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L Letterpress Supplies Category

What kind of ink should I use when printing with KF152 polymer plates?

The L Letterpress comes with an oil based ink. You can continue to use those offered by the manufacturer but they are limited in colors. Boxcar Press sells a wide assortment of oil based and rubber based ink. We like rubber based inks for letterpress as they dry quickly on cotton papers and similar papers used for letterpress. Do not use any paints or water based inks on your photopolymer plates as they will soften and deteriorate the plates.

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How can I achieve proper inking with this press?

When inking for letterpress, very little is always better.  You only need a very light layer of ink on the top of your plates.  We suggest the 2-step method of inking.

You will need these items:

  • A new brayer (throw out the one that came with the machine and purchase a soft rubber brayer)
  • The hard plastic sheet that comes with your machine – approx 6”.
  • An ink knife
  • Another piece of glass (or plastic) for part two of your inking – at least 8” wide and long.


    1. Squeeze out an inch or two of ink from the tube.  Or if you have a can of our Van Son ink, take your ink knife and scoop out a tablespoon of ink from the surface of the ink can. Place it on the 6” square and start to mix the ink to make it more fluid and smooth. Use a motion like scrambling eggs where you turn the ink over, pull the knife through and repeat.  The ink should soften a little while you mix.
    2. Take the ink knife and pull a small ⅛” thick roll of ink from the mixture with your blade. Move this ink to the second piece of glass.  Dab that ink across the glass until it’s about equal to the width of your brayer. Roll your brayer back and forth and side to side through the ink until it’s spread out evenly on the brayer.  The ink may make a little noise like its snapping as you spread it out.

You will need very little ink for printing and this two step method means that you can control your ink coverage better.  Using your roller bearers (polymer strips we ship you), lay the strips on both sides of your design plate.  These support your brayer for smooth inking.  Take your brayer and ink up your polymer plate – usually 1-2 rolls of the brayer.  If your inking is fuzzy and on the sides of your impression, you have too much ink.  Wipe off your brayer and roll it through the ink again.

With a little practice you will learn to control inking.   To add more ink to your second inked glass, pull a small bit from the first mixing square – always 1/8″ thick roll or less.

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How do I clean my machine, plates and brayer?

Use baby wipes, an old soft cotton t-shirt and odorless mineral spirits. The L Letterpress machine can be cleaned with baby wipes.

If you used any Van Son ink from a can, return any extra ink back to the can from the plastic ink square. Clean the two ink squares, both glass and plastic with baby wipes. Take one side of the cotton rag and wipe off the ink on your plates with a light stroke. Your ink is only on the surface of the plates so it should clean easily. If you have any ink residue left, take part of the cotton rag and get a small amount of the mineral spirits from the bottle. Wipe lightly on your plates and then turn the cloth over to a dry spot and wipe the plates again to remove any spirits.  Do not use baby wipes or water on your plates.

Clean your brayer with baby wipes and then finish with a wipe of the rag with mineral spirits. You always want your brayer (roller) to be completely clean.

Do not use any water to clean your polymer plates, we can’t say this enough.

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How do I hold my paper in place when I use this machine?

Use our Henry Gage Pins to hold your paper. They have a little plastic lip to hold your paper in place. Lay your paper in the position desired. Slide two of the Henry Gage Pins up to the longest side of your paper and one on the shortest side. When they are tight against the paper sides, adhere to the machine base. The Gage pins are re-usable.

Another option is to take one spare piece of the paper you are printing on. Cut out the paper to form an “L”. Adhere this L shape on the machine base with Removable double-sided tape so the inside of the “L” is the outside boundary for two sides of your paper to be printed. Tape a small piece of plastic over the corner of the inside angle of the “L”. Slide your paper up against the L shape so one corner should go just under the small plastic holder to hold it in place while the sides of the paper are tight against the inside of the L shape.

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How do I properly place my photopolymer plate so it is aligned to print correctly in the right position on my paper?

Here is a printer tip we use on our presses. Set up your paper where you want it on your machine bed. Take a piece of scotch tape and make a loop. Place it on the front of your polymer plate. Stick that side down in the position desired on your paper. Peel off the protective blue covering of the plate adhesive on the back of your plate. Close the lid of your L Letterpress. Open it up and now your plate is securely in the place you need. Remove the tape loop. Close the lid again to make sure you are happy with your placement.

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How do I design for printing on paper that is 100# and 200# weight?

