What kind of machine and typeface should I start with?

Hi, I am new and just started to take some classes now. The open studio hours are only 3 hrs/ week so I am thinking to get a press to play with it a little bit. I have looked through the ebay buyer guide for different styles, but still have no idea which one is better for me to start with. Is 5*8 big enough for printing greeting cards? Can the 3x5 one only print something like notecards? By the way, what typeface is the must-have one I can get first? There are too many things over there! Thank you for your help.

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I’d be tempted not to buy on eBay if you’re a rank beginner. You tend to run into the “pig in a poke” phenomenon. If you’re fortunate to live near one of the major purveyors of letterpress goodies (Chicopee, MA, Indianalpolis, IN, Toronto, ON, etc. Then a visit to them is in order. If not, it still might be a good time for a road trip. If you’re in a hurry and don’t live near one of them, put up an add here on Briar Press. If not, make plans for the Great Northern and Midwest Printer’s Fair in September.

Wherever you are connect with local printers. Network, network, network…

But yes a Kelsey 5x8 can print a greeting card with some limitations as to the number of square inches printed at a time. So could a 3x5, though fewer square inches at a time.

Personally I like Garamond (and Garamont), Trafton Script, Glamour and Gravure for typefaces, but that’s just me. Go find a basic book on typefaces and pick ones You like. You might find you hate the faces I like.

Face to face contact and advice is always invaluable, but, if you’re in the UK ebay isn’t a bad place to get a press. There are regularly Adana 8x5s and 5x3s which just need rollers and trucks (both available on ebay too) for very little. There are also often presses with a selection of fonts, leading, furniture and other essentials for around £100. While ebay is expensive for things like fonts of wood type, and is clogged with those parasites who break large fonts into single letters for ornaments, I’ve found it a good source for equipment.

As Arie said font choice is down to you, what’s to hand is a start, hopefully if you buy a press it will come with something to get you started, then you can look for what you as the designer wants/needs.

A word of warning, the fonts you have will never be enough, once you start you will always want more, and more, and more space…

You are in my continuing ed class at Cooper, right? I’d suggest holding off just a little longer before buying a press. Come out to The Arm and try out the presses we have to compare against the ones at Cooper Union. Buying an overpriced Kelsey on eBay is probably just going to leave you frustrated!

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

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Typeface choices depend on what kind of printing you intend to start with. If you wish to make cards, 18 to 36 point typefaces would be more appropriate. Miniature books, 6 to 12 point type would do. If you are in the USA then you should find a copy of “American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century” by McGrew. It is by far the best reference on metal types and is every printers wish-book. Keep in mind that most of the foundry faces are unavailable, but most of the Monotype faces are available. I would recommend the books “Printing for Pleasure” by John Ryder, “Introduction to Printing” by Herbert Simon and “Introduction to Typography” by Oliver Simon to any and all beginners. The authors present a lot of food for thought as to the choice of presses and type. I would also check the online catalogue of Monotype faces offered by M&H Type in San Francisco.

As to press recommendations - any press can be made to print well within its own limitations (of size and construction). Again, you need to figure out what kind of printing you wish to do as that can have alot of bearing of the equipment you will need. I personally wouldn’t buy anything under 5”x 8” unless you wish to spend your time making only business cards. Kelsey, Craftsman and Chandler and Price are the most common platen presses in the USA and come in a variety of sizes. Oddly, the larger the press the cheaper the price - wierd. The prices of tabletop presses have increased ridiculously in the past few years and sometimes it is hard to find what you want within a reasonable distance to make it worthwhile acquiring it. So patience is your first lesson. As a wise printer once told me,”You can print small things on a large press, but you can’t print large things on a small press.”

You must also take into account the space you have to operate and the money you intend to invest and try to create a plan of action. Learn all you can in your classes and talk to printers - mostly they are a helpful lot.

What typeface to use? What Typeface to use? The Gods refuse to answer……………. They refuse to answer because they don’t know! The classic problem.

When in doubt, obtain more type. I have 1,900 fonts of handset type, and it doesn’t seem like nearly enough!

What’s the difference between a man with ten children and a man with ten thousands fonts of type? The man with ten children doesn’t want any more.

Which typeface to use is a very different one than which one to acquire. The latter is what was asked, I think. Though if you only have one you’ll tend to use it.

Have you used all of those 1900 fonts? I haven’t even used the 100 or so I possess.

One friend says that a lot of the pleasure to be had out of letterpress printing is the challenge if making something look nice with what you have on hand. I’d agree. Whether you have one or two fonts or a few thousand.

When I started I bought every font of type that came my way and I could afford to pay for. Most of them have gone on to new homes. If I recall correctly, one of them went to reside among that 1900 or so at last year’s Great Northern. Now I’m pickier about the fonts of type I acquire. There’s still some I want and don’t have, but I’m not in a hurry.

Anyone got some 30 Point Trafton Script for sale… That case is still a bit light. Maybe some 84 point, too.

Until you get some metal type, you can always go the photopolymer route. Experiment, play around with ideas and type arrangements. it’s supposed to be fun.

I agree with Arie. The limitations are what force you to be creative and experiment. Some great work has been created from very limited resources.

And YES Arie I have already used the font I picked-up from you at last year’s Great Northern. I thought I already had that face and size, but as it turned out, your font was an odd-ball 17 pt. size and it is shown at the bottom of my bookmark in this month’s APA bundle. It is a small world! I can’t say that i have used all of my fonts, but I do attempt to make a stab at it!

My two cents—a font of pica Roman with Italic and Small Caps, preferably an anonymous Old Style. But plunge in to the beautiful adventure!

Ten is too many kids.
And, if you align to left they want it to the right. If centered they will ask to see it justified.

Go figure. Good luck!

Thank you for all your answers.You are the best! :)

To Arie,
I live in Chicago area, any good place around midwest you suggest to go?

To The Arm NYC,
I am not your student but I just visited your blog and flickr few days ago. :)

Churchman’s Boutique de Junque in Indianapolis is just a short drive away. Paul Aken at the Platen Press Museum is in Zion is almost next door. Plan on coming to the Great Northern in Mount Pleasant IA in September. You should be able to find all three in the Yellow Pages on Briar Press.

East Lansing is only 4 hours away; come on over. The Michigan Letterpress Guild meets about 4 times a year. Usually one of them is in Lansing or East Lansing.