Is it time to walk away?

I am so depress right now, I can’t deal with it any more. Over the past two years, I have put all my savings and monthly income from my second job into this shop.

I have printed items as gifts to business, just to show off my work. Everyone is very happy and notice the sharp clean type and printing on great stock.

But, when it comes time to place a printing order, they go with some other printer, their answer to my asking why, it always the same, I forgot you did printing, thought it was a hobby.

I look at all the letterpress work on the internet, it all designer work, I am NOT a designer. I am doing good to draw a check from my two jobs.

What so I do? I only have two weeks pay left in my checking after cleaning out my savings.

I can’t live with no money in bank and no fun from my shop.

It NOT fun any more! No one comes to visit the shop!

Everyone that comes over are repair people at $100 an hour.

What should I do?

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This sucks big time! We have been a commercial letterpress shop since 1945 and all was well until instant printers came along. To stay alive we got involved with them and larger offset shops to do what they couldn’t: die cutting, embossing, numbering, and later, foil stamping. Then along came designers with a need for deep impression wedding stationery and voila we were as busy as ever! So if I were you I would call on other printers and stationers and designers,, show them what you can do and see where it goes. As for the deep impression we don’t use our type just send their files to Owosso Graphic Arts, get a deep etch cut and fire away. As you have an Intertype you could sell your own typesetting too. As for the cuts we mark them up 30% so there is some profit there. Good luck and don’t give up. Stuart

I don’t see on your web site examples of the finely crafted work that you have done……..get in touch more directly with promotional companies, ie those who work in the promotion business who would use your products for their clients?
Run classes in printing locally? Get associated with local literary classes/groups , poetry classes/groups/book arts etc etc etc so they can print with you/commission? Any grants available from local educational type boards/authorities charitable /patronage type groups. associations so you can offer apprenticeships/placements to…….? Asess the local competition -how can you be different……offer training to local modern printers for their new staff to understand letterpress history/skills?

I started out setting up a letterpress shop last fall when i turned 65 having worked in my Dad’s shop from an early age. My brothers all laughed at me and said Dad never made any money in printing (1933-1971 was the life of the shop) so what makes you think that you will? I don’t think that there is any money in letterpress printing except maybe die cutting for digital and offset printers.

Anyone who goes to the national stationery show in NYC will see there is money in letterpress… Look at the big players; they would not bother if there were no profits, despite many new printers also competing for a share of the market.

Running an independent business is hard work and not for everybody, but the market is there for quality handmade goods. I would consider partnering with a local designer who has an affinity for custom goods and is willing to collaborate with a production person such as yourself. Develop a business plan and move on it.

stevebarry yes there is NO money in letterpress printing. I wasn’t want to make money, just cash flow.

When family, friends and business people I have know for years can’t remember I do printing it HURTS!

I just wanted to have friends and family stop by at times, and get so nothing job for a few bucks and visit.





Looking at the examples on your website, you really need a designer on your team. Go to your local college, offer an unpaid internship to design students, promising to teach them something about the letterpress trade in exchange for nice graphics (images for the website, custom design for clients)

You get: free design work, companionship, promotion (as the students will share their activities all over the social media (twitter/facebook/pinterest/behance).

Best of all, you’ll pass on your knowledge and expertise to future generations.

I have friends that are designers, I have a brother and his business partner that are major graphic designers.
NO ONE WANTS TO HELP. I offer them money for their work and they all turned me down!

In fact on my birthday, he told me about all the printing he order over the past few months.

And my other brother sends me little laser printed ads he mails out, he also told me, he rather do it on his laser printer than pay cost to print them for him!

I printed 500 8.5x11 forms for one of my doctors that had a poorly printed information form, for FREE!


Established, professional designers are a different matter. Design students, on the other hand, are desperately looking for internships as part of their curriculum. Offer them a place in a real letterpress printshop, they’ll probably jump at the opportunity. I know I would’ve.

