Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper and Handmade Paper: Part 2

Part two of our specialty papers roundtable on seed paper and handmade paper focuses in on more excellent tips and inspiring projects from three amazing printers and paper vendors. And don’t forget to check out Part 1 here for tips and tricks for getting the best print on luxurious deckled paper and the eco-friendly!

Don Martin – Bloomin Paper Keep ink coverage to a minimum [when printing on seed paper], as any place that the plate strikes, it will crush the seeds and they won’t grow. Additionally, the cracked seeds ooze an oil and stain the paper, so light minimal ink coverage is always best. Our paper are thick and packed with seeds, so even if some of the seeds are damaged by the letterpress printing, the paper will still grow.

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper -Seed paper letterpress printed on by Blooming Paper via their Garden Gram piece.

It’s not an exact science [when printing on specialty paper]. Folks should know that variations in the paper thickness can cause the printing density to vary as well. Again, minimal ink coverage minimizes that concern, as heavy solids are more noticeable.

Bloomin’ Premium papers are thick enough for any letterpress plate to get their teeth into it. Because this Premium seed paper sheet from Bloomin is packed with seeds, it grows great, even when a percentage of the seeds are damaged on press.

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper -Seed paper letterpress printed on by Blooming Paper adds wow factor to business cards and printed goodies.

The variation and handmade quality of the Bloomin papers makes each and every final piece unique and original. Handmade paper letterpress printed one-at-a-time has an old world nostalgic quality that no digital or offset machine can replicate.

Jenn Upham – Tiny Pine Press  For printing on handmade paper: If you have a natural deckle, it’s important to go slow, because sometimes the sheets don’t drop into the gauge pins on their own and you usually don’t have too much overage. I always set up on trimmed edge paper as make ready because the edges can get so wiggly. Also, you have to make sure the type is extremely clean to get a crisp pillow.

For seeded paper: You really have to watch your type because if a seed hits it could drop out and be there for a while because it mashed in the packing – so I move around the packing to make sure nothing too bumpy gets in my way! I use Of the Earth for their lotka seeded … it’s not too seedy but still nice. Greenfield Paper Company has so many colors of seeded. I love Jute from Sustain and Heal, these are all trimmed edge. I hold my natural deckle vendors closely, but unfortunately some of those have gone out of business so I can’t even refer them.

I love the pillow of both. Most handmade or seeded papers are not processed as much and they are extra soft. The type sinks in and you just want to grab a blanket and rest your head on a wedding invitation.

Annemarie Munn – Lady Bones Paper Inc.  The main challenge of printing on handmade paper is that both the thickness and density of the paper can vary enormously within a single sheet as well as between sheets, which poses a problem both for achieving consistent impression and consistent transfer of ink. There’s a bit of letting go that’s necessary for the especially exacting printmaker; the printed pieces will be neither as close to identical, nor as easy to control, as those printed on commercial paper. In order to get the cleanest prints I can on handmade paper, I generally use fairly hard packing, set my rollers as high as I can get away with, and use slightly more ink than I normally would. I use a heavy impression, so that the thinner sheets (or parts of sheets) will still get a decent hit. I also just try to relax and let the process happen!

Annemarie Munn of Lady Bones Press prints beautiful letterpress pieces on deckled handmade paper. Annemarie Munn of Lady Bones Press prints beautiful letterpress pieces on seed paper.

Another issue with handmade paper is the deckle. It doesn’t come up every time (some projects will have a clean cut edge), but often the natural deckle edge is a desirable component of the handmade sheet (especially in the wedding industry, currently). The deckle presents a problem for registration of course; tight register is not possible when printing on paper with a deckled feed-edge–if you need to achieve a tight register, it will be necessary to cut the feed edges square and then create a false deckle by tearing–but it’s far preferable to just avoid printing tightly registered pieces on deckle-edge paper, and instead use a simple one-color design that allows the paper to be the star. A deckled feed edge can also sometimes cause the print to appear crooked on the overall sheet (though it is straight to the feed edge)–this crookedness drives me bonkers, so I usually tape a gridded sheet to my feed table (on the Vandercook) so that I can achieve a feeling of overall straightness even when none of the paper’s edges are actually straight. That might sound a little over-the-top… but letterpress printing nearly always is, right?

I like a lot of handmade paper vendors; there’s something to appreciate about any handmade sheet. That being said, my all-time favorite handmade/seed paper is from Porridge Papers. I really enjoy the proletarian aesthetic of their Blue Collar line, and I love buying from small, authentic companies. I have a hard time talking wedding clients into using the Blue Collar Papers, both because of the cost and because they don’t fit the in vogue, airy, natural-deckle aesthetic as well as a paper like Silk and Willow, so I mostly covet them for personal projects, and wait around for the special client who will get on board with the workman aesthetic!

Annemarie Munn of Lady Bones Press prints beautiful letterpress pieces on deckled handmade paper.

The cover of Deconstruction/Construction, the book I wrote and printed for the San Francisco Center for the Book’s Small Plates series, was printed on a Porridge Papers seed paper. The color is sadly discontinued–it’s a fantastic neon green which I believe was called Sour Apple. I have some sheets left and I’m always mulling over what to print on them; so far, I’ve just been hoarding them away.

Annemarie Munn of Lady Bones Press prints beautiful letterpress pieces on seed paper.

I also love printing on hand-dyed or dipped handmade paper — the colors never land in exactly the same place on each sheet, so when designing for hand-dyed paper I enjoy contending with that element of chance, and while printing, it’s just a visual feast.

Seed paper is a special challenge because the seeds can be hard enough to dent the printing form. For this reason, I only print on seed paper with polymer plates–I don’t want to damage my lead or wood type! Incidentally, on the other end of the papercost spectrum, chipboard poses the same problem, because it can have small pebbles or pieces of debris in it that will dent type (I learned this one the hard way!). Sometimes the seeds can even dent the super-hard polymer, but luckily that can be re-made when necessary, so it’s not as serious of an issue.

Annemarie Munn of Lady Bones Press prints beautiful letterpress pieces on handmade paper.

One of the nicest things about printing on seed paper is the opportunity to reflect on impermanence and the cycling of physical objects. As letterpress printers, we often spend a lot of time making prints that are beautiful enough to be worthy of being saved for generations, and using archival materials so that they will be capable of lasting generations. But seed paper is intended to be planted in the ground, to rot and provide the basis for a young plant. It presents us with the opportunity to embrace ephemerality and to “kiss the joy (of printing something beautiful) as it flies.”

Fun side story: My first commercial venture as a printer, at the age of 11, was hand-printing my linoleum cuts onto handmade paper to make Christmas cards. I made the pulp out of scrap paper and dryer lint in an old blender; my dad was kind enough to make me a screen and deckle out of some 1″ x 1″s and an old window screen. The decision to make the paper myself was a classic misguided money-saving move, I just didn’t want to pay for paper, so naturally I opted to spend days making my own instead. I think I charged a dollar a card.

(Paper credits!: Deconstruction/Construction:Porridge Papers;  Mickey & Chris: The Paper RecycleryVivian & Kyle: Papel Vivo; and Kai & Jeremy: Silk and Willow)


Still feeling as energized as we are? Share your thoughts & tips in the comments section below–we’d love to hear from you!

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper and Handmade Paper: Part 1

Seeking to add a special touch or extra “wow factor” to your next letterpress print project? Specialty papers (such as seed paper and handmade paper) add texture, personality, and eco-friendly advantages to invitations, business cards, and more. In this roundtable, we reach out to paper vendors and printers alike for their weigh in, tips, and advice on printing on such unique paper stock to create a lasting impression.

Annika Buxman – De Milo Design  I’ve only printed on Porridge Papers’ seed paper a few times. It’s similar to Mr. Ellie Pooh’s handmade paper in that the larger seeds (or in the case of Mr. Ellie Pooh, the chunky grass) can bust the plate. Lightweight type can break. I try to use bolder, stronger fonts. And always make two plates in case I need to replace it.

I have a handfed C&P and SP15 Vandercook. I don’t know if the following would work on a Windmill [for printing with hand-made paper]. When printing on handmade marble paper, I arrange each sheet in the stack beforehand to make sure the print will read legibly over the marbling.

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper - Annika Buxman prints elegant and memorable letterpress Happy Birthday card on handmade, marbled paper (De Milo Design).

If there’s a rough deckle edge against the guides, the print can sometimes look crooked. Here’s my hard earned trade secret. 🙂 Eyeball the paper so it looks square on a large post-it note applied to the back. That way the guides have a straight edge. This is especially helpful with registering more than one color. Even with the post-it note edges, it often won’t look perfectly aligned. Accept the imperfection…

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper - Annika Buxman prints elegant and memorable wedding invitations on handmade paper (De Milo Design).

If trimming handmade paper it can easily tweak in the cutter no matter how hard it’s clamped because it’s so spongy. I interleave cheap printer paper and that helps wtih the tweaking. I also do two cuts. The first 1/8″ away from the trim guide. The second is shaving off that last 1/8″. I don’t know why it works, but it works.

[I’d recommend] Porridge Papers for seed paper. Of course my favorite for handmade paper is my own Sustain & Heal marble and Letterpress line because it supports fair trade artisans in Bangladesh. I recently did some marbling and printing on Fabulous Fancy Pants paper and that was a lot of fun! […] The handmade fluffy surface takes the print so well. I don’t mind the extra work because the end result is so unique.

Kelly Caruk – Botanical Papers When using letterpress on seed paper, we recommend using minimal ink coverage as the pressing nature of the process may damage the seeds. Less ink coverage will ensure you get more viable seeds to grow in your finished piece. We also recommend you do some testing with a small batch of plantable paper before placing a large order.

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper - Seed paper from Botanical Papers adds eco-friendly touch to wedding invitations and business cards. Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper - Seed paper from Botanical Papers adds eco-friendly touch to wedding invitations and business cards.

We only produce and manufacture seed paper and seed paper products at the moment [and] we love printing on seed paper because it has a unique texture and very natural feeling to it. The fact that grows into plants that benefit the environment makes the pieces extra special and symbolic.

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper - Seed paper from Botanical Papers adds eco-friendly touch and memorable impressions.

Christopher James – Porridge Papers When printing on seed embedded paper or handmade paper with inclusions the most important thing is NOT to use wood or lead type or old cuts. Because the seeds can be hard they will dent the soft material. We recommend and use photopolymer plates.

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper - Plants sprout from eco-friendly seed paper from Porridge Paper.

While you can and most likely will create small indents in the polymer it is easy to replace. That being said, if it is small areas or type most of the time, you will not see it.

We are in the process of coming out with our new line of seed papers. There are about 8 colors, mostly all light so that they will work well for printing. While white is the dominate color we like Ecotan which we describe as the color of Khaki pants. In our new color line, the light grey and green are our new favorite colors.

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper - Porridge Papers Blue Collar Handmade Paper line prints with character and uniqueness.

Aside from seed paper, we have the Blue Collar [handmade paper] line which was specifically made for letterpress printing. There are 7 colors in that line and all made with, or inspired by, Blue Collar professions. Overalls is made from denim, Pallet is made from chipboard and cotton trimmings, [and] Brewhaus is made from spent grain from a local brewery. These papers by far have been our favorites. After years of printing, we wanted to make and offer a paper that had some interesting characteristics, was a little thicker, would make for a wonderful impression, and something that would be different from what is currently out there. We launched it almost 2 years ago and it has been exciting to hear what people have said and done with it!

