Boxcar Talk With Kseniya Thomas

Six years working at a cozy letterpress shop– especially one that’s basking in sunny Pennsylvania — is going to create some nifty pieces and fine design. Or at least it will inspire an entire weekend devoted to the art of the letterpress, ala The Ladies of Letterpress conference. After working in Mainz, Germany for a half-year of traditional typesetting and printing before opening up shop (Thoma-Printers), Kseniya Thomas’s love of letterpress is founded on skill, encouragement, and a big scoop of care. Here, Kseniya weighs in on the letterpress community, printing adventures, and her love of miniatures.

LIVE, WORK & DIRECT I’m Kseniya Thomas, and I’m a recovering English major from Salt Lake City. I currently live and work in Pennsylvania, where I’ve been happy to call myself a letterpress printer since 2005. I own Thomas-Printers, a commercial letterpress shop, and, with Jessica White of Heroes and Criminals Press, am the co-director of Ladies of Letterpress. I’m crazy for the Tour de France, old houses, running, newspapers, and anything in miniature.

INSPIRED BY GUTENBERG After graduating from college, I had a fellowship to study and work in Germany for a year. A friend and I happened to go to Mainz one weekend (I loved movable type, but didn’t yet fully understand the implications!), where the Gutenberg Museum has a working letterpress print shop. I wrote and asked if they accepted interns, and they did, so I moved to Mainz. I worked there for six months, and learned how to set type and print from guys who had spent their whole careers in print shops as pressmen, stonemen, or compositors before offset printing edged them out.

It was great: the shop has hundreds of lead typefaces, and I could print whatever I wanted. I also once printed a birth announcement for a princess, which was neat. I had no idea at the time that I had found my calling in life; even after I returned to the U.S., and realized that letterpress was happening here, I still only knew the basics of the history of printing and the craft of letterpress. And I knew nothing about running a small business!

A SUNNY SHOP My shop is located in the corner of an old shoe factory, with a room for shipping, receiving, and communications (ie, email), and a pressroom with a loading dock. The best thing about it is the tall, south-facing windows; in the summer, the only light I need is my color-correct lamp. I don’t think I’ll ever have another shop so sunny. It’s not decorated per se, except in a paper-stack, envelope-inventory, sample-shelf sort of way. It’s more workshop than showroom, so I don’t worry about hanging too much on the walls.

CARE FOR YOUR BUSINESS My best business advice is to learn to love your customers like family. They need care and attention just like family, and are the single thing, even more than hard work, that will keep you in business. Also, if you’re just starting out, don’t get caught up in playing catch-up with more established printers; there is no right way or one way to get where you want in this business, so your way is as likely to succeed as anyone else’s.

DESIGNED FOR PRINT I’m a printer who can design in a pinch, but I work with several great designers who can handle it when things get complicated. It’s nice being able to have designers who are familiar enough with the letterpress process that the finished product is going to print up great.

THE DAILY GRIND I do print full time. And when I’m not printing, I’m doing the 1000 other things a small business owner must do. Chief among them: worry, answer emails, write estimates, talk with clients, and a host of other pre-press, post-press, finishing, and ordering duties. Every day is different and yet comfortably similar, and now that I’ve been doing it full time for six years or so, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

ADVANCING A COMMUNITY I’m proud that Thomas-Printers is surviving the economy and doing well. Most recently, I’m proud of Jessica and I for organizing the best conference I’ve ever attended. The Ladies of Letterpress conference was such a happy, fun letterpress-fest, and it was thrilling to see so many ardent letterpress supporters and printers in one place.

It was also encouraging to see that letterpress is still going strong, new people are starting to print every day, and people are loving what we make more than ever. I cannot wait for a repeat next year!

BOXCAR’S ROLE It’s not an exaggeration to say that, without Boxcar, neither Thomas-Printers nor Ladies of Letterpress would exist. I got my start setting type, but setting type for every client isn’t a good business model for me. So the Boxcar Base is as important and valuable a tool as the press itself. Aside from the base and plates, Boxcar is the friendliest, fastest, nicest supplier I work with; the positive attitude and enthusiasm of the owners and staff has in turn contributed to the good-feeling and camaraderie in the letterpress community.

