Which letterpress suits my needs best?

I’m trying to start a small publishing company and I’m interested in printing some of the books in letterpress. It would also be used for advertisement such as posters, business cards, and the like. I’m guessing we should start at a medium sized (?) letterpress, to avoid feeling like we should’ve bought a bigger one once we start printing. Right now we’re located in Barcelona, so if anyone has any idea as to where we could start it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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What are you trying to spend- and how many books are you talking about making?

The difference between a small and medium letterpress is kind of enormous. The difference between a large and medium is enormous as well.

If you’re talking about shorter runs of about 3-4 hundred, a flatbed proof press with auto inking (and possibly an auto-carriage) might do the trick (coupled with a knowledgable and capable operator). A press like that would allow you to accomplish some of the other jobs you’ve listed fairly easily too, but honestly, for books and publishing on a larger/longer scale, I wouldn’t pick a vandercook or similar. I’d pick a real production press.

A note on price- A vandercook these days in good working condition which can accomplish most of the options you’re looking at ranges between 8-18 thousand dollars for the press alone.
But that is because they are probably the most user friendly, commonly known, and basically principled of the types of presses you could choose, and turn out good work with novice experience- and excellent work with decent experience.

These are manual machines with manual results, though, and don’t take my statements about quality to mean that they will suffer a fool any more than an automatic press will.

In fact, neither type of press would suffer a fool any more than a bus bearing down on a pigeon will.

However, for small format book work in large quantities of contiguous color (meaning the entire interior is black text with sparse illustrations), I would be looking for an automatic press like a Heidelberg Cylinder (for around 8-10 grand if it’s in really good condition), and a pressman who knew how to run one (who you could staff into the publishing company on a full time basis). If you’re a tiny publishing company just starting out, this may not be your budget option. If you’re a company with a budget looking to make a splash (is that possible?), you might think of this as the best option.

If you want to print anything efficiently as far as books are concerned and keep the costs at a manageable level, you’re probably looking at something more like an automatic sheet fed press and a polymer plate system to couple it with. If you got an imagesetter and a platemaker and trained someone to operate this in house, you’re probably looking at around 12-16 grand for used equipment- and you’ll be spending a little time looking for it in the meantime, as well.

You need to find someone who knows what they’re doing in each field, too, because an expert at running a cylinder is not always an expert at platemaking, and viceversa.

However, finding good running equipment like this, moving it into a facility, and making sure it’s up to the task you have in mind is no small feat. You’ll probably have to start out like most folks who are hobby printers/printers without a pre-press setup, and order your plates from a service bureau. From there you can look into the costs/availability of imagesetter films local to you, and then find out if it’s feasible for you to process the plates yourself.

The other possible point is- if this is all too much information for you, you have more homework to do before asking about a press that will work for you ;-)

Best advised to look at a cylinder if you are worried about being too small or too slow, however such a venture is to be looked into carefully ,considering the man labour, space and costs involved . If you have publishing experience then look for a printer up to the task that can take your work on and after working with them look into the options , if you have no printing press experience you are going to discover that a press is not like your typical office printer with one button . To get the kit together and discover you arent able to cover cost is a sore lesson . having said that i would add that good letterpress works nicely bound can be very pleasing to read and own and today there should be more of it .
As i was writing ,Haven added the above and i have to wholeheartedly agree with him , although his prices should be £ sterling not dollars for the cost of a heidelberg worth having .

Oh, and both of you are in the European market- I was looking at the american market, I think it’s much different.

I especially agree with Peter’s sentiment that there should be much more of it :-)


Vandercook type press in Brandenburg Germany for sale possibly still-check it out to see what you think, also other presses on sites on earlier posts of mine

Lacks the feed board which is a minimal problem.


Wow! I didn’t expect so much information. Thank you so much!
I guess I still have a lot of reading to do, if anyone could point me in the right direction?

We’re thinking maybe a thousand copies for each potential book. We have no problem in learning how to letterpress because we want a hands on approach. It will take us a year, approx., to follow through and solidify our plans therefore we’re in no hurry. We just want to prepare ourselves 100% before we settle down.
What we do know is that we want an artisanal approach to the book, hence why we’re going with letterpress, and we want to be able to do it ourselves and for there to be as much human intervention as possible.
Thank you all for your replies. I thought no one had answered because I was expecting an email to notify me if anyone did reply, but I stumbled in today to find all of your replies :) so thanks.

FAG in Europe sells their reconditioned cylinder presses.


Good luck!