Big Beautiful Prints At Tiny Dog Press

While managing a Baltimore, Maryland stationery store, Kari Miller of Tiny Dog Press fell in love with letterpress printing while attending a weekend class in Austin, Texas. Fast forward a few years later, and the happy-go-lucky printing gal set-up shop in her cozy (but comfortable) 20’ x 20’ garage. Packed to the brim with printing sights, smells (ah! the smell of fresh ink), and studio canine pals, Kari has carved out a slice of printing heaven at home. We caught up with the Baltimore-based printer as she talks shop about an amazing love for letterpress, urban gardening, and the kicking off a new card line.

Kari Miller of Tiny Dog Press produces big, bold, and colorful prints in her cozy Baltimore-based garage printshop.(all photography courtesy of Side-A Photography)

PRINTING, PUPS, & PASSION I am a Baltimore-based, Texas native with a deep love of printing, color, and urban farming.

I am the owner of Tiny Dog Press in Baltimore, Maryland. I am married to my loving & supportive husband and we currently have 2 dogs and 2 cats who love driving me crazy by barking at every bird in our yard while I am printing.  I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art with an emphasis in Printmaking from Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

I love city life and love living in Baltimore, Maryland which has a rich history in culture and printing.

When not in the studio, I spend time planting and tending my urban farm, otherwise known as the jungle of my backyard. During summer months, I can be found leaving boxes of vegetables on neighbor’s porches.

FOR THE LOVE OF LETTERPRESS While at Baylor University and searching for a degree that would intrigue me, I landed on Studio Art in Printmaking. At the time, my most recent art class was from elementary school. The dean allowed me to take Drawing 1 and 4-1/2 years later I graduated awarded as one of the top students.

Unfortunately, Baylor did not have a letterpress. That was the only print form I did not study in college. Years later I was managing a stationery store in Baltimore and was introduced to the commercial side of printmaking. I immediately fell in love with several letterpress companies (all of who I still follow). I understood letterpress printing by concept at that point, but did not learn the actual process until a few years later when I attended a weekend class in Austin, Texas.

Kari Miller of Tiny Dog Press produces big, bold, and colorful prints in her cozy Baltimore-based garage printshop.

The love of paper, smell of ink and physical labor required drew me to printmaking. I loved being able to reproduce one image and share it with multiple people. I love the feel of the impression with letterpress printing. At markets, I ask each customer if they would like to feel a card. I believe the handling of the paper and experiencing the impression gives a greater joy to the receiver of the card than one that is printed digitally.

TINY SPACE, BIG HEART Tiny Dog Press’ print shop is in my 20’x 20’ garage. We purchased our home knowing I would need a studio workspace. Few houses in Baltimore have garages and ours happens to be a detached garage which makes it into its own separate building. I love my little garage. Shortly after moving in, we renovated the space which included rebuilding 2 termite damaged walls, adding windows, a sink, new walls, cement floor, lighting and doors. At the end I was told by our contractors that it would have probably been better to do a full demo and rebuild. Little did they know that printers love restoring old and broken things in order to make new and beautiful work.

The best part about the location of my studio is that I stay within my neighborhood/community. During most months, my windows display my garden. School days I hear, see and wave to the kiddos walking past after school. During the summer months, I open the studio up for neighborhood kids to produce work with artistic mentorship. I love receiving knocks on the door from kids who know they can come in to draw, paint or print for 15-20mins before running back out to play. One young lady has been my apprentice for the past 3 years. She started with helping fold & package cards. This past summer, I taught her how to print, mix ink and general up keep of the shop.  During August, she designed and printed her own cards and then sold them at a holiday market! All of which she loved doing while it helped her push herself to new levels within her creativity and abilities to sell her products. I love when I receive random knocks on the door with kids showing me their recent design ideas! If I was in a traditional location, I know this would not happen as organically.

PRINTING MENTORS Kyle VanHorn & Kim Bently have been great mentors as I have started my business. I started Tiny Dog Press while renting print time at The Baltimore Print Studios.

Kari Miller of Tiny Dog Press produces big, bold, and colorful prints in her cozy Baltimore-based garage printshop.

As for printers who inspire, I will always love the work of Kiki Smith for its artistic beauty. For commercial printers, I was first drawn to letterpress through Mr. Boddington’s Studio and Hello Lucky.