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper - Stacks of colorful handmade paper from Porridge Paper. Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper - In-process papermaking seen at Porridge Papers.

With handmade paper, it tends to take a wonderful impression; and a lot of times you can get away with double sided printing where with commercial paper you tend to see the “punch through” on the reverse side.

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper - Porridge Papers handmade papers print elegantly for invitations and wine labels.

Keep in mind that handmade paper, ours in particular, is soft, textured, and fibrous. Because of that it can be hard to get 100% solids. You tend to have more of a mottling effect. That can lend itself well to the design, so when we are printing, we always like to point that out ahead of time.

Printing on Specialty Papers: Seed Paper or Handmade Paper - In-process papermaking seen at Porridge Papers.

Our favorite paper to print on is Timecard from the Blue Collar line. It is such a great recycled sheet. White in color with interesting recycled bits in it. Aside from that, almost all of them can find their way into that perfect project. Our other favorite papers that we have made and love to print on our the ones embedded with silver and gold leaf or iridescent powders and if the project arises, scented paper can be a lot of fun!

In addition to our stock papers/lines, we love to work with the client before they begin the project. To have the opportunity to create a paper that specifically shows their personality, or is embedded with materials they provide, is what makes it so unique.


Feeling as excited and inspired as we are? Share your tips and thoughts in the comments section below–we’d love to hear from you! And stay tuned for upcoming Part 2 of this awesome blog article feature on these eco-friendly delights!

Unique International Printing Presses

Across the globe, letterpress printing has captured the heart of many a printer, be they from Italy, Brazil, the U.K. and beyond. Each country has dipped its own pen and added to our collective letterpress history through the beautiful creation of presses and the ingenious pressman at the helm of these metal beauties. We reached out to some our printing colleagues to check out what unique international printing presses are founded in their country or rare presses they have had the honor to ink up. Some are of their own countries’ origin in production and some are foreign-born masterpieces. Either way, the global letterpress community grows stronger as more of these special presses are inked up and shared with others.

Davide Tomatis – Italy – Archivio Tipografico  our latest press is a Schelter&Giesecke – Phoenix IV. This press is a sliding platen press, designed and produced in Leipzig at the beginning of last century (around 1905). The maximum printable format is 40 x 66 cm and its weight reaches 1600 Kg. It has 4 inking rollers that work in couples: one couple inks the form on its way down and the other couple on its way up. It’s a very sophisticated inking system that we’ve only ever seen on this kind of press. It ensures a perfect inking of the form, as the active inking rollers are always evenly inked and don’t carry back on the form the sign of the type they just inked.

Davide Tomatis of Archivio Tipografico (Italy) prints on a Phoenix IV (German press) | Unique International Printing Presses feature

We acquired it in January 2015; our friend Luca of Anonima Impressori told us about a place near Bologna with an incredible collection of platen and piano-cylinder presses. We weren’t in need of any new press but – as you can imagine –  we couldn’t help ourselves. We immediately went there and what we found was a very big, dark, cold and humid warehouse with presses everywhere. We never saw such a large place before.

Most of the machines were quite conventional: Saroglia, Heidelberg, Nebiolo… but just around a corner, hidden by a Nebiolo Urania 70×100, Emanuele couldn’t believe his expert eyes when he recognized his dream press: the Phoenix!

Davide Tomatis of Archivio Tipografico (Italy) prints on a Phoenix IV (German press)

The Phoenix press series, produced by Schelter & Giesecke, are a particularly big and sturdy model of presses and one of the biggest ever built in the history of printing. As far as we knew the only working Phoenix in Italy was in Enrico Tallone’s printshop; what’s more, the model in the warehouse, was the biggest one of the series. No need to specify that seconds after the discovery a decision was taken: we had to make place for her in our printshop. We had a lot of work to do on her: she had no inking rollers, no engine, no cleaning system and she was covered in years and years of dust and dried ink.

Davide Tomatis of Archivio Tipografico (Italy) prints on a Phoenix IV (German press)

The restoration was quite a long and difficult process; as we didn’t have any manual or technical info we pretty much had to guess everything, from the size of the rollers to the right kind of engine. After a few tries we found the right size of the rollers and we were very lucky with the discovery of a super engine by our trusted and experienced electrician (a beautiful original AEG model). After that we engineered a cleaning system for maximum practicality of use.

Davide Tomatis of Archivio Tipografico (Italy) prints on a Phoenix IV (German press) | Unique International Printing Presses feature

We had to come up with an original solution as the machine wasn’t originally equipped with any cleaning system: the printer had to dismantle the rollers after each use and clean them manually. Lastly, to look as beautiful and as majestic as she deserves, we restored the amazing details embossed in cast-iron on the body of the machine, as Schelter & Giesecke mark on the side of the press and the name of the model on the front and we brought them back to their original golden color.

Davide Tomatis of Archivio Tipografico (Italy) prints on a Phoenix IV (German press)

Now the Phoenix press holds pride of place in our space: it’s the most elegant, powerful and historically relevant press we’ve ever owned, and we’re very proud for having brought her back into printing shape!

Marcelo Pinheiro – Brazil – Carimbo Studio The first press we had was a small tabletop one. We found it with a guy who buys and sells graphic equipment here in Brazil. He also had some metal type with it (in fact he was going to sell it to the junkyard and have all the type melt). Its original colour was black, but they had it painted with this green hammered textured paint, that helps disguise imperfections, but on the other hand is good for cleaning with solvents.

It is a Japanese press, manufactured by Osaka Printing Ink company (serial number L603) but we don’t know much more about it.

Osaka Printing Ink Company press | Unique International Printing Presses

Here in Brazil this kind of press is called ‘socadeira’ or ‘prelo de soco’ as you have to pull the lever to make an impression (punch = soco, in Portuguese). We are trying to get this press back to its glory days and we plan to use it to show people how letterpress printing works, demonstration and such, as it’s very simple to operate (once you have already made all previous adjustments).

Another press we have in the shop is from a Brazilian manufacturer called Catu (meaning ‘Very Good’ in Tupi Guarani – Brazilian indians’ language). I think that “Minerva” – like the Goddess of Wisdom and Arts – is kind of a generic name that all platen presses are called here and on Latin America as well. The company was founded by German immigrants and started producing printing equipment in 1946 – and they still make offset equipment nowadays. It’s very common around here, but despite that, we can’t find much information about it – we don’t know when it was made and we don’t have a manual. It was still working as a printing press when we found it, but people also modify it for die cutting, thus removing all the inking system and all rollers.

This model is often referred to as Minerva Catu 1/4 – as its printing size corresponds for a quarter of a 99×66 cm (Brazilian standard) paper sheet. We heard that its design is based on some German model, but we really don’t know. It’s a hand fed platen press and it has adjustments for rail height and printing pressure. We find interesting the lever for turning the flywheel on – and off, as it also works as a break. It has adjustable speed but we like to run it slowly and appreciate the work as we go!

Marcelo Pinheiro of Carimbo Studio (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.Marcelo Pinheiro of Carimbo Studio (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

Marcelo Pinheiro of Carimbo Studio (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

There are lots of these presses here in Brazil, but they ended up mostly used for finishing (die cutting, scoring, numbering). We have seen people painting Catus with all sorts of colors (black, white, red, etc.) but we like ours as it was made and its greenish industrial paint. But we made special leather grippers for the impression handle and the start / stop lever. It gives our press a much cooler look! Coincidentally, we ended up buying it from the same person that we bought our Heidelberg Windmill from, but it was totally random.

Marcelo Pinheiro of Carimbo Studio (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

It weights over 2500 pounds (1150 Kg) and has a printing area of 13 x 19 inches (335 x 487 mm). On our Catu we have printed album covers for a French / Brazilian Music label and we made posters for Association Typographique Internationale  and for Englewood Letterpress Depot, besides several other projects. It is our press of choice when running larger pieces.

The Catus are always accompanied by two side tables to keep the paper sheets: on one side you leave the blank paper and on the other one you put the sheets that were just printed as you are hand feeding the press.

We find it easy to setup and it has a feature that I haven’t seen on other presses: it is possible to adjust the parallelism of the platen vs. the form. This is sometimes useful when adjusting makeready. The maintenance is somewhat curious, mainly because of spare parts… Even with just one model, not all Catu Minervas have exactly the same design on parts and holes. It is said that if you disassemble 3 Heidelberg Windmills you will be able to reassemble the 3 machines again perfectly. But if you disassemble 3 Catus and mix all parts you won’t get 1 single machine assembled back again!

There are other machines on the Catu family though. It has a younger sister: Catu Mirim (something like Small Catu) – as the name says, the printing size area is smaller. They also used to make cylinder letterpresses as well and that’s something that we are considering adding to our roster, too!

Marcelo Pinheiro of Carimbo Studio (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

Pamella Farrell – UK – Farrell Press We currently have three beautiful presses in studio, a 15×10 Arab Press c1894, an 8×5 No.1 Cropperette Press c1888 and an 8×5 Adana Press which were all lovingly restored by my husband.

I started out printing on the Adana, I’m mainly self-taught. I was the first letterpress printer in Ireland to reintroduce the craft to brides and grooms, offering letterpress wedding stationery in 2008 and the business has gone from strength to strength. As demand grew I knew I had to invest in a larger press. I searched throughout Ireland to no avail, I found out a lot of presses had been sold for scrap when litho printing became popular!

I then looked at the feasibility of importing a press from the UK or the US. I was lucky to stumble across a sale ad for the Cropperette and the Arab press. They were owned by a photographer in London, UK, who was moving house and found them while emptying his garage. He hadn’t used them in over 20 years. Myself and my husband took the ferry over to the UK and drove to London in a van to collect them.

Pamela Farrell of Farrell & Chase (UK) has a delightful Arab press in her printshop.

The Arab had to be taken apart as it was too heavy for us to lift, lucky they were designed to be “flat packed” and with the manual my husband (who is a construction plant fitter), knew what he was doing. A nerve-wracking journey home and a few days later, the two presses were up and running with thanks to my husband’s skill.

“The Arab is claimed by some to be the finest hand-fed platen in the World. In terms of cost and weight, it out-performs other machines; and the fact it is designed to be dis-assembled and rebuilt makes it easier to trans­port than other, sim­ilar, presses.” (source:

The Arab Presses were produced in the North of England and our Arab press is still painted the original blue with red accents and has a spoked flywheel which was later replaced by a solid wheel to reduce accidents.

The Cropperette is a very rare British press built in Nottingham by The Cropper Company, if you have ever heard the term ‘to come a cropper’, a common phrase in Ireland and the UK, it relates to printers catching their hands in the printing press! The Cropperette is the more beautiful press of the two and has been very hard to find information on. It’s painted black with gold accents and a beautiful heart shaped foot peddle. It is lovely and free, very light to use with foot power where as the Arab is a very heavy press and difficult to operate by foot power alone. I have since added a motor to run the Arab press.

