Best Press for someone starting out

Hello all, I’m looking to purchase my very first press. Any suggestions on a good starter press? I’d like to do wedding invites, cards, etc.

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Hi ckuhl,

I’m repeating a post on this topic a few weeks ago. I’m very much a newbie in letterpress, so I only have very limited experience. (My comments may not even be applicable to your case).

The FiveRoses site has some info on both tabletop presses:

Basically, for newbies you have two or three options: Kelsey, C&P Pilot and Adana. I only have experience with the first two.

I had the fortunate experience of taking a basic letterpress class where there was a Kelsey Excelsior and C&P Pilot sitting next to each other. So all the students got to try both presses.

I have to say that the C&P Pilot was the “more solid” press. The Excelsior was kinda “clunky” and sounded clunky. Maybe it was the way the presses were configured/set. The Pilot consistently produced better results (even to the eyes of the newbie students). So much so that all the students lined up to use the Pilot.

Both the Kelsey 6x10 and the Pilot C&P are table-top presses and are not motorized.

- A Kelsey should cost about $500 to $700 (based on what I’ve seen on Briar Press).

- The Pilot is definitely more expensive ($2000 to over $3000), but I think its worth the wait.

The reason I’m writing this long reply is to help you avoid being disappointed. I have read several posts here in Briar Press of people being excited about letterpress, buying a small press and then being disappointed in the results.

Thank you so much for your help!

newbee ‘s comments are very good, the craftsman press is like the pilot, and is also very good, anything smaller than a 6x10 will limit what you can print, good luck Dick G.

Actually, I believe that if you can find a Golding Official 6x9 or larger, or a 6x9 Sigwalt, or a Craftsman Imperial of similar size (I’m not sure what chase sizes were similar) You will be much happier with both the operation of the press and the printed results. One major advantage of all three is that you can print a portion of a much larger sheet on any of them than is possible on the Pilot or Superior Craftsman (which I believe is the model most like a Pilot). The impression mechanism on the Official/Sigwalt is easier to use and I find the stirrup handle of the Sigwalt and Official more comfortable to use as well.


thank you adlibpress, can you explain further what you mean by printing a portion of a larger sheet.

I’m with Ad Lib on this one….. In my view a 6x9 Sigwalt would be the ideal press for a beginner…. followed by a C&P Pilot, a Craftsmen, or a Kelsey….. in that order. All of them will do a good job, but the Sigwalt is a lot smoother and more solid.

With that being said though, a 5 x 8 Kelsey is nothing to sneeze at. If you work within it’s limitations, it’ll produce some very nice work.

Another type of press to look into is a small sign press or a proof press of some sort. Recently I’ve started appreciating cylinder presses more and more….. they are a bit slower than platen presses, but they are also more versatile.

The only press I say to stay away from is a larger flywheel operated machine….. until you’ve had some instruction. They can bite you pretty bad if you get your fingers in the wrong place. LEARN on a manually operated press…. THEN move up to a flywheel operated machine.

What do you all think about an Adana?

Newbee Press, by follwing the discussions here on Briar Press, you should have been able to read lots of posts on Craftsman, Golding, Sigwalt and Adana presses. I’m not claiming to be a specialist, but have been printing for a while. It all depends on what you want, the space you’ve got, how you want to progress, what money you want to spend etc. If you’re based in the USA, I would go for an American press and something sturdier and larger than an Adana. I have no experience with Kelsey etc, but when I look at the photographs and when I read the posts, I reckon that an American built press would be a better option. If, however, you’re based in the UK or on the European continent, I would look into the Adana press.

The advantage of the Sigwalt/Golding Official (they are essentially identical) is that the impression mechanism is very smooth to operate and because the platen is pushed shut from below there are no side arms as on the Pilot and its imitators. Without the side arms a sheet can hang out both sides of the press and stick up above the edge of the platen as well. I have printed a 5x38 inch strip in sections on my 6x9 Sigwalt, as well as many letterheads and larger sheets one quarter at a time.

The Adana mechanism is functionally identical to the Kelsey. While I think it is probably better engineered, impression on these presses is more limited and more difficult because of the smaller handle and mechanism.


Thanks everyone for all the great feedback. I think i’m set on looking for a 6x9 Sigwalt, if you know of one for sale let me know:)

Does anyone know what happened to the Sigwalt patterns and stock after John Bright died? It seems like there might be a market at this time.


Just another opinion.
For the money and space, an 8 x 12 C&P will serve you better than any tabletop unit. Granted it is not as light as an Adana, but when making a major investment, you should consider the possibility that you will grow as a printer. Often these larger presses go for next to nothing. I have been witness to no less than 10 of these floor units selling for under $500 in the last year. They may need $300 in rollers, but the investment is still less than what a tabletop press usually brings. Tell everyone you know that you want a press. Pretty soon you’ll have one, and offers for many more.

A good rule of thumb, “You can always print small on a big press, but you cannot print big on a small press”

if your going for a floor model the 8x12 c&p is a nice press but the 10x15 is more common, much easier to find, and like boundstaff says, you can always print smaller on a big press, but you can’t print big on a small press. Dick G.