A.D. Dont give up too quickly. It is of course appreciated that the Goegraphy may be against you, i.e, if you ere out of town or 50 miles from the interstate, following may be tricky.!
However way back it was quite normal for one such as yourself to become despondent and contemplate *throwing in the Towel*.
Follows an actual example, One of Many in a comparatively small City, before it was even a city.!! :-Guy comes into my worshop, Smart Suit, Fancy Monogram on the jacket etc. Very impressive *Crest* on the Portfolio/Brief case, well stocked with a whole range of printed ephemera, 2/3 maybe more Ink Sample colour books, Several wallets of paper sample,s etc. etc.
All the Cheeky S**, did was to tour Factory estates, Popular Shopping Precinct,s Smaller High Street,s and merely *Sold* Print from his Portfolio.
The best bit, he knew Virtually nothing about print, the first few Jobs he Blagged his way through, went straight to people like Myself (I really only cast Type and used My Thompson for repro`s) & several others, Proper Printers, Leaned on Them and I for generous discounts for several orders, delivered good print to his customers, initially for the first year Cash on Delivery.??
We called them “Print Farmers” They paid Cash on Collection from the Guys, hanging on the Impression handle, who did not have to do the Leg work.

Every body was happy, perhaps the Revenue? I.R.S. would have been less than impressed, but as we say here U.K. “What the eye does not see, the Heart does not grieve” Guarantee, (your) Willy Nelson, would have appreciated that one.?

Aaron, is it worth just a little try, along those lines BEFORE you give up, by implication you would seem to have a Good Grounding already !1

Nil Desperandum, Go down Fighting at least, & possibly keep in mind, what percentage of these ALLEGED Designers, Typographers, Lay out Artists, etc.etc. have had formal training, if any.
.Good Luck, Hang in there, Mick

Aaron, i can feel your pain.

I went through the same thing that you are going through some years ago, and it almost caused me to quit entirely.

Please excuse me for being frank, but the problem that you are experiencing is caused by this: You are targeting general printing like letterheads, invitations and business cards which are bought nowadays from companies that use very fast and cheap equipment…. at very low prices.

Even though letterpress produces a far more beautiful product, the general public does not appreciate it…. and thus go buy from who-ever is cheap / convenient / has the bigger advertising budget. So, as long as you try to compete head to head with those guys, you will be fighting an uphill battle.

Get away from the routine / boring / mundane stuff….. you can’t compete in that market. No matter how beautiful your Doctor’s Office forms are, they are still just forms and nobody other than you cares if they are great. Most folks are just fine with Xerox copies of forms.

The problem is one of perception. Until your market understands that your work is better, AND THEY NEED BETTER STUFF they will not pay for it…. in fact, they may not even think about you when making purchases.

So… how do you make them understand? You can’t MAKE them understand. All you can do is show as many of them as possible how fantastic your work is, and if they understand it, great. if not, there’s not a lot more you can do. Some of them will appreciate your work, and become customers.

And how do you show them? WITH EXAMPLES…… with photos on your website. LOTS of photos….. with advertising postcards that you print and mail to them….. with a sample book that they can come in and look at….. with TV exposure you might get from your local news “people interest” stories…. with your own cards that should be FABULOUS…. with radio ads that say “while you can buy cheaper printing, you can’t buy BETTER printing”…. with little calendars that they can put on their desks….. (good ones that you do yourself that make them want to deal with you) …..with “limited edition” booklets that you give away…. with inspirational posters for their walls….. and so forth and so on.

AND on each of those things, be sure to include your message “Aaron does the BEST work that money can buy.” If they think you are the best (and you probably ARE) they will pay you to do their higher-end work.

About designers: I’ve never worked with them. I always do my own design work….. but then again, my background has always been in the “design and print” field. If I were you, I’d either link up with a designer OR hire one on a piece-per-piece basis to do the design part for you. there’s no shame in farming-out what you can’t do yourself.

One more tip: folks in the Arts / higher society (or those who want to think they are) are more appreciative of the finer aspects of letterpress. Become a salesman…. go to art shows, gallery openings, wine tastings, Polo matches, culinary schools, bridal shows, Charity events…. and anywhere else that the upper, possibly snooty, and hopefully appreciative folks hang out….. and give as many of your cards away as possible.

(I know, I know….. you are thinking that it might be intrusive, or difficult, or embarassing…. but trust me, if you dress appropriately and jump right in, the waters will not be as cold as you think.)

Make the cards as FABBO as you can… and NOT conservative, boring, corporate style…. Make them REALLY stand out, and give them away to everyone you meet. The idea is for potential customers to say “WOW! Isn’t that COOL!!” and then think of you when they need something special printed.

if your card is boring, it will get tossed into the garbage no matter how technically perfect it might be.

so that’s it…. ditch the boring mundane stuff, and SELL the higher quality work. (and I mean go out and actively sell it….. no matter how good it is, it won’t sell itself.) If you can’t design it yourself, find someone who can.

