A Check List for People New to Art of Letterpress

I put together a list of things one should think about before jumping into Letterpress Printing.

1) The amount of working space for your shop.
2) The amount of space needed by each machine you plan to purchase, (now or in the near future)
3) The amount of knowledge you have about each machine.
4) Is there a person that knows all about the equipment you will have in your shop so you can get the correct help to be able to operate. (If there no one in your area, you might want to rethink what equipment you should get.)
5) Your background in Letterpress Printing. If you have no background, start with a small table top set up and learn the art of printing before going into larger presses.
6) How good with repairing items around your home? If the answer is, Can’t use a hammer without hitting my hand 5 out 6 times, Letterpress might not be for you.
7) Do you understand what can or can’t be printing using Letterpress equipment?
8) Do you want to get the real feel of Letterpress by using, foundry, Linotype or Ludlow cast type? If the answer is no, then do not do Letterpress printing. Many people in the USA and overseas still cast lead type for you to use.
9) Before working with Polymer Plates on a major job, do some fun projects for yourself and get to learn the do and don’t before having a paying order.
10) If you never learned how to operate a line casting machine, and you want to buy for fun do NOT! Unless there is a person with you for about a month or longer teaching you what you need to know, you will hurt yourself or lose an arm or eye.

The main thing is if you do not know someone that will come over and help you learn or repair your equipment you are wasting your time and money. I learned the hard way, that unless you can find the right person to help you when things aren’t working, you will learn to HATE printing.

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Sorry for you loss Aaron. More important are business skills like problem solving, time management, sales and accounting.

I’m screwed. I’m breaking rules 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10.

Just wanted to let people that never done printing, that you just do not just buy equipment and think you can make it work.

I have been in the printing industry since 1964. And, I thought I would have problems.

But, all the people I counted on to help with a problem are NOT in Houston, Texas. So, when a small problem would come up and I would offer to pay people to come to help correct the minor problem the answer was I do it for $100.
So, I would pay them, and they would come over knew nothing about correcting the problem and got paid and left.

And, I should have NEVER try to do this with two full-time jobs, and family matters I need to take care of every night.
I only had less than 10 hours a week to print in my shop.

If you had sufficient business skills you would not have made those decisions or had those problems. However I’m sure you have a wealth of positive knowledge that you can share as required. Some friendly advice if you come across as bitter no one will heed you. Cheers


Amen to that!

I’m drawn to printing almost exclusively with foundry type, however, there are many shops operating full time, making a very nice living and utilizing several employees, that use ONLY polymer. The Mandate Press in Salt Lake City comes to mind.

While it’s good to understand how to hand set type, and the historical printing process, it’s not a necessity for doing letterpress printing anymore. I feel it’s doing a disservice to excited, would-be printers to say that if they don’t want to hand set, then they shouldn’t letterpress.

Just my thoughts.

I was lucky to have my dad who used all hot metal & handset in our printing business. But, I soon learned that designers wanted their exact fonts and layouts; I obliged them using mostly copper engravings. Copper is still my preferred material- poly fails on the press too often.
When I was still in my early twenties I hired the business education I needed, read printing management books and took business classes at the local college. (I’m 61 now)
I had some junk equipment, but I slowly upgraded. I learned not to sign for delivery on equipment til it was up and running. The leasing companies didn’t like that, but they never took anything back either. Business skills AND craft knowledge are indispensible to running a profitable printshop.
Aaron, consider your 20K a cheap lesson. That’s the price of a good used car. I personally know people who have invested and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in their printing businesses, and I think they had a pretty good idea of what they were doing.
I sold my shop and equipment years ago, opting to keep a windmill in my garage for income. Glad I did.

I made this list for new printers to understand there is more than just buying equipment. I just wanted to give new printers something to think about before jumping in over their head.

I have a background in letterpress/offset/digital printing.
Learned Letterpress in a 3-hour per day, 3-year vocational class in the 60s. Wrote computer codes for phototypesetting in the 70 and early 80s before the MAC computer.It was all codes to layout a page.
worked as a union printer for few years, before the union was run out of Houston.
As for as my shop, I printed hundreds of 4x5 note pads with the Print Shop name and contact information and handed out to business for years. Printed mailed designed by an advertising agency to get business, placed many newspaper and manager and internet ads for “Printing” no letterpress printing.
My shop failed because my family needed more than I had time to print, so my printing time was cut to 10 to 15 hours a week.
You can’t build a business when you are not there.



And, these people are NO help. I know them.

Business skills first unless it’s just a hobby.

Family first, sounds like you had your priorities right.

Please tell me what you are referring to about business skills?

Sales, finance, management, business law, advertising and general people skills will get you a lot further as a self employed person than just being good at your trade.
Being good at your trade is great when you work for someone else but that is not enough when you put up your own shingle. That I am answering this proves my earlier point.

OK - I guess I overlooked that post.

Hi! Might there be anyone in the Philadelphia area that could mentor me and see my “studio,” which is really just my dining room table? Could really use some wisdom!!!!


If you haven’t already done this, purchase some good know to print using letterpress equipment books.