The “Perfect” press

I know that it doesn’t exist, but I’m looking for the perfect press for me!

I’m very much a beginner and haven’t even taken any classes yet. I’m still looking for one in my area before branching out to other states. But, I’ve been keeping a lookout for presses, since I know that they don’t come available every day. I’m looking for a press to be used to make stationary (folded notes and flat cards), business cards, invitations and other sorts of entertaining type goods (coasters, program covers, etc.). I have plenty of space for a press and have a ground level entrance for loading in. I also have an intense desire to learn to use a press and create beautiful works of letterpress goodness for myself and others! I’d like a press that can grow with me as I learn more, not one that I’m going to need to replace as soon as I get some experience under my belt.

So, What kind of press would you suggest I look for. Please be as specific as possible!

Thanks in advance for any help!

Log in to reply   44 replies so far

I’d go for a 10x15 or 8x12 C&P. Very versatile press and there’s plenty of them out there for reasonable prices, even on eBay if you’re willing to travel to pick them up. One 8x12 in SC recently went unsold at $50.

I prefer a treadle to run one, but motorized ones are available more often. The treadle may also be a tiny bit safer for a beginner as the press will run slower.

I live in Alabama! I could have gone to SC! Bummer.

Was it in decent shape? I am also very afraid of buying something that is never going to be able to print because of my untrained eye. I’ll look at eBay. I tend to shy away from there because I think everything is overpriced!

Can you recommend any other places to look for presses, besides here and eBay?

you could try to contact dealers for used printing equipment in your area. Normaly they heare if something is for sale even if they are not interested in purchasing it. The same you can do with material suppliers (printing ink and so on) in many cases they also know where equipment is unused or for sale.

Good luck

If you can’t find a press down in Alabama, I’ve got several C & Ps for sale up here in Little Rock. Also have lots of type and other “accessories.”

I actually have a lead on a C&P 10x15 that has the treadle thingy (I’m so clueless!) and he also has a smaller C&P that has a motor. I think I’d prefer the larger one, but he’s not sure if he REALLY wants to sell that one. Now, he said his business partner got her hand crushed (!!) in the one I want to buy, but said that i I learn how to work it first and then be careful that shouldn’t happen. Is that right? Am I going to completely chop off all my hands and fingers doing this or was she just careless that time?

I know that I have to be careful and I should learn on it first, etc., so I plan to do that, but this press is apparently in great shape, new rollers, everything and here right now. What do y’all think? What questions should I ask him and how much is too much to pay for it? Did I mention it’s only about 20 minutes from my house and he’s offered to maybe let me intern at his shop to learn somethings on his other presses?

If you don’t want to crush your fingers, don’t stick them in the press when it is closing. Treadling will slow it down and make that easier. I think it also gives you greater speed control as your own muscles are controlling the speed. If things are going well treadle faster, if not treadle slower and that speed can change in a second. Also if you misfeed a piece, reach for the throwoff, not the paper.

Look for worn bearings. Grab the platen and try to give it a twisting shake…put some real oomph into it. If it doesn’t move, that’s good. If it moves a little that’s not bad.

If there are signs of oil everywhere, that’s probably good too. The major problems in a press are caused by poor lubrication and dropping the press or pieces of it. Welds or brazed repairs may indicate some rough handling.

Get the larger press if you’ve got the room, unless the smaller is in much better shape. I’ve got an OS 8x12 in my basement with a treadle. That press came out of a junior high school where it got some rough treatment and inconsistent oiling. The platen shakes a bit, but it still prints pretty well. The price was right…$125 for it and a NS 8x12 that I sold at a considerable profit (both happened more than 10 years ago). Other C&P press I’ve given away.

Oh yeah…and you can’t go wrong dealing with John Horn.

Kate… I hate to disagree with all of these fine folks, but if you are a beginner you would be wise to stay away from any flywheel operated press until you have learned the basics of printing. A full sized C&P will bite, and it will bite HARD. OSHA considers the machines to be unsafe enough that it is illegal for a shop to allow an employee to operate one. While I’m not a big fan of OSHA, they are right in this case.

Anyone who recommends such a machine to a rank beginner is either irresponsible, or inexperienced themselves.

I’ve been printing for over 30 years, and have seen more than one person lose fingers in those beasts. It’s not worth it. Until you have learned the basics of printing, and had someone show you what to do and what NOT to do, I’d recommend staying far away from a C&P or Kluge.