DESIGNED FOR PRINTING I am a printer at heart. From the touch of the paper to the smell of the ink, my happy place is being behind a press.  I have a love-hate relationship with the computer. I design due to its necessity to grow a design-print business. I love printing for graphic designers, which is an area that I hope to grow in my business.

Kari Miller of Tiny Dog Press produces big, bold, and colorful prints in her cozy Baltimore-based garage printshop.

FULL TIME FUN I have been running Tiny Dog Press as my full-time job since March 2013. At the time, I was also running another small creative business. Now I only focus on letterpress printing through Tiny Dog Press. I have focused my business to grow organically, building the business with profits it produces. This year I will start paying myself from the business! My husband and I wanted the business to be self-sufficient from the start, so we have focused all profit back into growing the business.

PRINTING FEATS 2016 was a year of many accomplished goals within the business. Each accomplished goal brings great joy. The two that I was most proud: first time a product published in the Baltimore Magazine local shopping guide {August 2016 edition} and bringing on 5 new retail stores, one of which I had been wanting to have product at for over 3 years! 2017 has started off great with a first time mention in the Mid-Atlantic edition of The Knot Magazine!

Kari Miller of Tiny Dog Press produces big, bold, and colorful prints in her cozy Baltimore-based garage printshop.

Besides those goals being accomplished, as a business I am most proud of being able to use my business for more than producing products but also to reach my community for something bigger than the stationery I produce. This past November, I was proud to organize and host the Benefit Baltimore Market that brought more than 500 people out on a cold & rainy “Giving” Tuesday evening to a local brewery in support of 5 Baltimore City non-profits. Through beer, food and vendor sales, collectively we raised $2,000 which were donated to the 5 non-profits. In August, I collaborated with a local retail store to create and sell cards that would benefit a popular area that experienced severe flooding. I love having a small business that gives back to the community where it is placed. I love having the financial ability within my business to be able to give back to the community. I hope this is something Tiny Dog Press is able to continue and grow further into.

PRESS HISTORY Besides working on presses as a college student, my “first” press is the L Letterpress. Embarrassing, but we all have to start somewhere. After taking a class in letterpress printing and not having access to a press or permanent location to house a press, I purchased the L Letterpress to print mine and a friend’s wedding invitations. I still have the press and use it for kid workshops.

After moving back to Baltimore, I was able to focus on letterpress printing by renting time at The Baltimore Print Studios printing on a Vandercock SP20. I purchased my 1949 Chandler & Price press in 2014 and finally finished restoring it in 2016!

Kari Miller of Tiny Dog Press produces big, bold, and colorful prints in her cozy Baltimore-based garage printshop.

BOXCAR’S ROLE I purchased my first printing plates from Boxcar Press back in 2010 when I was printing on the L Letterpress. Since then they have been a great resource for plates and materials. When setting up my studio, I purchased my base, ink and several small supply items through the Boxcar store.

SHOP TIPS Any advice I have, others gave to me. If you are looking to start your own print shop, don’t fret – a press will come on your radar at the right time! Don’t try to force that time to happen sooner than it should. I was working on having a C&P press shipped to me from Texas which I found in an antique store, when suddenly the press I now own came on the market and was located less than a mile from my house. Huge cost and logistics saving.

When switching to a new press, give yourself time and grace. Each press prints differently. Different is not worse or wrong, it is just different. Learn how to design towards those differences or learn how to use those differences as a positive in product development.

Also, remember to ALWAYS check your crop mark line thickness or Boxcar will call you when you are at the grocery store.

WHAT’S NEXT Spend more time in the studio designing new cards and getting my hands dirty with ink! I am also looking at hosting a kids maker camp this summer and several kid focused workshops.

Huge round of thanks out to Kari at Tiny Dog Press. Catch her amazing new work on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter! Printed goodies can be purchased here on Etsy.

Printer’s Wonderland at Ice Pond Press

Molly Douma Brewer of Ice Pond Press is a self-taught, Montana-based letterpress printer and life-loving extraordinaire. From imbibing in the lush, raw natural beauty of her home state, she translates that creative power to form airy, beautiful, and bright eye-popping colored prints.  Seven years and counting, Molly still lives up to her own inspiring words – “there are many creative ways to reach a beautiful result.” She sat down with us to talk about her new card line, creating beautiful printed goodies, and taking the time to enjoy the natural gems that surround her daily.

