion. At the shop, I love crossing items off of a to-do list, thinking of new ways to flex my creative muscles and try really hard to stay engaged in my community. At home, I love wrestling and reading books with my son, cooking together as a family and drinking local beers with my husband. Prior to owning the shop I worked as a designer and faculty at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

Ashley Town is the creative tour-de-force behind Milwaukee, WI’s Bay View Printing Co.

A little about my shop…it’s amazing! Bay View Printing Co. is 100 years old this year and I’m incredibly lucky to have fallen into it 2.5 years ago. In 100 years of existence I’m only the third owner (first female – huzzah!). We have 8 letterpresses, 3 offset presses, a small foil press, an Intertype, and upwards of 350+ wood and lead typefaces all crammed into the basement of a once Protestant Church in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee. Historically, the shop has always been very involved in the Bay View community and supportive of other local small businesses and organizations, but somehow relatively hidden and unknown to a large percentage of the public community. I lived in Milwaukee for 12 years as an active member of the art community before I had ever even heard of its existence. So, when I bought it 2.5 years ago my goal was to take that treasure chest and share it with the community, to make letterpress design and printing accessible to anyone and everyone in the community who has an interest. It’s been about two years in the making, but it’s happening! We teach one to three print-related classes a week, have a print co-op of currently about 75 members and people are making beautiful stuff within our walls on the daily. I like to say that during the day we’re a commercial design+print shop and at night we’re a print party.

Ashley Town is the creative tour-de-force behind Milwaukee, WI’s Bay View Printing Co.

THE LURE OF LETTERPRESS The tactility and the physical labor are what initially drew me to letterpress and what continue to do so today. I went to grad school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and spent most of my time in the writing department. I began investigating my personal memories and the lines, or blur rather, between truths, lies, memory and the construction of each. I was documenting really personal, gritty, hard memories on a daily basis and creating drawings/illustrations to accompany them. I ended up writing a book, but every time I printed proofs I knew something was off. The feeling of holding these stories, touching the letters and really feeling the experience or reliving those memories was completely gone. So I knew I had to print in a way that would allow for that. I needed the tactile quality that only letterpress printing can offer. And the physical labor and real work that went into typesetting and printing each and every page of the book just felt right. A cathartic experience that couldn’t have happened any other way.

Ashley Town is the creative tour-de-force behind Milwaukee, WI’s Bay View Printing Co. Ashley Town is the creative tour-de-force behind Milwaukee, WI’s Bay View Printing Co.

WISCONSIN’S OWN My little shop is located in Bay View, in my opinion the best neighborhood in Milwaukee. Historically, Bay View is the most diverse neighborhood in the city and there is a ton of community pride here. Neighbors still shovel for one another, have morning chats in the alley, and genuinely support one another.

Ashley Town is the creative tour-de-force behind Milwaukee, WI’s Bay View Printing Co.

Milwaukee in its entirety is also the perfect place to have a community print shop – the arts culture here is vast and growing and currently in love with craft and handmade goods.

MENTORS + INSPIRATION In terms of the letterpress community, I’m a baby so I’m constantly looking at and learning from other printers. Sometimes that means creeping on Michael Hepher’s (Claw Hammer Press) process videos or drooling over Kathryn Hunter’s (Blackbird Letterpress) linocuts on Instagram. Sometimes that means sitting down in the studio and pouring over all the boss babes and their work in my Ladies of Letterpress book. And sometimes that means calling Jim Baker (the previous owner of Bay View Printing Co) and begging him to come show me that little trick on the Kluge just one more time. Although, as I grow as a printer and a curious student the latter is being replaced by hours of tinkering on my own accord.

Ashley Town is the creative tour-de-force behind Milwaukee, WI’s Bay View Printing Co.

