Faux letterpress tools/machines

I am certain I’m going to get flamed for even asking this question here, but hopefully I can get a little slack :)

I’ve been a very amateur printer for the last 5 years, just for my own enjoyment. I started printing renting time on Vandercooks and “graduated” to owning a Pilot. Unfortunately times have changed and I now have a 2 month old baby, moved to an area where I can’t easily get to a studio, and sold my Pilot because I needed the space for the nursery and didn’t have anywhere else to keep it, and didn’t have the time I used to have to press. Now I’m missing it and wishing I could do little projects, but don’t have the flexibility or time to go to a studio with the little one, so I’m looking for options I can do at home without the need for the space or upkeep a press requires.

So…..knowing full well that it’s blasphemous, that I won’t get the quality I’m used to doing it for real, and that it might actually be more effort/time to get decent prints….can anyone provide any opinion on the craft tools out there? I’m looking at the Epic L Letterpress and the Fiskars Fuse system and trying to figure out what might be a better option.

I read Boxcar’s writeup of the L Letterpress but I haven’t seen much discussion on the Fuse. The Fuse looks a little more heavy duty and it’s bigger so I could pull larger prints. But I can’t seem to find any writeups or reviews from people with any merit to comment on how it works if you are coming from a letterpress background (how difficult is it to use boxcar plates, can you use actual ink with it, etc).

I’m not sure anyone would have experience with them here, but if anyone does, I’d really appreciate any thoughts!

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You could also try finding a smaller, real proof press. I know there is a Line-o-Scribe model with a letter-size bed and a rather small footprint (likely a little bigger than the plastic thingies, but a much more solid construction). I’ve seen a couple of these on eBay recently going for around $200.

There are also the flatbed Adanas that are light, have inking rollers and aren’t as expensive as a platen. They don’t come up often, but I’ve seen people talk positively about them. Someone even mentioned bringing one on a plane in their carryon luggage!

If all you want to print are smaller items in short runs….
You might consider getting a nice rubber roller for hand inking,
and get an Akua “pin press”. It works with Akua ink, but ALSO with normal oil based inks.

I don’t think it would work too well for giant solids or ANY kind of type- but you sound like you’ll be printing from polymer anyhow.

From there it’s a matter of getting a flat piece of metal and a very nice sturdy low tabletop you can put some leverage into.

You could make bearers from scrap polymer plate (as I’m sure you read the procedure for this in Boxcar’s L Letterpress write up), and use the Pin Press to print with some bearers set up outside the inking area of your form. Get a sheet of red pressboard to use as a ‘tympan’ and you could even make a quick tape hinge to get crafty and make a ‘frisket’ if you’re careful.

It’ll be painfully slow, but it’ll work if you want to print this way and don’t want to invest in a press.

Good luck to you.

Okay, so I own an L. There, I said it. It’s out there. I’ll go put on my tinfoil hat and hide under the couch now. It was, to use the phrase loosely, my gateway drug though I had very limited letterpress experience in university. We now own two Pilots, one of which is still in need of serious TLC. Pilots are a step up from a gateway drug because now all I want is a proof press and an 8x12 to call myself “content.” (Is there such a thing? Probably not. Collecting printing presses is going to turn me into a crazy press lady, which I find more favorable than collecting cats.)

I have printed on the L for several projects, some of which have turned out awesome. I followed Boxcar’s “tweaks” by securing the base, buying a Speedball roller, and using photopolymer plates instead of the crappy Lifestyle crafts plates. I also use letterpress ink and not the yucky ink sold for the L. I’m a graphic designer and have made business cards, invitations, and notecards on the L.

It … is … time … consuming. Seriously. Brain numbing.

Like using a very small, slightly efficient (there’s a grid! that comes off when you clean the thing!) proof press, you ink each run by hand (ask Boxcar to send you the edges of all plates you order so you can use them like bowling gutters to keep your brayer level when you ink a plate). The Epic is loud and parts fall off because it’s all cheaply made and not for hard work. I’ve made mine work hard.

That said, any work I’ve ever done on the L has made me love my Pilot(s) more.

I’ve never seen the Fuse before (but now that I’ve looked it up I’m all interested in fiddling with it). Lifestyle Crafts has also come out with their Evolution which is more for die cutting with a magnetic base or whatever. Interesting uses, that. Especially if tweaked and played with.

I understand the need, and messing around with the L, especially finding the “sweet spot” with it (it’s possible! it’s there) has been fun and challenging … but what I can do in 2 hours on a platen press takes all friggin’ day on the L. Just to warn you. ;)

I think the L is great for blind embossing and deep impression. I’ve attached a couple of examples.