A FAR better press would be one of the tabletop lever presses such as Sigwalt, Craftsmen, C&P Pilot, or Kelsey. Hundreds of printers have learned on these machines, including some of the folks now advocating that you get a C&P. They will do all of the things you listed in your posting. PLUS they are far less likely to bite your fingers off. Learn FIRST, then get a bigger press.

By the way… my shop is also in Alabama. There are more letterpress folks here than most people realize.

Kate, I understand your enthusiasm, printing is wonderful. Please do listen to winking cat - a reasoned and knowledgeable source. The C&P’s are great in part because they are so dangerous. I have the 10x15 plus 2 Vandercooks and I would recommend the tabletop - they are popular and you can sell it when you want to move on. Plus, wonderful work has been done on them. Have fun and be safe so you can go on having fun! john

Hi there. I am new to american presses. Some time ago I went to see a press in SW Florida, the area where I live, Fort Myers. It was a 8x12 C&P. I was used to see hand fed platen presses that were, say, small or light with easy access and mostly easy to insert a locked chase.
When I finally saw the C&P I thought, OH! this thing is big ! and dangerous. I would say that someone with no training at all with this kind of equipment is kind of a recipe for disaster. Sorry to be this straight forward on my remark, safety is something very important andt I think that a table top press will be a better option —later on you can move to a bigger one. I wish you find a nice press ! and have fun with it.

Have Tort lawyers cowed everyone on this site? Living is dangerous. Using an electric knife is dangerous. Unless, of course you keep your eye on the object under the blade and your non-guiding hand away from the sharp edge. And that’s the approach to be taken with any powered press. Somehow, fear of doing something new and exciting has all but been replaced by the ‘mama’s boy’ approach to life. Musn’t take chances on getting an oweee or mussing our hair. Little wonder dodge ball, tag, and teeter-totters are viewed as second only to running with scissors. Sigh.
A press is a machine. An operator controls a machine. Train yourself to operate the machine. If all else fails - read the operator’s manual. But don’t be afraid of the machine. If a piece of the moving press impacts another surface - keeps your fingers out of harm’s reach. What is so difficult about that? The way some of you approach equipment it’s a wonder you mow a lawn, let alone drive a vehicle. Sheeesh!

Forme- normally I agree with what you say, but in this case I have to say “oh hogwash!”

Nobody here is saying that a person should not own or operate a C&P….. just that such a machine is not suitable for a rank beginner. If you personally want to run such a machine, that’s fine with me. I have one myself and love it.

BUT I am not about to sit back and watch folks tell an unsuspecting person that running a C&P or Kluge is not dangerous… .because it is, and you know it.

It is foolish and irresponsible to make such a recommendation, especially considering that you know nothing of the capabilities of the person that you are talking to. Learning to operate such a press safely takes a certain amount of knowledge and dexterity which does not automatically occur. You must remember that not everyone is accustomed to working with their hands or operating machinery, especially in this day and age.

As far as your “mama’s boy” remark and one’s general approach to machinery goes…. that is nothing but meaningless rhetoric, and offensive.

We are not discussing Dodgeball, Mowing the Lawn or the general state of caution among the population…. we are talking about what type of press is suitable for a person with no experience or instruction. Newbies are better served by lever operated presses until they learn enough to allow them to move up to a bigger press. Even the most hard-headed of individuals should be able to understand that point.

It is, of course, your right to feel ‘offended’. That is the current buzzword these days when not finding agreement, is it not? On the other hand, it’s not my right to take issue with the ‘dumbing down’ nonsense you, and others, are passing on about the dangers (so-called) of operating a printing press? Interesting how you retain being offended as but your purview.
As stated, operating any piece of equipment carries with it inherent danger. But what is being advocated here is exactly why there’s often more warning than label on everything purchased today.
And, it’s insulting to tell someone they do not have the mental ability to assess danger for themself. Who died and made you expert in all matter of moving presses?
Most people exercise good judgement prior to embarking upon new venture. They read about the machine, approach it with respect, and gradually form working knowledge of it. Those that don’t? Well, the gene pool does need thinning. But to pre-judge a person’s capability with equipment, paint horror images of lost digit and crippled limb is paternalistic at best, promotes unwarranted fears where none should be, and is patrician in the extreme.
Al Gore would be proud.


So…. we’ve presented both sides of the arguement. Now Kate can decide if she wants to listen to a reasoned arguement or go with rhetorical nonsense. It’s her choice.

Being safe is not “dumbing down”, in fact it’s just the opposite. Risking a major injury needlessly is just stupid.