DESIGNED TO PRINT I’m a designer + printer + artist. Although in my opinion, anyone who prints is an artist. The decisions that go into creating perfect prints are most definitely artistic ones and the process itself is an art form. In terms of my process…I’m lucky enough to work with a lot of clients that have seen our portfolio of work or known someone we’ve worked with and they offer up complete creative freedom with their business, packaging, branding, wedding invitations, etc. etc. That means I get to make design decisions that embrace ideas that can only be realized through letterpress printing so the client truly gets unique work.

Ashley Town is the creative tour-de-force behind Milwaukee, WI’s Bay View Printing Co.Ashley Town is the creative tour-de-force behind Milwaukee, WI’s Bay View Printing Co.

I just finished a wedding suite for a bride that saw one of our “Nasty Woman” posters in the shop during our consult and said, “Can I have that for my invites?!” She was talking about the inking technique which was me going nuts with 5 ink colors and a brayer. I thought, “for an entire wedding suite? That’s insane. But oh so beautiful. YAAAS. Let’s do it!”

FULL TIME FUN Yes. Most days the hustle is real. Trying to balance designing, printing, hosting print parties, teaching classes, keeping co-op members engaged, running the business and remembering that I have and love my family is a disaster of a balance but I’m also 100% living the dream. I hear my dad in my head on most days saying, “You can sleep when you’re dead”.

Ashley Town is the creative tour-de-force behind Milwaukee, WI’s Bay View Printing Co.

PRINTING FEATS The accomplishment I’m most proud of is raising my son, Oliver. And doing so while running a business. Neither one is an easy task and every day that he continues to grow into an awesome human is a notch on our belts. I’m also proud of the change and growth that Bay View Printing Co. has gone through in the past 2.5 years. When I made the decision to buy the shop someone said to me, “Don’t buy that old man’s shop – you’ll be wearing his clothes for the rest of your life.” That was really scary. Jim is an amazing person and a super talented printer, but had zero interest in design or teaching classes or anything of the things that I wanted to do. The bulk of his work was offset printing for local small businesses and crash imprinting banking forms. The idea of taking over a business whose current focus was completely opposite of what I saw myself doing was a bit terrifying. But here we are. Doing all the things. I maintain if you do awesome stuff, you attract awesome people.

I couldn’t be more proud to work with all of the incredible Milwaukee folks that we work with in all the different capacities that we do.

PRESS HISTORY I guess my story is a little weird and atypical. Most folks that I’ve met or read about dreamt of acquiring a press for years before they found one or they spent a decade piecing together a type collection, whereas I was lucky enough (or crazy enough) to acquire the whole shebang all at once. But, the first press I fell in love with at the shop is our 8×12 C&P platen press. The model was manufactured in 1894, it’s the oldest press in the shop and still my reliable little babe. But I’m currently in a love affair with our Vandercook No 4. There’s something about hand cranking every print through the press that’s really satisfying right now. Feels like work. Really beautiful work.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Ah man, thank god for Boxcar Press!! When I first started designing and printing wedding suites it was all handset type all the time. But we just grew so dang fast and the wedding work was out of control. Designing with all handset type wasn’t sustainable if I wanted to continue to grow that part of our business. And then I found Boxcar and holy smokes did the doors fly right open. The idea that I can design digitally and send proofs back and forth to clients and then have polymer plates at my door days later and STILL get that sexy impression on paper that everyone is looking for…well, that’s mind blowing. I remember the first time I printed with a polymer plate from Boxcar I felt like I was cheating. Ha! I still do sometimes, and there is still a part of me that needs to slow down and design with our type collection as much as humanly possible, but having other options is incredible.

SHOP TIPS Focus on continuing to listen to all the advice and filter what works for BVP Co. and what doesn’t. I suppose that might be good advice for anyone, huh?

WHAT’S NEXT Keep on keepin’ on. We’re babies and we’re growing our commercial print client base and our portfolio of wedding work and our assortment of classes and our print co-op community. We’ve worked really hard to get here and I think it’s time to settle in for a bit.

