Letterpress virgin. Tips?

Hi there! I am a graphic designer and have been printing wedding invitations lately. This is not what I do for a living (but boy, that would sure be nice!), but it is something I am proud to do.

In order to offer my brides more options, I would like to start doing some letterpress printing. I am not afraid to buy something old, research it, find the parts to fix it and get dirty (I’ve done some restoring of vintage Polaroid cameras, so I know that I at least have the passion to make old things work).

Anyway, my question is this: is it worth it? I would be willing to invest a maximum of $500 and I am seeing letterpresses on ebay/craigslist for around $200 that need chases, rollers, etc. Is it easy enough to find these pieces and make these lovely machines purr again? Are there people out there who can make plates for older letterpresses? Does anyone out there currently use an antique letterpress for invitation printing?

Thank you in advance for your help!

Log in to reply   7 replies so far

The cost of admission has gone up quite a ways in recent years and I don’t think $500 will get you in the gate. Even with a complete small 5 x 8 tabletop ($300 at min) you still need to support photo-polymer ($100 for initial base etc) or metal type $50 a font +++ Not to mention the costs of ink, bindery materials (to cut up all that paper) and other “stuff”, I think you run the risk of being undercapitalized.

There are a lot of people who think they’re going to have it made in letterpress. I think in the short term you would be better off teaming up with an existing printer, learn the mechanics of it and then decide if the expense of developing your own shop is worth it.

All of letterpress printing is on antique presses (the last Windmill was built in the 70’s no?), though there is a very good supply chain out there for things such as plates and even type (probably more type available now than when I started nearly 10 years ago).

If you haven’t done it, at the very least get a hold of one of the standard texts for the trade or take a workshop and see what they do and what they have tied up in their shop to have an idea of what you might need. Not to be a wet blanket, but better that than to have you burnt out and walking away from this avocation in disgust down the road.

Good luck and have fun!

Maple, if you have no letterpress experience you should visit a museum and see what things are like. Mike is wrong, letterpress is not all antique, my equipment is mostly 50 to 90 years old. Where are you located, maybe you could visit a shop near you. Here in Massachusetts we have Letterpress Things, a huge letterpress store that sells everything for the trade. Some of the smaller presses you will have a hard time finding parts for, most of the floor model c&p presses are the easiest to find parts for. Also most small table top presses you will find are too small to print an invitation, a press will only print about half the size of the chase, any more takes a fair amount of experience. As for being willing to invest $500, i suggest you save the money and outsource the printing to someone who has the right equipment, you will spend more than that amount just to move a piece of letterpress equipment. Mike’s advice is always good, like he said Good Luck and have fun. Dick G.

Thanks, you two. I live in Chicago and there are letterpress printers here. I have thought about asking them if I could visit their facility, but I didn’t want to step on any toes. Guess it doesn’t hurt to ask?

I have seen the floor model c&p presses for around $1500. I have no idea if that’s a good deal or not, but if it is, I could save up if it’s worth the investment. I don’t just want to necessarily jump right in the deep end here, but I would love to actually be using a letterpress by sometime next year. When I start projects like this, I research them as best as I possibly can and I like to talk to people in the trade.

I understand that I am not going to make billions printing on a letterpress, but I want to be able to have more options for printing that I don’t have to outsource, and it looks like fun to me. I love history, I love old machines and most of all, I love restoring them and making them work again.


Arrange a visit to The Platen Press in Zion, Illinois. Paul Aken has a museum/printing shop with tons of equipment (literally, many, many tons) and I am sure would demonstrate how things work and may even have some leads for you on equipment for sale of which he is aware.

Go to http://starshaped.com/
She does wedding invitations and very well I might add.

The last two posts are excellent choices. If you are not truly inspired by the creativity and beautiful work done at the Star Shaped Press then I don’t know what will stir your juices.

Paul Aken’s Platen Press is also a terrific resource for you and he does have a sale once a year and it is coming up soon.

It will be held on Saturday, May 7 from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. at The Platen Press Museum, 3051 Sheridan Rd., Zion, IL 60099.

It is located along Lake Michigan just a mile or so below the Wisconsin border. This should not be missed as there will be plenty of type at reasonable prices and lots of other equipment and odds & ends all related to letterpress. Also lots of other printers and beginners to talk to that day.


Thanks John. I enjoyed that site very much.