Any platen press can be dangerous if you stick your paws into the press when it is closing, including tabletops, though that is harder to do with tabletops. Don’t do that.

As a correction to Halfpenny Press, the 10x15 C&P only uses 5 footstrokes (revolutions of the flywheel) for each press impression. The one I use to teach college kids how to print is a dream to treadle. My 8x12 OS at home used 4 revs and I recall that a 12x18 uses 6, though the one I had briefly wasn’t treadle operated.

To my way of thinking mowing the grass is much more dangerous than printing on a platen press. I’ve had a number of close calls with things flying out from under the mower that couldn’t be seen in the long grass.

The advise to get training is appropriate, if it is available. But it shouldn’t scare a new printer away from these wonderful presses, if a trainer can’t be found.

Anyone who wants to come up to Michigan for a couple of days, I’ll be happy to show you how I operate my C&P.

Life is risk. Life is also challenge; challenge to those willing to face new adventure. Where the “…rhetorical nonsense”. enters the equation is from those holding forth that only certain people (themself) have the superior skills to operate such (in their opinion) complex and dangerous equipment as a simple printing press - and then only after years of experience. Somehow they would believe this places them in superior position. As HP stated so well: “…. it is defeating to assume that they (a ‘newbie’) will be injured!” Patrician attitudes feed that defeatist approach. Scaring people into believing they will be injured or maimed sets up condition wherein the press is seen as malevolent monster awaiting its chance to devour any daring to approach. Most people take far greater risks in their everyday life than operating a C&P; give them credit for applying the same risks assessment to their hobby. Condescension is not concern.

Thats why everything is great among printers ! They go straight to the point. I bet I would be able to drive (?) the USS Enterprise, with proper training :)
I did work as a composer in a newspaper. The main press was a cylinder which run at about 1200 revolution per hour; working at it was Isabel, she was only 17, so was all of us around that age. Everything worked like clock work. Why? Mr. Joseph, the printer, had it all figured out and trained every single one of us. No one there have ever had a scratch.

A huge C&P is a challenge, look for the old guys and learn from, that is all there is to it.

My father taught me the basics of letterpress on a floor model platen before I was a teenager. Easy feeding I did using a rather fast motor, and difficult feeding I did just pulling the flywheel since there was no treadle. I don’t recall ever having a close call with my fingers, though I made many other stupid mistakes then and later (the worst being the time I forgot to lock the dogs on a handfed Miehle and sent two newspaper page-chases flying into the wall).
Direct instruction from knowledgeable people is strongly advised if you want to use a powered press, whether motor or treadle.
Although there were previous generations of hobbyists who taught themselves quite successfully, it seems to me that many people coming into letterpress today don’t have enough mechanical experience to learn printing from books alone. (I suspect learning computers before tools or machines leads to a different way of thinking or assimilating knowledge, and definitely a lack of single focus necessary for operating potentially dangerous machines.) Instead, beginners come to a site like this and try to learn collectively. This has real limitations, and starting with a limited press like a tabletop platen may be better suited to this learning environment.
However, this particular collective intelligence apparently prefers to use a Boxcar base that fills the chase. That one thing is the cause of much damage—to gauge pins, grippers, and even fingers. While leaving fingers between form and platen is to be avoided at all costs, a finger caught between furniture and platen will be crushed with some possiblity of recovery, while a finger caught between base and platen will be turned to pulp. Have different size bases for different sizes of form, center the form on the bed, and don’t expect to print a full-size form on any press.


Based on your original post, your purpose and ambitions, I would suggest a Heidelberg platen. Learn as much as you can prior to this acquisition.

I’d agree with winking cat (whoever that is) that C&Ps are dangerous. How many folks have to have their hands crushed to drive this home? But disagree here, table top platens are junk; anyone who claims otherwise needs to take a course in printing, or needs a new set of eyeballs.

I also agree with forme (I know who he is) that the gene pool needs thinning. Beware.



Regarding your comment about eBay, that everything is overpriced. Have you ever tried to sell on eBay, rather than just buy? You might just discover that it is a completely different story. :—)

However, buying any high ticket item that should require buyer inspection—a press, a car, a house, or whatever—on eBay, or any auction site, is lunacy.


“…tabletop platens are junk;…” . Oh-oh. That will bring out the sputterers and defenders of the indefensible. Relativism will of course lead the charge. But your bolt has neatly split the apple.