PRESS HISTORY My first press was a 12×18 Chandler & Price that I bought from Bill Welliver through the Letpres listserv. I used it for everything, large and small, for almost three years, until I bought a 10×15 C&P that allegedly only had had one owner and then sat in storage for 30 years. I also have a treadle-powered 8×12, which is handy when the power goes out. C&Ps are great presses, simple to use and relatively readily available, and are capable of a lot of fine work.

WHAT’S NEXT Ladies of Letterpress will be at the 2012 National Stationery Show for a third year with a new, super, wonderful, talented group of printers. And the second-annual LOLP conference is happening again-stay tuned for more details.

We’d like to give bigs thanks to Kseniya for taking the time to give us the scoop on Thomas Printers!

Fun with Diecutting

This is Smock’s Plymouth diecut shape on ivory 1-ply bamboo paper. Even a stack of stripped out sheets is fun to look at and play with – but only for a minute, there’s work to be done!
smock diecuts in funky shapessmock diecuts are trendy

Happy October

It’s a beautiful late afternoon in autumn. Say hi to Mary sitting in the front.
boxcar press office print shop


Can you guess what card Joe is printing today?

boxcar press letterpress with purple inksmock letterpress design

In Syracuse

The leaves are just starting to change colors, the air has been a bit nippy. Autumn is creeping in and holiday themes are popping up here and there now. It’s almost undeniable sweater season.

Scrub a dub

The job has been done, it was quite fun.
Now the press gets a good cleaning from the old ink.
It’s so nice that our low VOC solvent doesn’t stink!

Job of the day

Today’s job is a double-sided trifold wedding program. This lovely classic piece is printed in taupe ink on white Smock bamboo paper. Next the program will go on to be scored for smooth folding. Then it will be trimmed, inspected, packed and shipped to the happy couple. That makes us happy.


Sarah Wilkinson and Karis Van Noord are two beautiful California girls living their dream with Tabletop Made. With a garage turned studio and music at full blast, their stationery line proves that with a little you can get a lot. Each one of their cards are hand printed on a tabletop Kelsey Excelsior and the response has been nothing but positive. They have been featured on well-known blogs such as Design*Sponge, Sycamore Street Press, and more as of late. Read on about these ladies to hear what everyone is talking about.

How did each of you first get into letterpress?

We dreamed of starting a letterpress card company, and for fun, we took two workshops at Irvine Fine Arts Center with Madeleine Zygarewicz of Panorama Press. We were hooked! We immediately started searching for a press of our own.

What was your very first press?

Our first press (that we still use to this day) is a Kelsey Excelsior 6×10. We nicknamed him Sven, and he’s a hard-working man. He complains sometimes, but he’s had a good life so far.

What medium do you usually print?

Most of our designs are on photopolymer plates, but we do have a couple of steel plates. We also have a few collections of metal type, which we use for our own personal designs, say stationery with a friend’s name. However, photopolymer is our medium of choice.

What’s your process from sketch to press?

Taking inspiration from just about anything, we sketch, scan and trace the image to Illustrator, play around with colors, send each other ideas, rework the design a couple of times, prepare the file for plate-making, jump for joy when the plate arrives, and slap it on our Boxcar Base!

What other print shops do you admire?

We love Deadweight, Great Lakes, Morris + Essex, Tall Cow, Dutch Door Press, and Krank Press.

Who or what inspires you the most?

Living in Santa Barbara is a huge inspiration to us. We love looking at local textiles, architecture, natural landscapes, Mexican pottery, paper cuts – basically everything around us!

What’s your favorite item from Boxcar Press?

We love our base!

Any neat tricks you can share?

We have one trick that we swear by. We use paper corners to hold our paper in place. This allows us more room for the design since we don’t have to worry about mashing clips up on the base.

How was your experience showing at LA Renegade Craft Fair?

LA Renegade was an insightful experience. It was our first fair ever! Since we weren’t sure what to expect, we over-prepared. We basically brought our whole print shop. Now we know better! Our favorite parts included meeting fantastic artists who were so friendly and helpful to us and seeing our customers in person! We want to try out the SF Fair next.

Thanks Sarah and Karis for showing us your talent and hard work! Check out their blog and shop for all the latest from Tabletop Made!