Evening ladies and gentlemen. I am looking to buy a press and some fonts. At first i wanted to get a c and p style tabletop hand cranked press. But as i got a larger, but still very small idea of how press printing worked i wanted to get a line o scribe or vandercook style press for making larger things like posters or such things. I am an artst and for now would like to use it to make my own art. But in the future i would like to get into having a small business of cards, letters and invitations. I would not only need the press, but the letters and designs, ink and paper. Is there anything else i am leaving out? Your opinions are appreciated.

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Is there anything else you are leaving out?
Very respectfully I respond: Yes
You probably do not have the cart in the correct position to the horse.
You need an education in printing before you run out to buy a press and the other things. They are old machines and not plug and play.
Tell where you are and seek a school or mentor. If there is an old letterpress printer near you, plead to come and sweep the shop and clean the press in return for some instruction. We old printers are pretty receptive to that approach.

…nobody ever said you had to use real font. You could use Poly-plates, and start on the design element aspect, being an artist in all. A lot of people on these blogs are full-time hardcore printing guru’s. If your a tinkering type, you might consider a couple of weekend courses on letterpress basics. You might consider one of the DIY flat bed cylinder poster presses prior to investing in a Vandercook. Being an inspiring artist can be quite costly. Most ideally, you’ll need some kind of shop space, press, paper cutter, roller gauges, ink knives, cleaning chemicals, couple of extra chases, furniture, quoins, plates and a host of other space-consuming odds and ends!

Depending on your location, economic situation, and personality type, consider reading as much as you possibly can, prior to purchasing your first piece of machinery. Get a better idea of what you’ll actually be purchasing and that will dictate an implicit value, so you don’t end up $8k deep into a SP-15 with a welded handle and missing parts.

Everyone on here understands your passion, and determination towards letterpress. To some degree, we’ve all been bitten by the same bug. We just try to help make this as painless as possible, teaching you what we have learned the hard way. Don’t be discouraged by all of these hurdles, dig deep, and understand what you truly want to do and what it takes. Then you will have made a plan to succeed.

woweber: Amen, you’ve pretty much said it all.
This should be read by all who are considering getting started in printing. It is much, much more involved than buying a press.

Don’t worry too hard about getting the ultimate press right off the bat. If you don’t pay more than you can afford and have realistic expectations of the press you acquire you can get in the game and find out if letterpress is actually for you.

Once you start printing and building your network you will likely find that the things you need to grow and evolve as a printer will make themselves available in time.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Im in a similar position as you, so thanks for posting this! It has helped me out too!

I’m in a similar position as well but took several courses before I got a small table top and continue to take courses and read as much as I can and visit letterpress setups whenever I can as well. If I want to use a big press, I can do that at the local arts center. The small press really demands that you learn about everything as one gets excited about moving up. I think it’s good discipline to master one level before moving to another. Thanks for this thread.

I’m going to swim upstream here and, if not vote for diving in, at least say that it can be a viable way to go. I’m an artist who lucked into buying a 10x15 C&P earlier this year. I had been looking for a press to do prints on, but then a friend of a friend was selling this one, and it sounded great, so I jumped without knowing anything about letterpress.

I was lucky that the press was in great working condition and that it came with everything its previous owner had used with it (chases, quoins, slugs, ink, etc.), so I didn’t have to assemble any stuff to get started. I got one morning’s worth of lesson on how to care for it/run it from the previous owner, and I’ve spent the rest of the year experimenting and learning its capabilities.

It doesn’t do even close to 10x15 prints (my prints are pretty dark), but I’ve loved learning how to compose for the press so that it becomes a partner in the art-making process. I also stumbled into a local mentor and some type, and I’ve fallen in love with type-setting as well.

Maybe I just got lucky (in fact, I know I did), but it can work to have the desire, find the opportunity, and just dive in and learn it as you go along.


Like Martha, I am an artist who is expanding and acting on my love of letterpress. As a rural, stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to 3 kids, getting an education in printmaking is going to be difficult outside of a few workshops here and there. Reading and learning as I go is my only option most of the time. Luckily, they don’t restrict press ownership to folks with years of experience and traditional apprenticeship or formal training.
If there are any printers in the south east who would like to volunteer a few training sessions on a 6x10 pilot, I would love to hear from you.

I too am in a similar situation as you… although I decided to dive in and purchased a C&P 10x15. ( I couldn’t picture myself purchasing a small press for 3x the price of a large press knowing that I would probably outgrow it rather quickly).

