Homemade Letterpress, Wedding Invitations

My fiance and I are interested on saving some money by letterpressing our own invites (go figure!). We’re hoping some people might be able to lend us some pointers and maybe correct our below plan for dark invitations with white text:

1) Take our design and order a deep-relief photopolymer plate from Boxcar press.
2) Build a simple platen press, per ReadyMade: http://readymademag.com/letterpress/, or following similar plans:
3) Buy 1.4 lb. can of Van Son rubber-based opaque white ink: http://www.vansonink.com/product1.aspx?Product_ID=53&. We think this should be enough for our run of 100-150 invites.
4) Buy some black, high-quality thick cotton paper.
5) See what we get.

This is the look we’re going for (but it would be a solid black background, with only white text and line art): http://www.weddingpaperdivas.com/products/ProductView_596.htm.

Do people think it’s possible to get the above look with home-build letterpressing? We’ve read that the only _reliable_ way to get that look is with engraving, but want to get some people’s opinions. Some of the other posts on the forum make it seem like a lot of fun to DIY letterpress, so we’d like to give it a go.

Any pointers?

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I haven’t looked into the platen press design but can say that it’s going to be tough. I won’t print white text for the simple reason that it will be either messy and opaque (too much ink) or clean and pale (not enough). You can conceivably double-print — with way too much ink — opaque white to achieve a fairly rough look for a design that doesn’t need to be perfectly clean, but not text, in my experience.
Since you are the client you can of course experiment but I would give myself enough time to have an out and find an alternative.
1.4 pounds of ink is more than enough for what you have in mind.
And you might consider silver ink if you’re set on light ink on dark paper.
Good luck!

You might be able to get away with white print making ink (
they also have silver ink, so you could for less than $5 try both.. ) (see an art store) sold in small tubes. hey have both water based and oil (and they are not expensive). Since you will be inking by hand likely and will need very little ink it will not matter too much.
That can of van son white would last a long long time.. I have yet to use a can of anything completely.. I do have some of oil based van son white and I have used it makes a nice effect but it is not super solid like white paper but since you are the client you can do trial and error until you get what you want! Im nearly out of white or I would share with you.

don’t know if this would work, not sure that the readymade press can do this…but print black on white cardstock. Basically do the opposite of what you want to do. Not sure you can get the full ink coverage that the sample shows for the black but it would be much easier to get a good black ink than it is to get a white ink.

As a home built letterpresser (hopefully you’ve seen my thread here: http://www.briarpress.org/12749 because searching what’s been written already is always step 1) I’ll offer a few directed tips.

1. Boxcar provided me a great plate, great service. You’ve got that step covered. One nice trick with Boxcar plates is to cut them up and rebuild your design as necessary. I printed a large “A” and “G” (Amy and Grant) bleeding off the page by getting a plate where the two letters were fit together such that they fit into the smallest space (boxcar charges by the square inch, remember!) but could then be cut out and repositioned or reused in other projects. If you’re not sure of your design (i.e. if you need to try different combos of whites/blacks/etc) it’s worth your time to keep this in mind as you build your design.

2. I, personally, don’t like that press design. Too slow, you can’t see what you’re doing, no control over the impression depth. However, I’ve seen good results from it, so it’s worth a try. Also check out the Instructables press. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the prescribed design if you have ideas of your own. Do, however, leave yourself plenty of time to revise, rebuild, reinforce your press. Precision is important, so measure twice and cut once, leave yourself lots of time to work slowly and cleanly as you build.

3a. As the other two responses have pointed out, white ink is generally considered no good. Sure people will always say “you could double print with silver pigment” and offer up all sorts of workarounds, but my limited experimentation with white ink confirms that it’s going to be tough. I did print white ink on white paper for my cards, and I liked the effect, but I had pretty poor results with white ink on dark paper. I would encourage you to do your own experimentation as well, but this is definitely something to be wary of.
3b. Also keep in mind that large areas of colour are going to be difficult, especially on a home press. A large block with inverted text like in your example is not something I would try.
3c. 1-1/4 lb is a lot of ink. I used etching ink in 60mL tubes and my black is still almost completely full after 120 cards and a few dozen test prints and mess ups. I just weighed an almost fresh tube and it’s 86grams - my black tube is 73g. Now a 1lb can isn’t going to break the bank, but you’ll have more than a little leftover. Maybe some more experienced press operators can contradict me, but I’d see if you can get smaller amounts. Like I said, I used etching ink from the art supply store with pretty good results. I will probably get some actual letterpress ink before my next project, though.

4. I used lettra from paper.com with my press and had pretty good results. I like the paper overall and it even behaved well in my inkjet printer. I wasn’t thrilled with the impression. If you can get your hands on a few different papers, it’s certainly worth your while to try them out. I got some slightly lighter weight stonehenge paper from the art store and felt it gave me crisper lines. My cleanest impressions were on coated papers and posterboard, but obviously you’ll get zero impression depth on them.

5. “See what you get” is key. Leave yourself tons of time to experiment. I did my save the date cards on a bit of a rushed schedule and even though I was happy with the results, I think I can do better for the actual invitations. There is a learning curve that you’ll have to grind through before you start getting consistently good results.

Post photos and any feedback you have as you progress through the build/print process. There are a few of us on here now who are doing this sort of thing and probably many more on the internet at large. The more information, the better!