Molly Douma Brewer of Ice Pond Press is self-taught Montana-based letterpress printer and life-loving extraordinaire

(All photography courtesy of Susan Beth Breuner Elements of Light Photography, Emma Light Photography, and Ice Pond Press)

PRINTING MARVELS IN MONTANA I live in Bozeman, Montana by way of Utah, Colorado and Michigan. Past job titles include: dog photographer, public relations director, professional skier and cookie cart peddler. I ski, fly fish, mountain bike, trail run and pretty much eat up everything Montana has to offer, most often with my husband and big white dog. And then we drink some beer.

Blind deboss business card from Molly Douma Brewer of Ice Pond Press is self-taught Montana-based letterpress printer and life-loving extraordinaire

SELF-TAUGHT CREATIVE I don’t hold an MFA or graphic design degree, have never taken a printmaking class, and I hadn’t used a press until I purchased one so you might say I am a homespun case. I have embraced the concept that there are many creative ways to reach a beautiful result.

I’ve had my backyard letterpress studio, Ice Pond Press, for seven years. I parlayed a full-time career in public relations straight into full-time letterpress. I suddenly had a need to create something tangible by using words, images, art, ideas and gorgeous paper. The extra reward is that this work could all come together into a product that makes people happy.

Knowing I was on the search for a press, my father-in-law spotted a gigantic Chandler & Price Craftsman at his printer in Utah. After an epic journey involving several U-Hauls, massive machinery, a mountain pass and a road trip with my in-laws, we delivered my press to the studio my husband had just finished building in our back yard in Bozeman.

Molly Douma Brewer of Ice Pond Press is self-taught Montana-based letterpress printer and life-loving extraordinaire

PRINTING ABODE I feel so lucky to have my little studio. My husband BJ had his sights set on building a sauna with wood from an old family barn. Plans were under way and it really sounded nice but I jumped in with big plans for a letterpress studio. Luckily he was not only supportive but speed-built the studio (with the help of builder friends,) hanging the barn door just in time for the C&P to arrive. We rented a Spider Lift to deliver it from the driveway to the backyard. It was a tenuous trek and several tree branches haven’t been the same since. Still, the 2.5 ton press was gently placed on the studio floor on a diagonal, facing the window and allowing for a view of surrounding trees and wildlife. It is an absolute delight to be in my studio space; it offers me peace and a lovingly created space where I feel good working hard. 

Molly Douma Brewer of Ice Pond Press is self-taught Montana-based letterpress printer and life-loving extraordinaire

PRINTER AT HEART I do some of the design, particularly if it involves stick people, flowers or text-only. Mostly I work with designers; my #1 being Michael Johnson. It’s like he has a view into my brain…he can translate my heady explanations of concepts into works of brilliance.

Molly Douma Brewer of Ice Pond Press is self-taught Montana-based letterpress printer and life-loving extraordinaire

FAVORITE DESIGN SOFTWARE I love Adobe Illustrator Draw.

Red and blue traditional wedding invitation from Ice Pond Press.

FULL TIME PRINTING FUN Yes, for the past five years. (After two years of learning and printing small jobs.)

PRINTING TRIUMPHS In my early days of Ice Pond Press, I was contracted to print a poster for a private Keith Urban concert. The job forced me to purchase a large Boxcar Base which was a turning point because now I do a lot of larger format posters and art prints. I feel a personal triumph each time I collaborate with artists to create beautiful letterpress prints that allow them a different medium for their art.

Also, I’m happy & excited to be a part of the Boxcar Blog’s printer profile series!

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar is like no other partner I know. Every single time I upload an order I have the feeling that everything will be expertly done and will arrive on time. In fact, just today Rebecca fixed a phantom crop mark I didn’t even know was in my file. It’s things like that that create 100% trust. I can call and ask their opinion on how a file will work for platemaking and that helps me know if I can help a client’s wishes come true. Boxcar helps me create my weekly printing schedule because I know exactly when plates will arrive. Their efficiency helps my efficiency.

