at-home tabletop studio design/setup

Hi all!

I am fairly new to letterpress. I have trained and printed at the IPRC in Portland, Oregon, and just got my first press, a Craftsmen 5x8. I am working on setting up a small studio in my basement, and would LOVE to (a) see photos of anyone else’s small, tabletop studio (i.e. the furniture/benches/table you built for a workspace, other work surfaces, storage, etc.), and (b) know what you think are the top considerations when designing a workspace (what to include, things you wish you’d done/bought/built, etc.).

I’d also love any general advice you have regarding starting out as a small press. I do hope to sell stuff, and I do know it’ll be a nearly 24/7 job to promote my stuff. Please stick to positive advice, if you can!

Any and all advice is welcome! My budget is teensy-tiny, like a 6 pt font! I’ll probably start building in late Jan, early Feb 2014, so please BRING IT ON (the advice).

Katie Gibbs,
proprietor of the future EverettStreetPress.

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Check out utube, lots of videos of different shops and presses. Good luck Dick G.

Check out utube, lots of videos of different shops and presses. Good luck Dick G.

Katie Gibbs,
Isn’t there a school named after you?
Seriously there is plenty of good advice here on BP.
You may want to get the book Letterpress Now by Jessica White which is available through a number of sources including Boxcar Press and Amazon.
Good Luck,
Oh, also make friends with a local printer for courtesy cutting and some great paper off-cuts.

Thanks. I have found just one post on the whole internet that specifically talks about the building of a letterpress workstation, and that was just for the press itself. Most of the other things I’ve come across are (a) pre-built (e.g. an existing countertop), or (b) examples of much larger spaces. I literally have about a 9’x7’ area to work with, and can only build a bench/worktable along a 7’ wall in my basement. I need to be really efficient about space usage. I am hoping that someone with a very small tabletop platen press studio can show me how they set it up. I am especially interested in storage space for type (I got 4 CA job cases).

I have review the book Letterpress Now, and I might get it, but I already have the book “A 21st Century Guide to the Letterpress Business,” which is pretty thorough. Money is super tight; I make $425 a month on unemployment and my husband’s entire paycheck goes toward household expenses.

Which reminds me, if anyone is getting rid of any letterpress stuff and you can part with it for cheap, let me know!

Photos of spaces, anyone?

I am so grateful for BriarPress and all the resources it provides!!!

- Katie


Take a look at the table in this post on ebay;

This setup is pretty pricey, but still, the table is just such a great functional & practical design. Maximizes efficiency on a small footprint. Maybe you can recreate something like this…

Katie, Welcome to the crazy world of Letterpress Revival !!
I offer the following:- in the mid 70,s when Letterpress was desparately trying to keep up with Litho, (but failed eventually anyway) slightly bigger firms promoted or employed a **TIME & MOTION EXPERT** the main thrust of his efforts was to make a string diagram of every movement, between all relevant points, in the print shop.
When the really heavy concentrations, of string, showed that certain journeys between the main logical points of production, were seen to be inefficient, & time consuming, it was re arranged accordingly.
The thrust of my efforts, could well be scaled down thus, with your limited space in mind, just as a hypothetical example, full length bench/worktop at you exact ideal height, (even possibly take into account which hand you work to) for feeding your machine, your lock up area, as close to the machine as practical/possible, your paper knock up area, as next practical/possible, if possible/practical tiny area for mixing ink, if you go that route, ditto, tiny area for hand setting/composing, wall mounted, above the bench, a calibrated, lead/furniture rack, always very desireable to store and access the spacing in regular use, etc etc to the limit of your space and the need of you requirements.!!!
But possibly by using One piece of heavy duty Melamine work top at 2” thick, always with a return on the front edge to exclude, virtually any liquid that you throw at it, including print solvents/chemicals!!! and of course sealed at the back with proprietry brand silicone sealant (maybe even that used on Auto Engines)??
Then under the work top, just for example, tiny rack, akin to a kitchen drainer style, with 2/3/4/ divisions at a slight angle for chases, close under the machine, shortest route etc etc. and then drawers or shelving, under, for paper ink etc etc.
If possible the shelving spaced so that in the future, in the absence of shed loads of money, or access to a friendly Cabinet Maker, keeping ones eyes peeled, for unloved unwanted, home units with, retrievable drawers, for re utilization, kitchen cabinet , *Cutlery Drawers* really make excellent, print storage units, especially the type that are sub-divided for Knives, Forks etc, and with flat shelves, no need for runners, just a little candle wax on the bottom side runners??? . .Rubber mat, or small area of cushion floor where you will spend most of the time standing, hopefully.
With just a teeny sense of humour, High Heels, Flatties or Rigger Boots, Please Excuse Me, but in any case think of the Toe Nail varnish, soluble with some print chemicals???
****All just options for re think re plan, hopefully of use.****
Apologies if it be rubbish, Good Luck. Mick . >U. K.< ???