If I buy the press that I was talking about, the current owner has offered to teach me how to use it as well. I’m more interested in getting a big enough printing area, which is why the 10x15 caught my eye to begin with, but if there is another press that would be safer (though with proper training, I consider most things to be safe, since I’m not an idiot) and the same size, I would totally buy that one. I just don’t want to grow out of whatever I buy a year after I buy it. I don’t want to buy 2-3 presses, I’d like to just buy one and grow into it.

Grab it. The 10x15 was/is workhorse of many a printshop. It will handle most everything crossing your desk. And, it is strong enough to do light die-cutting and panelling. And take advantage of the current owner’s offer of guidance. Also, get as many books as possible on the Black Art. Every tome contains valuable information that will come in useful throughout your chosen interest.
I am pleased to see you aren’t afraid of the “big, bad, metal monsters.” Seems there are a lot of Sarahs appearing out there.


A pressman for a client of mine caught his hand in a C&P just a few years ago. He is now living in Spain on disability. Not bad except for the fact that he is one-handed. Had to sell off his personal stash of printing equipment. It can happen. One second of distraction. Just a bit of caution is advised.


Gerald - I’m sorry to hear about your client’s pressman. All other discussion aside, such an event is tragic… and we should learn from it.

This week-end I recieved an e-mail from an old friend who read our lively debates here. He related a similar story about a student of his who lost two fingers in a C&P this last spring. Apparently, the student tried to chase a fumbled feed and failed to get her hand out of the press in time. Now she is semi-disabled, and it is doubtful if my friend will be able to continue with his classes due to liablility issues.

I DO disagree with you about tabletop presses, by the way….. but that’s a debate for another day.

Thanks for posting the information.

A neighbour cut her hand with a knife while slicing a loaf of bread. Now, there is a movement afoot to ban all kitchen knives, and those wanting to slice their own bread must obtain a Bakers Licence, a permit to use said style of blade, and must study under a certified loaf-cutter for a period of no less than six months; plus breadmakers are being investigated for producing a product that encourages the unskilled to engage in reckless behaviour. The Safety Standards Department is petitioning the government to restrict sharp objects only to those able to pass strict course of training. Sheffield will not provide any information to people using their product.
Little wonder, Sarah.

Ok, can we stop the bickering? I see both sides of the issue and I’m taking it all into consideration, but it’s really not helpful to read the posts where y’all are arguing with each other. Just a thought. Thank you for all your help so far though.

Just a thought Kate, what sort of quantities do you envisage printing - runs of hundreds or thousands? Surely this is a significant factor when choosing your press? You might wish to consider a cylinder if we are talking 100’s… (if you can find one of course…)

Have you read the Paul Maravelas ‘Letterpress Printing’ - it might be a good start…

Such injuries are pretty rare, despite the inherant dangers of a closing platen press. Personally, I know of just one person so injured, and Gerald has mentioned one other, and we have over 70 years experience between us. One other recent injury has been repeated on multiple lists. The rest is, so far, anecdotal. These injuries shouldn’t have happened; that they did happen is due to operator carelessness.
I cringe when I see people chatting away while they feed a press, and even a Vandercook can take off a finger if you put it in the wrong place. Feeding requires one’s complete attention. It isn’t an activity that allows multi-tasking.
However, those two fingers might not have been lost if the person hadn’t jumped right into commercial activity without a sufficient learning period. A beginner in a sink-or-swim business situation is under a lot of pressure when each misfeed costs a buck or two.
Even with those cautions, a 10x15 C&P is a press you won’t outgrow any time soon. I used them until I got a larger heavier platen, and now I miss the quickness and the ease of cleanup. However, there is a steep learning curve when it comes to using photopolymer plates; they need a much lighter roller contact than traditional metal type and plates, and roller settings can be a challenge; inking problems will be even worse on most tabletop platens. Add PMS inks and and modern color-matching expectations, and that’s why a press like a Windmill gets such strong recommendations. It isn’t just automatic feeding, it’s also the whole inking system.


In regard to the Vandercook, I know of two folks who caught their hand between the returning cylinder and the feedboard on an auto press. In both cases, no long term damage, but one them was a professional guitar player so it put a cramp in his style for a bit. Hard to imagine how lucky they were, there just isn’t a lot of room there for a hand. I know that in the latter case it was a matter of a very late night run and fatigue had set in. To some extent, safety on a press is self-evident, but some presses simply have avenues for injury that require constant awareness.


I went to visit with a woman today who owns a Vandercook and I’m going to be helping her print a few projects in the next month, so we’ll see what I think after that. I really like her press, but I’m interested in using thicker paper than she says it will handle. I’m also going to take an 8 week class that uses C&P’s in the winter. Wouldn’t you know that I missed the signup for the one that starts this month. So, that’s where I’m at now. Thanks for the help so far.