Houston is a big city. I have no doubt that there are hundreds of people who would love your work, if they only knew about it. Go design and print your FABBO buisness cards, find that designer if you need to, and SELL SELL SELL…… you can do it.

Aaron David
Your website’s pricing needs some work business cards $45.00 each ? 500 would check out at 22.5k This may be driving work away.


There is a lot of good advice in this thread that you really can’t afford to overlook. You need to work with a designer, and you need to get some photos of your work on your website. Also, some videos/photographs of your letterpress establishment will help to give you some credibility.

You’ve mentioned before that you work two jobs, which can’t be leaving you with a lot of energy left over to develop your printing business. Have you considered cutting back your hours at one of the jobs? I know that’s going to leave you short on cash, but that might free up enough time and energy that you can fill the void with the profits from your printing business. If anything, relying on your printing business to pay the bills will certainly be motivating.

I want to thank everyone that have reply.

As for as the form, I did 200 two sided 8.5x11 forms for a moving company today. At copy center prices as a guide, I made $40 over cost.

But, going back to depression, my brother is a professional ad agency owner. He has done major TV ads and million dollar ad projects for major companies all his life. He is also a professional artist that sales his artwork at art shows. I have asked him many times, to shot a videos/photographs of my shop and items. He told me find someone else.

I hired people to do my website, over the years, they just took my money and told me I was crazy to be in the printing business.

Aaron, Your passion for printing is obvious. I think, though, that it is unrealistic to think you can make money from your printing business.

If you had been established for a long time, you probably could make a little money, over your overhead, working at it full-time.

But your overhead, just rental for your shop is too high to make it profitable starting out, especially part-time, as design is not your long suit. You love to print, obviously. You would do better to print for fun.

I don’t know if you have any space where you live, but many printers make do with a table top press and the basics needed, maybe a cabinet or two of handset type.

I have heard that Steve Saxe has his print shop in his living room. Space is at a premium in New York City! Rather than hang it up, realize that you don’t have the business skills or design skills needed to run a profitable commercial shop. Nor the TIME. Not many people do. And those that do, are doing it as a full time business, and work long hours to bring in money to make it profitable.

It has become more of an art form for most “printers” than a print shop. Or they have found special “niches” that they can fill because they are gifted at design, and/or make funny cards that people can’t find anywhere else. Many who are successful have a history as commercial illustrators or graphic designers, and have added letterpress to what they do. Lacking that background, you are competing with much cheaper modern processes. It just won’t work. Who was it who said, “Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” I’m not trying to insult you; I’m sure you’re smart enough, and have plenty of experience in printing. But you can’t keep doing what you’re doing and expect it to work, when it hasn’t worked for however long you’ve been doing this—a year? Two years?

You have a shop full of expensive presses and equipment. I would advise that you use whatever small space you can make available in your house to print for pleasure, buy a small press that will fit in the space, Most of the printing equipment in your shop, which would be too big to keep, is worth some money, and there are printers who will buy it. Sell it on eBay, or on Briar Press, with an asking price, OBO.

I’ve read your correspondence to LETPRESS for quite some time, and I think you’ve given this your best shot. Fifty percent of all new business fail. So you have plenty of company.

Now, why not try printing on a small scale, at a price you can afford, and print poems or greeting cards, or favorite quotations, or whatever appeals to you, and I think you will continue to have the joy of printing, without having to worry about how much it is costing you, that you can’t afford. Anyone would be stressed and depressed, if they were in the situation you have created, with good intentions, for yourself. It just isn’t working.

I don’t believe people are necessarily telling you the truth regarding their reasons for not using your services. They may very well feel they can get better design at a more affordable cost from someone else. That, I think, is the problem. Don’t dwell on that; they are most likely trying to be kind. Cut your losses. Get out of the expensive shop you are in. Store your equipment that you plan to sell—storage space is much cheaper than shop space. Set up a small shop at home—if nothing else, Adana still is making presses, which fit on a table top, and can be bought from their factory in the UK. If you have to buy a new small press, such as an Adana, or any of a number of other table top presses available in this country, wait until you have sold your current presses, and have the cash to buy one.

All of the people who have offered suggestions on this list are well-meaning, but these suggestions have been made to you before, and you have not acted on them. I don’t think you have the skills it takes to run a business. Don’t feel bad about that—most people go to college and get a master’s degree in business management to run a business. It is not an easy thing to do. Most people can’t do it. I’m certainly not good at it. I think I’m a good printer, but I haven’t made any money printing. I’m a good wood engraver, but have yet to make a profit doing that either.