We encourage you to read all our file prep tips for platemaking. A good design for letterpress will have crisp clean line art and fonts. If you are printing for 100# (or 110#) paper, you can gang up a lot of images together leaving ½” between them to cut with scissors. When you are ready to print, you can cut and paste and arrange your layout on the L Letterpress. When you print on this weight of paper, the edges of the plates will not leave marks on the paper.

However, when you are printing on the thicker weight 200# (or 220#) paper, you will need to set up your files a little differently. With this thicker paper, cut and pasting doesn’t work because the edges of the plates will also impress into the paper. Not the look you want. So you must design your whole plate completely so that everything is in its exact placement and the plate must be a fraction larger than your finished size of your paper. So if your paper is 5” x 7”, your finished plate must be 5 ⅛” x 7 ⅛”. The easiest way to do this is put registration marks at those dimensions so we can send a plate at the correct size.  Cut off these marks when your plate arrives to a size so that the plate edges will be just outside your paper edge.

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How do I learn to print with good results on the L Letterpress?

The L Letterpress does take a little learning and practice. Follow all of our instructions and read our blog on getting the best results from this machine.

The best piece of advice is to use scrap paper and a test plate while you are learning. Do not use the expensive paper you bought to print your wedding invites or baby announcements on. Use a similar weight card stock or less expensive papers to try everything out first. Remember there are always two sides to the paper so turn it over and try again. Here at Boxcar Press, we have makeready and set-up paper we use many times as we get everything just right. When you feel comfortable and ready to go ahead, switch to your real plates and paper and you’ll have a much better handle on the results. Don’t learn on paper and plates you are emotionally invested in while you are learning your way around letterpress. Remember you can have fun and be proud of something you made yourself for your special occasion.

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My letterpress plates are starting to curl. How do I flatten them out?

Like our skin, plates can be affected by the room temperature, humidity, and age. When humidity levels are low, the plates can look and feel brittle. With the passage of time, the thinner polymer on the plate edges are pulled towards the denser polymer text and images on the front—this causes curling. With a life expectancy of up to 1 year or more, polymer plates do age, but these simple steps can hydrate your plates and give them extra longevity.

Step 1. Place your plate back in your platemaking washout system for up to ½ a minute (or, if you don’t have a washout unit, simply immerse in water). We suggest room temperature for a quick dunking. A ½ minute may only be necessary if your plates are severely curled.

Step 2. Sponge off the water and place back in the drying oven of the platemaker for 5-10 minutes. If you don’t have a platemaker, use a hair dryer to warm the plate and make it more pliable.  Placing your plate in a box and blowing the hair dryer into the box will keep the warm air more contained and warm the plates more effectively.

Step 3. After the plate warms and starts to become more pliable, place the plate in its bag and set a heavy object on it to keep the flattened shape.

This should help your plates relax so you can adhere them to your base for additional print runs.

Here’s some final advice:

  • if using a hair dryer, take care to avoid putting it too close to the plates.
  • be patient, as warming the plates takes time.
  • watch that you don’t handle your letterpress plates too roughly after the wash and during drying so your relief images don’t chip.
  • remember to store your plates flat out of direct light and in a bag so that fluctuations in humidity don’t affect the polymer.
  • check your adhesive backing, to see if the adhesive needs to be re-applied to the back of your polymer plate for a secure hold on your base.

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Home made presses and Instructable Presses – I’ve built a homemade press and would like to know the best advice for printing with it.

We applaud innovators and inventors, where would printing be without it? We offer two of the most common homemade press designs from the internet.

Links to homemade press info
Book Press Design
Hydraulic Jack Press

To print with a home-constructed press, here are the items suggested for printing:

  • we offer our Boxcar Press platemaking services. Our KF152 photopolymer plate with the adhesive backing works beautifully for homemade presses.
  • Inking with a homemade press requires a soft rubber brayer (6” minimum suggested) that can be purchased from your arts store or McClain Printmaking.
  • Plate strips to serve as roller bearers for your brayer when inking. Just ask us to send you a few plate strips when placing your order.
  • Boxcar Press Ink Knife.
  • Henry Gage Pins for paper registration.
  • Printing Inks – for best results -Rubber based or oil based from Boxcar Press.
  • Old cotton tshirts for clean up rags.
  • Extra 1 or 2 sheets of glass or smooth acrylic for inking.

Before you start printing, we encourage you to read our blog posting which has some instructional tips on inking on home machines.
Homemade presses are better suited for light impression printing. Suggested papers and where to buy are:

  • Cotton and bamboo papers from Legion Paper’s letterpresspapers.com
  • Crane’s Lettra from Neenah Papers

Enjoy your experience letterpress printing on your homemade press. Your results will be something you can be proud of.

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