starting business with an etching press

Hi everyone — I know a bit about printmaking (have an undergrad degree in it), but I’m rusty (haven’t done serious work in about 5 years), so I thought I’d post and see if anyone has any tips. Also, I just want to introduce myself, since this seems like a great community! After doing an engineering PhD & working a bit, I desperately want to get back into printmaking, and I want to try starting a business in it, high-end wedding invitations. I have the most experience using etching type presses. My school did have some old letterpress equipment and a tiny platen press… nothing self-inking. I’m considering buying a new Conrad table-top etching press for use with photo-polymer plates (from Boxcar), but I’ve never personally used this combination. Does anyone have any experience? Are the Conrads good quality? I guess it should be theoretically possible to do letterpress on an etching press, but I’m not sure about multiple layers/paper stretch etc. I know this’ll be a bit labor intensive, but it’s what I know how to do, so seems like a good place to start. Thanks a lot, and I hope to talk to more of you soon :)

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If letterpress-printed wedding invitations are your aim, then a letterpress-specific machine would be a far better choice. You might be able to hammer in a nail with a saw, but would you want to? ;)


Ok, fair enough! Running a business is new to me through… I guess I feel like I’ll have a steep enough learning curve with that, and I’d like to know what I’m doing with the printing at least! I’ve done lots of relief printing on etching presses, woodcut, lino, etc… so it seems like letterpress isn’t too far off from that.

To continue my use of bad analogies, would you think it would be advisable to start a business as a machinist with the tools and skill set of a carpenter?

I’d suggest getting some appropriate training first- you’ve got a lot to figure out before making promises to clients about their wedding invitations. Brides are not exactly forgiving clients. Where do you live?

As you know then it can be done. If the client does not care about consistent registration. Althought there are ways around that with pins.

You have a fair appraisal and outlook. You will have a steep learning curve. None of us claim to be masters. We practice with hope that we will become better.

Advice from The Arm is very good. Get some instruction and some experience with a mentor. The letterpress press is not a real sophisticated machine but it is not plug and play. It takes some adjustment from the printer to allow it to do the job intended.

Do say where you are. A number of us would help.

Get some ink on your shirt.

Thank you inky; I appreciated your response. The Arm as well. I am going to be located in Central Florida (in about a month), and I would definitely love to have some interaction with other printmakers in the area.

After watching some videos of the small platen presses, I can see the advantages. I will have to think a bit more about it… the etching press does seem more versatile though.

I agree with all the comments above.
There is good income to be made from collaborating on and editioning, high end, Fine Art using an Etching Press. For many years I editioned Etchings and Stone/Plate Lithographs for Artists and Galleries. I still do some of that work occasionally but for Letterpress work you cannot beat a Letterpress machine designed specifically for the job.
Having said that, there are some great ideas out there for converting Etching Presses into big Proof Presses to print Letterpress Posters.
Good luck with it all.

Well, I’m going for it. Talked to Tom Conrad today and my E15 will be here in 4 months! Thanks for all your advice everyone… I am planning on finding some letterpress workshops (although the selection is a bit thin in Florida) and hopefully my second press will be a platen… I just don’t feel like I know enough to buy a true letterpress with all the right parts yet, plus I can do some different and slightly larger things on the etching press. Should be a fun experiment anyway.

Hey there!
Thought I would chime in, both because I do letterpress on a Conrad Press (E-12) and because I am in Central Florida (Orlando).
Just as a disclaimer, I am by no means an expert on printing etchings or letterpress. I have dabbled in both, and just love making prints.
I would agree with the rest, that if you want to make 500 invites with precision with registration and color, then a Vandercook or platen press is the way to go. But, it can be done.
I have built a chase for my small, etching press – to be able to lock up my antique type and cuts and to also keep from crushing them (a must). You can see it in the picture uploaded. Registration can be a bit trickier, but I am only doing one or two color- and short runs. I am sure it can be accomplished better if you are just using polymer plates.
As far as places in town for letterpress (Orlando), there are a couple good places to start. Flying Horse Editions is a part of UCF (though it is downtown, not on campus). I have been to a couple open houses and known a couple students. They have quite a nice setup. I am not sure if it is only for student or if they have workshops or rental time.
A great letterpress studio (also downtown, on Orange, near lake Ivanhoe) is Mama’s Sauce. As a graphic designer, I have used them a couple times to produce some outstanding business cards. They do only polymer plates, but have great knowledge in all things letterpress. I know they do internships, but not sure if it is just for students.
Well just wanted to chime in and share a picture. Please let me know if you have questions or I can help lead you in the right direction. Hope your press has arrived by now. Super exciting, I’m sure.