Boxcar Base in action at Ice Pond Press.Molly Douma Brewer of Ice Pond Press is self-taught Montana-based letterpress printer and life-loving extraordinaire

PRESS HISTORY My current press is my one and only: Chandler & Price 14 1/2″ x 22″ Super Heavy Duty Craftsman Press

Blind deboss business card from Molly Douma Brewer of Ice Pond Press is self-taught Montana-based letterpress printer and life-loving extraordinaire

SHOP TIPS As a self taught printer, I think everything I do might be a trick or a hack. One that’s tangible is HENRY GAGE PINS! They can take a beating and their malleability makes them invaluable. Also, crop marks on plates for pre-cut paper. I typically register by printing a blind deboss on my tympan (which is actually butcher paper,) using the impression of the crop marks to register and finally trimming off the crops before inking. Or, if my press is already inked, I tape a piece of tracing paper my setup, make an impression and then follow the same steps. 

WHAT’S NEXT I’ll roll out a talking vegetable card line and keep up with the year-round wedding season. I’m generally forging on into the wilderness of this wonderful letterpress world.

Immense round of applause out to Molly of Ice Pond Press for taking the time to let us discover the hidden printing gem in Montana’s backyard!

Free same-day rush service on letterpress plates

Need plates fast? Like, really fast? We are excited to announce that same-day rush plate orders are free. If you submit the order before 1pm Eastern, Monday through Friday, we can ship the plates the same day for no additional charge. Just select Rush Service on the “Choose Your Shipping Method” step:

Orders over 120 square inches can also receive free 2-day shipping within the US.

Free same-day rush service now available from Boxcar Press

And one other improvement for 2017: we’ve added PayPal as a payment option for supply orders.

Taking Flight With Wolf & Wren

Combine best friends, nerdy artsy passion, part-time printing & designing, and cheery, brilliant letterpress cards and you have the formula for the winning dynamic behind Wolf & Wren. Colorado-based Lauren Stapleton and Chicago-based Liz Wolf have harnessed their love for letterpress, passion for printing, and “go get’em” attitudes to flourish from a small ten card line to a 78-card line sold all over the country. Both sat down with us to discuss how they’ve been able to manage working across the country, the loving support of friends & family, and the happy, coffee-soaked moments when they get a chance to meet up throughout the year.

Best friends Lauren Stapleton and Liz Wolf (of Wolf & Wren) capture the thriving printing spirit while working part-time and across the country.

THE CREATIVE DUO Wolf & Wren Press is best friend duo, Liz Wolf and Lauren Stapleton.  We collaborate to produce special letterpress printed cards and other paper goods.

We met in childhood as budding artists. As adults, our background in the arts ranges from printmaking and paper-making to painting and bookbinding. Our sustaining mantra is combining good ideas with diligent planning, elbow grease, patience, and a little fun. We started Wolf & Wren Press to create unique and heartening products. All cards are illustrated, printed and packaged by us!

Best friends Lauren Stapleton and Liz Wolf (of Wolf & Wren) capture the thriving printing spirit while working part-time and across the country (with the help of a canine friend too!)

LS:  I live in a beautiful old town neighborhood of Longmont, Colorado with my husband, Matt, 1-year-old son, Micah, and our Newfoundland, Beatrice. In my spare time I try to fly fish, print for pleasure, eat s’mores by a campfire, cook, and drink beer. But spare time doesn’t really enter my lingo very often as my husband can attest to.

Best friends Lauren Stapleton and Liz Wolf (of Wolf & Wren) capture the thriving printing spirit while working part-time and across the country.

LW: I live in Chicago, IL in the Andersonville neighborhood on the north side. My husband Will and I are expecting our first baby in 6 weeks. I love to draw, hunt for vintage treasures, go out for walks and brunch, drink coffee or red wine, and laugh with friends. Currently, I love to binge Netflix, go for short walks, and prep our apartment (whoa- nesting is real!).

Our workload with Wolf & Wren has increased a ton in the last year, but Lauren and I are able to keep our lives in balance. I attribute this success to running a business with your best friend. It is so satisfying to accomplish our goals together.

