What is my maximum image size?

Just got a lil Kelsey 3x5.

If I’d like to have a plate made from Boxcar, what is the maximum image size my image can be?

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No more than 2” x 3” if the image isn’t too dense, is my recommendation.

Your maximum heavy solid is only going to be about 2 inches square, your maximum image area is the size of your chase (3x5 inches) exclusive of a margin to put your pins, of course. If you use extension side guides (a bent piece of banding—or even a bent paperclip will work), you can probably work some large sheets of paper on that Kelsey (and it will be a learning experience).

Just leave room for your pins!

Wow. I can’t lie, I’m on the verge of regretting the purchase of this press before it’s even gotten to me. A whole lotta cash to not be able to print larger than a business card. Yikes.

I guess I should have waited until I had a ton more money and some great restored press to buy. Lesson learned.

Hi. I am looking for a little 3x5 for my student demonstrations, if you decide to purchase a larger tabletop.
Feel free to contact me. Thanks


You certainly can print a larger form, even to the max size of the chase, if it were lighter type and line illustrations, but as Mike said, you really have limits on printing solid blocks of color or heavy illustrations, the press just doesn’t have the strength of impression you need for that type of stuff.

The Kelsey 3x5 is really a toy press, and will serve you well to learn the basics of letterpress printing. With careful makeready and adjustment, the press will print quite well on a limited scale. You will soon find the limitations and will no doubt have the desire to go up in size, but what you have will tell you if you have what it takes to be a printer.

I have been shocked at the prices these small format presses are demanding, and can understand why you chose to jump into the fray with the press you did.

Yeah, it’s a really nice restoration, and pretty darn expensive. Had I been able to find a larger one of nearly equal quality for a similar price, I surely would have gone that way.

We’ll see what happens.

Megahurt, i started with a 3x5, still have it after 40 years. Like jhenry said it is a good press to learn the basics of letterpress on, my grandfather bought the press for me in 1961 with some type and cases for about $60. If you need any help let me know. Most of these presses that are restored are expensive, they look great but can be used even with 50 years of grime on them for a lot less money. Good Luck Dick G.

Hi Mega,

One other thing to consider with this press is that you can do work and turn. In other words, don’t print the entire job at once, print one part, and do your whole stack. Then lock up a new form and print an adjacent area, redoing the whole stack. You can do quite nice greeting cards on this small press by printing the image on the left side of the card for example, then cleaning up and locking up some text and printing the right side of the card. This also gives you a good excuse to use multiple colors as you change forms and clean the press. You have to think creatively with these, but they are capable of perfectly acceptable work. You’ll probably never do book work or large extensive wedding invites in the style done today with a lot of punch on lettra, but you can have a lot of fun with this small press and do some interesting things.

If you wanted to print a tall (portrait vs landscape) party invite for example, you could print the top half upside down then print the bottom half upside right and it would look like a single print job if you got your spacing right and kept your inking constant.

One other thing to note, I had one of these once and it came with some kelsey supplied advertising materials which included a form printed on the press which was a 3x5 image. Admittedly, no punch, and the impression doubtlessly took some make ready, but it is possible to print a larger form if you don’t want a 3x5 solid punched 3/4 of the way through lettra stock… Some of the lessons I learned with this small press are helpful on much larger presses including the “work and turn” thing.

As jhenry notes, it is a good press to learn on. Don’t despair too much and don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, get creative, use it for a year, then sell it and buy something bigger. As I look through my printing for the past two years, probably 50% of it could have been done on a press this size. It certainly was a lot easier on a big press, but technically possible on a smaller press since i do a lot of cards, stationary, business cards, etc…

A number of these were actually used in somewhat professional settings over the years, including funeral homes doing programs, clubs doing mailings, shipping tags, etc… Limited, but useful “toys” none the less.

Good Luck,


I have to agree with the last couple of posts. I learned on smaller tabletops (I have both a 3x5 and a 5x8). The makeready necessary to achieve a good print on the smaller presses is a really good tool to have before moving up to the bigger presses. I’ve found the larger press to be more forgiving and it doesn’t require as much ‘fussing’ as the smaller presses to get a good print. That said, the small adjustments really do make a big difference in overall quality of a print, taking it from just a good print that I know a client will be satisfied with to a really nice quality print that I am proud to present to a client. I believe that starting on the smaller press has sharpened my eye on what to look for and my understanding of what adjustments should be made to get the best print I can. I’m sure others have differing opinions and I’m sure that those with formal training didn’t need to start on the smaller presses to really understand the process. However as someone who was taught the basics and is basically self-taught after that (with the help of forums like this and some great books), I find the work I did on the small presses invaluable to my work now.
Using the print and turn method described above I was able to produce some very nice 6x8 invitations on my 5x8 Kelsey. They even had a border around the whole invite… the trick was to make sure that there was a small graphic in the border at the middle of the long side so that it provided a break where I could easily register the second pass.
I still use the small presses now for seals, return addresses, business cards, or other small items. There are 3 reasons why I like to do so: 1) smaller images naturally give a deeper impression, so using the smaller press means I don’t have to play with the impression bolts on the larger press to get a much lighter impression. 2) It’s easier and sometimes faster to do them on the Kelsey than to treadle the large press. 3) It also allows me to keep printing while I’m waiting for the cleaning solvent to evaporate between colors on the larger press.
If you are able to down the road, I would encourage you to buy a new, floor press like a C&P but to keep the tabletop as well…. it has it’s advantages.

Hello Megahurt….. don’t let all of the comments deter you from printing with your 3x5 Kelsey.

I’ve had one for 25 years….. and it is a LOT more capable than what you are thinking. It’s a great machine for learning on, and perfect for letterheads, envelops, business cards, postcards, and small invitations. They are not toys, but are indeed real letterpresss. Functionally, they are identical to larger presses. They are just smaller.

If you take the time to learn how to use it correctly, you will be amazed at what you can do with it.

Remember, when folks say they recommend a small print area, they are talking about the amount of area actually covered with ink…. not paper size. Much of what folks print with letterpress nowadays easily falls within the limitation of your press.

The problem with a small Kelsey is not strength of impression. Those little machines are quite sturdy, and will punch more than most folks think. I tested several Kelsey’s to destruction several years ago, using strain gauges to measure the impression strength….. and posted the results here on Briar Press. On a psi to psi comparison, they are as good or better than many larger machines.

They ARE quite small….. BUT I routinely print full-chase postcards, with perhaps 30% full coverage. The little press works like a charm…especially if you use high quality paper. AND you’d be surprised at what you can do with multiple impressions. If a particular item has too much coverage for your press, then print it with two impressions.

I’d recommend keeping the little press, and learning with it. THEN later investing your money on a larger machine.

So, what IS my maximum image size?

When I create a file to send to Boxcar, what is the size limit?

well, you obviously can’t print bigger than 3x5 since that’s your chase size. But your maximum plate size will depend on your base size, which you haven’t stated…. what size base do you have?
If you don’t have a base yet, you need to determine that size based on how much room you need below and to the side of your image for gauge pins. (gauge pins cannot be placed where the base will be when you close the press or they will be crushed).
hope this helps. you can also call boxcar and they will walk you through your order.