Immensely huge round of thanks and appreciation out to the ever-brilliant Ashley of Bay View Printing Co. Keep up the awesome & inspiring work!

2016 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadsides: Part 2

Part two in our blog feature of the 2016 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project features six more artistic printers and young poets as part of the collaboration between Writers in the Schools program, long-term patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, Washington. These six printers share with us how they brought each writer’s words to vivid life in the 2016 edition.

Nicole Cronin 2016 marked my fourth year participating in the Children’s Broadside Project. Each time, I am excited to create art for a good cause alongside my fellow printers!

I was immediately drawn to Jasmine’s poem because of her detailed imagery and playfulness in her writing. It felt whimsical and fancy and hopeful… so I wanted my broadside to depict her words so the reader felt like they were right there, watching acrobats performing and climbing ribbons! One of my favorite things in designing for letterpress is linoleum carving, so I decided to carve a hand drawn wreath and the pink ribbon. The most time consuming and also enjoyable part of the process was carving and printing the wreath. It was challenging to line up the acrobat between the ribbon and the wreath (which in hindsight sounds crazy, but so true).

Nicole Cronin creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I printed the poem, acrobat and gold dots using Boxcar Plates which produced the most consistent passes on press.

Nicole Cronin creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

This project is personally fulfilling, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to design and print Jasmine’s poem. With great leadership by Jenny Wilkson at SVC, we have a strong team that provides time, paper, plates, etc. and I am so grateful to have contributed a small part.

Carol Clifford This will be my 7th year of working on the Children’s Hospital Poetry Broadside Project. Each year we are presented with poems from the children to read over and consider. Then we all meet as a group and each chooses a final poem to interpret and print for the young poets. I usually sit down with a cup of coffee and take time to read each child’s poem. Then I reread.

Many of these kids are heartbreakingly wise beyond their years.

Carol Clifford creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I will connect with some of the poems more than others. A few suggest ideas and images fairly quickly. I usually draw thumbnails right away in the margins, percolating on others until we meet to get our final assignment.

I chose Two Constellation Poems by Matthew Whitesel because I liked that this was one of his first attempts at a poem, and it turned out so visually rich and funny. I liked the challenge of creating a dark field of color with letterpress printing. As a bonus, I just happened to have a unicorn image I had recently used for another project.

Because of the line “Why he has a pet unicorn, I have no idea,” I knew I wanted the unicorn to be front and center and gold (Right?! I used MS-1151 Rich Gold Paste from Hanco Ink Co) Printing gold as the featured color directed building up the background. With experimentation and suggestions from other printers, I learned that highlighting the shine quality of the gold ink is more successful when printed over another color, especially a darker color.  To form the dark background, I was inspired to use two colors that overlap and create another color with a lot of depth.

Carol Clifford creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I try to work out all the steps of a broadside before going on press, but inevitably, once I am in the studio, I tend to combine techniques to accomplish my ideas. This method of working can be maddening, but also allows for a lot spontaneity and, fingers crossed, happy surprises. The image was created with a combination of linoleum blocks and polymer plates.

I had planned for a four color run. It turned out to be nine!  Two runs of red to get the saturation and color I wanted, 4 runs of gold to solve registration woes and for clarity on the colophon and then black and blue runs with linoleum blocks.  I am really pleased with the final result.

When I come up with ideas for the broadsides I keep in mind the age of the poet. Ultimately though, my hope is that the piece will not be too “childish” and that the broadside will give both the poet and his family moments to enjoy for years to come. I haven’t met Matthew but I was told that his younger brother thought it was really cool to have something he wrote printed. This experience has inspired both of them to write more.

Leah Stevenson The Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project was a fantastic and challenging experience. I was equally excited and nervous to be a part of the collaboration. It was my first time and I wanted to ‘get it right’. These kids go through so much and being able to create a piece of art with them felt special and so important, even more so because we knew some of the kids wouldn’t and didn’t make it to the end of the project . I unfortunately never got the chance to interact directly with the kids but just hearing their stories through the poetry was extremely powerful. This was not just a piece of artwork that we were creating but also a piece that represented these kids in a way that a lot of people don’t get to see.