Anybody want to give me what they think is a good price for a C&P 10x15 in good to great condition would be?

Hi Kate,

I’ve stayed out of this for a while, but I do have a few comments to add.

First, it’s true that even Vandercooks can be dangerous to the imprudent. One day, in my zeal for perfect letterspacing, I bent down over my form to make one last adjustment, forgetting for the moment that the inking system was still running and my hair had not been tied up. Luckily only about 20 hairs got caught up in the rollers. I suppose I could have been scalped.

Another thing about Vandercooks, aside from the limit in paper thickness, is that for each impression you need to take a little stroll, perhaps two little strolls, up and down the bed while cranking a heavy cylinder. If you’re doing a two-color invitation with reply cards, maps, programs, envelopes, thank-you cards, and whatever else — well, you do the math.

Rereading all of your posts, I agree with Gerald that if your business takes off you ultimately would be happy with a Heidelberg platen. Explore the Vandercook with your new friend, take the 8-week C&P course, and then visit a shop that uses Heidelbergs. By then you will know what you want.

Best of luck! Keep us posted.



You asked about price. I think you’ll find that a C&P 10x15 almost falls into the hard to give away market. If it is a working press, with good rollers, and a strong motor, it may still go as low as $700 or $800. There is one near me offered for $850. It doesn’t sound like your seller is desperate, so you are not likely to get the $100 or $50 bargain.
My advice is to buy the press. A 10x15 or 12x18 is likely the largest reasonable press that you should begin with. In your budget, consider your space, the learning curve, and finally money. Then, buy the biggest press you can afford. You can always print small on a big press, but you can’t print big on a small press.

If people are getting caught in platens while grabbing at misfeeds, it means they are running too fast. The correct speed is the fastest that allows consistant feeding. Anything faster is counterproductive as well as dangerous, because misfeeds reduce impressions per hour considerably. When they happen, the right response is to use the throw-off lever, reposition the piece or throw it away, then go back on impression. If color-matching you may have to chuck that sheet too.
Don’t underestimate your press or overestimate your own reflexes.
I do see people at press who are not properly attired. Rings and bracelets and wristwatches should be removed when at press, long sleeves rolled up. And I am not joking, open-toed high heel sandals are a really, really bad idea around machines.

Boundstaffpress~ He is asking more than you posted (much more), but he’s also offering to teach me to use it and he overpaid for it, so he’s trying to get his money out of it I believe. I’m ok with that, because he’s offering to teach me how to use it and to intern at his shop a bit to learn the ins and outs of printing. It has all new rollers and is ready to print right now. I think that they would keep it, but they’re a wholesale business and need more volume then it can handle. It’s a new style 10x15, so I think it’s a good fit for me as long as I learn to use it. Thanks for your help. Oh and it’s 20 minutes away from me, so I only have to move it across town. Anybody have any idea how much one of these weigh? I have a friend who owns a moving company who will probably move it for me if I ask nicely and find him a date.

A 10x15 OS is about 1650 lbs., if I recall correctly. A NS would be a bit heavier. Moving them is fairly simple if you don’t have to move it vertically as well as horizontally. C&P presses are top heavy and will fall over if not treaded carefully. Make sure the press is on skids (4x4s lag bolted to the feet of the press). I’ve found it useful to bevel the ends of the skids to help going up ramps. Also makes it easier to roll pipes under the skids I use 1” iron pipes to make the press easier to move around on horizontal surfaces.

I’m so glad I found this web site !

Debates like this keep me entertained for hours ! I’m thinking of cancelling my Cable TV subscription.

Long live Briar Press !

As a 16 year old apprentice diemaker I was taught how to operate hand fed and automatic presses. I did not operate presses on a regular basis until as a self employed diemaker I bought one(28”x40” Thomson).When I wanted to get into foil stamping I bought a tabletop press it was not able to do what I wanted but I used it to better understand heat pressure etc. Within months I built a heater and foil draw system of my own,put it on my Thomson and never regretted spending money on the tabletop that quickly sold at little loss. As to instruction after 31 years in this industry I got a copy of General Printing last winter from Don Black. This book holds a wealth of information that anyone can benefit from.


Cancel the cable anyway and spend the additional time printing.

@Arie @Printmonkey
I should show your postings to some people to make them understand why I don’t even have a TV set (LOL)

You guys crack me up. Thanks for the help and the laughs.