What do you print? And why do you print it?

Letterpress is a fascinating process, whether one does it as a hobby, as a means to make a living, or as an adjunct to other interests. For me, it’s all three. I earn a living in my commercial shop; enjoy my hobby-time printing alternative-press books; and support my local “Community Action” efforts with posters. To be quite honest though, I print mostly because I like it. Even if I never earned another dollar, I’d still maintain a shop.

I always wonder what others here print, and why they print it. Do you make wedding invitations? or Art Prints? or fancy letterheads? or books about butterflies? Do you earn a living at it or do you print for the pleasure of printing?

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I print broadsides to support a writer’s symposium at the school where I teach. The sale of the broadsides goes to a restricted endowment that supports the program.

I enjoy printing, at no cost, birth announcements for friends and relatives.

I charge a modest fee for wedding invitations. I only work with the bride, and I only take on projects where I can do something new and different.

While I have a full-time teaching job, I maintain a shop with an SP 15, a Craftsman pilot, an 8 x 12 C & P and a 12 x 15 Gordon; and despite limited time and resources, I am always looking for new projects. I love the creative and tactile aspects of letterpress, and I have met some wonderful, generous, and incredibly creative people.

I am in the ‘all three’ category.
I have a day job running wedding invites on Heidelberg Windmills, which pays my bills. Good job, but it is mostly work. At work, I am a “printer”.
I have a Vandercook in my own studio, and i do posters, art prints, and anything fun that is not a wedding invite, which helps satisfy my art school path to letterpress. In my studio I am a “printmaker”.
I also nerd out on giving/taking tips here on the blog, tampering with my equipment, restoring old letterpress stuff, and chatting technique and tools with anyone who will nerd out with me. I guess here I would think of myself as “craftsman”, but I will settle for “enthusaist”, or even “nerd”, if craftsman is too lofty a title.
I do all three because i love it. We all have our own reasons
I work with some printers, who don’t love it, they tolerate it, and look at me with confusion as i enthusiastically describe spending an entire weekend of my freetime printing, but what can you say.

I print, therefore I am. Imagine an enduring human consciousness with some form of printed record.

Capture those pictures on a cave walls, cuneiform, and reproducible type, and etchings. There we are, a picture of human evolution.

I’m involved in letterpress because a third of a century ago I had the opportunity to print with this technology and I got hooked. Everything I had done prior to this, which had not made sense, suddenly made sense. Though most rational folks would consider it a poor career choice (especially then), I did opt to pursue letterpress as my means of making a living. They were right, but I am still here and kicking and though I probably should have thought more seriously about my life goals, I still love and respect the process and will likely be involved in it until the very end. I’m mainly a printer/publisher (or was) but because of this, my appreciation of the process is the complete creative control it provides. One can conceive, write, compose, print, and publish an entire book. One could certainly do that with other technologies, but none of which are as addictive as letterpress. Most of the folks I have met over the years who are involved with letterpress are somewhat prone to addiction. Hey.


I’ve always had a love for writing pretty cards to friends and family. As my love for correspondence grew - so did my love for lovely cards. I was always drawn to the letterpress cards. I’m quite crafty and thought, “Hey, I wonder how you do this?” A few days of internet research and I stumbled upon Briar Press. A girl from New York had posted that she was new to this and inquired if someone would be willing to teach her. A gentleman with the screen name Inky replied to her saying, “If you lived closer to California, I’d be happy to teach you”. I was living in Nevada at the time. San Francisco was only a few hours drive. I wrote to Inky asking if maybe he’d be willing to teach me. I told him that I knew nothing of letterpress. I think I probably said letterpressing (gasp!). That was Wednesday and by Saturday morning I had driven the 3 hours to the coast and was in Professor Inky’s shop. I didn’t even get to touch the press until day 2. I learned of pica and points, leads and slugs, cases and galleys. The first piece I printed: A line from my favorite hymn, “It is well with my soul”. I’ve driven to Professor Inky’s shop a lot since then. He tells me I’ve been infected with the disease. It almost feels like that. All consuming. Professor Inky never had any grandchildren and I no grandparents to really speak of. Well, none that have shared their life’s wisdom like he has. I don’t call him Professor Inky anymore. He answers to Grandpa. He’s taught me everything I know about letterpress. It’s something very precious to me. Something very dear to my heart.

I don’t think it would matter what I printed, really. Just as long as there is ink on my hands. That and the melodic sound of the C&P ink disk turning. It is well with my soul.

