purchasing my first machine

I have been practicing cards and invites on a local art school vandercook SP15 machine. I am still new to letterpress but I am at the point where I want to purchase my own machine and create pieces on my own time. I am also getting married in a year and I thought it would be nice to design and print my own invitations. I have plenty of time for the trial and error process I think.

Could anyone give me any pointers on the right machine for me to start with? I am not looking to be the next upcoming letterpress company anytime in the near future. I have a lot to learn still but I would like to continue to inspire myself with creating new designs, unique cards, etc. Would a C&P, Vandercook, Kluge, or Kelsey be a good fit? The Vandercook is a good machine but maybe there’s another that might be a better fit. I’ve read so much about all the presses online and the information has become very overwhelming. I am also having trouble locating tabletops online to purchase.

Any tips on where to look for a machine or what machine might be the best fit for me would truly be appreciated. Your advice and experiences might help point me in the right direction.

Thank you for your time.

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Hi Heather,

There is a section on Dave Rose’s site: http://www.fiveroses.org/intro.htm#Choosing which is very helpful in determining which size and style of press best suits your needs.

For example, most wedding invitations can easily be printed on a platen press - like a C&P 8x12 - though if you can find and have space for a (less expensive) 10x15, you’ll find it more useful in the long run. Treadles are OK for short runs, but the first time you go to print 3 colors on 150 cards, you’ll begin to appreciate a motor.

Where to find a good press depends on where you happen to live - there are a few folks around the country with some inventory and access to equipment - but I’m most familiar with New England.

Good luck!


Despite some rather vocal opinions to the contrary, Kelsey presses are a great way to start…. and easy to find. At any given moment, there are always one or two on Ebay for sale.

Unless you have someone to teach you the correct way to operate one, I’d stay away from a full size platen press like a C&P at first. They can easily take your fingers off. Learn to letterpress FIRST, then think about a bigger press.

I agree that the way to start is to really learn some basics and some processes. A C&P is alot of weight to jump into letterpress with, and also risky without some knowhow.
A Vandercook is great if you can find one, but budget might keep you away at first.
Shoot for the table top, but be ready to upgrade as you learn and grow.
Good luck.

Thank you all for your comments. I really appreciate all your advice. I live in VT and I have visited a couple local letterpress shops. Neither of these print shops have a C&P and I am not sure where I can take a class to learn how to use one. The classes I have taken have encouraged a motorized machine but never discussed the risks so it sounds like a tabletop is where I should start until I can find someone to teach me about a C&P. I think I’d be much happier with a manual to start with anyhow.

http://www.fiveroses.org/intro.htm#Choosing has been helpful. I have a large room in my house that will fit any size machine. I’ll start looking around on ebay and maybe I’ll have some luck there.

Since you live in VT, you have a good equipment option not too far away in Massachusetts. “Letterpress Things” is a shop run by John Barrett in Chicopee MA on alternate Saturdays - and it so happens that tomorrow is one of those days. Go to http://www.letterpressthings.com for directions and times. Also check out Kelly McMahjon at May Day http://maydaystudio.blogspot.com/ in Montpelier. She teaches letterpress with John, and can get you started on platens.

Nantron: why do you say that a Vandercook is great? I guess my question is, why would I go with a rotary press like a Vandercook as compared to a platten?

Equitas, I’ve seen some of your questions on here, I’m guessing you are into letterpress but maybe don’t have much experience in using different presses, and are trying to get an idea of a suitable press for your needs. The best way to get a feel is go to some classes and try a few different presses, see how they feel and what will work best for the type of work you aim to do.

It was in my college letterpress room that among the other presses I discovered a cylinder proof press, it just clicked with me - I liked that the bed was directly in front making the type immeadiately acessable, I liked the exchange; 1 turn of the handle produced 1 print, I liked the action of the machine and the size of the work I could produce. I doubt you can ever get a full understanding of the nature of various presses until to experience them in action.

In no way was this meant to be patronising, Alistair

Vandercooks are easier to set up and use for teaching - and they are also somewhat safer, lacking the spinning flywheels, and “clamshell” action of a platen. They can accept a respectable sheet size, so are good for medium-to-large work.

Platens are preferred for smaller jobs, and it it easier to run 500 of something on a platen than a Vandercook.

Personally, I believe it is good to have both.

Thank you all for your comments. I am new, but unfortunately, I don’t know of a shop offering lessons near Toronto. Kozo studio has had some personal set backs lately and I’d hate to impose by even asking now. That is the only shop I know of in T.O. which offers any form of class - I looked on the Yellow Pages here at Briarpress

Try the MacKenzie Museum in Niagara - http://www.mackenzieprintery.org/ or http://www.niagaraparks.com/heritage/mackenzie.php - it is a “hands-on” museum. They might be talked into lessons too - you never know until you ask.