Pamela Farrell of Farrell & Chase (UK) has a delightful Cropperette press in her printshop.

The Arab press is the work horse which I use daily, the Cropperette is reserved for smaller jobs like labels and business cards and is used quite rarely and the Adana has become redundant. I have toyed with selling it but just can’t let go of my first letterpress.

Fabiano Santos – Brazil – Pergam Press The press is a Model “Minerva Catu” also known as “Catuzinha” here. I’m not sure what year it was manufactured, but I believe it is around the 1960s. The origin of the Catu press manufacturer company has been through a family coming from Hamburg, Germany, and they began manufacturing the machines here in Brazil around the 1940s.

Fabiano Santos of Pergram Press (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

Like the Windmill, it has all settings right at your fingertips, and it functions as an extension of our arms. It is very easy to adjust something on the press (according to the job being printed) because she “accepts” any setting. Even wire to hold up a few pieces of barnates tape for roller height adjustment. It is not widely used in Brazil. Some graphic design/print shops rarely use it for die cuts, but I have never seen anyone use it here to print other projects.

Fabiano Santos of Pergram Press (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

When I started looking for a machine to work with letterpress printing, I visited many old printers wondering where they had left their old equipment, and it was on one of these visits I met an experienced operator/printer who worked during the height of Minerva Catu. He had kept one of them in his garage. Since he had retired and no longer operated the machine, I bought it from him and now she has won a special place at our shop.

Corby – Singapore – Papypress Our press is a Super Ace on the machine with serial number 3361 on it. The labels are all in Japanese, and it’s an 8” x 10” Platen. Is this machine good? Not really, it has quite a few silly features that I haven’t quite figured out yet actually.

Corby of Papypress (Singapore) prints on a Japanese Super Ace press (detail: inkwell).).

This is the ink fountain.The knobs, as you would already know, control the flow of ink. However this is not a cylinder inking plate. It is an ink plate that rotates like an Adana. That means I can’t play with colors like one would do on a Vandercook. So why have knobs? Looks cool though.

Corby of Papypress (Singapore) prints on a Japanese Super Ace press (detail: inkwell).

This flywheel is like the tiniest thing I have ever seen. No bigger than 10” in diameter.

Corby of Papypress (Singapore) prints on a Japanese Super Ace press (detail: flywheel).

Sometimes when I want to print with a heavier depression the platen jams up and I would have to give it a manual push. But once you get the hang of it you’ll know what to do. Nonetheless it’s a nice “semi-automatic” machine to have around and not as bulky as a C&P. We use if for smaller cards that have images really close to the edge. By hand feeding, I can minimize gauge pin space.

Once we were at an old print shop looking for wooden stools to use in the studio (these type of wooden stools are always found in old print shops in Asia). In the corner of the shop I first saw the inking plate in the corner, when I asked if the machine was still around he pulled the cloth off and showed it to me. He said why would I want something like that? Why not buy a digital machine? Best deal I ever made.

Corby of Papypress (Singapore) prints on a Japanese Super Ace press (detail: wooden stool).

Presses like these were common in our region, the more common ones were even more block looking. Space was always an issue in Singapore, and these machines were built with big motors and smaller flywheels. I guess deep impressions only came much later and it would have worked perfectly for “kiss” printing.

If you have a unique printing press you’d like to share & gush about, join in on the conversation and post it in our comments section!

Letterpress On Campus

We are all thankful and proud that letterpress is enjoying such a notable degree of success at so many levels.  From one print-person studios to large community print workshops, it’s exciting to think about all the presses that have come back to life for our artisan craft.  Before this surge in the early 2000’s, letterpress was mostly a small part of university and college printmaking courses. Higher education was where letterpress was happening, quietly and without huge fanfare. Now, it’s a whole new story and we checked in with some colleges and universities around the country to find out the status of letterpress instruction today.

Miami University in Oxford, Ohio — Erin Beckloff of “Pressing On – The Letterpress Film,” also wears a hat at Miami University’s Department of Art, where letterpress is part of the graphic design program.

Erin Beckloff of Curmudgeon Press heads the Miami University (Ohio)'s letterpress program.

The press shop at Miami University is called Curmudgeon Press. They operate a Vandercook SP-20, C&P Pilot, and Vandercook no. 1 proof press. They also have around nine cabinets of metal type and a large flat file of wood type fonts. The class has been traditional handset combined with some lasercut experiments and lots of linoleum carving for illustrations. Their brand new photopolymer platemaker is going to open up even more opportunities!

Undergrad and graduate students who use the studio will take Art450, Alternative Design Media: Letterpress. They usually major in Graphic Design, Interior Design, Architecture, Art & Architecture History, Journalism, and Printmaking. Some like Katherine Fries of the University of Indianapolis even went on to create and teach letterpress at other universities. It is hoped it continues to be a diverse mix because the combination of areas of study and approaches to the process produce the most interesting collaborations and work.

Beautiful student postcard projects are printed at Miami University (Ohio).

There is a community education part of the letterpress program for non-students. Letterpress has been taught for three summers as a part of CraftSummer, which is open to anyone. It has brought in students from Nashville, Chicago, and all over Ohio — many are K-12 art teachers.

A poster project featuting hand-set type is produced at Miami University (Ohio)'s letterpress program.


Festive and bright letterpress cards are printed by students in Miami University (Ohio)'s letterpress print classes.

Over the past few years Miami University has hosted several Visiting Artists introducing the letterpress community to Miami students and faculty. Kyle Durrie made a stop in Oxford with the Moveable Type Truck; Brad Vetter was a visiting artist, and taught workshops and gave critiques; Scott Moore of Moore Wood Type brings his pantograph for students to learn the history and get to cut wood type themselves; and Chris Fritton The Itinerant Printer will be visiting later this school year.

Community exposure to finished letterpress projects include works that have been selected for the annual Best of Class Graphic Design show and less formally, the posters have been used for their original purpose, to promote events around Miami and the broader Cincinnati community.

Beautiful and eye-popping color is printed at Curmudgeon Press ... a lettepress shop that is part of Miami University (Ohio).

Florida State University – Tallahassee, Florida— Letterpress is a new class within the FSU Printmaking curriculum, and started in the Spring of 2015 under the direction of Denise Bookwalter (Director of the FSU printmaking program) and Allison Milham (former FSU adjunct professor). Allison Milham designed and executed the entire letterpress studio, and taught the inaugural class last spring. The class is built around learning traditional letterpress printing techniques (hand-set metal type, etc.) in combination with more experimental techniques (pressure printing, laser etched printing plates, etc.). Students are taught the fundamentals of how the press works, so they can take that knowledge into any studio and find success on any press they come across. The pressroom has two Vandercook 219s (one is an Adjustable Bed), and one Chandler and Price Pilot Press.

Florida State University is headed by Denise Bookwalter and Allison Milham.

Denise Bookwalter created the letterpress class so that it is open to both printmaking students, and students outside of the printmaking program. Ashley Gorham is teaching a Printed Book class in the studio in which the advanced printmaking students are using the Vandercooks to make artist’s books. For many of her students, this is their first experience with letterpress printing (and look how much fun they’re having!). The programs are still very new but possibly in the future there will be a community education program to broaden the interest and knowledge in letterpress.

Happy students letterpress their hearts out at Florida State University.Florida State University offers a new letterpress class within its printmaking curriculum.

University of Arizona – Tucson, Arizona — Karen Zimmerman says ASU has a course called Letterpress and the Multiple for graduates and undergraduates. It is an elective in the School of Art. Students can use the facilities for their own projects after they have taken the class or have experience. They have a lot of type, cuts, a photopolymer platemaker and digital output for “negatives”. The University of Arizona School of Art has BFA, BA and MFA students.

University of Arizona The Letterpress Lab contains a bounty of beautiful presses and lots of natural light.

The Letterpress Lab is a couple of blocks north of the campus. The building used to be a restaurant, so the layout and style is a bit challenging, but it does have lots of windows, natural light, and a patio. There are five Vandercooks of varying sizes, three Chandler and Price, one Baltimorean and one Midget Reliance iron hand press (circa 1890).

University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona is lead by Karen Zimmerman.

There are 30 students on average and they can continue to use the facilities for projects after their class. Most are School of Art students, MFA Creative Writing students and Book Art Collective members. In addition, there are community workshops that typically take place during school breaks.

The letterpress lab at the college is about 10 years old.  At first the equipment was used just for projects in a typography course, but the curriculum has grown in scope over the years. Now letterpress is a stand alone course. School of Art has poster shows in their student gallery showcasing the work from these classes or around visiting artists like Amos Kennedy, Paul Moxon or others.

University of Arizona letterpress classes usually average on 30 students.

Donations of equipment have led Zimmerman to learn how to move heavy equipment, rent machinery, and fix presses, all due to necessity. Organization has been a huge undertaking and it is still evolving. Social media is also a huge effort to get the word out about the lab and projects. The letterpress studio is slightly off campus in its own building, so it is hard to get people to it and parking can be an issue but it’s an exciting place to print and worth the trouble.

Madison College Center For Printing Arts – Madison Wisconsin  Beth Ketter is an Instructor of Graphic Design at The Madison College Center for Printing Arts. The Center also houses wonderful instructors such as Deb Vogt and Dave Stuber and a lab manager, Nick Loveland. They are in their fourth year of offering two sessions each of a 3-credit Principles of Letterpress course and a 2-credit Advanced Letterpress course as electives in their Graphic Design & Illustration Program. The 16-week classes are also open to anyone in the community and capped at 12 students. Typically there are 2–3 instructors present for each class and classes meet for 6 hours per week with 12 to 16 hours of open lab time each week.

Madison College Center for the Printing Arts is headed by Beth Ketter.

Topics covered include designing for letterpress printing; hand setting metal and wood type; generating photopolymer plates using artwork created using computer graphics software programs; creating linocuts and pressure prints; press maintenance and press set-up. Students also learn how to mix inks by eye and using a scale. Students run projects on a variety of papers and inks and learn how to select the best paper for a project. There are guest-led workshops on special printing topics as well as guest speakers. Classes also go on tours/field-trips to tour small and large letterpress businesses and they are fortunate to be close enough to visit the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum.

Madison College Center For Printing Arts boasts a huge array of type, wood type, and cuts in its Printing Arts Center.

Madison College owns ten presses made up of three Vandercooks; a Heidelberg Windmill; three Chandler & Price platens; a Kelsey Excelsior 5×8; a Washington Hand Press; and a Showcard. In addition, they own a Ludlow, and the lab has finishing and binding equipment, plus two offset presses and screen printing capabilities.

A plethora of presses and printing items can be found at Madison College Center For Printing Arts.

Persons of all ages and backgrounds take the classes. The courses are offered as electives to Graphic Design & Illustration Associate Degree students, enhancing their portfolios.

They also serve the Madison area where many take the course because of an interest in handmade books, printmaking, and commercial letterpress printing and entrepreneurship. For some students, this may be their first foray into making art. They are just getting into having short term workshops. Over the summer, workshops were held for high school students interested in printmaking and there are many requests for more of this in the future.

A huge galley of type stands alluring at the Madison College Center For Printing Arts.