My own tiny hobby shop occupies a corner of a rather small bedroom. Far from an ideal setup, but I’ll take some pictures to show how things fit. The top surface of the type cabinet serves for composing, imposing, ink mixing, feeding, and actual printing (the 5x8 Kelsey sits there as well). Ink, furniture, spacers and other pressroom essentials are stored in boxes.

I do the cleanup (rollers, disk, form) outside on the porch.

Then of course, there’s the second, ultra small printshop that fits entirely inside a toolchest, but there’s precious little you can hope to print with it :)

I made a heap of mistakes when making my studio but I think like Mick above you need to define activities and allocate space so that a logical sequence is followed. Such as press feed side/ delivery side. Ink mixing and storage (small trolly heavy glass top for mixing Shelves underneath. A lock up area and underneath, storage of fonts. Furniture stacked in view in front of lock up area. A finishing area, for folding, wrapping etc. Somewhere for sitting around designing, writing invoices, and sitting thinking! There are must be benchtop activities, and every benchtop should have shelving underneath. A tool box.
My big failure was not enough paper storage. 9x7 should give you a pretty good space. I’ve had good darkrooms too about that size. So I’d start with a activity list, maybe cut out little squares and do arrangements. Good luck. It is fun too!

Katie Gibbs,
(I love using you whole name), send me your address -off line- and I will send you a copy of the book. Although I’ve been printing for over 30 years, I liked it so much I bought several copies.
(SV[email protected])

Katie Gibbs,
(I love using you whole name), send me your address -off line- and I will send you a copy of the book. Although I’ve been printing for over 30 years, I liked it so much I bought several copies.
(SV[email protected])

WOW! Thanks so much, everyone! I loved the letterpress workstation I saw on eBay (and I’d seen it before, but that was before I had the press, so I think I just saw the price and dismissed it). I had vaguely thought about workflow-based planning, but a couple of you guys pointed out some specific things to consider in this regard. Also, I hadn’t even thought about paper storage! So between your specific ideas, and the general ways to approach the room/workstation design, I think I have a really great start!

Oprion, I’d love to see some pics of your small room studio.

This is all very exciting!

Again, thanks!


Lasimp, Thanks for the little nod appreciated! and I am sure of help to K.G. to formulate a plan, on a shoestring, and in a teeny space.

Oprion , Dont knock the tiny print shop!!! Never done Jim Rockford, A.K.A. James Garner, with His tiny outfit in the back of His Pontiac, any harm whatsoever, pulled a few Impressions, and a few *J* turns!!! Was it (the machine) ever shown/seen or disclosed, Dont think we ever saw here in the U.K. Perhaps our P.C. Brigade thought it was too sensitive or informative.?????

To Mick:

Ain’t movie magic great?

As promised, my super-tight printshop.

A larger version with annotations:[email protected]/11865941996/

image: supertight.jpg


In Australia we have sheds out “the back”, to work in. So lighting is often not a problem, as there are good windows. I like this picture because it shows a basement or a spare room might present a big lighting problem. Bang in the middle is a good light.The other thing is closeness to hand washing and storage of rags etc. keep the fumes down, and make sure you have really good lighting. I wear reading glasses, so I bought heaps of cheap reading glasses and just scatter them about! I’ve been setting poetry all day and standing. type case on hand, but spacing material has to be scrounged from previous formes, and other cases. Made me think about how much I walk just typesetting. in my darkroom I have about a 6foot walk between enlarger and trays. not good.

