2017 Letterpress Holiday Gift Guide

We are counting down the Top 17 Gift Picks for the letterpress lover in your life in our 2017 Letterpress Holiday Gift Guide. From vintage printed goodies, to essential pressroom must-haves, our list is sure to please the printer in your life! Let us know what’s on your wish list in the comments section below.

The 2017 Boxcar Press letterpress gift guide has gift ideas for the type-loving letterpress printer in your life - including letterpress t-shirts and more.

1. Letterpress Printing, A Manual for Modern Fine Press Printers book, by Paul Maravelas from Boxcar Press   |  2.  Babies of Letterpress onesie  from Ladies of Letterpress | 3. Letterpress Trail Set  from Firecracker Press | 4. Set of wood type (box of ampersand dots) from Moore Wood Type  | 5. Holiday Kitty Ornaments from Chandler O’Leary / Anagram Press   | 6. “Upper and Lower Case” fine art print of printshop from Fine Art America  

The 2017 Boxcar Press letterpress gift guide has gift ideas for the type-loving letterpress printer in your life - including letterpress t-shirts and more.

7. Heidelberg decal from Heidelberg University  |   8. Henry Gage Pins from Boxcar Press  | 9. Original Heidelberg Windmill History & Handbook by Jim Daggs / Ackley Publishing  |  10.  PANTONE Note pad from Pantone   |  11.  Big Caslon Ampersand Cufflinks by Ampersand & Co.

The 2017 Boxcar Press letterpress gift guide has gift ideas for the type-loving letterpress printer in your life - including letterpress t-shirts and more.

12. Keys&Quoins&Furniture&Registration Helvetica T-Shirt by Swell Press Paper   |   13. Heidelberg Safety First – Enamel Pin by Skylab Letterpress  |   14. Squintani Model letterpress poster by Briarpress  |   15.  Happy Holidays letterpress printed ornament card pack from JillyJackDesigns  |   16. Boxcar Press printing apron from Boxcar Press  |   17. 1957 Original Heidelberg T-Shirt from TEEPUBLIC

Fresh Impressions: Ladies of Letterpress 2017

The Ladies of Letterpress annual conference never fails to deliver an amazing week of printing, creating, and inky, hands-on, up to your elbows fun.  Add to that two letterpress movies, and the time in St. Louis, Missouri was pretty much letterpress supreme delight. 

Cathy Smith I often find it hard to describe to other printers what the conference experience is like and to give it justice.  You are in a bubble for five days where conversations center around printing and antique presses and it’s never boring. The energy is great and I usually end up saying, “you have to go there next year”.

This year’s conference was in Saint Louis and was a collaboration with StL Print Week which is offered through Firecracker Press and Central Print.  St. Louis itself has a lot going on in terms of attractions, housing renovations, and pockets of strong community sustainability projects.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Our activities centered around Firecracker Press and Central Print which share a wonderful joint storefront space.  The neighborhood has little “pocket parks” on many of the blocks, and is on the cusp of bursting into a vital place to live and work.  That just added to the appeal of our conference headquarters.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

It was easy to get excited about our printing space because of the many vintage presses, the aisles of type cabinets, the retro and bohemian décor, and so much natural light.  With the help of Peter Fraterdeus, I gained a larger appreciation for wood type as we learned to look at the letters as art forms of negative and positive spaces,  I tried my hand at linoleum block carving taught by Rachel Kroh and have a new passion for this.  I love the endless possibilities of photopolymer plates; however, it was freeing to work with other tools to create printed projects.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

What I really love is meeting fellow printers as we talk about all things letterpress.  I revel in the information sharing and passion of panel discussions, and can highly recommend Pressing On: the Letterpress Film.  

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

If you have an opportunity to see it, do so, and then watch it again.  This year, I was joined by three of our printers from Boxcar Press, plus owner Harold Kyle, and it was great to share with them the experience and value of a Ladies of Letterpress conference.

Samantha Peck Samantha is one of our windmill printers here at Boxcar Press and she agreed that being able to attend the event this year was an unforgettable time.