Every semester the Center for Printing Arts has 2–3 pop-up sales where student work is packaged, displayed, and sold. The proceeds help cover the cost of materials. Products include cards, calendars, prints, notebooks, ornaments, hang-tags and other paper goods. They use an iPad for sales and keep track of inventory. This experience also gives students a chance to see how to market their work at craft fairs and other such events. In addition, there is an art gallery which exhibits student-produced prints and they’ve also had shows at local galleries showcasing the students’ work.

The Book Arts Program and Red Butte Press at the University of Utah – Salt Lake City, Utah In 1996, Gene Valentine, who now teaches at Arizona State University and runs Almond Tree Press and Papermill, began teaching summer letterpress intensives to community members. And In 1999, the first academic letterpress class was taught by Chris McAfee. Beginning in 2000, Marnie Powers-Torrey began teaching academic and community letterpress classes. She was joined by David Wolske in 2009. Currently, Crane Giamo and Marnie Powers-Torrey run the letterpress programming.

A beautiful iron hand press awaits to be used at the Book Arts Program and Red Butte Press at the University of Utah.

The shop has many, many presses: eight cylinder proofing presses including Challenge, Asbern, and various Vandercook presses; three Chandler and Price platen presses; two iron hand presses – a Columbian and an Albion; four bench-top platen presses, and 15 table-top presses.

The Book Arts Program and Red Butte Press at the University of Utah is headed by Crane Giamo and Marnie Powers-Torrey.

U of U has 2 academic letterpress courses—Letterpress I and Book Arts II, each of which are requirements for students pursuing a Certificate or Minor in Book Arts. Letterpress I also fulfills the general education Fine Arts requirement.

A diverse swath of students take the classes. Graphic Design, English/Creative Writing, and Art students are mainstays of their printing economy. They have 25 students for each letterpress course, 50% of which arrive from the Art and Art History Department. They also attract many independent studio users —community members and former students — who have access to the print shop.

Cylinder and Vandercook presses stand in a beautiful row at A beautiful iron hand press awaits to be used at the Book Arts Program and Red Butte Press at the University of Utah.

For community members, a multi-session letterpress class is taught for 8 weeks over the summer. As part of this, they reserve two slots of the academic letterpress courses for community members through lifelong learning/continuing education partnerships, and teach several single day and weekend workshops throughout the year.

To bring letterpress courses to the school, the idea has been “If you build it, they will come“ — marketing strategy a la Field of Dreams. Also, the school has generated a variety of digital marketing campaigns and community outreach programs. The underlying idea is that CONTENT=PROMOTION, so they curate 2-6 exhibitions per year, all of which feature some aspect of letterpress printing. Currently there are two exhibitions on display, one showcasing work from the Women’s Studio Workshop, the other featuring work from the 14 instructors who will be teaching community workshops throughout the 2016 calendar year.

There is much printing in the halls of academia and we applaud all of the colleges and universities that are keeping our art alive for their students and their communities. Does your college offer a letterpress program or print shop? Tell us about other programs in the comments below! terpress on campus

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

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

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

Eco-friendly Lovewild totes featuring NYC designs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Earth-friendly letterpress printer tips from Pomegranate Letterpress

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

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

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

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

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

Baum cutter at Percolator Press.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eco-friendly printing at Tympanum Press with Amy Worsham.

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

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

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

Eco-friendly printing at Tympanum Press with Amy Worsham.

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

Eco-friendly printing at Tympanum Press with Amy Worsham.

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

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

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

Letterpress inspiring hope this holiday season

Rebekah Tennis of Wild Ink Press says it so simply, “The wonderful thing about printing for a cause is that you can spur others on to action as well.”  Rebekah is one of our spotlighted printers who incorporate their creativity and presses in the art of doing good. These printers firmly believe that they benefit as much as their receiving charities in their enjoyment and satisfaction with making a difference.  Whether it’s a global cause or a local one, these printers lend their talents and hearts and urge others to take on a non-profit to help out.


A few years ago, Smock launched a Change the World card series, where 100% of profits from card sales are donated to specific environmental charities. The latest card in the series is the Rainforest card, and 100% of the profits from this card are donated to the Amazon Conservation Association to help protect the rainforests. The cards are sustainably letterpress printed on Smock’s bamboo paper, and are paired with 100% post-consumer recycled, FSC-certified kraft envelopes. Smock also offers Sunflower, a card that benefits the Pesticide Action Network; Fracking, a card that benefits Earthworks; and Fin, a card that benefits the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Smock also donates 1% of sales to environmental organizations as a member of 1% For the Planet.

Smock rainforest cards

That Grace Restored –  Kate McGaughey

At Atlanta, Georgia based That Grace Restored, we collaborate with women who have been exploited in the commercial sex industry to make fine quality handmade journals and letterpress products with the purpose of seeing the women reach self-sufficiency and renewed personal dignity. Our product itself speaks to the healing and repurposing of each woman’s life – we craft handmade paper out of used, seemingly unwanted scraps of paper and make them into beautiful, unique pieces.  Letterpress enhances the quality of our product while complementing the texture and character of the handmade paper.


That Grace Restored is a social enterprise of Serenity’s Steps, a 501c3 in metro Atlanta that helps women step out of the sex industry. That Grace Restored was launched as an employment and vocational development opportunity provided through Serenity’s Steps in October 2013. We currently employ two women at approximately full-time hours and two women on a contract basis. We print on a Vandercook 215, a Vandercook SP15, or a Chandler & Price Old Style platen press 8×12.

We are selling holiday cards currently. We keep our designs simple and elegant to allow the marriage of our printing and handmade paper to tell a story. Each product speaks to the beauty found in the imperfect. We use rubber-based inks. Our paper is soft and takes on beautifully deep impressions well without straining the relic machinery. By purchasing this product, our women have an opportunity to receive a fair wage as artisans and achieve goals through vocational development.

May Day Studio – Kelly McMahon

In the fall of 2011, Hurricane Irene swept through the state of Vermont, causing the water levels in all of the rivers to rise, and subsequent widespread flooding and massive destruction. A few months after the hurricane, Kelly McMahon of May Day Studio was driving though one of the hardest-hit areas, and was astounded that entire towns still seemed destroyed and abandoned, fields of flattened crops where thriving farms once were, and the amazingly new wide and deep rocky paths of the rivers. Many of Vermont’s towns are built on rivers–which makes them lovely to live in, and terribly dangerous during high waters.


Kelly saw patterns in the destruction and out of this, designs were born, She started with small, simple sketches, thinking that a little card line or something would come of it…but the designs couldn’t be contained! They are now 18″ x 24″ hand-carved linoleum blocks which she has turned into gift wrap and tote bags. She calls her design Field print, which represents Vermont’s gorgeous fields of thriving crops.

It seemed a natural leap to think of the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund and donating 10% of her sales from these items to this organization particularly because it was founded by Vermonters, for Vermonters, in a time of great need.


She prints her wrapping paper on a Vandercook SP20 at Green Mountain Letterpress in Fairlee, Vermont, since her little Vandy SP15 isn’t big enough. The wrap is printed from linoleum blocks, onto Mohawk text weight paper using Van Son inks. It’s available online through her Etsy shop and in stores around the country. Her design has also launched a screen printed tote bag whose sales generate a donation to the Vermont Foodbank.

Bristol Letterpress – Tracy Oakley

Working small and from your kitchen table can also reap donations to worthwhile charities. Tracy Oakley runs Bristol Letterpress from her studio (kitchen table…) at home, working on a vintage 8×5 Adana letterpress machine, which is gorgeous but sometimes temperamental.

Tracy sells through her Etsy shop, local shops, craft fairs and Cappuccino Cards. Cappuccino Cards is an online shop selling a fabulous range of beautiful artists cards and prints, all of which donate to charity. Helena Golunska, a good friend, runs this business – they set it up together, along with Bristol Letterpress, and so both are involved with each venture.


The letterpress Christmas cards printed this year are generating funds for Bowel Cancer Research and St. Mungo’s – the more money the charities get, the happier they are. Bowel Cancer Research is a cause dear to our hearts as Helena and Tracy have both come into contact with the disease through close family and friends. St. Mungo’s does some great work supporting those affected by homelessness – an issue that is particularly hard to deal with at this time of year when winter nights are cold and long.


When Tracy is not printing, she’s quaffing endless cups of tea with her South West England based Home Working Collective – a group of like minded people who work from their residences. Many of their items are sold through Cappuccino Cards, which is based on the principle that every card you send, all year round, could make a difference to a great cause. Each card sold on the site donates a whopping £1 to charity (a third of the price) and the customer gets to pick from 12 well deserving causes. Prints donate 10% of the retail price – so everything you buy on the site does some good!

Wild Ink Press – Rebekah & Matt Tennis

Over on the West Coast in California, Rebekah and Matt Tennis live their cause – Orphan Care. All three of their amazing children were adopted internationally, as orphans, so this cause is very personal and dear to their hearts. There are over 150 million orphans in the world. “Orphan” doesn’t just mean a boy or girl who has lost one or both parents, but it can describe a child who faces the world without the provision, care and nurturing that a family provides. There are also many ways to help the orphan – not just adoption, but also fostering, feeding, mentoring and providing for health and education. She and Matt give each year to several wonderful organizations with services that include foster care, feeding, education and clean water for orphans in the birth countries of their children (Pakistan and Korea).


“People love to be generous, I’ve found, which is wonderful. So, instead of Matt and I just giving money towards orphan care ourselves only, we can do that, but we can also say ‘here, let’s do this together and we can raise even more and make a big difference.’ It’s been great to involve other people in the cause.”, says Rebekah.

Rebekah’s four card designs are very influenced by the cultural heritage of her sons. They are from Pakistan and Korea, so the notecards were inspired by an intricate wall pattern found in Lahore, a tile pattern from Islamabad, as well as a lovely Korean celadon vase pattern, and lattice wall from a temple. She has interpreted and hand-drawn the pieces, and printed them in cultural colorways. It’s fun to have these pieces to show her boys their heritage. The notecards are sold as boxed sets of six and a little over $2.25 of each boxed set goes to orphan care – it adds up quick!



In their recently expanded and renovated digs — which used to be an old soda bottling plant — they print on three Heidelberg Windmills, old style Chandler & Price 10 x 15, a 1912 Golding Jobber, and a Vandercook Uni III.


Many thanks to these inspiring printers for sharing their cards (and causes!)! Are there some charitable letterpress cards that we missed? Share details with us in the comments section below!

What to do with excess paper

Letterpress printers get to work with some of the most luxurious, gorgeous paper on earth, but what’s a printer to do with all the extra paper that piles up after a job is finished? We asked letterpress printers from all over the country about the unique ways they’re giving new life to paper scraps, discontinued products, printing goofs and excess inventory, and we’re feeling particularly inspired by the answers!

Here at Boxcar Press (also home to Smock and Bella Figura), we move excess paper and product in a variety of ways. Beyond our regular green printing efforts (we have a weekly pickup from the Empire Recycling Company and we reuse paper scraps in the office for notes), we have a few events to move out excess product and sell items that would otherwise just gather dust. We started hosting a Sidewalk Sale to sell slightly imperfect cards, notebooks, gift wrap, boxes, and more at extremely low prices. Partnering with local food trucks has been a great way to boost attendance and make the event really fun! If you’re near the Syracuse area, our 2014 Sidewalk Sale will take place on Wednesday, August 13 and Thursday, August 14 from 11am-5:30pm.