As has been said, it’s next to impossible to print crisp white text, especially delicate text, on dark stock, using letterpress (and even harder using offset!). You simply can’t put down a thick enough layer of ink for it to be opaque white. Assuming you don’t want to foil stamp it, screen print it, or thermograve it, your best bet is to go with some shade of a silver or gold metallic ink.


Dave touched on what i was going to mention: Plain letterpress is not the best choice of process for that application. If I were to print such a design, I’d either do it via silk screen, or print it in reverse type on white stock, hand-inked. Foil stamping would also work well…. but since I don’t know anything about the process, I don’t think I’d try it.

Be careful about doing your own wedding invites or having a basic hobby printer doing them for you. Think of it the same way as if you had a friend take your wedding photos on a basic camera that will be developed at a 1hr store.

Weddings are big, especially for brides and their mothers, you need something you can look back on and really enjoy and appreciate. I am sure you will have a great marriage, and it is nice to start it off right with a decent wedding.

I remember wanting to save money from my wedding, because every time someone hears that you are have a wedding their prices jump by about 600%.

In my personal opinion, stationery, photo’s, clothes, and the cake, the flowers, maybe even the catering, all really need to be done by someone who knows what they are doing. You can still have a simple affordable wedding, but doing a wedding invite on your first try in printing, whether it is for yourself or someone else is not something I advise.

Go to someone that knows what they are doing, or change your design, because what you are picturing in your head on how your invites will look, is not what you are going to get without a good amount of previous experience. You may want to try a different design also, you really need to know what you are doing to do white on black. Even printing solid black on white stock with the text dropped out.

This is why I am against basic hobby printers doing wedding stationery as a premium printing service. These things need to look right from the start and have to continue looking good years down the road.

I hope you have a good wedding, a long happy marriage and life together, but for the design you have chosen you need someone that really has an idea in what they are doing. Because your first time out on a home built press isn’t going to get you close to that. You will spend more time and money trying to get it close rather then just having it done right the first time.

Good luck,

Brent Weaver
Mankato MN

I’m actually going to have to respectfully disagree with Brent. My invites are far from perfect - that is, if I a professional stationary shop presented them to me I would have refused about half of them. However, as long as you’re willing to live with a few flaws (or send the flawed ones to people you don’t really care about that much anyways ;)) the added sentimental value is pretty significant. Additionally, I’ve gotten a pretty enormously positive response from my cards, and after I tell people I made them myself they’re just that much more impressed. I would not try to open up shop selling these things, especially not at this point, but I am very proud of the product that I made for myself.

Send your invitation to me and I’ll print them for you, keep you on budget and you’ll have great looking pieces.


Doing wedding stationery is possible from a hobby printer to just printing them yourself on a home computer. If all you are doing is basic putting ink on a few simple things then you are fine.

White or cream colored inks on a dark stock is completely another thing. Even worse is a full wedding stationery set. You have to know what you are doing and when to suggest something or someone else, or even better when to say no.

Flaws may add personality for one person, while crushing another person.

Weddings are about brides and their mothers, don’t tick them off, if you can keep them happy then you are golden.

The only way I have ever seen light inks on a dark stock look really good is when it is engraved. I have seen some OK offset silver ink on dark stocks, as long as it wasn’t thermographed. I would never recommend foil for most wedding text, to many letters with fines lines, you would have a hard time getting a clean cut from the foil.


I haven’t seen enough letterpress stationery to really know how it all looks with the different inks and paper stocks.

My only suggestion for people will to do work for someones wedding is to not ever put yourself in a position that may screw up the idea or dream in their head on how they want their wedding presented.

If they even want their invites potato stamped on then that’s fine for them, as long as you are positive that they are positive in what they may be getting.

I am sure your work looks fine GGehrke, just be careful when offering to take part in someones dream. While the marriage is the most important thing, you only get one first wedding and the people who offer to take part or provide services for it need to exceed the brides expectations, to make it easy on her.

Business cards for someone is one thing, weddings are on a whole different level. That’s why most premium printers scream into their pillows at night trying to fight off the demons of printing stationery where every single one has to be right on, especially if a bride doesn’t really have someone to send the invites with more personality to. ;)

All depends on what someone wants and expects really though.

Good Luck,

Brent Weaver
Mankato, MN

Brent is right — all brides I’ve ever worked with look for perfection in their invitations. I do recognize, though, that DIY is fun and helps add a personal touch to your wedding day.

The invitation you give as an example looks like the black background was printed on white paper. You can replicate this easily with a laser printer or maybe even an inkjet, no engraving, foil stamping, or thermography needed. With a homemade press, white ink, and black cotton paper, you’re not going to be able to easily replicate this look. I’ve done it once or twice for clients.

If you’re looking for the fun of building your own letterpress, I would suggest finding an initial first project that is not as important as your wedding invitations (maybe placecards?). You’ll see how things turn out and then you can make a decision whether or not you want to print your wedding invitations with your DIY press. Once you add in the value of your time, the homemade press idea will not be any cheaper than paying someone to letterpress your invitations, though perhaps more fun.

“…you only get one first wedding…” —Brent

An axiom for modern times.

Printing use

“…you only get one first wedding…” —

Well, if you can print them following the diagram, build the press, design, order the plates, chose the paper, mount the plates, make this press work and in the end there is still a wedding to go to, please, place pictures samples in this list. I would love to see the result. Cheers and Good luck.