The opportunity to learn letterpress printing from the most advanced printers in the industry left me with a wealth of new knowledge, tips, and tricks to incorporate into my daily printing at Boxcar. Thanks to the great workshops offered, I now own my very first press that I built from household materials!

I also was able to use a variety of different presses and type to create unique prints that I turned into the covers of my handmade journals. I even got to try out linoleum block carving.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Through hands on learning and expert printers’ shared stories and advice, I gained some absolutely invaluable experience and memories. It was very rewarding to see so many inspired and creative printers all in one place carrying on the art of letterpress printing together.

Madeline Bartley Another one of our windmill printers recalls that her best moment from Ladies of Letterpress was during her workshop, Advanced Windmill with Graham Judd.

During a demo we became curious about the condition of the windmill’s impression lever. Why doesn’t the lever release back to its usual position? The red ball lever didn’t move back far enough. The lead to Graham and I pulling out old die cut scraps from the base. Together we pulled out two waste baskets of oily paper detritus. 40 years worth!  It was like an archeological dig into letterpress history.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

This Boxcar Lady had a wonderful time attending the conference and is looking forward to more in the future!

Leanna Barlow My experience at Ladies of Letterpress/ Print Week was absolutely amazing.  Spending time in another city surrounded by people who love the same thing you do is surreal. I have only worked at Boxcar press for about 2 years. At Boxcar we don’t set type, so this was my first time seeing such a vast collection of type! And actually getting to use it. Firecracker Press has such a great space and the staff was so talented and passionate about printing. I think what I took away from the experience overall was the willingness to teach and be taught, particularly by some who have been printing substantially longer than me. It was nice to see that there was no “generation gap,” as they call it. The older generation of printers was genuinely excited to be with the new and up-and-coming printers like myself. For me, making my own press out of everyday supplies, along with the advanced windmill class, has helped me develop as a working printer and an artist.

A huge shout-out to all the amazing participants at the Ladies of Letterpress conference this year! Have a fun story or cool thing you learned at this year’s meet-up? Let us know in the comments below!

Printing Community Spirit: Ladies of Letterpress

With the upcoming Ladies of Letterpress conference plus Print Week happening just around the corner (September 28, 2017-October 1, 2017) in St. Louis, Missouri, we catch up with Kseniya Thomas on the Ladies of Letterpress’ excellent camaraderie, fun, and cool happenings (and don’t worry fellas, Ladies of Letterpress is happily open to men as well!). The Ladies of Letterpress conference features more than a dozen workshops, panels, printers’ market, as well as a must-see showing of “Pressing On: The Letterpress Film“.

When Jessica C. White and I started Ladies of Letterpress nearly ten years ago, our goal was pretty simple: make it easier for new printers to figure out what they were doing, and why. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but it wasn’t easy in the aughts to get good info on how to operate letterpress presses with a minimum of frustration. And the letterpress community was localized and largely offline.

A lot has changed in the ensuing near-decade. Help is readily at hand online no matter what the letterpress problem, Wayzgeese abound coast-to- coast, and our own conference has grown to include workshops, business talks, technical instruction, and more. You never have to print alone, unless you want to! Ladies of Letterpress has grown and changed, and its mission now includes community cultivation, conference planning, trade-show wrangling, group projects . . .

It’s been interesting and rewarding for me to see how letterpress and printing have changed since we started LOLP. Seeing people struggle and succeed in the service of letterpress is inspiring; letterpress isn’t the easiest gig out there, but people fall hard for it and make printing work for them, and keep the art and craft of printing growing and evolving. This evolution inspires me to print my own work when I take a break from my regular jobs.

Though two people started LOLP, many, many people and organizations keep it going with their generosity, enthusiasm, and continued interest. The creative helpfulness of our fellow printers has only increased, and keeps growing as our numbers grow. LOLP represents one thing printers can make when they come together.