Leah Stevenson creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I selected poetry by a young student of 6 years who had four short poems together, each in English and Spanish for a total of 8 pieces of text to work with. Having grown up in South America, I felt an instant connection to the poet through her use of Spanish & English in her writing.

It was a challenge to figure out how to piece all these separate poems into one cohesive broadside. I had recently visited L’Opéra de Paris (the Paris Opera House) and was inspired by the mural on the ceiling for this piece as it depicted various scenes from different operas all together. I decided to take that concept and separate the poems into four sections surrounding the sun in the middle. This gave each poem it’s own stage, so to speak, while still tying them together.

Leah Stevenson creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I used a combination of pressure printing and photopolymer plates on this broadside. I used pressure printing for some of the background colors, as I wanted a little more fuzziness around the edges – not so clean and precise. To contrast, I used photopolymer for its clean lines for the more details work as well as the text. I actually hand wrote the poet’s name, age and title of the piece and digitized that to create a photopolymer plate. It felt like it gave a different emphasis on the poet that paired nicely with the illustrations around it.

Leah Stevenson creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I had a lot of registration going on in this piece, which proved challenging to control with the larger run. I had at least 8 passes and getting everything to line up was tough (and in some cases impossible) but it was definitely a learning and enriching experience and worth every minute I spent on it.

Jill Labieniec  This year I worked on the group poem which combined words and ideas from different children. It was challenging to include all the imagery from the poem so I opted to add my own idea into the mix.

Jill Labieniec creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

The overall theme was kissed by the rain so I figured a mermaid who lived in a puddle would be very appreciative of a little rain.

Amy Redmond I am a Seattle-based visual designer, a letterpress instructor at the School of Visual Concepts and letterpress printer since 1998.  

I work with photopolymer but absolutely fell in love with handset type.  For personal work and special projects like the Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project I work only in handset type. The focus it requires, and the time, is my way of paying my respects to both the poet and the poem. I become fully immersed in the words and the process, and the extra time it takes is worth it. The poems the children write represent a huge amount of energy and heart on their part; it’s only fair that I attempt to meet them on equal ground.

This is my 6th time as a contributor. I do it for several reasons: to bring the poems into light, to be a part of a larger community project, to challenge myself, to learn from my mentors, to work side by side with the Seattle letterpress community. It is a very closely connected group and this Broadside project is one of the ways we maintain that association. The artistic work on this project gets better each year. We all work hard to out-do ourselves, and put to use new tricks we’ve learned throughout the year. We learn from each other to push the traditional boundaries of broadside design.

My poet, Zack Edge, incorporated a lot of imagery into his poem. I used large wood type (front and back) to help create a landscape in which his words would live. On the left the orange words form a wide tree trunk; on the right a sky and a field are formed. I used pressure printing techniques to create the white cloud when printing the blue sky, and it was serendipity that the wood type I chose happened to have a few stars carved out of from its backside.

For the smaller type, I handset everything in metal type – Spartan – on a 1903 Colt’s Armory Press. With all the various weights I was able to play with the cadence of the type, and pushed — as far as I felt comfortable — the composition of the poem itself. By placing the last line of the poem to the far right in the cloud and having it stand alone, I hope to give it emphasis so that others also take note of its gravity.

Laura Bentley I received a reflective and powerful poem by a 16-year old named Mackenzie who worked with poet Ann Teplick. I was struck by the earthquake imagery in the poem. It made me think I could do something with shifting plates of earth or seismographs. After weighing several options I was excited about the thought of using metal type ornaments that look a bit like layers of earth and thought I could put something together that imitated seismic faults, albeit in an abstract way.  The bars of ornaments can also reflect just the abrupt ups and downs that life can take.  Thank you Mackenzie, it was an honor to print your words.