Smock's 2013 Sidewalk SaleSmock's 2013 Sidewalk Sale

In addition to the Sidewalk Sale, we also invite teachers from the Syracuse City School District to come in and stock up on papers for their classroom projects during our annual paper giveaway in October. We save excess envelope liners, paper scraps, and envelopes throughout the year, and the teachers stock up and put these offcuts to good use.

Teachers_MG_8957Every October, Boxcar Press organizes a paper giveaway for local teachers in the Syracuse City School District

Igloo Letterpress of Worthington, Ohio — We are part of a few neighborhood Facebook “freecycle” groups and every time we have a stack of extra cardboard, paper scraps, or even unused furniture or supplies, we post a picture on Facebook and let people know they can come grab what they like from a shelf on the porch. We are very connected to a few elementary schools and the local preschool in the neighborhood, so we often bundle up boxes of usable scraps and pass them on. There are also some great arts companies, guilds and groups in Columbus that call us every once in a while to see what we might have – we are never short on paper to give away!

With our seconds, we organize them into our bathroom-turned-sample-room and are generous in giving them to future clients. We love being able to send clients home with a stack of beautiful letterpress items to remember us by. For discontinued items and styles, we clearance them in our retail shop, and gift them to lucky customers as a bonus for a sale on other items. It’s always nice being able to use a few extras to smooth over a rough transaction, and fun being able to offer a bonus card for a large online order.


Sugar Paper of Los Angeles, California — At Sugar Paper, we take recycling very seriously. All scraps that result from die cutting or misprints on the letterpress machines are recycled on a weekly basis. We have 2 bins in the pressroom dedicated to recycling. Any extra inventory or discontinued items are all part of our sample sale that occurs in the spring right here at our Los Angeles studio (and they are sold with crazy low discounts!) If we have paper that we haven’t used and will no longer need for any of our products (think extra envelopes or discontinued paper stock), we post the news of extras on our social media channels and give local schools and programs a chance to come pick them up. The photos below are from our sample sale last spring.


Jenni Undis of Lunalux in Minneapolis, Minnesota — I am thrifty and resourceful by nature, so we reuse as much as we can at Lunalux. We’re lucky to have a retail boutique and a letterpress studio in the same space – we can re-purpose even the smallest scraps and off-cuts, and sell them directly to the paper-obsessed people who will appreciate them the most. If we end up with extra stock from a custom project, or big-ish scrap, we print whatever suits our fancy and turn it into a little product on the shoppe. The shelves here are full of small-run notecards, notepads, bookmarks, and tags. Odd bits of blank paper are bundled with bakers twine and sold for a dollar (perfect for DIY gift tags, place cards, etc.) Make-ready, mis-print and over-print posters are reincarnated as notebook covers. We’ll even trim the decorative elements off old invitation samples and pair them with tiny envelopes – fancy, limited-edition gift cards! If it ends up in the recycle bin, it’s pretty dirty, small, non-descript, or otherwise useless.

We recently had a “Paper by the Ounce” sale. We pulled out boxes and boxes of discontinued wholesale products and sold them for $1 per ounce. People bought pounds. A nice way for us to send useful, cute stuff out into the world and make room on our shelves.


Haute Papier in Arlington, Virginia — Scraps take on a whole new life once they become the skinny strips that are left after we cut our papers down for liners.  We use the “bands” as we call them to wrap our boxes of stationery before they ship out to our stores.  And because we have WAY more strips than we could ever use, we also donate them to elementary schools for their art programs.

Since we never make mistakes, we don’t have seconds…. just kidding.  We often use these in house for writing notes to our stores and sending little treats along with our orders.  For discontinued items, we sell by the bundle, give to schools, and try an inventive sale idea.


Smudge Ink in Charlestown, Massachusetts — We schedule paper giveaways for local teachers, art instructors and community leaders. They come for a 3 hour period and clear out our excess paper and envelopes. This is usually posted on social media. We also have a yearly holiday Sip and Shop and have a few bargains for people in addition to our new products.  Some of the proceeds from that event go to the Greater Boston Food Bank, so we have the satisfaction of helping, too.


Matthew McNary of Hammerpress in Kansas City, Missouri — We recycle the majority of our paper scraps on a weekly basis. Occasionally, our folks get creative inspiration and repurpose the scraps for interesting things (like dog jewelry) or personal projects. If the scraps aren’t too small (and are somewhat uniform in size), we’ll store them and reuse them for projects that fit smaller press sheet sizes (like business cards or hang tags) or for our own small printed materials. For example, our last run of business cards were printed from scraps of a postcard project.

Twice a year, we gather all our misprints, make-readies and discontinued product for a big sale. All cards go for $1 and larger sheets sell for $3-$7. It’s proven to be a great way to offer some great deals to our customers while giving us the opportunity to open up some storage space and generate a little revenue from paper that would otherwise be gathering dust or taking up space in a landfill somewhere.


Joey Bordega of Mama’s Sauce in Orlando, Florida — We do lots of recycling. In fact, we’ve got a 4 yard dumpster specifically for recycling that gets picked up weekly.  All of our excess, unusable paper goes in there.  Sometimes, a project will leave a usable amount of paper left behind.  If it’s one of our house stocks, we trim it down to one of our commonly used sheet sizes (maybe 4UP or 16UP business cards) so that it’s ready to go next time we need it.  If there’s something left from a more uncommon paper order, we’ll add it to an internal inventory at a highly discounted rate so our consultants can try to use it on an incoming project that could benefit from that paper.  On occasion, we’ve given leftover paper to a local school teacher to use for art class.  We love paper and try to use every square inch!


What does your shop do to help move excess paper? Share your tips in the comments section below!

National Stationery Show Tips for Newcomers

Less than two weeks and counting until the Big Apple hosts the National Stationery Show in the heart of midtown Manhattan. If you’re new to the show (either as an exhibitor or first time attendee), you’re in for a treat: the show hosts the latest and greatest in stationery & letterpress goods. Today we’re sharing some helpful tips & hints direct from NSS veterans themselves. If you have a tip you’d like to share, join in on the conversation and post it in our comments section!

Taking the Plunge Into Letterpress

Curious about what it takes to make the transition from letterpress printing as a hobby to a career? We chatted with some inspiring printers who have made the leap from hobby printing to either full or part time printing. For some, the plunge was just natural; it came to them the first time they ran the press, for others, the story is a serendipitous chance of events. We gathered some of letterpress’s best to give their testaments to the alluring power of printing. Read their stirring stories and then we’d love to hear in the comments section about what it was that made you want to take the full plunge into the world of letterpress!

Cara Matocha – Im-press-ive Letterpress

To be perfectly honest, when I first got into letterpress, it was on a whim. I am a graphic designer and have owned a boutique design firm since 2003. Chris (my husband) is a project manager at a software company. We both thrive on creativity which leaves us short on time and too many expensive hobbies.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

In 2010 I planned a family trip to Santa Cruz for the week. Other than going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium we made no other plans for our trip. On the way to the airport we were brainstorming ideas for a new business that Chris could do on the side; something creative that he could make his own and be profitable at the same time (as a way to balance these expensive hobbies). I threw out the idea of letterpressing. A friend of mine had recently purchased a table-top press and I was very interested in the process. Chris instantly loved the idea, so we hashed out the details over the course of our Santa Cruz trip and upon our return we began searching for a table-top press.

We ended up purchasing a C&P Pilot Press in July of 2010. The press arrived refurbished in November of that year. We knew very little about printing, but Chris tirelessly researched the ins and outs of printing so it took him no time at all to realize we needed to contact Boxcar for a base among other things.

By February of the following year we had our website up and were getting letterpress inquiries. It only took us 2 or three jobs to realize that we loved the process AND we needed a bigger press!

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

We came in contact with a wonderful man in Oklahoma who sold us our C&P 8×12 old-style press in August of 2011. Little did we know we would be making the trip two more times to pick up a Heidelberg Windmill 10×15 and eventually a 14.5×22 C&P!

Once we had 2-3 jobs under our belt we were hooked, but I will admit we were VERY nervous each time a new job came in. There was a big learning curve to printing beautifully: from packing, to platemaking, inking as well as learning the quirks of each press. It was a bit daunting, but we knew we had to continue taking on the work so we could become more comfortable with the process. Our part-time shop grew very quickly, at times it was too busy! I learned to dial back the marketing slightly so that we could maintain a comfortable stream of business. Chris and I enjoy our day jobs, so we are happy with our part-time status. Do we hope to go full-time in the future? Absolutely, but for the time being we are happy with things as they are.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

Danielle Bliss – Wishbone Letterpress

We started Wishbone Letterpress because I lost my job, and was unable to find a decent paying job. I had been commuting to NYC from the Hudson Valley, and we didn’t want to move to the city, and I was exhausted from commuting for 5 years.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

My husband still has a full-time job, and he helps me at night and on weekends. But I started Wishbone Letterpress full-time right from the beginning. I was laid off from my job doing design and animation for a national morning television show. We were taking letterpress classes and researching business development while I was still working, but hadn’t planned on starting a letterpress business so soon. Local jobs were scarce so we figured it would be best to start our own business. After the first class that we took at the Center for Book Arts we fell in love with the process, so it was an easy decision.

Sharon Braun Hutton – Letterpress of Tulsa

I think letterpress found me more than I went looking for it. I had learned some of the most complex motion graphic programs with a career in Los Angeles working at Geffen Records and then developing the DVD for MGM assembling over 5000 DVD’s including the James Bond collection but I missed something. I’m what I call a “designosaur” a graphic artist from pre-1985 before the Mac was introduced – someone who used T-squares, triangles and wax machines. I missed using my hands and having skills that everyone with a computer didn’t think they could do. I missed the days when most people didn’t know what Helvetica meant. Being part of the letterpress community now I feel like a true craftsman again. Every time I pull out my pica pole or tweezers that I’ve owned for 25 years, I get a sense of accomplishment and nostalgia that hitting the print button on the keyboard couldn’t do.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

David Armstrong – Sevanti Press

There are two major aspects of a business: producing goods, and selling them. In the context of letterpress, producing is the fun part―printing is why we got involved in the first place. Actually turning what we have made into a living can be an entirely different matter. One danger is to minimize the importance of this second aspect of business: ‘When they see my beautiful work, it will sell!’, or ‘I can sell online―the world is my market!’ However, the world―and especially the internet―is a noisy place, and it is hard to be noticed at all, let alone make an impact.

One of the top marketing minds in the world, Terry O’Reilly, recently pointed out that some of the most successful brands have become that way by focusing, not on what they sell, but why they are in business. And in letterpress―where anyone with a computer can order a plate and crank out thousands of great-looking impressions―the “why” is vital. Ask yourself “why do I print?”, “What makes what I do different from everyone else?”