Boxcar Press salutes the Ladies of Letterpress and all the other organizations and clubs who are the mentors, tutors, trailblazers, and backbone of the art of letterpress.

www.briarpress.org
www.collegebookart.org
http://printinghistory.org/
http://www.apa-letterpress.com/
www.letterpresscommons.com
http://woodtype.org/
http://vandercookpress.info/
https://listserv.unb.ca
www.penland.org
http://www.thearmnyc.com/
http://www.fpba.com/
http://thebeautyofletterpress.com/
The more than dozen Book Arts Centers across the world

Margery Cantor: On Why I Love Letterpress

I first learned about letterpress at the West Coast Print Center, where I was employed working in the camera department. There was a Vandercook Proof Press and Joanna Drucker was printing a book. I was enchanted and watched closely, the process seemed both logical and magical. Sometime after I left the Print Center I began to work for Adrian Wilson and that is when I really fell for the craft. What was it, the smells; the texture of papers; the rhythm quiet, thoughtful and methodical; the mastery of a machine that changed history? And then to see that all the patience and attention gives way to page; a broadside; a book that is simply beautiful to hold and to read. Why do I love letterpress, I think because the craft encourages the practitioner to give oneself over to the process and that giving over shows a willingness to try for perfection, again and again.

Margery Cantor has designed books for many presses in California, such as the Stanford University Press and the University of California Press.  She is currently at The Impermanent Press in Norwich, Vermont and is still printing.  A recent work is the letterpress version of Illustrated by Lynd Ward: From the Collection of Robert Dance (The Grolier Club).

Passionate about printing? Head-over-heels for letterpress? Let us know why you are love with letterpress in the comments below!

Let’s See That Printed: Bryan Baker’s Hypnotic Print

A myriad of eye-catching and pop-culture surreal characters snagged our attention when printer Bryan Baker and artist Jasper Wong’s fun order passed through our custom-made photopolymer platemaking service department. So much that we couldn’t resist the urge to reach out and get the scoop on such a brilliant and wild project!

The ever-wonderful Bryan helped illuminate how such an bright, hypnotic printing project came to be.

This project was printed at Striped Light in Knoxville Tennessee, by Bryan Baker. The artist who did the design is Jasper Wong. It is the second time that Striped Light made an edition of his work through an ongoing collaboration with a Detroit publishing company called 1xRun.  

This particular piece was printed to coincide with a rather large street art event call “Pow Pow” in Hawaii. The print was run in four color ways: Trans on Pink, Trans on Teal, Black on Black, and Green and Black on Teal.  All finished with hand torn edges.

Striped Light is often commissioned by 1xRun to do limited edition letterpress prints for the artists that they represent. It it a pretty exciting relationship, because they work with artists from all over the world, and are now in their fourth year of working together. It first began while Bryan was up in Detroit running a shop called Stukenborg Press, and has continued with his new community letterpress shop that he opened with his partners Sarah Shebaro, and Jason Boardman.

Top 20 of ’17 Letterpress Mother’s Day Cards

She’s the witty, smart, caring, and generally all-around-awesome human being that is the anchor in your life. Count down with us the top 20 of ’17 of the sweetest, funniest, and gorgeous letterpress Mother’s Day cards to say “Thank you, Mom!”.  Let us know what you are getting your Mom this year in the comments below!

2017 Letterpress Mother's Day cards featuring sweet, flora, funny, and beautiful messages for Mom.

1. You’re The Bomb Mom by Hammerpress | 2. To A Mother Like No Other by Hunter Paper Co. | 3. Mother’s Day Sitcom Moms by Papillon Press | 4. Queen Bee by inkwell | 5. Happy Mother’s Day postcard by DD Letterpress | 6. Wonder Mom by Luxe Papery | 7. Homebrewed by Slackline Press | 8. Good Job Mom by Steel Petal Press

2017 Letterpress Mother's Day cards featuring sweet, flora, funny, and beautiful messages for Mom.

9. Mom Thank You For Everything You Do by Color Box Letterpress | 10. Marquee Mom by Oddball Press | 11. Cheers To The Best Mom Ever by Lucky Bee Press | 12. Madre by Alee Letterpress | 13. Chillax by hello! Lucky | 14. Love You Mom by indepent1