I think it is about being able to set a realistic time frame for yourself. Although I have the press, I know that it will take me a few months to get everything together I need to start printing and I am fine with that. In the time it will take me to acquire the type, quoins, furniture etc I will spend some quality time cleaning up my press… which is also an important bonding experience in my opinion ;)

Like i said i have only the slightest idea. The purpose of this discussion was for me to realize how slight that idea was, so i deem this a success. I was able to utilize the help and expertise on the web at Briar Press to get an idea of what i am up against. I am a DIY kind of person, i would like to think that i can look at something and figure out how it works. Thats what i have been doing. I have been going to print shops around the country. Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Crayton Heritage in Charlotte, and The Art of the Book press in Charlottesville. I would simply like to make graphic, as in Graphic design not images of bad taste, posters. I think that a flat bed press is what i am looking for. I am going to be getting a bucket f ink in January from someone who has too much. I would simply like to get some fonts and roll out posters. The operation i see in my mind is very simple.But please tell me, everything is helpful. I would like to go to some shops n my area and try to learn, that is something i would like to do. I live in Canyon Lake Texas. Near by is San Antonio and Austin. There are several shops in town. Tahnk you again for replying.

Go hang out at the print museum in Houston!!

@woweber, for a second I thought you were talking about me:
“so you don’t end up $8k deep into a SP-15 with a welded handle and missing parts.”

That’s like my SP-15, only I paid $800 dollars for it…

@enriquevw, I have recently encountered at least two different SP-15 whose sales fetched far above what I would consider even a reasonable premium price. One was missing the feedboard, drum, chase, and and a broken handle that had been welded back. The machine was in rough shape although the rust was moderate and the bed had all the teeth. That press fetched $4500, and the other was in considerably better condition, again dirty (from sitting 15 years), and missing the rollers $7500. This seems to me to be irrational pricing.

Recently, I asked a pressman why he was selling all of his equipment. He replied that he was closing up shop, going out of business after 30+ years. I asked how much he was asking for his beat-up old blackball windmill. After a thirty minute story about how he’s been trying to sell his machine for five years, he blurted $6000. I told him about others in the similar condition were selling between $3-4000. There are currently 5 available within a 200 mile radius that all have a median price around 2500. I told him where I was a comfortable buyer, at which point he stated I had, “missed that mark.” Upon leaving, I thought to myself, who REALLY missed the mark.

It seems in the short time I’ve been a student to the arts, that I’ve watched a fair amount of folks out there A: Astronomically overprice machines when they know little to nothing about what they are selling, B: Newbies way over paying for a press that is closer to scrap than printable.

Not to discourage the new crowd, because they are the future of letterpress, but do your research first. Ask questions and seek knowledge, and don’t be afraid to try new things, but understand the capacity, and parameters of your work. Understand and appreciate the ways of yester-year, yet embrace the letterpress movement of today, become the next profitable press, thus being apart of the future, instead of, “Missing the mark”!

@woweber, I totally agree. Today I found a Miller Letterpress, huge machine, like the one posted in a recent thread of Miehle Cylinders spotted on ebay. The guy wants way more than 10 grand, but is missing rollers, etc.
He also has a Miehle Vertical with missing rollers. I have no clue how much he would want for that one.

I bought (in the uk) a 1950s american conversion vertical miehle for £700 , a british thompson for £500 for a printer to do his cutting and creasing on , I later replaced the thompson with a heidelberg pre war platen the cost including delivery (90) miles was £100. I cant understand myself why they are practically worthless in the uk yet the states are paying thousands for one . I do know that the bill for a £100 machine at the end of week one cost of lift and a weeks work on it to test and tune it up in its new home i charged £500 all inclusive , the truck and lift cost £150 . the platen was the usual £100. I took all the usable parts off its prdecessor including the grippers main platen shaft ,gripper casting uni gear for the windmill drive both arms complete and various bits of breakable stuff that normally gets bust on a move ,basically i gutted the thing and i pocketed £250 in cash and they got £100 scrap for the carcass, not all of us are robbing people on parts and repairs but the time it takes to strip for re use is to be paid for or i may as well go run a press for more money and less grime but i do it so as to keep practise for my own good .it gives me a huge edge over other minders as i am known that if i bust something i have it up and running in less than 24 hour usually within six but i always try to get
the job off and if i have to, go cannibalise ,i am almost anal in my hateof taper pins i cut the arms off so i could get at the bits to strip for re use .i even keep the shafting for making bits i need to mend another machine with!