image: ConradPress_w_ChaseBed.JPG


The $1800.00+ dollars you are spending on an etching press could have bought a pretty nice C&P with automatic inking. You won’t be able to produce fast enough to make a living with an etching press. If you are trying to compete with others that are able to produce faster with more accuracy and more consistent inking you simply won’t be able to do it with a press that has to be inked by hand. It will take you all day to produce the same amount of product that can be produced in an hour with a foot or motor powered letterpress style machine. Unfortunately, in the printing consumer world, fast and cheap is still the overwhelming demand. Not being able to do both will seriously hamper your ability to be commercially competitive. You probably would be better off making hand-etched invitations (for which you could likely demand a premium), rather than attempting to start a letterpress business with an etching press.


I’ve seem some very amazing “letterpress” printed on an etching press. Very amazing and not reproducible via any other method. Sure it is slow, so what? Do you want amazing or sort of same as same as?


I think the point was to start a wedding invitation business. There are people who will pay for slow printing, which can get very expensive, but not many of them. Plus, an etching press is not very suitable for printing small cards, and envelopes which are invariably part of the package. It can be done, but I wouldn’t wish to do it commercially.

I don’t understand why you would try to shoehorn a press like this into letterpress duty when there is plenty of real letterpress equipment that deserves rescue. It’s really barely profitable even with the best gear, I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to try and squeeze out wedding invitations on this press with a nervous wedding couple on the line.

Business takes business plan. Art work is something else. The song no money in poetry would be good to listen to. But if you know there is a market that will keep you in the green any way you do it that fits in a business plan will work.

I used an etching press in the beginning with photopolymer plates. Worked ok, but was a pain inking it all by hand (and wiping the bits you didn’t mean too). Registration on a single colour is a pain to do a quantity by eye (even with lines under acetate) I did do a 2 colour where you just keep the card trapped while you switch the polymer plates over - carefully. Get an Adana they are simple to operate dont worry about using one, same principles really ink it up and press. Pressure is adjusted behind where the chase is instead of on the rollers on the etching press.

Heres a pic of the 2 colour photopolymer plates I cobbled together to print on the etching press by making an acetate base the same size on both - I just drew a line around one under the acetate on the etching press plate and trapped the card after the first press lifted the first polymer plate out and replaced with the already inked second plate:[email protected]/14417021776/

the cards:[email protected]/14253546318/

I do not regret moving on to a letterpress at all, though I will be keeping my etching press as it has its proper application with drypoint etc (If I can find time)

Good luck and have fun!!

Thanks a lot guys for the new comments that have come in the past month. I did decide to go with the E-15 etching press… it should arrive any day now, but I’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern without it.

I ultimately decided to go with the etching press to give me more flexibility — I would like to do some larger artwork and poster type stuff as well, not solely wedding invitations. I also like the idea of doing actual etchings at some point.

Chris/OrlandoCreative — thanks for the local tips! It’s cool to hear that someone else in the area is doing what I hope to. I’m in Melbourne.

I have a couple of one-color invitation & announcement jobs for friends with all the supplies ready to go, except the press. I will report back on my success, or lack thereof shortly :)

Wow, pixieguk, I think you got great results. Something to consider until I have the space and $ to go old school. Thanks!

You are past amazing.

Our class of people are often too stubborn to listen.
Wedding invitations? Are people getting married anymore?

But then you may have set this fine fellow onto an enexpected path to printing greatness.