For colors and typeface I was leaning towards both “earthy” and “mid-century modern, particularly, a typeface from the age of printing with metal, even if I would be printing it with photopolymer.  

The metal type ornaments were set to the correct lengths, and arranged in position in the press bed. Each color is printed in a separate pass through the press. For an edition of 110, I started with 120 pieces of paper. For those of you counting that meant that 120 pieces of paper through the press four times meant feeding paper through the press 480 times!

Laure’s full blog article covering her printing adventure can be found here.

A huge round of applause and thanks out to all of the printers who donated their time and efforts to this amazing project!

Vintage Cool: WE ARE 1976

The creative trio behind WE ARE 1976 effortlessly combines fun, eclectic, and world-wide inspirations to create hand-made letterpress paper goods in the heart of Dallas, Texas. From punches of color to fun & funky illustrations & prints, the shop is a happy culmination of the team’s love of learning, community printmaking workshops, and the ambition to keep the creative juices flowing. The crew caught us up on eight (and counting!) joyous years honing their craft, incorporating letterpress in their day-to-day lives, and enjoying the rich printing community that surrounds them.

FUNKY + FUN Hello! We’re Vynsie, Jully, and Derek and we own a small shop and letterpress design studio in Dallas, Texas called WE ARE 1976.  We opened our shop 8 years ago and we carry handmade and beautifully designed objects (ceramics, jewelry, and home goods) and paper goods (stationery, cards, and prints) from independent makers from all over the world. 

About four years ago, we started making our own line of stationery and art prints and have added custom branding, design, and letterpress printing to what we offer. We also teach printmaking workshops and host guest instructors that teach workshops such as calligraphy, water coloring, and jewelry stamping. We all grew up around the Dallas area and love being a part of the creative community here.

FIRST TASTE OF PRINTING Vynsie’s background is in graphic design. She got her first taste of letterpress and antique printmaking techniques at Graham Bignell’s Paper Conservation in London many years ago (cleaning old type cabinets in exchange for press time).

She also worked at Peter Harrington’s Rare Books (at their sister antiquarian print shop, formerly known as Old Church Galleries) which deals in rare books and antique prints made from wood, copper and steel engravings.

We carried the same vision and love of printmaking when we started our business. We have a diverse collection of art prints from illustrators, designers, printers (letterpress and screenprint) from the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia. Dallas also has a really tight letterpress community and we’ve been fortunate enough to get to work with them in various ways – the amazing people at Inky Lips PressMissing Q PressColor Box Studio, and Studio 204 were very generous with their time, expertise, and the work they shared in our shop. Five years ago we decided to make letterpress a permanent part of our shop. We started taking more letterpress workshops from places like Punch Press in Austin and San Francisco Center of the Book and with a bit of patience, we were able to locate two presses. We started printing immediately, teaching ourselves and each other.

BIG PRINTS IN TEXAS We moved to our current location because we needed a bigger space to fit our letterpress studio, which takes about half of our shop space. We’re in a charming historic district called The Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff, Dallas. We’re across the street from a wonderful pie shop, Emporium Pies, and cute shops like Green PetNeighborhood, and Wild Detective. Most of the businesses are independently owned and we feel incredibly lucky to be here. There’s also amazing food and drinks on every corner in Oak Cliff –  Small Brewpub, Hattie’sEl Si Hay and Spiral Diner. Also, The Texas Theatre is a revitalized theatre with independent programming, fun events, and they host new art exhibitions monthly at their Safe Room gallery.