2017 Letterpress Mother's Day cards featuring sweet, flora, funny, and beautiful messages for Mom.

15. Thank You Mummy by Paper Elephant Press  | 16.  Strongest Woman I Know by Ink Meets Paper | 17.  Right Here by Smock | 18. Mom, You’re Like a Candy Bar by Loudhouse Creative  | 19. Merci Mama by Cherry Laurel Studio |  20. Lucky Mom by Sugar Paper

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

Papers, Papers, Papers

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?

main-opt2

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.

The Basics

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.

  • LetterpressPapers.com – samples range from $2 — $8
  • Takach Paper Co – sample ring with most stocked papers $12
  • Legion Paper – samples range from $2 — $20
  • 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.

crane-lettra

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.

Paper Types

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.

canaletto

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. 

fabriano-artistico

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.
holyoke paper sample book

(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-superfine

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.

reichsavoy

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.”

revere-2

Revere: A luxe and super soft paper that is meant to be held and is perfect for wedding invitations or a card that begs to be touched.

  • A 2″ x 6″ matchbook sample of Revere paper is available through Legion Paper for $0.99.

Rives BFK: “100% cotton and no optical brightening agents, it is a bright white, smooth, soft and pliable sheet.”  

  • Samples of Rives BFK paper is included in Legion Paper’s Letterpress Selections pack for $12. 

Somerset: A soft-handling paper with a supple surface texture. Good for wedding invitations or business cards calling for a softer impression or feel.

  • A mill book containing thirty 5” x 5” sheets is available for $7.50 from Legion Paper.

Arturo papers: A mouldmade soft, luxurious paper that comes in a variety of colors with matched envelopes available.

Chipboard and Kraftboard: A thick, heavy weight of paper board that is great for hangtags and coasters.

  • French Paper offers a $5 sample pack that includes every color and weight from their Kraft-Tone line.

Where do I purchase letterpress paper?

Brick-and-mortar stores

  • A local fine arts supply store – you may have to special order papers if the store does not carry the papers on the shelf.
  • Michael’s – may carry small quantity packs or specific papers may be special-order items.
  • Utrecht – carries a variety of fine papers, including Rives BFK, Moab Entrada, and Lenox 100%.

Online stores

  • LetterpressPaper.com – a great variety of paper selected for letterpress printing with many different varieties in a multitude of colors.
  • Paper-Papers – another great online paper source with many papers in various sizes. We recommend their “Cotton Papers” for letterpress projects. 
  • Paperworks – offers letterpress paper options with matching envelopes, including several FSC-certified papers.
  • Hiromi Paper – specializes in Japanese papers, but is also a good source for Arturo and Fabriano papers, postcard weight paper stock, and deckle-edge papers.
  • Porridge Papers – nice papermakers who make a great variety of handmade paper.
  • Legion Paper – use Legion’s ultimate paper selector to help narrow down your many options. 
  • Crane – purchase Crane Lettra papers in a variety of weights and colors, with various envelope options to match.
  • Twin Rocker – offers handmade papers (check out their swatch set for samples). 
  • Botanical Paper Works – specializes in handmade papers that are embedded with wildflower, vegetable, or herb seeds that can be planted later on (they offer a seed paper swatchbook for $10). 
  • French Paper – produces over 100 stock colors in multiple weights and textures, including kraft papers.
  • Paper Mart – also offers chipboard or kraft papers. 

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!

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)

pantone-1

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!

The Stouffer Gauge: A Platemaking Pal

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

What is a Stouffer Gauge?

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

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

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

How to Use The Stouffer Gauge

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

recording-results

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.

applygaugetounexposedsheet

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

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

How to Read the Stouffer Gauge

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

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

KF95 correctly exposed Stouffer Gauge test strip

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

exposure-correction-table-chart

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.

Troubleshooting

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.

underexposed

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.

overexposed

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

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

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

I’m using a Nu-Arc. Any tips?

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

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