LETTERPRESS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT LS:  In college at Colorado State, I was a printmaking major, and simultaneously worked in the preservation lab of the university library fixing books. After college, I moved to San Francisco and became a bookbinder at Taurus Bookbindery, and took some classes at SF Center for the Book on letterpress printing. I realized that letterpress was the commonality between books and printing and fell in love. I immediately found a job as a letterpress printer to learn the trade further.

Best friends Lauren Stapleton and Liz Wolf (of Wolf & Wren) capture the thriving printing spirit while working part-time and across the country.

LW. My last semester of college at University of Illinois, I took a book arts class. My professor Bea Nettles introduced me to the Columbia College Chicago Book and Paper program. Soon after I started the MFA program and delved into the world of papermaking, letterpress, and bookmaking. I still concentrated on drawing which was/is my main interest. I was able to produce all of my drawings into printed matter, which was awesome. I love letterpress.

Best friends Lauren Stapleton and Liz Wolf (of Wolf & Wren) capture the thriving printing spirit while working part-time and across the country.

PRESS HISTORY LS: I bought a Vandercook SP15 in 2008.  I actually ran the business hand-feeding every piece till 2015! Now that I have a Heidelberg Windmill 10×15, that seems unimaginable. I do all my scoring on a Golding Pearl No. 3.

The wonderful print space of Wolf & Wren (Colorado).

PRINTING HAVEN LS:  I have a shop at my home. It’s actually a shop and not a garage, with no heat in the winter which gets pretty interesting. It holds all our stock of cards, the Pearl and the Vandercook. I had to get a different shop when I bought the Windmill. It’s just a couple blocks from my house, and holds the Windmill and the guillotine.

DESIGNER + PRINTER LS: Printing is my wheelhouse, though I can dabble in design work.  This work suits my skills to a “T”.

LW: I do the drawing and designing of our plates for printing. My knowledge of letterpress printing helps immensely when designing plates (hey- no full page color washes).

Brilliant and festive letterpress printed cards from Wolf & Wren.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS LW: When designing our cards, we start with a big brainstorm session that usually concentrates on a series of cards we are working on. Sometimes we start with the text, other times it is the imagery. For example, our most recent series is based on natural wonders. We knew we wanted the text to have sentiments like “You are amazing”, so we thought of all of the natural wonders imagery that would fit. We decided on a double rainbow, a geyser, an erupting volcano erupting, and a comet. After I’ve completed an initial sketch, I will send them to Lauren; we will discuss changes, color options, and layout adjustments. I will then create the final drawing, scan it, and work in Illustrator to create the final design. Lauren and I will look at the final file (are the crop marks correct?), and then upload onto the Boxcar’s website (which is so easy)!

FULL TIME FUN LS: Liz and I have been working towards the goal of running the business full time for years and we are closer than ever. We both go to work at our respective day jobs, and run this business at night, on the weekends, and pretty much every spare moment. Luckily, we have had a lot of fun getting to where we are now and I wouldn’t change any of it. We are so thankful for our supportive husbands and families for helping us along the way.

PRINTING FEATS LS: I am so proud of us for starting this business. We have been best friends since we met in 8th grade and we often talk about if we could have shown our past nerdy artsy high school selves what we would be doing as adults, I would have been so happy! Why did I worry about what I was going to do when I grew up?!

Best friends Lauren Stapleton and Liz Wolf (of Wolf & Wren) capture the thriving printing spirit while working part-time and across the country.

There have been a million accomplishments along the way too. Every single time I have moved and taken presses with me has been a minor miracle.

LW: Ditto! I am so happy that we started our business and have sustained our vision. After reading “In the Company of Women” I was struck by the similarities of the successful entrepreneurs interviewed. It is not an easy or straightforward path. You need support from family and friends, a lot of grit, and to continually cultivate your creativity. We started our line with a suite of ten cards that we sold at fairs and on Etsy. Now we have 78 in the line and sell upwards of 4,000 cards per month.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar plates have been the base for all our cards.  They are always friendly and happy to help if needed. Uploading files with the automatic color separation is amazing. Registration is a breeze with the plates and the Boxcar Base.

National Park-themed funny letterpress birthday card from Wolf & Wren.

SHOP TIPS LS: Static Guard Spray! Life saver. When I first started printing on my windmill it was last winter. I was having the strangest registration issues. I suspected it could be static.  This spray changed everything. Hours and hours of frustration solved. It’s so dry here in Colorado that static is a major issue for me. I was getting shocked every time I touched the press.