Oprion, Sir, thank you, but the dirty great image of the f***y (as in flatulence for the P.C. brigade) little press is still slightly SUSPECT!
Just the sort of thing that possibly, gives the New Ones,
the *outside the box thinking* as it did me up to a point, when I saw for the first time, (and started learning) A 5 x 3 Adana, Apparently printing a 10 x 8 ish sheet, very shortly after shown, in the actual case, of the School letterhead, laid to the right for half the L/head, laid to the left, for the other half, including the School,s Title, . .Set in 24 or 30 point, Gill Sans Bold, (That was all the large type that came with Adana starter kits, then!!) … and then the small print, under the obligatory line at the bottom! of course, 2 Passes, Upside Down . . and the only slight failure, because of the size of the paper, the miniscule size of, The machine, and the crude, arrangement of the Lay Bar and the Lay Pins, the almost full out cross rule, in Red as opposed to the Black, did not align very well!
But Hey!!! 2 Colour, from a Baby Adana, looked, “fair to middlin” Not many other options, there was only Red and Black in the starter Kit, Then!!
Thanks Mick.

Hey prion1
too neat!! old saying in printing - neatness means your going broke!! Its a bit “kitchen” and not studio !
Seriously - its a nice space..How many fonts would a beginner need. H&M run a great deal out of west coast US. 14pt and 12 pt of a range. and they have a superb mail order service. Even Centaur, my favourite Roman. when setting I like light jazz or insightfull music, not musak. Letterpress is the art of arranging. A nice little work space just helps that mental flow, if you know what I mean. Learning to view the work on the stone (in imagination) is important.

Ooooh. Thanks for the pics. I hate to sound cliché, but a picture IS worth a thousand words in this case. Oprion, I have a bit more space to work with—say, three times that width. But what really helps is seeing how/where you store all the accessories. Oh, and that ATeam movie clip? Brilliant. Someone on here is throwing together a list of movies with printing presses featured in them.

I’ll update as things come along!

Re K.M.s Movies with printing presses etc, A good one to be included possibly! (which has probably been aired on B.P. before!!) *THE COUNTERFEITERS* 2007, True story, technically fairly accurate, about forced Counterfeiting, during W W II, and from a PRINT point of view, *Collotype versus Rotogravure* Brilliant!!! . .

That movie is based on a great book by a H. survivor Adolf Burger. Quite a read.

Speaking of counterfeiting, all the pressroom scenes from the movie “Le Cave se rebiffe” (The Counterfeiters of Paris) 1961 in one clip:

Oprion, thanks, enjoyed the french connection, even without subtitles!! will now have to have a little trawl, to possibly identify some of the hardware???… B****y Litho Minder with the side panel of the single colour, The french were/are a bit Gung Ho, as you would probably say Stateside?? Ta!

Hi Katie,

I live in Portland (actually Vancouver, WA) and also trained at the IPRC. I’m in the beginning stages of setting up my shop for my tabletop press too. We should try to connect to discuss!

[email protected]

I found that this IKEA kitchen utility cart:
makes a great little cart for ink mixing/storage. I had a local glass place cut a piece to fit in the top tray for mixing ink, and then I store the knives, pantone book, etc. in the drawer and cans of ink, rags, etc. on the shelves below.

This is not a workspace for a tabletop press (at least, not yet), but here are a couple of pictures of my composition area. This is all in a small space behind the fireplace in my house that is a combination of storage and workspace. The composing area is about 7’ x 9’ or so.

And here’s my press area. This is out in the back of the shed.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

I like this Ikea unit as well, a slab of stone on it, and a couple of boxes underneath it, perfect.

image: P1010559.JPG


Thomas, that’s pretty nice. Saw the other two legs shorter and put casters on to match the first two, and you pretty much have a printers’ turtle.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN