press time standards

I’m curious if there is a list of standards somewhere that categories the various stages of letterpress printing and typical amounts of time for certain job types at certain quantities (business cards, wedding invitations, etc). I’m really just trying to determine how long it would take a typical journeyman pressman to produce certain jobs (so that I can compare my progress in developing my skills).

Obviously it depends on the experience of the pressman, the equipment, the job, environment, etc. Just looking for ballpark approximations for how long it takes others so that I can compare the time it takes me. Quality is a factor too, I understand that, just looking for averages.

Thanks for any assistance with the question.


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There are no longer any standards in regard to letterpress printing (that should be fairly obvious by now), and there is no such thing as a “journeyman pressman” anymore. Sorry to say. You are on your own, you and your computer.


What you ask is (and was) impossible to judge. Some jobs are easy to set up and run, and others are damnably difficult with no reason or rhyme. After you have spent some time running jobs, you will be a better judge of what a business card versus a letterhead versus an invitation will take in set-up and running time. Each job is different, and you will encounter no end of new and perplexing problems that you will search your brain, and/or call your mentors to solve. That is the fun of it. If each job was predictable, it would be boring. On some jobs you will make money and others you won’t. Some customers will be a joy to work with, and others a pain. That’s just the way it is. Do your best and be fair to your customers. Keep your eye on the clock, and your hand out of the press.



To be fair, you don’t need to be “on your own.” Search the archives or a phone book & see who’s printing in your area, and ask them if you can volunteer your time as shop help to watch & learn. In my experience, printers like to share what they know with people who are interested, and you’d get a great sense of “where you’re at” by hanging out at a production print shop. (Plus, it’s always nicer to ask someone who you’ve been printing with, who knows what they’re doing, what they frankly think of your talent or skill level.)

Best of luck! rh

Hello Joshua,

I appreciate your wanting to know how long things take. I agree with what’s been said, but since there are no longer any “industry” standards for letterpress printing, you might start noting how long it takes you to do things. Even as a hobby printer, I have found this useful in gauging whether I have time to print a job on a particular day.

I am the slowest printer in the world, so don’t take my numbers as any kind of average. But, for example, it takes me about:

— An hour to get my Vandercook ready to print, which includes oiling the press, mixing the ink, and adjusting the roller height.

— A half-hour to lock up a form of handset type and to position the paper.

— 30 seconds to pull and check each print.

— An hour to clean the press and the ink slab and to put things away.

I haven’t timed myself while designing a piece or while making up pages since I can start and stop this any time. But if you make up your pages on the computer, perhaps the programs you use have a time log (which I have found are very scary to look at).

This is an interesting topic and could shed some light on why letterpress printing is so expensive. Really, if I sold my things and paid myself even minimum wage, no one would be able to afford them. That’s why I’m a hobby printer.


I agree with much of what has been said, it really is not about anyone else, but how long it takes you, and what that time is worth to you. Over time you will develop a deeper sense of why it is that you are running a print shop and what it is that you are trying to accomplish when you are on press. if it is only to complete a job in the fastest amount of time in order to make a profit then that will determine a lot. If you really want to relish the process and the quality of your work, it is a different ball game and you will adjust accordingly.
Nonetheless, in our shop we run windmills, and wedding invites (say 200 qty on average). We often shoot for getting one press run done per hour of the work day, assuming that we only change color once or maybe twice in a day, and i find i can often maintain that pace. Sometimes i can crank out way more, and often way way less, but I enjoy my day the most when i give each job the amount of time it requires. The job itself always lets me know how long it will take to complete, and you just have to go with it.
Good luck