Impression depth from tabletop platen vs. floor platen job press

Hello I’m new here.

I’ve just started learning and I’m trying to buy a letterpress (either a C&P Pilot or 8x12 C&P). My question is, from what I could gather from all the previous threads, tabletop platen can only do “kiss impression”, not a “deep impression”, no matter the amount of packing, you still might not get the desired impression depth, correct? If I want a “deep” impression (just so you can see the depth that’s all, nothing major) using photopolymer plates, I’d better go with a floor C&P?

Thanks in advance for all honest and constructive opinions and advises, all your experiences and learnings are incredibly valuable.

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You’re limited by the physics of any press. Smaller presses are only capable of exerting so much pressure. If you’re looking for deep impression you’d be best served by the largest press you can accommodate in your space. Don’t overdo it when it comes to impression—iron castings will snap if you try to overdo it with ANY press. Familiarize yourself with the limits of your machine and it’ll last a long time. Push the limits and you’ll ruin the machine in no time.

Hope this helps,

Here are some things to chew on. I had a C&P 8 x 10 and 10 x 15. I love the the 10 x 15 because of the form size. I was able to do nice die cuts on it large enough to create my own packaging for cards and stuff. but back to the point. Both of these platen presses can easily control the impression depth with soft or hard packing. It doesn’t take much to get a nice impression in any paper without pushing the limits. If you are going for impression and not just a kiss use polymer plates. Please don’t ruin good lead type while trying to get impression in your work. The larger your art area the less impression you will get because the impact strength is dispersed through the art area.

Table top presses are a bit different because it is all your own arm strength. You don’t have the weight and flywheel to assist in the impression.

Cylinder presses can also be used for a nice impression. They are more consistent for the beginner.

I recently sold my 10 x 15 to get a Vandercook Universal III and 32-28E. I am willing to sacrifice the speed of my C&P for the increase in size and accuracy that the Universal III will provide.

I would say figure out what you can spend and see what is avaiailable in that price range. Get skilled on what press you purchase and know how to deal with the quirks. A lot is just learning by doing. Books are a great start but if you can see the press in action and get someone to walk you through all your make ready and printing it will a greater benefit to you.

There are tabletop presses and there are tabletop presses! I have a 6x9 Sigwalt (a copy of the Golding Official) which is a very strong, easy to use press and while I don’t go in for deep impression, the Sigwalt and its grandpa the Official are much more capable of it than any Kelsey tabletop and probably than the Pilot and its knockoffs. I also have an 8x12 Official tabletop press I’m thinking of selling for $1500 ready to print with new rollers, capable of running circles around a Kelsey or a Pilot.

The bottom line is that the Official was engineered to do excellent work, based on the very strong mechanism of the Golding Jobber, while the Pilot is a scaled down, less effective version of the C&P floor model jobber and the Kelsey is really a toy with which it is possible to print pretty decent work. I’ve used all three and I would take the Official and its descendents over the others in a heartbeat.


I guess my question should be which press I should buy for my first letterpress, one that would give me the result I want (deeper impression not just a kiss without damaging the press — using polymer plates of course) and not having to buy/trade for a better one for at least 3-5 years. Some printers told me you can’t get the depth you want with a tabletop platen, some told me you can, so I thought my best option is to go with a floor-standing platen but it takes too much space and it would be a burden to move.

a bit confused…

3-5 years is a long time to plan for. If you want to make a go of it and are still running in 5 years, you will most likely have upgraded to a Heidelberg platen or cylinder.

The learning curve is steep, though. If you have no experience in mechanics, printing or rigging, starting with a hand-operated press is a good idea. Small cards, business cards and invites can be done (provided coverage isn’t all that heavy) on a Pilot, for example. From there, move up to something with a motor that’ll ink a bit more consistently and offer more impression. Once you’re running a few jobs a month you’ll want to move up to an auto-feed.