PRINTING MENTORS One of our presses is from the Art Larson’s Studio Hortan Tank Graphics. When the press was shipped to use, his colleague Joe Riedel came down to help us set up and was invaluable in teaching us the fundamentals of running and operating our presses. And, as mentioned above, we were really encouraged and motivated by many in the Dallas letterpress circle – Casey McGarr of Inky Lips Press, Jason McDaniels of Missing Q Press, Rhona Warren of Color Box Studio and Kim Neiman and Virgil Scott of Studio 204. Also, in our shop, we carry work from other illustrators/printmakers that really inspire us – Daria TesslerNate DuvallNaoshiDeth P Sun and Kelly Puissegur

DESIGNERS + PRINTERS We’re both. We’re a family business and work on most projects together whether it’s just exchanging ideas initially or packaging finished projects. It’s so important for us to create unique and beautifully crafted pieces for us and for our clients so there’s lots of discussion and brainstorming before we even start designing or printing. We usually go through a few rounds of roughs and concepts before we get to a finished piece. We have a nice collection of antique type, so we work on many typeset posters, digitally design work, and use Boxcar plates.

FULL TIME FUN With our custom work, own line of stationery and our workshops we’ve been printing full-time for 4 years now. We’re lucky that we have really good team here so if we’re not printing that day, we’re designing something new, or trying to come up with new ideas. 

PRINTING FEATS As simple as this sounds, just operating these complex machines is something we’re proud of. Whether it’s just servicing the press, troubleshooting to get the perfect impression, or finding a solution for a squeaky part, learning to trust our instinct with the mechanics of these antique presses while producing beautiful high quality print work brings a new kind of confidence that we don’t get from our normal day-to-day life. We’ve been very proud to do more custom work – wedding invitations, branding projects, personal stationery. All of these moments and projects are important to our our clients and we’re so honored to be a part of it.


PRESS HISTORY Vandercook 325 and Challenge Proof Press. We have added a Vandercook 219 and tabletop Pilot.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has made it so much easier for us to create custom work for our clients and for our own line of paper goods. Super helpful with file prep questions and any changes or adjustments. 

WHAT’S NEXT Designing and printing more! 

An amazingly large round of thanks out to Vynsie + team of WE ARE 1976. Keep up the phenomenal & beautiful letterpress work!

Top 14 Valentine’s Day Letterpress Cards for 2017

Hand-picked with love, today we’re counting down 14 beautiful, silly & sweet, and brilliant 2017 Valentine’s Day letterpress cards sure to impress your sweetie and printing paramour.  Let us know what you are getting your special someone this year in the comments below!

Valentine's Day letterpress cards of 2017 feature romance, funny love, and sweet messages.

1. We Go Together PB&J by Ramona & Ruth  |  2. You’re Good At Husband Things by Sapling Press   |  3. Love Letter Cat card by Mejiro Graphics  |  4. Big Squeeze by Alee & Press | 5. Let’s Make Each Other Mixtapes by Little Goat Paper Co  |  6. I’d Still Say I Do by Benchpressed

Valentine's Day letterpress cards of 2017 feature romance, funny love, and sweet messages.

7. Happily Ever After by rbprintery  |  8. Hand-Drawn Tree Trunk With Heart by FAsInFrankPapergoods

Valentine's Day letterpress cards of 2017 feature romance, funny love, and sweet messages.

9. You’re Souper by Wild Ink Press | 10. Of All the Fish In The Sea… by McBitterson’s | 11. Love With You Rocks by Waterknot | 12. Love & Wedding by Wolf & Wren Press | 13. Hello My Love by Smock |  14. Letterpress Conversation Heart coasters by Haute Papier

2016 Letterpress Holiday Gift Guide

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!