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

In the case of Sevanti Letterpress, our “why” grew out of an already-established business: vintage fountain pens. My wife, Michele, had purchased a fairly expensive greeting card for a friend with her usual care and thoughtfulness. But when it came time to write the message, she was disgusted to see the ink from her favorite fountain pen (a Parker “51”, which writes with a relatively dry line) bleed through the paper, ruining it.  The ensuing conversation, edited for family viewing, went something like: ‘If only there could be a line of high-quality, classically-designed cards, guaranteed to be fountain pen-friendly. Wait a minute! If you want something done right, do it yourself!’ And a major part of our “why” was born.

The other facet of our “why” stems from our love of classic typography and design. No funky angled printing, multiple colors, or 1950s clip art here! All of our printing is done with movable type, and with original cuts; white space rules. Every card has an enclosure explaining the origin of the graphic and, whenever possible, the location it can be found in century-old specimen books. While this limits us to some extent, it also appeals to an enduring, and literally ancient, aesthetic. And it marks us as different.

Once you have a “why”, trumpet it everywhere. In your logo, on your website, in your email signature line, on the back of everything you print. Having that “why” will make you stand out, and will also be a constant reminder of what makes you different, and better, than everyone else. And in a noisy world, that will go a long way towards being noticed.

Of course, this all takes time to accomplish. Many years ago an experienced entrepreneurial friend of mine told me that, when starting a business, “don’t expect to make any money for at least two years. And even then you will be working like a dog, but at least you won’t be broke.” So don’t quit your day job.

It may be tempting to lease out the shop space of your dreams, surround yourself with type cases and presses, and revel in the printing life. But remember, dream shops like you see in online photo galleries have taken lifetimes to build up, and at great cost. If you can sell what you print out of your living room―or in our case, off the dining room table―then do it. If you go into debt to start up, then you don’t really own the business, your bank does. If you expand when you can afford it, and only as much as is safe, then the result will be a stable and established business, wholly owned and controlled by you.

Printing doesn’t require a huge infrastructure, and if you keep your eyes open you might pick up equipment for a song. Shortly after finding our press, I struck up a conversation with a “living history” exhibitor at a local museum. “You should talk to our registrar,” he enthusiastically stated. “The basement of one of our buildings is full of donated printing gear we can’t use, because it is out of our date range!” Several sweaty afternoons later, and after a donation of some nice writing boxes and implements that were in the appropriate date range, we had a small printing shop full of type, furniture, and the paraphernalia needed to print anything our hearts desired. So ask around. Attend the local wayzgooze. Make friends with printers. You never know with whom you can trade equitable favors. The details of what you print, and how and to whom you sell, will vary depending on your location, your market, and your circumstances. But the founding principles―the “why,” and the financing― are what will make a big difference between a zealous hobbyist and a lasting professional.

Sarah Almond – Shed Letterpress

I still distinctly remember the night after my first letterpress class at the Center for Book Arts in New York City. I met my husband for drinks nearby and declared, “Oh man, I’ve finally found the thing that I want to do!” It really was like a light had been turned on in my life, and everything was suddenly illuminated. I loved the meditative process of setting type, as well as the historical anecdotes our instructor, Barbara Henry, told as we worked. The smell and patina of the lead on my fingers reminded me of days spent in my grandfather’s shop as a child, and the presses…well, the presses completely fascinated me. What I loved best, though, was the sense of accomplishment that I felt after pulling a print—the instant gratification of it, combined with the knowledge that every impression was slightly different. I felt humbled and elated by the process.

Sarah Almond of Shed Letterpress with one of her presses

I think I knew, even at that early moment, that I would end up as a printer. I was lucky enough to land an apprenticeship in the garment district at a commercial shop, where I quickly learned the difference between futzing around with type and making sure that stationery for Versace and the New York City Ballet looked its absolute best. What surprised me, though, was that I loved all of it. For me, the art was in the process, not the end result. It didn’t matter if I was printing for myself or the fanciest society soiree; when I was printing, I was happy. Almost immediately I started thinking of how to make letterpress my full time job.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

There were many schemes that were tried and discarded, including working as an under-the-table Windmill pressman at a large commercial print shop on the docks in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The press was in terrible shape and most of my work consisted of die-cutting and numbering, which I hated. Through these piecemeal jobs, I was learning that what I wanted to do was all of it. I wanted to design beautiful things and print them, too. Maybe it’s because I learned on a Windmill, a more traditionally commercial press, but it never occurred to me to just get a C&P and make some stuff in my spare time. I went from working for someone else to dreaming of my own Windmill, and my own press.

My husband and I began to toss around potential names. We had already planned to leave NYC, but hadn’t yet set a date. I scoured Briar Press looking for a Windmill to call my own, but everything was still very hazy and dreamy at this point, an idea but not an actualized one.

On our first wedding anniversary, all of that changed. I’d decided on the name Shed Letterpress for my business about a month before, and my husband surprised me with my very own letterpressed business cards as my paper gift. He had designed them and had them printed by my former mentor, Tim Chapman of Press New York. For whatever reason, the cards made everything very real. I bought a Windmill in Pennsylvania within the month and, since there was no place to put it in our third floor walkup, we picked up speed with the move out of the city. I quit my job and, four months later, we found ourselves in North Carolina and Shed Letterpress was born.

The original Shed was hastily picked more for its convenience than its appeal. It was a flex space in a storage facility that one of my clients described as “kind of sketchy.” For the first year back in NC, I printed when I could while working other odd jobs and getting settled in my new city, but I knew that I had to find a better spot.

The decision to go full-time with Shed Letterpress was really just a matter of finding the right space. Once I found my current studio, in the heart of downtown Durham with a wall of windows, I knew that I owed it to myself to give Shed Letterpress everything I had. It was actually scarier, to me, not  to go ahead and do it! My husband, as always, was incredibly supportive of my venture and agreed to float me for a while until I had things figured out. In hindsight, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and am still having “duh” moments every day, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. Ultimately, what made the decision easy for me was the unwavering support of family, friends, and letterpress colleagues that I’ve met along the way. Knowing that there was always someone on the other end of the phone, or even just asking the same question as me in a Briar Press post, made me feel less alone and more able to take on the crazy responsibility of becoming a small business owner. I’m three years in now, and going strong!

Amy Rau – Green Girl Press

I was looking for a creative outlet to provide an escape after my corporate workday. Initially, I had been searching for a calligraphy class – something I could practice at home without designating a ton of space. But alas, calligraphy was not being offered that session so I enrolled in another class – Intro to Typography, a beginners letterpress course. Our first project was to sort a bunch of type into a California Job case. I was instantly smitten.

I knew really early on that I would be growing a business out of my passion for letterpress. The story goes: within 10 minutes of my first letterpress class at the Genesee Center for Arts and Education, I had fallen in love. By the end of the second class, I was dreaming if quitting my day job. 6 months later, I did. For me, the excitement is in the creation. I knew I would have to sell my work in order to pay for more creation. And I was OK with that because I was producing far more than I could ever keep!

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

As with every successful letterpress project, start from the end and work backwards. Make a business plan. Ask yourself, where do you want to end up? Then list out the steps you need to take in order to achieve your goal. It doesn’t have to be a super detailed, even just a short list outlining your goals and expectations can be really helpful. Defining what you want your business to become is the best way to manifest your goal. And as a bonus, you sound smart and confident when you talk to people about your new business because you’ve taken the time to establish a foundation.

Misako Rothery

My transition from hobby printer to full-time printer happened about two years ago but it was about ten years in the making. I took my first printing classes as an undergraduate student, continued dabbling throughout graduate school, and then took my first letterpress printing course at The Center for Book Arts (NYC) in 2010.

Letterpress printing examples by Misako Rothery

I knew I wanted to do letterpress full-time when I realized two things: how happy doing it made me feel, and how happy a custom piece of stationery made my clients feel. Taking the plunge, for me, involved an uncomfortable balance of desire and uncertainty, but it was a willingness to challenge myself that ultimately set me in motion.  Having studied environmental design, then landscape architecture, I used that formal education to develop my first projects. I still try to incorporate artwork involving architectural elevations or place mapping whenever appropriate.  And of course, as a print maker, the precision skills do come in handy.

For what it’s worth, I think that when transitioning into anything new, it’s helpful to see everything you’ve done as building blocks for your future.

Patrick Masterson

In my case, clarification came in an unambiguous and unwelcome form—I was laid off from my job in February 2009 as the economy was tanking. I had been running a small letterpress shop for a design firm in Birmingham, Alabama whose main clients were a large regional bank and various real estate developments. Not the best clients to have at that time.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

Had I not been laid off from my job, I’m not sure if I would have ever gone out on my own. Health insurance and a steady, decent paycheck are difficult things to turn one’s back on. Fortunately (or unfortunately), all I know how to do is run a letterpress so it made the next step undeniable. I looked for the cheapest space available, which was a dingy storefront that needed a ton of work but only cost $350 a month. I spent six weeks making it into a habitable printshop and had $6000 to my name at the end of it. I figured I could last 3 or 4 months without earning a dime, longer if I slept on the printshop floor. Business came slowly at first but I made enough to get by and keep the doors open. Word of mouth does wonders. I am now entering into my fifth year of business and am grateful every day for my good fortune.

Taylor Valliant – Noteworthy Paper

I am a true believer of serendipity; I think things happen for a reason, that if you’re listening, your life’s work is calling out to you like a soul mate. Print work has been following me around for most of my life. As a child I would regularly skip school so I could go to art school with my mom, who was attending the Museum of Fine Art school in Boston and later received a Masters in Printmaking from Tufts. Her studio was my happy place… I was always enamored by the smell of print: fresh sawdust in the wood shop where plywood became relief, the earthy smell of ink mixed and spread, turpentine in the air everywhere.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

(photograph courtesy of Green Door Photography)

I went off to college for creative writing and back again for graphic design. And after struggling to find my place in the graphic arts world, I worked for a newspaper and a great little magazine called MaryJanesFarm, where I was exposed daily to the cast iron trappings of a bygone era. During that time, I got engaged and discovered letterpress printing. I hand illustrated my wedding invitations and had them printed in Provo, Utah by Bryce at Bjorn Press, who was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge, spending what seemed like hours on the phone discussing the ins and out of my project and the art of letterpress. He said if you are going to get into letterpress you’ve got to get a Vandercook Proof Press and something about if you could find a number 4, you’d be set. I loved, loved, loved the way my illustrations looked (and felt) pressed into that soft cotton paper… so I followed his advice posthaste. I found one on ebay for what now seams like a steal in “perfect working order”. It arrived from Baltimore on a freight train in a huge crate. I plugged her in, inked her up, turned her on, and with paper in the grippers I rolled the cylinder over some type I’d found… and wala! … nothing! (or at least, nothing to write home about). Well, there were a few things going on there…first and foremost, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and there were in fact several parts missing or broken (so much for perfect). That’s when I found Fritz at NA Graphics. Through phone conversations and emailed photos, Fritz was able to diagnose and treat my ailing press (he is a true hero of letterpress… and there are many more out there that if I mentioned them all here this would be a hundred pages).

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

(photography courtesy of Green Door Photography)

A month or two later, I printed my first set of wedding invitations for some friends. It was bliss: in my garage, radio blaring, dancing a little as I rolled the cylinder back and forth getting into a rhythm. I look at those invitations now and I see a lot of “mistakes” (you know the regular suspects; too much ink, too much impression, rollers in need of replacement etc.) but I also see a girl who was driven to figure something out by a passion that she could at that point just barely taste, but she knew it was good. From that first job, I knew I wanted to print full time, but there were things that had to be done first, like learn everything I possibly could about letterpress, get as much experience as I could, start a family and begin raising two small children to name a few.