I have no idea what I’m doing ;) I love printing, all kinds. I’ve always like the way letterpress works and more over the way some of the presses work. It just amazes me that someone thought up how to make these things work. I also like preserving the history behind it, the knowledge and the physical items. I don’t have much to print. I’m not a commercial venture, nor do there seem to be many “art” type places to be involved near me. I’ve considered doing reprints of old works, books out of copyright. Possibly do a few prints of select books of the bible.

My wife, Jill, and I (Lead Graffiti) love printing most anything. We like making a keepsake for almost any meetings we attend. Ephemera is great fun. Making coasters for a party we are going to always surprises everyone. We also love printing things that we don’t know how to print.

The link below will show you a good, recent example of a project we agreed to print and then couldn’t figure out how to actually do it. Turned out great in the end but it was touch-and-go for a while.


We like the challenge of printing something designed by a designer because it almost always pushes the envelope.

We like wedding invitations where the solution is totally unique to this one couple.

Note cards make nice gifts.

Broadsides are killer projects.

See. We like most anything that ends up with ink on paper.

I really enjoy being in the studio and printing. I mostly find carving linoleum for poster printing the greatest thing on earth besides my family of course. I print posters, invitations, business cards, and misc. other things.

There is a group (unnamed) of letterpress printers here in the Dallas, TX area and we started concepting things to print. Our last show was “Pop Art”, things soda pop related. We each printed 2-10 pieces each and hung it in a friends studio, sent out invitations to come and enjoy the work all printed from Vandercook presses using wood and metal type, linocuts, and photopolymer.

Just a few photos. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?page=1&aid=83149&l=771f4&id=659442183

Our next show concept is circus / carnival / sideshow.

I’ll sit at my computer and work for hours and then push myself away and go to the studio to partake in an environment where things slow down to pace that is very relaxing and methodical.

Casey McGarr
Inky Lips Press
McKinney, TX

I am the son of a printer. I grew up in the shop bending leads and untying aprons behind peoples backs. I got to make some killer paper chains. When I got to be working age, I worked in orchards and greenhouses, but always wintered in the shop. I remember my father telling me, if you learn letterpress, you will always be able to find work. After a few more uncommitted years, I made the plunge and started my apprenticeship. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how unique my situation was. I had an letterpress apprenticeship in the 1990’s?! My eyes were opened anew towards letterpress, and even though we operate a pretty busy commercial shop doing a wide variety of work for graphic designers who cant get enough of this new thing called letterpress, I am able to squeeze in some projects of my own like poetry broadsides or stationary sets for friends and family.
Waldwick Printing Co

I print mostly ephemeral things for the Amalgamated Printers’ Association bundles, occasional broadsheets and posters. Almost everything has a printing or typographic theme. I just simply LOVE type. I also do posters occasionally for the local church, fire department, etc. and even rarely pump out wedding invitations - but ONLY for close friends and relatives. I have done a few commissioned things, but really try to fly under the radar and not accept commercial work.

I am usually too busy to be taking on anything resembling steady printing jobs especially since none of my presses are motorized and I generally print 99% on a Poco proof press using a hand brayer. Slow is the operative word, but I do enjoy it.

When I got hooked in the mid 70’s, I wondered if I would ever be lucky enough to eventually obtain a full cabinet of type. I also wondered if I would ever be lucky enough to own 1923 ATF catalog. I now stand with over 1,900 fonts of handset type in my shop, dozens of presses, and a fairly impressive library of old foundry catalogs and books on type and printing.

A little here, and a little there, and after a few decades you end up with a LOT of stuff. The adventure and the wonder of it all still continues.

Rick von Holdt
The Foolproof Press

I am a printmaker whose father was a printer. I’ve spent my share of hours running the folder, stitcher or paper cutter, but printing words never impressed me as much as drawing pictures. In college, I discovered that I could print drawings, and I was in love. All the ink and tools from my childhood mixed with my passion for art.
In my studio I have a little Craftsmen Superior, along with a Signpress, and a couple etching presses. I have been collecting type to eventually make cards and stationary from my cuts. For now, I am printing artwork.

Come check out my blog. http://boundstaffpress.blogspot.com

Thank you all for your comments. Reading them over, I see my own sentiments echoed in a dozen different ways.

Letterpress is certainly slower and more labor intensive than other methods of putting ink onto paper…. but even so, it has a special magic that more “modern” methods lack.