Best friends Lauren Stapleton and Liz Wolf (of Wolf & Wren) capture the thriving printing spirit while working part-time and across the country.

WHAT’S NEXT We are always working on new cards, and this year we will expand our line with new products. We don’t want to give away too much, but we will be working on prints amongst other things. Our winter 2017 catalog will be coming out in the next few weeks.

The creative part of our business has always been the easiest part, because there is never a lack of ideas! We have a production plan for our coming projects and will start checking off the list. 2017 will be an exciting year for W&W!

Huge round of thanks out to Lauren and Liz of Wolf & Wren! Keep the amazing work going!

2016 Letterpress Holiday Gift Guide

We’ve making a list and checking it twice for must-have gifts for the printer & letterpress aficionado in your life in our 2016 Letterpress Holiday Gift Guide. From type-inspired goodies to printing press-themed gifts, we’ve got you covered. Let us know what is on your wishlist in the comments section below!

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

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

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

Papers, Papers, Papers

Modern letterpress is all about the feel of those tactile, luxurious papers and the bite into the paper. With these attributes in mind, how do you make the decision of cotton or bamboo or 1-ply versus 2-ply?

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While we do not sell letterpress paper here at Boxcar Press, we do have some nifty tips to help navigate your way through the sea of paper possibilities for your next letterpress printing project.

The Basics

Most letterpress papers are uncoated paper stock (a paper with no gloss or shininess to it). Most papers come in ivory or a shade or two of white from a bright white to a natural white. A paper with a nice texture that aligns with your overall project’s aesthetic is a good choice.

Papers sold are categorized by the overall weight of a ream of paper (or 500 sheets of paper) -“lbs“ refers to standard American English pounds and “gsm“ refers to metric grams/square meters.

A traditional 1-ply paper is usually 110lb or 300 gsm. A traditional 2-ply paper is usually 220lb or 600gsm. In comparison, printer copy paper for a copier or at-home inkjet printer is usually 20lb or 54gsm.

Where to start?

Whether you are a newcomer to the letterpress printing & paper world or a seasoned printer who is looking for a new paper, we heartily recommend (if possible) that you purchase or obtain paper samples.  If you have a keen affection or interest in a certain paper company’s stock of papers, you will find most companies either sell paper swatch books for a reasonable price or, in certain cases, have free paper samples. We have compiled a list of papers for your musing and contemplation. (Note that these prices do not include shipping costs and are current pricing for the items themselves at the time of this post).

General directory of sample packs: visit the following sites for a wide variety of papers and envelopes.

  • LetterpressPapers.com – samples range from $2 — $8
  • Takach Paper Co – sample ring with most stocked papers $12
  • Legion Paper – samples range from $2 — $20
  • Staff Pick: Legion Paper’s Letterpress Selections is $8, and includes 22 different types of 3.5” x 5” paper samples, including Arturo, Colorplan, Rising Museum Board, Stardream, and Legion Bamboo, to name a few.

crane-lettra

What letterpress papers to use?

There are major factors that influence what paper to use for a certain project. Factors may include: budget, thickness of paper for impression depth ability, impression aesthetic, and overall aesthetic. Determine what your projects needs are and research your paper to fit those needs. If you can shop around for pricing… we heartily support it to banish away those barren budget blues.

If you are aiming for a softer impression, try a cotton rag paper like Crane’s Lettra. For a soft but tighter fiber paper, try a bamboo paper or something with less than 100% cotton content  (example: Cardenon papers have 20%-35% cotton content). Some might like the natural recycled content of a chipboard or kraftboard.

Don’t avoid handmade papers thinking they are out of the budget.  There are paper vendors who make beautiful papers in many colors that are favorably priced and will add a “wow” to your project. Handmade papers, which are a unique style of paper all on its own, will usually have a distinct, pronounced texture or feel to the paper where there are minute differences from sheet to sheet. Think of each sheet as “sisters” – similar look but unique all on its own. Deckled edges (or the feathery edges you see on the edge of the paper) are common with handmade papers, although there are papers that do not have the deckled edge. You can cut off the feathered edge if you wish. This uniqueness is often sought after for custom projects.