In summary, you will be happier if you give up the idea of making a profit by letterpress printing, and print for your own enjoyment, on a smaller scale that you CAN afford. You may not have much space at home, but no one on this list can do anything about that. Consider moving, or study ways to use your existing space for more than one purpose.

I once was doing silver working out of a one-bedroom apartment, and at another time, I was developing and printing black and white photographs in my bathroom. If you really want to print, you can find a way to do it affordably.

Once you make a plan to do this, and begin to act on it, I think you will feel much better.

If you give away your work then it will not have value. You have to figure out whether you are printing because you love to print, or because you wish to make a comfy living at it - they don’t always go hand in hand. I went through a period where I did gratis work so that the customer ‘could try me out’, but it was never followed by repeat orders. You could work with a designer, but that just means that the designer will keep most of the money, and just give you enough to string you along until they find someone cheaper. Printing has always been a bottom-line business, how cheap can the customer get it? The customer who is willing to pay top price is rare indeed.

Right now the letterpress greeting card business seems to be the most active area of selling. I see so many cards in book stores, and stationery and specialty shops. It seems like that might be a venue that could pay for your bottom line, and allow you the time to develop other aspects of your business.

Bemoaning that no one comes to your shop just means that you have not given them a reason to come (personally I prefer not to be bothered while I’m working, but then I’m no longer soliciting customers either).You need to evaluate your entire business model, evaluate your pricing, put a sample book of your work together, and spend some time pounding the pavement looking for the customers you want.


While I said that there was no money in letterpress printing, my father supported a wife and nine children out in the boondocks doing it. Still, there are much better ways to make money.

Question on price on my website?

The prices are for the qty list in the description.

Price for 500 cards is $xs.

So, if you select 3 which would be 1,500 cards the price at check 3 times the amount per 500.

I live in a one bedroom condo on the 16th floor of a high rise.

I am confused? It was only 3-4 months ago that you were boasting about having spent $10k on equipment and had another $5k to go before being able to get a print? Plus, you posted you would buy a Heidelberg if only you had more space. Now its NOT fun anymore and you are two weeks from cleaning out your checking acct. despite working 80 hours? Then after a bunch of folks give well meaning replies, your best effort is to publicly shame your brother. Given your disdain for Obama, rich people and Robert Bringhurst for printing in China, I can’t say I have anything helpful to say except consider that the fun you were having, was the process of purchasing equipment. Thats called being a collector. Its what I am and the sad little pieces I print off a 130 yr old proof press look just great after my four year old decorates them. I would hope if you printed things and donated them to children to decorate, you might find printing to be incredibly fun.

image: fathersday.jpg


confirm greetings cards go down well here, eg
sell at about £3.50 each

does loads and loads, cos I know the printer that prints about a 1000 every week


Houston is a big city. You might check with universities and community colleges as to whether there is one which would be interested in setting up a letterpress printing shop, to which you could offer to donate your presses and intertype or linotype—I forget which it is that you have—and volunteer to help setting it up and doing maintenance, and doing some of the teaching, especially with the intertype. It seems to me that it is the PROCESS of printing which makes you happy, more than anything else.

If not a college, there might be an artists cooperative which would be interested. This would give you a place where you could access the printing equipment at no cost to yourself; and you could get a tax break for the donation. Otherwise, I still think the best bet is to downsize to your living quarters, humble though they may be. I doubt if Steve Saxe, in New York City, has any more room than you do.

Greeting cards can be very successful if you have the exceptional artistic gift to design them well, and the ability to somehow appeal to the current aesthetic, but I think your skills lie with printing, not with designing. Continuing discussion of things that work, but for one reason or another, you can’t do, is not productive.

You really need to cut your losses with regard to the ongoing overhead costs for rental of your shop space.

Do you still have that Little Giant?

just wondered how Aaron was doing…………….

When, I just do not know how to reply. The equipment is working, and the shop a big mess.

I mail out samples, free jobs to people, calendar, note pads. etc. I mail out or do free jobs all the time.


The thought of all my collection of Lino and Ludlow mat and equipment going to the scape mill drives me crazy.

But, how long can I crazy old man me pay $700 for rent each month and get NO money coming in?

I have NO plans to give my equipment to the BIG MONEY people here in TEXAS, that want it for show!

I asked for them to come and visit and I would show them how letterpress works, ALL said your not one of us (the big money people). go away!

