At-Home L Letterpress Adventure Printing Tips

The infamously wise Sun Tzu once said “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Old Mr. Sun is spot on and one our wonderful Boxcar Press customers, Pat Farley of Farley Designs, thinks so too as he rolled up his sleeves and put the advice to use. While tackling an invitation suite on the DIY style L Letterpress, Pat had such a excellent time working with the machine that he shared with us some of his at-home printing advice.

L Letterpress at-home printing tips and advice via Pat Farley of farleydesigns.com.

This was my first project using my NEW L Letterpress and I suggest that everyone reads the following tricks from my friends at Boxcar Press before ever attempting anything. It saved me a lot of headaches and money. Check them out. You won’t be disappointed.

L Letterpress Printing Techniques from Boxcar Press
The L Letterpress Revisited
What You Need to Print Well On Your L Letterpress Machine 

Helpful Items To Have On Hand Before You Start

  • 6″ soft brayer( A MUST )
  • A second plate to roll the ink on (I used a cheap glass plate off a picture frame from a  dollar store)
  • Custom KF152 plates from Boxcar Press (ask for extra strips, you will need them)
  • Vanson ink – I used oil based, it dries faster. Use rubber based ink if you are planning on leaving it overnight.
  • Ink knife/spackling knife (dollar store)
  • Paper… I used a thick, 100% Cotton, 220lbs stock (gives amazing depth and great texture)
  • Henry Gage Pins (2 packs of 12)
  • An old t-shirt or soft rage to wipe off the plates, press, and everything in between

And the Printing Adventure Begins

When I created the files for the plates I made sure to leave a 1/8 bleed on all sides. This is a must if you are using thick paper. It will prevent any indents from the plate when you pass it through the machine.

I also used the strips to make sure I rolled the ink on evenly. However, I was told to remove the strips before passing it throughout the machine, but with this project I did not. The reason for this is because I was making 30 invites and it would have taken me ages to remove and replace the strips after every pass. What I did instead was leaving a side free from any Henry Gage pins.

L Letterpress at-home printing tips using Henry Gage Pins.

After a pass I wiped the extra ink that was by the strip on the surface of the bed, I then slid the invite off and replaced it with a new blank invite… easy.

L Letterpress at-home printing tips using inking roller bearer strips from Boxcar Press.

I loved the whole process. Make sure you give yourself enough time so that you don’t feel rushed. It was very relaxing for me, even though I repeated the process 30 times. Every time I popped open the Letterpress to reveal the new invite I felt like it was my first time. There is a learning curve but that’s also the fun part. If you are planning on doing this just once I would stay away, but I’m planning on doing business cards and any other projects I can get my hands on, which makes the money spent well worth it.

L Letterpress at-home printing tips using a blind deboss as a "second" ink color.

Also, laying down a plastic sheet on your workspace is a great idea as the process can be messy and the sheet will help protect your work surface. Even a semi-durable plastic tablecloth will do the trick.

And always remember, less is more when it comes to ink.  It only took 1-2 teaspoons for 30 invites.

Boxcar Press Bonus Round Tips

We suggest, if you are using both inking roller bearer strips, to extend the plate strips about 1″ past each end of your plate so your brayer won’t stop on your design and possibly leave an ink blob.

If you’re looking to save a little bit on ink and time, try printing part of the design in a blind deboss (as Pat has used) and it can add a lot to your design without investing in a second ink.

Using 110 lb and thinner paper?  We have something around our shop that can add a little more packing behind your paper and get you a little bit deeper bite into your paper.  It is the plastic protective overlays that cover our plates before processing.  They are sturdy and resist impression.  While using the L Letterpress in our office, we have cut one sheet of this plastic the same size as our paper and placed it behind our paper in the Henry Gage pins.  It gave us that little extra thickness (.004″ to .005″)  to get the impression we all love.  It held up for a long time, too.  We got the idea because some of the printers in our print shop use it for packing.  Ask for a sheet or two on your next platemaking order if you are printing on the L Letterpress and experimenting.

L Letterpress at-home printing tips using acetate as packing and makes plates last longer.

And lastly, to extend your plates’ shelf life, make sure to keep your plates stored in a sealed ziploc bag after printing in a flat drawer.

Have a tip or two that you want to share? Leave your best advice below in our comments section. We’d love to hear from you about what works and what doesn’t!

Reverse Type File Prep Techniques

An increasingly common question we are asked, here in the Platemaking Department at Boxcar Press, is “will my reverse type/text/design be readable or look good when I letterpress print it?” Reaching the desired results means exploring what exactly “reverse type/design” is and what to check for to guarantee a great printed piece.

When it comes to printing, reverse type or design refers to white or light text or objects positioned against a solid colored (usually dark) background. This is sometimes also referred to as “knocked out” text.

This is an example of reverse type: white text on black background.

There are some important aspects to remember when designing for reverse type, especially with regards to using photopolymer plates:

  • Always take the time to check that your designs meet or exceed the minimum guaranteed line or dot thicknesses. Check out these recommended line and dot thicknesses for your preferred plate type. (We also have a nifty tutorial that offers step-by-step instructions on how to check your dots and line thicknesses – go check it out!). 
  • Next, it’s critical to know the eye will observe your white text as “smaller or thinner” on your printed piece as your eyes are tricked by the optical illusion created by the juxtaposition of a large dark area next to a smaller thinner white area. So, we cheerfully recommend that you add AT LEAST a 0.75pt extra stroke around designs to balance out this optical illusion. This extra stroke is added on top your minimum line/dot thickness.  It’s misleading to judge an onscreen or laser printout against what a final printed piece will look like so we usually suggest erring on the side of slightly larger reverse type.
  • If you are printing in a light ink background, your white text or objects may need to be even larger and thicker because the the contrast between the white text against a light colored background on a white paper can be easily lost. Small text may not have a place in this color situation and needs to be avoided.

Illustration of reversed type on lighter background.

  • Lastly, make note of the dark areas in between your white object. (The highlighted area in cyan shown in the image below illustrates the “dark areas” in between the white objects that should also be checked for line and dot minimums). Are they narrow and thin? Will they meet the line and dot minimums so the plate polymer can support and hold between your white space?

Illustration of the negative space around text and objects that also need to be checked for minimums.

Designs with reverse type can be pretty dramatic, and we hope you’ll consider printing a project like this.  With a little planning and forethought about how the design will translate with a larger solid inked area and  the detail you want, you can have some very satisfying results.  So keep those rollers inked, letterpress lovers, and go reverse!

Hmmm Lollipop

As delicious as it sounds lollipop is only a nickname for the roller gauge. This handy device is placed under inky rollers where the form (or artwork) would be. The round part is exactly type-high (.918) so a narrow stripe of ink will show whether the rollers are set to the correct height. Please do not be tempted to eat this lollipop.