By 2007, totally over the ever changing climate in my garage I was ready for a change. I attended the National Stationery Show in New York as an artist with my youngest child strapped to my chest. Needless to say I was in awe of and I’ll admit pretty intimidated (still am!)  by what  I saw there and decided I wanted to bring all that glorious paper and design to Missoula, Montana in the form of a brick and mortar store.

Literally the day after returning from NY, I ran into Amy, then just a casual acquaintance, at a local restaurant, where we decided to open a store together. The store would bring together beautiful handmade cards and stationery from around the country while featuring my Vandercook #4 proof press as part of the retail environment. Our customers could watch while we printed anything from greeting cards to wedding invitations right there on the sales floor or through the large picture windows that looks into our tiny pressroom from the arcade of our historic building. That was five years ago this June. In that five years we have had to put a lot of focus on the retail end of our business, but in the meantime we have been building up our letterpress forces in our 1,000+ square foot basement. Amy and I are a great design team; she’s the people person and I tend to communicate better with large machinery… and she fully supports my 1,000 lb habit. The basement studio now houses a beautiful hand painted peerless gem guillotine paper cutter, 2 C&P,s and our newest edition, a Heidelberg Windmill. And this May, after five years of attending NSS as buyers, we will be exhibiting for the first time as a part of the Ladies of Letterpress booth (booth #2374-80!).

Taylor Medlin – Crosshatch Printing Co.

Crosshatch Printing Co. was formally started up in 2012 as a collaboration between myself and my mom in Raleigh, North Carolina, but I first got into letterpress out in San Francisco, California in 2009.  As a birthday present for a close friend I tracked down an old Kelsey 5×8 platen press in Los Angeles and hid it in the trunk of my car for the next couple months.  I’m an architect by training who fancies himself a graphic designer and had no idea that the cast iron weight in the back of my Honda would become a mild obsession for the next four years. After catching the letterpress bug I moved to Philadelphia and eventually found a C&P Pilot in Washington, DC and started working out of a small studio on the third floor of a rented apartment.  My first paid job was a series of business cards for a photographer in town, and since then I’ve worked on a variety of wedding invites, greeting cards, Christmas ornaments and others.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

After a cup of coffee one of the first things I do every morning is to get on the classified section of Briar Press and see if there is any old equipment that needs rescuing. I was lucky enough to find a C&P 10×15 in my hometown of Raleigh, NC a couple of years later and with the help of family, friends, and forum searching moved it into the family garage. Fast forward a couple more years and a job change, and I was back in Raleigh and looking to get the press up and running.  With all of the equipment finally in one place, my partner and I thought it was time to finally move from hobby to a part-time business and Crosshatch Printing Co. was born.  We currently share a studio/shop space with The Raleigh Architecture and Construction Companies in an old tire shop and have been continuing to work and collaborate with clients and artists in the area.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

For others wanting to get into the letterpress business, I recommend spending time finding people you respect to work with and taking on jobs that you’ve never tried before. Every job presents its own challenges, and even a routine run can turn into hours of troubleshooting, head scratching, and pacing.  Keep patient, phone a friend, search the forums and remember that each challenge is a lesson learned for the next job. We’ve made a habit of constant experimentation in our studio and use new jobs as a way to test out techniques and different mediums. We’ve been lucky to work with talented individuals that trust us and get most of our inspiration from healthy communication during all aspects of the project.

Fritz Swanson – Manchester Press

My mother was the village librarian in Parma, Michigan, where I grew up, and I was always surrounded by books. There was a book, a history of the village called CRACKER HILL CRUMBS and I remember my mother telling me that the Friends of the Library owned the plates from which the book had been printed. They were, stereotyped plates (or perhaps photo engraved cuts) taken from forms built up out of linotype slugs. I didn’t know the exact name for those things when I was a little boy, but I do know that one of my earliest memories of the library was thinking about how this thin little volume existed, somewhere, in the form of 196 metal plates on galleys in Brooklyn, Michigan at the Exponent Press. So that was always there, the idea that books were made, that metal and pressure and gears were involved.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printingBoxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

I did not get into the whole thing as part of any clear plan. I just couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by printing and by how books are made. I gave different people different explanations for why I had bought the press, but really, it was just something that I had to do. I didn’t tell lots of people about it at first, and when we had friends over for dinner one night I invited them down to see the press. My friend Ben, who I had known by then for 7 years looked at the press and then turned around and offered me his hand. “Hi,” he said to me, with a look of amazement, “I don’t believe we’ve ever met before.” That’s how I felt, too. Like, when I bought the press, I was meeting myself for the first time.

My wife and I immediately decided we need to professionalize. We couldn’t exactly believe we had just spent $1200 plus travel on an antique print shop. In 2005, letterpress was still very new as a product. That’s a weird, but true, description. The industry had collapsed by 1993, and in the early 2000s letterpress was as dead as it ever was going to get. There were craft printers in major urban centers, and some shops who still had letterpress equipment, but Martha Stewart (ie the Broad Public) was only just re-discovering the form.

When we set up Manchester Press in 2005, I remember that our Google Ads regularly appeared on the first page of search results for “letterpress”. The broad public was just starting to think about letterpress as a luxury printing option. We figured out how to get plates made at Owosso Graphic (just north of us!), we made some sample wedding invitation designs, got a few clients, and did some jobs. We quickly made back the money on the press.

But by 2006, letterpress shops just started sprouting everywhere. And I realized that I had a day job teaching, a night job writing, and neither my wife nor I had any real design training. I wasn’t always happy with my presswork, and I just knew that we weren’t going to be able to compete with the really great shops that designers were setting up on their own. Boxcar Press, and its amazing products, figured heavily in my decision to pull back from full-time press work. I didn’t want to make an inferior product.

We went from almost full-time down to hobby pretty quickly. I was obsessed as ever with the press, and with learning about type and design, but after the short burst of business we did, I didn’t feel any pressure to justify having a press. I wanted to learn, and to get good at it.

So, I spent time after work on floor 2a East of the University of Michigan Graduate Library where the letterpress printing books are shelved. And I started reading. I read everything I could from Joseph Moxon to Ralph Polk and his textbook. At the same time, my friend Jason Polan was building a career as an artist in New York, and we started developing projects to do together on the press.

When the opportunity came up to drive down and profile Theo Rehak at the Dale Guild, I just did it. I wrangled a grant, drove all day, slept on Jason’s couch, spent a day in New Jersey with a recording device, and wrote for a month. That long essay, “The Last Man for the Job”, wasn’t something I had to develop or think through. It was exactly what I had to say at that moment.

That’s what the press is for me now. I try not to compete with what every one else is doing. I just try to add the thing I can add. I’m not a printer who writes. I am a writer who prints. I like to think that even if I am never a great printer, I’m a pretty good chronicler of the movement because I understand it with a level of detail most other writers wouldn’t have the inclination to acquire.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

I try to only do things that I am compelled to do. I try not to do things I feel like I SHOULD do, or that would be GOOD for me, or my career. I try to focus on things I MUST do. Obviously everyone has to eat. I try to diversify my income, I try to follow a lot of threads and see where things take me, I try to keep my options open. But mostly I am stubborn and I want things the way I want them. There was a printing press shaped hole in my life. I filled it. I did what I felt compelled to do.

Amy Arndt Lesniewicz – Alice-Louise Press

Ultimately it came down to the fact that there were not enough hours in the day to have another job on top of trying to run a business and get orders out promptly. It got to the point after 6 years that if I didn’t take the plunge or figure out a way for there to be an eight day week, it was going to start hurting working relationships that I have built up over the years. I definitely had enough work to support the choice to quit my other job, and although it was scary not knowing if the good success would continue, it gave me the time to make sure that it did. One of the biggest recommendations I have for people is to grow slowly and avoid excessive overhead whenever possible.

Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing Boxcar Press spoke with a group of inspiring printers to find out how they made the transition from hobby to career when it comes to letterpress printing

If you’ve got a story about your transition from hobby printer to career pressman, please tell us about it in the comments section below!

Think Ink

For this roundtable discussion, we invited a handful of talented letterpress printers to let us in on their best (and some quite startling) inking techniques to share with you. As always, we hope to hear you dish about the inking secrets that make your press runs smooth, so be sure to add your advice in the comments section below!

Sarah Almond – Shed Letterpress

As a largely commercial shop, a lot of our printing caters to the whims of whichever talented, awesome designer we’re currently working with. I’d be remiss if I said I hadn’t noticed some trends in design, though, that are very specifically related to proper inking and getting the most out of the press.


As requests for floods and knockouts have become more popular, I’ve had to adjust the way that I think about the inking process. In my work as an apprentice, I spent the majority of my time printing wedding invitations and focusing on type clarity and sharpness. Knockouts and floods present a different sort of challenge, however, since one is simultaneously trying to get great coverage and pull a clear, tight print.

The first step for me is to add the rider roller to my Heidelberg 10×15. Though the roller is traditionally used to prevent ghosting (and is spectacularly good at doing so), I’ve tinkered with it enough to discover that it’s also a great way to get a little more ink on the rollers. What is key with the rider roller is to adjust its pressure against the other two—you really want it to just lay against them. Once I’ve tightened down the screws, I run the press, uninked, a couple of times through to make sure that it’s spinning freely but not too loose.

Another step I’ve stumbled upon is to add a little bit of tack reducer to the ink to make sure it is being distributed evenly and smoothly (I use Van Son 2162). Once I’ve mixed my Pantone, I add just a bit so that the ink is slightly less tacky than usual (side note: this isn’t always the best idea for darker colors, but I frequently warn clients that a dark flood will more than likely not be even). I then ink the distributor roller towards the back of the press with tiny dots of color, building up slowly until I feel that I’ve reached the maximum amount that the rollers will hold. Visually, I can usually tell when I’ve gone too far; the rollers will take on a “glazed” appearance, and then it’s time to wash the press down and start over.

It’s rare to get a great flood from one impression alone. Frequently I have to skip feed the press to get the consistency that I like. This can present a problem, however, as double feeding darkens the Pantone. When I know that I’m going to need to run something through the press twice, I will add a bit of transparent white to the mixed ink in an effort to maintain the color. I’ve also found that, when skip feeding, it’s better to err on the side of underinking and then build up very, very slowly.

Last but not least, I’ve found that the lighter Pantones with large amounts of transparent white can take on an almost mealy effect. The color tends to tighten up towards the end of a short run, but it can be frustrating to wait it out. A great way to prevent this, which I learned from Tim Chapman at Press New York, is to add a small percentage of plain white ink in the place of the transparent white. I never use more than, say, 20% of the total amount (for example, if the mix is five parts transparent white to one part black, I’ll use one part white, four parts transparent white, and one part black), and I haven’t noticed that it affects the appearance of the Pantone.SarahAlmond_IMG3

All this being said, however, the real key is to just play around with your press until you find a way that works best for you, and communicate the limitations of the press to your clients. I always like to let designers know that a letterpress flood isn’t going to look like an offset flood, and it’s helpful to have some examples around the shop so that they know what to expect. I’ve attached a couple of my own here.