Embrace and explore all the options and special papers available to you.

Paper Types

Crane’s Lettra: “soft and luxurious to the touch, yet strong and stable on press, the distinct, extra bulky “letterpress” finish of 100% cotton is rare in machine-made paper.” Crane’s Lettra is a staple for our commercially printed projects here at Boxcar Press as well.

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Cordenon’s Canaletto and Wild: “Italian paper-making art dating back four centuries with a touch of cotton, creating strength and beauty, durability and class.”

  • Neenah Paper offers your first swatchbook for free, each additional copy is $14.95. 

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Fabiano Colored Paper and Fabiano Artistico White Rag: An Italian paper mill creates this luxurious soft, cotton-based paper that has a modified cold-pressed surface texture that provides an intriguing paper feel.

  • Available through the “Watercolor Paper Sampler” pack from Legion Paper for $12.
holyoke paper sample book

(photo courtesy of Holyokedirect.com)

Holyoke cotton papers: A soft paper cotton-based paper with a smooth feel and a good alternative to consider for wedding invitations and similar pieces.

Legion’s bamboo paper: This bamboo paper has a tighter fiber weave and is great for business cards.

  • Samples of Legion’s bamboo can be found through Legion Paper (pick up a swatchbook with paper and envelope samples for $5) and LetterpressPaper.com – paper and envelope samples start at $5.

Moab Entrada: A 100% cotton smooth fine art paper that is acid- and lignin-free paper.

  • Two sheets of 8.5″ x 11″ Entrada are included in Moab Paper’s sample box, which sells for $26.48 and includes a variety of other fine art papers. Legion Paper also sells a sampling of thirty 8.5″ x 11″ sheets of various Moab papers for $25.98.

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Mohawk Paper: Superfine is a beautiful paper with lush tactility, smooth texture surface and great for all-around projects. The Strathmore Pure Cotton line provides a crisp texture and beautiful wove finish.

  • Mohawk offers swatchbooks for all of their papers, and prices range from $4.99 – $12.99.

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Reich Savoy: “blends old world elegance with new world sophistication making it the perfect choice for a wide range of projects from greeting cards and invitations to hang tags and luxury packaging.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do I purchase letterpress paper?

Brick-and-mortar stores

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

Online stores

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

We hope that this essentials list of paper energizes you to search out and try something new for your next project. As always, let us know in the comments section below how you fared and any suggestions to our list that helped you out. We’d love to hear from you!

Let’s See That Printed: Dead On Paper’s Extraordinary Tarot Card Prints

As soon as Chris Ovdiyenko’s masterfully intricate and eerily beautifully illustrated Arcana tarot card designs passed through our platemaking department, we were eager to learn more about the project and how it was to be printed. Chris from Dead on Paper filled us in on the gorgeous work (and let us know where we could snag a print or two)!

Photopolymer plates being made for Chris Ovidiyenko of Dead on Paper. This letterpress Arcana tarot card poster series features eerily beautiful detailing.

All prints are 11×14” on Stonehenge Natural White, printed with Van Son Universal Black. I’m printing them on a 1907 Peerless platen press. As you can see from the images, I’m using a Boxcar Base (love it!!), and gauge pins from Boxcar Press also.

Chris Ovidiyenko of Dead on Paper brilliantly prints eerily beautiful detail in his letterpress Arcana tarot card poster series.

In order to get good coverage, I’ve cranked up the pressure a fair amount and hand turn the fly wheel. Although my press is motorized, with the increased pressure the motor and belt assembly isn’t able to make it through a full cycle as it takes a fair amount of effort to get it through to the point where the platen touches paper.

Chris Ovidiyenko of Dead on Paper brilliantly prints eerily beautiful detail in his letterpress Arcana tarot card poster series.

There are 45 different designs with a total run of 3000 prints. At this point, I’ve completed about 1800 of them. The most difficult part, as you would imagine, are the ones with large areas of flat black. Luckily I have the technique down to where there’s only a minimum of “salting” which actually adds some nice character to the prints. 

Chris Ovidiyenko of Dead on Paper brilliantly prints eerily beautiful detail in his letterpress Arcana tarot card poster series.

