Purchasing our first press

Hi there,

My husband and I own a boutique stationery studio and have been thinking for awhile about expanding into the beautiful art of letterpress.

While I know a few basics, I have no idea about what I should be looking for when it comes to purchasing a press.

Originally I was looking for a tabletop press to start out with but this press came across my desk and I’m hoping someone could assist me and let me know if it’s any good, what questions I should be asking and if it’s worth the amount the seller is asking.

It’s a Heidelberg and the listing states:
New jacket & some furniture supplied with machine. Maximum sheet size 38cm x 52cm.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Alternatively if anyone knows anybody in Australia selling a tabletop press could you let me know.


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Log in to reply   6 replies so far

Tabletop:Cylinder = Shovel:Bulldozer

A cylinder press of that size is good for tens of thousands of prints per day at ledger size and greater. It is a full-on production dreadnaught.

Presses for entry level production are more along the lines of smaller C&Ps, Golding Jobbers and the like.

A tabletop press is good for hobby work, but more than a couple hundred prints a day may grow tiresome.

Thanks for your reply AnonyMouse.

I thought that might be the case in regards to a cylinder press. It’s priced at $1,800, so was a bit weary as to why an industrial machine was going so cheap. Maybe we can hope for an increase in wholesale orders :)

We’ve been on the hunt for something like a C&P for awhile now, just haven’t had anything come across us especially being in Australia.

Looks like it’s back to the drawing board.


My first reaction was, “how neat.” Start with a real press, one that gives excellent results, can be used for short runs as well as longer ones, and doesn’t have the limitations and frustrations of a 3x5 Kelsey or some other “starter” press. There are so many people stumped by a 3x5 Kelsey, or any of the other light weight, quality challenged platen presses, that this Heidelberg just might be the way to really get into the stationery business. If Lisa starts with the normal routine we see over and over on Briar, she’ll give up long before she gets anywhere. I abandoned my new 6x10 Kelsey as a teenager in favor of a 10x15 C&P and I had that figured out as a 15 year-old.

The price of $1800, even figuring in a commercial move, is still quite a bargain over a Vandercook that may run as high as $16,000. The drawback of this Heidelberg is that it is most likely powered by a 3 phase motor and requires a substantial floor to sit on. It has its inking system and can walk circles around the quality produced on all the table tops, Pearls, worn out platens, etc. Heidelberg stopped supporting this model some years ago except for parts used on other presses.

Fritz Klinke

This is an excellent press, and has been stated by others, a real workhorse intended for commercial/industrial printing back when most everything was printed letterpress. I’d love to have one of these myself one day.

That said, some things to consider would be: What kind of state is this press in? Would you be able to tell if it’s worn or in good running condition? Will you be able to get training on running and maintaining this machine? It’s possible (though not ideal) to teach yourself to print on a hand-fed platen press. I’m guessing it would be close to impossible to teach yourself how to run this beastie. Also, the price may be indicative of wear or damage, or it may just be that the owner is having a hard time finding a buyer. It’s hard to tell over the internet.

I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s always wrong to jump in feet first into the deep end, but there’s diving in and then there’s cracking your head open on shallow rocks. If you do decide to go ahead with this press, I’d first try and find someone near to you who knows these machines, who can teach you to use them, and who can go with you to check this one over for potential issues. With that said, good luck!

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Two comments that I haven’t seen addressed above:

This is really not a short run, small sheet machine — unless you are always going to print in, say, black and can leave the press inked up, with ink treatment, for a few days of printing. Washup as well as inking could be lengthy processes. Business or greeting cards would probably have to be run multiple up for proper sheet handling.

Secondly, since there is a “new jacket” that implies that it has been used for diecutting, a process that can be rough on a press, especially if a lot has been done or it hasn’t been done carefully.

Those comments don’t mean you should reject the press out of hand, just that there are important considerations that may not have been considered.


This is great press ran one in the late 70s. This Heidelberg is great, until you have to clean the ink every time you run it. This press was designed for long runs and great ink coverage, but you have to put more ink than a small hand feed press, which means the cost of inking up and cleaning up is high.

Also, no one mentioned this, it take a lot of space. It the size of these new electric cars. And, the cost to move is high, it take equipment moving people to move this machine.

I would buy one if I had the room.

We never ran any stock smaller than 11x17 on it, seeing we had a Kluge to run cards and item less than 8.5x11.