Hi Aaron

This is a tough business to make a buck in for sure. You really need to get your social media buzz going. That is the only way most shops survive. Hire on a keen Graphic arts student to do some promo/design etc.

The majority of people/businesses have no Idea what letterpress is or how much work goes into it. This will take years of blood sweat money and lots of tears like any business.

Remember who and what you are (A printer) maybe not an artist or business person. You can try to be all three but that usually does not work. Get some help!!

There are young designers that would kill to be around your equipment. Try to keep positive and do not lull in the fact that the presses are silent right now.

Check out what the big shops do for marketing etc. There are many shops out there and trust me they have hard times also, including myself. If you really love what you are doing you will make it work, but this is not a business that will get you rich quick, good luck!

Not wanting to get rich, Just want to cover the cost of rent and supplies. Bring in a $50 Bus Card order once a month doesn’t cover the lights.

As far as hiring artist, I have hired four. They all want to help and are happy to do work for me. But, not one of them has come up anything to show me.

Want to hear a funny thing: My brothers and their family all tell me everything I talk to them, say, sale the printing shop and do something you love doing.

I feel so alone!

Bummer your family can’t be more supportive. :(

A lot of printers are “cottage” businesses, operating from their homes. (Even some well known names.)

Keep your chin up, the letterpress world continues to grow so there is room for all.

There must be interest in quality handmade goods even in Texas. I’d look for cheaper space and keep beating the bushes for designers who are not “all-hat” and willing to get to work.

Best to you for a happy New Year,



I’m starting to suspect that you’re immune to advice.

It’s clear that your biggest enemy is yourself. If you go about life feeling sorry for yourself, that will reflect in everything you do: in your work, in your interactions with others. Take ownership. Stop blaming others. Stop blaming your family. Stop blaming your potential customers. All you’re doing is giving yourself is negative press, and making yourself feel even worse about your own situation.

Take a look at your post history here and on the LETPRESS list, there’s not a lot of good feelings in those messages. Instead of posting about the bad things that are happening your life, try posting about the good. Don’t complain about the customers you don’t have, share with us about the customers that you do have. Don’t fret about your family’s misgivings, tell us about people who are positive about what you’re doing.

Okay I tell some thing positive, I got my equipment working. And, I did it will the help of Jerry at SOS Linotype LLC in TN.

Without his help, I would be lost.

Thank you Jerry!

A little late to this conversation but… maybe I’ve something worth sharing:

If you try to compete with someone who can do the same general work *cheaper* or *faster* then you’re done before you start. It’s that simple.

Letterpress is NOT viable for mass printing needs. Flyers, cheap posters, catalogs, business cards… Cheap copy houses or digital print companies will beat your prices and turnaround every time. EVERY time.

If that’s the line of business you’re chasing then you’ll make more money by not opening the shop. Don’t even try it.

The *value* of letter press in 2015 is in the quality of craftsmanship and artistic creativity that it brings to things that are important to people. Wedding invites and cards are but two examples.

My strong suggestion to you would be this: stop, breathe, and take a hard look at your business plan. It should clearly identify the market opportunity, the customer and the value you bring to the equation. If it *doesn’t* then an investor would charitably say that you have a great hobby but not a strong business proposition. Maybe they’re wrong, but it’s worth thinking about.

Here’s what I’d recommend. Reduce your overhead as much as you can. Find a warehouse space or such that is dead cheap that you can work in and build up from there. Find wonderful things you can create (maybe split the profits 50/50 with the artist) that are sold through someone else’s shop. Start small and work up from there.

I am in a cheap warehouse space. The shop was NEVER started to make money, it was set to enjoy and cover the rent.

Sad, that covering the $650 is totally hard, when NO ONE will just let you print anything at cost plus a few dollars.

I was thinking that the people I know would let me print items at cost of material, just to have fun doing it.

The same old answer every time, I rather print it on my laser printer than pay you the $10 it cost me for the paper.

I seldom, if ever, offer advice on matters that I have no experience with but I thought I’d pass this along.
There is a fellow in CA who is an excellent machinist. His name is Tom Lipton and his machine shop is called Oxtools. He has posted some , or I should say many, excellent videos on YouTube for those of you who like doing machine work. Anyway, one of his short segments is about a tool that the Chinese have pretty much cornered the market on. I think it is a spin indexer but not sure. His advice on this was: they are cranking these out for around $59.00 or less and they are pretty decent quality. So, don’t even think about trying to go into the business of making them. Make something of American quality that the Chinese can’t or haven’t.