Just a quick word about the plates – they are amazing! I started out relief printing with laser etched wooden plates, and what a world of difference photopolymer plates have made for me! I outfitted my press from Boxcar and love the high-quality plates, excellent service, and speedy turnaround!

Huge round of thanks out to Chris at Dead on Paper for letting us get a closer look at these brilliant poster designs! And be sure to snag a print here!

L Letterpress Startup Costs

We’re in love with the fact that at-home do-it-yourself letterpress machines are giving access to the beautiful world of letterpress to those who are hands-on and are looking to stay budget-friendly for printing projects (hand-made wedding invites or business cards, anyone?). But what about the initial setup costs and the essential items needed to make the printing journey a fun and fruitful one?

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

Below is a list of the essentials (as well as general pricing) to help get you started. We’ve included options for a few select items where you can curb spending or splurge for luxe goods. (Note that these prices do not include shipping costs and are general estimates for the items themselves at the time of this blog post).

Keep in mind how big (or small) your budget will be for your printing projects as this will be a great way to reduce wallet woes and will help make sure you aren’t making multiple trips out to the store or online for more paper (or worse…. finding out you don’t have all your supplies at-the-ready. Eek!).

L Letterpress Machine with hinged platform.

The letterpress kit:

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

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

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

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

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

Photopolymer printing plates Boxcar Press platemaking costs: up to 50 square inches of printed-area-only custom made printing plates (KF152 plate type): $35.50.

Inking roller bearer plate strips Inking roller bearer strips (from Boxcar Press): Free! Just request inking roller bearer strips in your custom-made plate-making order.

L Letterpress DIY invitations letterpress papers.

Paper:

Practice paper: uncoated papers, preferably in 80# cover or thicker. This is the paper you will experiment on as you learn to use your brayer and ink correctly. Suggestions are sketchbook paper, uncoated card stock, and bristol stock. Don’t use your more expensive project paper until you are confident in your inking.

Project paper: fine quality letterpress paper pricing will vary on what brand or type you purchase and the sheet size / quantity you need. Letterpress papers are uncoated and mostly or all tree-free (cotton, bamboo, and combinations).

We recommend the following paper mill brands: Crane’s Lettra, Mohawk Strathmore, Holyoke Cotton, Rives BFK Cotton, Reich Savoy Cotton, Legion Bamboo, Revere Cotton and Somerset Cotton. Find a paper that will fit within your paper budget allotment to satiate your printing project’s needs and always remember that ordering a little extra paper is a good suggestion for the inevitable “I goofed” moments.

Additional paper suggestions:  don’t overlook chipboard, kraft board or home-made paper options for a different look. 

Examples of pricing:

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

Speedball Soft 6" Rubber Brayer.

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

Ink:

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

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

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

Twp ink plates for L Letterpress DIY printing.

Ink knife Boxcar Press Ink Knife: $14.00

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

Henry Gage Pins in use on L Letterpress machine.

Gage pins Henry Gage Pins: $12.00

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

Press wash or cleaning solvent:

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

For cleaning everything:

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

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

pantone-1

Pantone Formula Guide:

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

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

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

Scissors Utility-style scissors: $1.00 – $3.00

Printing apron Boxcar Press Apron: $19.50

Budget-Friendly: ~$266.25

Splurge: ~$758.125

We hope that this essentials list has you energized for your next project and if you are looking for the handy tips and tricks to use your DIY letterpress machine, we heartily recommend checking out these “tell-all” blog posts from our archives:

As always, let us know in the comments section below how you fared and any suggestions to our list that helped you out. We’d love to hear from you!

Benjamin Eakin: New Beginnings with Quite Simply Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benjamin-eakin-texas-letterpress-printing-img8

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

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

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

The Stouffer Gauge: A Platemaking Pal

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

What is a Stouffer Gauge?

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

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

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

How to Use The Stouffer Gauge

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

recording-results

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

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

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

applygaugetounexposedsheet

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

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

How to Read the Stouffer Gauge

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

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

KF95 correctly exposed Stouffer Gauge test strip

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

exposure-correction-table-chart

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

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

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

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

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

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

Troubleshooting

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

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

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

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

underexposed

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

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

overexposed

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

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

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

I’m using a Nu-Arc. Any tips?

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

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