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Makeready is literally the process of making the press ready to print. Makeready is more than oiling and inking the press, and making sure the form is locked up securely; it is, in the narrowest sense . . the diagnosis of defects, the selection of the best remedies for correcting … Continue reading

Tabletop Platen Instruction

Manufactured to be relatively portable, simple to operate and even easier to maintain, the lever-operated table top platen press is an excellent entry point for the aspiring printer without the resources or space for a traditional freestanding letterpress. Definition of Table Top “Table top press” is a broad term generally … Continue reading

Acquiring Ancillary Equipment

The supporting equipment and tools for your shop can often be found in the same places that you are looking for a press. The great news is that many of these tools are still being made new today, and many more still are available on the used market. Other Print … Continue reading

File Preparation

The guiding principles behind good file preparation (for any print process) are simplicity and clarity. Files should include everything necessary for output and omit extraneous objects, layers, guides, and swatches. File Types Most service providers (who you hire to output film, burn photopolymer plates, or print a job) accept InDesign … Continue reading

Treadle-operated / Motorized Platen Instruction

Whether the platen press is driven by a motor or a foot powered treadle, be safe. Your hands should always be clear of the platen as soon as it begins to close. Gordon-style presses, like the Chandler and Price, have a “dwell”–a brief pause–when open, which allows sufficient time to … Continue reading

Letterpress Business Organization and Planning

Organizing your shop and having adequate materials on hand will help streamline production and shorten turnaround. Moving work quickly through your shop frees up press time for other printing and allows you to do other, non-press, work as well. Production Schedules A production schedule will help determine the turnaround time … Continue reading

Types of Artwork Overview

Before sending artwork for platemaking, and even before you begin the design process for letterpress, it’s important to understand how different file formats work. The decision whether or not to create a vector image in Adobe Illustrator or a raster image in Adobe Photoshop, for instance, can dramatically affect how … Continue reading


Proper pricing is the most important component of a successful printing business. Each printer has his or her own overhead (rent, utilities, insurance, and the like), startup costs, and financial obligations, and all of these things affect pricing. Nevertheless, there is a general range of acceptable pricing for letterpress printing—acceptable … Continue reading

Troubleshooting Vandercook and Similar Cylinder Presses

This article provides solutions to common presswork problems encountered on a Vandercook and similar brands of flatbed cylinder proof presses. Experience adjusting a Vandercook press is assumed. Most makeready can be eliminated by standardizing materials. One element out of specification may lead to problems that cannot otherwise be corrected. Maintenance … Continue reading


There are myriad file formats available for output, but some work better for letterpress file preparation than others. It’s important to check with your service bureau to see what file formats they prefer to receive–it’s also important to know the advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used formats. File … Continue reading

Letterpress Internships

Although there is a thin line between an apprenticeship and an internship, there are a few things that help differentiate the two. An apprenticeship is typically associated with an individual working to learn a particular trade or craft, and is is usually completed in exchange for the student’s continued work … Continue reading

Using a Photopolymer Base

Photopolymer bases provide a foundation to make thin photopolymer plates type high. When mounted with the proper plate material, they should print like any other letterpress form. That said, there are some special considerations when registering the base depending on what type of press you use. Lockup and Registration Bases … Continue reading

Color Separation

This may be the hardest subject for anyone to understand who does not routinely work with print. Traditional printing, which includes letterpress, generates color in two ways, process color and spot color. Process Color Separation “Full color” or “process color”, uses four inks (cyan, yellow, magenta, and black) to generate … Continue reading

Business Legal Matters

As the owner of a letterpress business, you likely have many issues that keep you up at night. From making payroll to meeting customer deadlines to fixing that old Heidelberg, your day-to-day worries can (and probably do) consume most of your available time. With worries of this sort, it is … Continue reading

Photopolymer Platemaking By Hand

Platemaking by hand is a straightforward process. Photopolymer plates have a light-sensitive surface on either plastic backing or metal backing. A film negative is placed over the plate surface, secured with Kreene or a glass covering, and exposed to ultraviolet light. Where the light hits the plate, the plate is … Continue reading

Ink-related Printing Considerations

From oil to acrylic to rubber to soy, the modern letterpress printer has many ink options. Despite their different bases or carriers, drying times, and pigment quotient, nearly all inks available to letterpress printers today are made for offset lithography, so some special allowances must be made when using these … Continue reading

Restoring Iron Handpresses

The parts most likely to be missing from an iron handpress are the forestay, the tympan, and the frisket. The forestay (the outside support for the rails) can be easily made from wood, using an engraving of the press from a printers’ manual or catalogue for reference. This was often … Continue reading

Ink Mixing

Inks can be mixed to obtain a wide variety of colors to suit various purposes in printed materials. Mixing Ink Without a Formula If the color isn’t a critical element, the printer can easily obtain a pleasant color by mixing white or black with a few base colors to obtain … Continue reading

Transparent vs. Opaque White Ink

Most Pantone mixing formulas call for use of transparent white ink, but many letterpress printers choose to use opaque instead. One reason to use opaque white is that the mixed color—off press—may resemble more closely the printed color, though the mixed ink will not be perfectly opaque once printed. When … Continue reading

Water and Electrical Needs

Water and electrical needs in the letterpress shop are generally modest. All but the largest presses typically use motors under one horsepower, and unless you’re processing your own photopolymer plates, you’ll use more water making coffee than letterpress printing. That said, there can be surprises and obstacles when dealing with … Continue reading

Rust Removal

Many presses will be found rusted from long neglect. In remediation, it’s careful to note that it’s possible the original paint and primer on old presses may contain lead. It may be worthwhile to test it with a lead paint test kit or send samples for testing and take precautions … Continue reading

Adjustable Beds

In presses equipped with adjustable beds, the steel slab that is the bed of the flatbed cylinder press is connected to a wedge system that raises and lowers the bed of the press, with accuracy to a thousandth of an inch. Benefits of an Adjustable Bed An adjustable bed makes … Continue reading


As with any activity that involves machinery, chemicals and people, there are risks associated with letterpress printing. But with thoughtful preparation and procedures these can be minimized. Here are some things to think about when you set up and work in your shop. And one general safety rule to start … Continue reading

Trade Organizations

Joining a trade organization is a wonderful way to get to know other printers both near and far and provides a ready-made community from which to glean inspiration and expertise. American Printing History Association The American Printing History Association (APHA) produces the journal Printing History, which has valuable articles about printing’s … Continue reading

Types of Ink

In almost any discussion of inks for letterpress printing, strong opinions will be expressed in favor of one or the other name brands of inks, and even more in whether one should use oil-based, rubber-based, or acrylic inks. The industry is fortunate that such choices are available for particular types … Continue reading

Excelsior Model D

Another in the line of Kelsey Excelsior presses. William A. Kelsey began making inexpensive presses for amateurs in 1872, and his Excelsior became the longest-lasting press on the market. For more information, see the Excelsior Model P page.

Nonpareil 3×5

The Nonpareil was manufactured by the Sigwalt Company. In 1899 John Sigwalt (1836-1924), who had earlier worked in the sewing machine business, began producing small printing presses that were copies of various models. Further information about Sigwalt and the Nonpareil can be found on the Chicago No.10 and Nonpareil 4×6 … Continue reading

Nonpareil 4×6

The Nonpareil was manufactured by the Sigwalt Company, Chicago. John Sigwalt (see his Chicago No.10) manufactured a number of presses that were near-copies of some of the popular presses of his time. This Nonpareil so closely resembles William Golding’s 4×6 Official No.2 that the two are difficult to tell apart; … Continue reading