Ben Sargent

Of the elements of making ready for a letterpress job–gauge, impression, inking–that pesky inking is generally the only one that requires the printer’s attention all through the press run. While gauge and impression can ideally be adjusted, set and then left alone, the ink is being used up a little bit with every impression, so the pressman needs to keep a bright lookout to make sure the ink appears on the page with proper and consistent density and color.


The right ink is a good place to start, and in our shop we have always depended on good old rubber-based ink, which is easy to work with, consistent in color and consistency, and comes in Pantone colors which make custom color mixing a relative breeze.
To ink up the press (and we’re talking here about a 108-year-old C&P job press; certainly many people have presses with more sophisticated inking systems), always start light and work up to the right amount of ink (even though it might wind up being a lot!) . A good smear the width of your ink knife across the ink table is a good start. And if you go too far, of course, there are high-tech ways of taking ink off the table, such as carefully letting the rollers run over a sheet of newsprint draped across the ink table (followed by five or six impressions to even up the remaining ink.)

As in just about every element of the printer’s work, patience can be your best friend, and ink management is no exception. As you run the job, check the ink impression frequently, and have the patience  to add ink as often as necessary, even if it’s after only a few impressions. Occasionally, as well, the inking characteristics of a job may demand “skip-feeding,” or taking an impression only on every other rotation of the press. This may be required particularly with a form that has both broad areas of heavy inking and other elements that are more delicate, or it may be necessary with a form that has a bleed onto the tympan sheet, where you will want both hands to remove the printed piece without smearing. Again, sometimes patient printing takes time.

Adding ink initially, of course, is best done without the form in the press, but in mid-run it is certainly possible to add ink without stopping the press (removing the chase can potentially make  minuscule changes in the gauge), if done carefully. Put just a small dab on the top right corner of the ink table (being alert, of course, to keeping the ink knife away from the rollers), and smear it leftward around the edge in as thin a film as possible. Let the ink even out for seven or eight impressions, and you’re ready to continue feeding.

The other essential element in inking, of course, is the proper care and feeding of rollers. Good composition rollers should give you a long life of reliable service, but they do need replacing every once in a while (see what your supplier or fellow printers think in terms of how often). Never leave rollers on the ink table, of course, and if they’re off the press, they should ideally be stored vertically, somewhere where they won’t be unduly affected by temperature extremes or ultraviolet light.

Many inking problems may be traced to roller height on the press, up to and including those dramatic moments when part of a form just disappears, even though the type or plates are still clearly making an impression. Different presses have different systems for adjusting roller height, but a type-high roller gauge is an excellent investment for being sure the rollers are properly just kissing the form, and for making adjustments if they’re not.

Keeping consistent inking through a job can sometimes be a time-consuming exercise, but having the impression look just right in strength and color is well worth it! Hope these ideas help!

Matt Robinson – Studio Four Three

While I believe ink (both mixing and application) is  incredibly important when it comes to letterpress (or any print media for that matter), I think the discussion of ink should begin with a discussion of color.

As I am sure a majority of the Boxcar Press community is aware, color is very important, but depending on who you ask, the individual’s perception of color can vary from one person to the next, which makes mixing “green” or “red” ink a sort of an arbitrary guessing game if you don’t have a good reference to go off of.  There are several factors that determine our perception of color: gender, the cones and rods in our eyes, ambient/natural, or artificial light, a person’s age, surrounding objects, and even the time of day can all change the way we see colors. Knowing there are so many variables that can and will change the way we perceive color, it becomes imperative to have a standardized way of calibrating the correct color.

One of the biggest issues I run into with clients (and in the grand scheme of life, it’s by no means is it truly an issue) is trying to explain how the color they are viewing on their desktop printer or their computer monitor might not be the same color I’m using in the design and seeing on my computer.  All of those previously-mentioned variables now come into play in a practical way, and it helps streamline my job if I ask the client to mail me a fabric swatch, a paint chip, or pick out their color using on of my ever-so-trusty Pantone swatch books.

I rely on my Pantone books to help myself and our client pick out the correct color, which essentially removes the ambiguity of what they see and perceive on their computer monitor.  Once the color swatches have been picked out, the designs have been approved, and Boxcar has produced the photopolymer plates we use to press, the next step is to mix the inks.

Mixing inks was initially an intimidating task but is made fairly easy by my trusty scale, Pantone formula guide, and a few different putty knives.  While most printers I know have their “proprietary secrets” that they won’t divulge to anyone, a little trick that was taught to me by a friend (a fellow printer) is to mix inks on a piece of glass that’s elevated by some rubber sticky pads.  Underneath the glass, simply slide a piece of the paper you will be printing on and use that paper to help gauge the color as you’re mixing.  My favorite ink is Van Son Rubber, which is generally transparent so the color of the paper changes the perception of the color of ink when its applied.

Learning the hard way, when applying ink to the ink plate, start with a little and work your way up…its easier to add ink than it is to clean the press and start over.  If there is heavy inking on the plate, its always possible to adjust the rail height by adding rail tape or painter’s tape (I use a combination of both of them) to elevate the trucks, which move the rollers off of the artwork just enough to reduce the amount of ink that’s applied each pass.

Bridget Elmer – The Southern Letterpress

At The Southern Letterpress, we are big fans of the rainbow roll. Printing a multi-color gradient can be particularly challenging when you’re aiming for a consistent edition and printing on a press with an oscillating roller. My first rainbow roll edition was for my own wedding invitations, which my husband and I co-designed in the spirit of vintage, handset Lucha Libre posters.


Once our complicated lock-up was ready to be printed, we quickly discovered that it was difficult to maintain consistency with the rainbow roll and that the colors quickly began to blend and become increasingly muddy at the center of the rollers as we printed. Hmmm…


Let the troubleshooting begin!

We did some research on Briar Press and the Ladies of Letterpress forum, both of which offer incredibly helpful resources and advice from fellow printers. At the time, my studio was located at 7 Ton Letterpress Collective in Asheville, NC, so I picked the brains of my incredibly capable 7 Ton colleagues as well! With all of this shared knowledge in hand, we cleaned the press and started over, following a few simple rules for a more successful and consistent rainbow roll. At Blogxcar’s request, we’re happy to share them with you!

1) Turn off the motor as soon as your ink is sufficiently distributed on the rollers. This minimizes oscillation and blending, which will occur only as you travel down the bed of the press and back. Of course, you’ll need to turn the motor back on when adding ink, but again, switch that motor off as soon as initial distribution is complete.

2) When adding ink, add more of the lighter color in your gradient. Keep adding consistent amounts of ink along the inking roller, but extend the coverage of the lighter color further along the roller.

3) If you’re planning to print with more than two colors, we suggest placing your lightest color in the center of the rollers. If you’re printing three colors, you can easily add only that lightest color to the center of your rollers when re-inking.

4) Don’t be afraid to clean the press in the middle of your edition and begin again with fresh ink. Once the ink begins to get muddy, there is only so much you can do to bring it back to it’s original rainbow glory! It may seem like a pain, but it can save you a lot of frustration in the end.


After the wedding invitations were in the mail, we just couldn’t get enough of the beautiful gradients that the rainbow roll creates. The experiments continue at my studio in St Petersburg, FL, and at our storefront shop in Northport, AL! Many thanks to Boxcar Press for the invitation to share what we’ve learned at The Southern Letterpress.

Eric Woods – The Firecracker Press

Some inking tips [are]: VanSon Dutch Fireball (PMS 185), straight out of the can, always looks pink unless mixed with another, darker tone. We usually mix in a little black… we call it Firecracker Red. Opaque white, when printed on chipboard, will change color while drying. We print a proof, let it sit for a minute or two, then pull a fresh proof and compare the two. The difference in tone is sometimes very dramatic. We’re still looking for a good white.

When we first started out we had trouble with ink offset as we stacked finished prints. We thought the ink was too wet and devised elaborate drying systems (I think we even tried microwaving each print) with clothes lines all over the studio. It was time consuming. An old-timer pointed out that we were over-inking everything. Ink was getting onto the shoulder of our type or woodcut, collecting as a microscopic halo around everything, and transferring onto the printed sheet. When we stacked the prints, after running them through the press, the ink halo was offsetting on the back of the previous print. Messy and unprofessional and not the fault of the ink after all!

Ke Francis – Hoopsnake Press & Flying Horse Press

One of the interesting things about Boxcar Press is the variety of artists and printers who use their services. I would assume that each of these clients has a different perception of the “correct application of ink to matrix” depending on their demands. Generally speaking, the aim of most printers is to consistently duplicate an image in multiple. If a machine, even a simple machine, is used in the process then cleanliness, neatness, and attention to detail are part of the successful mindset. There are printing and inking benchmarks for the industry and a conservative approach to inking is a must with sophisticated presses. We probably all agree on this point and maybe we will agree on the following characteristics of ink:

The first thing to remember about ink is that it does not respect your shop’s “Immigration Policy”. It will migrate at will. The minute you pull the tape from the top of the can it is on it’s mischievous way. If you enter the print shop with a nice sports jacket, stand in the middle of the room, and don’t touch anything, in about four minutes it will be on your jacket.

If you place the correct amount of ink (you think it is the correct amount) on your platen or distribution rollers and let it run for a while to “even-out” and then pull a proof you will often discover there is too much ink on your rollers. How did the extra ink get there? The same way it got on your sports jacket.

Ink, if left to it’s own devices, will turn a civil gathering of the medium into a riotous mob that will “black the eyes of your Es’ and turn your pristine type into “sloppy rag-a-muffins”. Over-inking a complex press means that the machine has to be shut down and ink cleaned off to get a fresh start. This is the case even with Vandercooks and platen presses and especially true of vacuum fed machines like the Klugy and the Red Ball. So the lesson to be learned about inking these presses is to apply the ink to the distribution system very slowly until the correct amount is reached.

Do everything you can to thwart ink’s natural inclination to gather, preach revolution, and cause problems. If you do not have anal retentive tendencies (lots of printers do and that is of great benefit) then you need to button the top button on your shirt,.put on your cleanest apron, put a clean rag in your back pocket, and get out your loupe. If Nurse Rachet from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is in the alley taking a break and a smoke then invite her in, give her some of those head-banded magnifiers and sit her down next to you to help keep the ink under control. Promise her anything (booze, counseling, cigarettes, snuff, Red Bull, etc.) to look carefully at the proofs while you slowly add ink until the type is crisp and black. Then print away until the type starts to lighten and then add a little ink. If there are artists in the room (including your alter ego) then this is a good time to chide and cajole them and point out how little they really know or understand. This will help your attitude immensely. Quote Michel Focault or some other contemporary French critic…One little quote will do…or better yet quote a few stanzas of Emily Dickinson to show them that you are REALLY sensitive, but also capable of doing the REAL work while they must live their little desperate lives with only their concepts for support…I promise this will help keep the ink under control [laughs].


We know you must have a really good inking tip or two that you can share, so tell yours in the comments section below! We’d love to hear how you get your print runs to go smoothly!