This will probably get me excommunicated and blacklisted, but the L isn’t a bad tool at all when you beat it and bend it to your will. Do I feel like I’m actually letterpress printing when I use it? N-no … not really. But some of the results aren’t so bad, especially for small runs of small projects with a limited number of colors.

It’s easy to troubleshoot, kind of interesting to tweak, and not a terrible awful way to mess around creatively with if you have the time (yes, I mean it when I say it takes forever … inking and cranking and inking … unless you’re used to a proof press …).

If the Fuse is larger and more heavy duty, I’d mess with that one. The screw has long since fallen out of my Epic crank, and my L bases are already bent with a slight curve from the number of times they’ve beed fed through the thing.

I hope that helps.


image: Using oil-based letterpress ink instead of the Lifestyle Crafts ink makes all the difference. I swear.

Using oil-based letterpress ink instead of the Lifestyle Crafts ink makes all the difference. I swear.

image: More printing on handmade paper.

More printing on handmade paper.

image: Printing on handmade paper turned out nice.

Printing on handmade paper turned out nice.

image: Blind impression (aka "inkless printed doodad"). More or less what the L was designed for, I think.

Blind impression (aka "inkless printed doodad"). More or less what the L was designed for, I think.

@HelloNifty I think you mean “blind deboss” or a blind hit. A Blind Emboss would mean that you were using a die and counter to create a raised impression on a non-inked position of the press sheet.

Very common mistake in terminology, but becoming more of an issue as the blind deboss becomes more popular.

@rontxhou, I tend to call it a blind impression when talking to people with no experience printing. Otherwise I find that they tend not to notice the difference between ‘deboss’ and ‘emboss’. :) It’s a heavy impression with no ink, so I feel it’s appropriate.

@Hello Nifty, those examples look pretty good. I can imagine they took some hard work and clever tweaking. My friend has one of those and she says its a pain to get working properly :)

@kimboe I agree that the term blind impression could be used in place of blind deboss particularly in a non-trade scenario. But, blind emboss which is what was used in the post is not the correct term for what is shown in the picture.

The terms emboss and deboss are diametrical vs interchangeable. Not a huge deal whatsoever, but I think that folks come here to learn and in this case your steak would be over cooked. :)

My point exactly, I use the term ‘impression’ to make sure they realize that their terminology is off. If I said ‘debossing’ the “average non-printer” wouldn’t necessarily hear a difference. I also try to resist going “oh, and *actually* ‘embossing’ uses two dies, a male and a female, to shape the paper from both sides and provide a sharper relief”. You know, to avoid seeming overly critical… ;)

Just thought somebody ought to thank Hello Nifty for her cogent and honest appraisal of the letterpress alternatives out there. Until somebody brings out a 5 x 8 (ala Kelsey) or a baby Showcard machine in the sub $1000 market, more folks are going to have to “make do” until they can secure better equipment.

We don’t have to “like” such equipment, but you can’t always get what you want, can you now?

You could try to find one of these presses, that have been around for years. They’re used to print linocuts on, but the ‘platen’ can be fixed in two different positions. The lower one for linocuts, the higher one for woodcuts. They don’t take up much space and are not too expensive either.

image: Picture 4.png

Picture 4.png

image: Picture 5.png

Picture 5.png

Thanks for the correction in terminology! I tend to get emboss/deboss/etc. confused on a regular basis, so I genuinely appreciate the clarity. The marketing for products like the L and the Fuse don’t always help keep the terms straight, either. “Inkless print doodad” may also work in a pinch, right? :)

Sometimes, I want to pinch you people because you all make me smile. I wish the internet came with faces and a cup of tea.

Anyway, now I want to give the Fuse a try … though, for the price, I really could just hold out for a proof press. Someone near me in Virginia will eventually want to sell theirs, right? I hope so.

I do hope that what I wrote will help you out, rachmcd! Saving up for an L or a Fuse takes a lot less time than saving up for another Pilot or even a proof press, and it may help scratch an itch even if it’s not a cure. Heehee.

I think I would use the word “blind impression” for the last image posted. The word “debossed” still does not sit well with me. Putting the prefix de indicates the removal of something that was present before.

Thank you all so much for the suggestions! I’m not sure why I didn’t even think of a Line-O-Scribe or something like that. I’ve never used any sort of a similar proof press so I think whether I decide to investigate the Fuse or the L or do a line-o-scribe it will probably be a big change from what I’m used to, so I’ll have to get used to the fact that it’s not going to be quite as simple as it was before :(

But thanks Hello Nifty for the extensive writeup, I really appreciate that and the pics and the honest description of what I could expect…and most of all being willing to come out of the L Letterpress closet!!

Since I’m also kind of interested in doing die cutting for projects, and Jo-Anns has a great sale on the Fuse, I might get that and play around with it just to see, but will probably start looking at small proof presses and see if I could make a setup like that work in my house!