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1. Roller Setting Gauge by Boxcar Press  |  2. Mint Chocolate bar by LetterPress | 3. Gutenberg Wooden Model kit from Oakridge Hobbies | 4. Ampersand Necklace by GwenDelicious | 5. Anatomy of Type Letterpress poster by Typography Desconstructed | 6. The Little Book of Typographic Ornament by David Jury | 7. Ink Knife from Boxcar Press | 8. Pantone Pastel Mug Set by Pantone | 9. Sigwalt holiday ornament from Briar Press |  10.  Bon a Tirer tee shirt from Studio On Fire

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11. Lorem Ipsum Throw Pillow from typehype  |  12. Type Case drawstring bag by Hollingsworth

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13. California Job Case letterpress poster by PioneerHouse  | 14. Drop Caps : 100 Postcards book by Jessica Hische  |   15. Garamond lead type smartphone case by CARO Berlin  |   16. “Every time you make a typo, the errorists win” mug by DesignsbyLindaNeeToo  |   17. Ladies of Letterpress patch by Ladies of Letterpress  |   18. Helvetica hoodie by medium control  |   19. 12″ or 18″ Line Gauge from Boxcar Press  |   20. Letterpress clock by CAPow!

L Letterpress Startup Costs

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?

L Letterpress startup materials including L Letterpress machine, paper, ink knife, ink strips, ink plates, speedball rubber brayer, ink can, and pantone formula guide.

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!).

L Letterpress Machine with hinged platform.

The letterpress kit:

L Letterpress ($75 – $100) – highly recommended.

Die Cutting / Embossing Machine that is the platform used for the L Letterpress kit.

The Evolution Machine (from We Are Memory Keepers). Prices range from $70 – $150.

Other at-home machines that can be substituted – Fiskars Fuse KitSizzix Big Shot, and Cuttlebug. Prices range from $50 – $120. 

L Letterpress DIY letterpress printing photopolymer printing plate with inking roller bearer strips.L Letterpress DIY letterpress printing photopolymer printing plate with inking roller bearer strips.

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.

L Letterpress DIY invitations letterpress papers.

Paper:

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):
  • Bamboo Paper (example: Legion Bamboo):
    • 8.5” x 11” 110lb paper
    • Prices range from $0.36 per sheet *+
    • (*letterpresspapers.com sells Legion Bamboo at $3.24 per sheet in packs of 25 sheets. You can cut down (9) nine 8.5” x 11” sheets from their 27.5 x 39.3 big sheet size)

Speedball Soft 6" Rubber Brayer.

Soft rubber inking brayer 6” Speedball Soft Rubber Brayer: $15.95

Ink:

Save: Caligo Safe Wash Oil-based ink tubes: 150ml tube ($14.30 – $23.99)

Save:  5 oz or 8 oz ink from Southern Inks:  $10 – $20

Splurge: Van Son Rubber-based inks via Boxcar Press ($34.65-$78.10)

Twp ink plates for L Letterpress DIY printing.

Ink knife Boxcar Press Ink Knife: $14.00

Inking plates use the glass from two Dollar Store picture frames for your inking plates: $2.00

Henry Gage Pins in use on L Letterpress machine.

Gage pins Henry Gage Pins: $12.00

Soft shop rags (for cleaning up your printing plates) Cut-up old soft t-shirts: Free!

Press wash or cleaning solvent:

Super Save:  Vegetable oil followed by baby wipes followed by a very thorough drying with a clean shop rag – $5 (not for your plates)

For cleaning everything:

Save: Odorless Mineral Spirits: $8 (1 quart container) (okay for cleaning everything including plates)

Splurge: California Press Wash: $38.75 (1 gallon container) (okay for cleaning everything including plates)

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Pantone Formula Guide:

Save:  Coated Formula Guide – $65 (limited quantities from Boxcar Press)

Splurge: Pantone Solid Coated and Uncoated Formula Guide: $155.00

Backing/Packing board: use cereal boxes, which are made from a soft chipboard. Placing this behind your paper can increase your impression or bite into the paper. Free after breakfast.

Scissors Utility-style scissors: $1.00 – $3.00

Printing apron Boxcar Press Apron: $19.50

Budget-Friendly: ~$266.25

Splurge: ~$758.125

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:

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!

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.

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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!

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.


PART TIME PRINTING, FULLTIME FUN
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!

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!

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!