What about a CNC engraver to create blocks

I am a complete neophyte, so please excuse any ignorance. Instead of using polymer plates, would it be possible to use a hobby-style CNC engraver? I find it a more appealing option that dealing with plastics and film and developers. There are a variety on the market. Some of them engrave in brass and aluminum, though I am assuming that creating a wood block would do just fine too. Has anyone investigated this or have experience with this?

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No reason not to, and many have. The traditional method of making wood type is pretty much a CNC, except the “Computer Numeric” part is replaced by “Human Following a Template”, but both are just a router and bit following a predefined path.

Photopolymer is certainly faster for detailed plates, and most wood won’t hold the same level of detail, but if you are making something large, both cnc milling and laser-engraving have been used successfully.

There are wood type makers today that use laser-engraved endgrain maple for some of their goods, and printed they look just as nice as pantograph cut blocks.

Thank you Kimaboe.

Can one print on both brass and aluminum plates, or will ink not hold well on aluminum?

Also: Am I understanding you correctly that even laser engraving won’t give good detail?

Laser will probably work fine. There is still kerf, but not a lot. The problem is with the carving bit used for milling, which can tear fine details of side-grain blocks, or less dense woods. But you probably aren’t trying to CNC 7pt type anyways :)


I’ve been using a Fireball Comet CNC for 7 years to cut wood type and larger poster work to print on my Vandercook’s. Here is only a small amount of type cut on the CNC. https://www.inkylipspress.com/letterpress-wood-type/

If you need help, send me a message.

Inky Lips Press

Another option is using a resin printer. Not much easier, but you don’t have to source film and expensive polymer plates. They are cheaper than most CNC now and the detail will be much better, since it is only limited by the pixel size. I was thinking about buying one once I get my press working.

Kep0a, have you ever experienced someone making plates with a resin 3d printer? I’ve considered it as an option, but never seen it actually done.

Galenasmart, I haven’t but in my limited experience it seems like a creative option, it isn’t really much different then curing polymer plates. You could even cure the curable plates the same way, on an LCD and UV backlight projecting through.

I was printing stamps with FDM and the only hard part is moving your vector design to modeling software. I was using onshape and it just grinds to a halt after a certain number of vertices.

Hi, Just wanted to chime in to say that I have embarked on this exact experiment. After a lot of research this summer I bought a Piranha CNC. I am not a trained letterpress person, mostly self taught in that area. I’m more of an art/printmaking background who loves presses and drifted into the letterpress world. So for me it was not just an interest in typography but also how I could use it for graphics and landscapes. Long story short, I researched for about two months (thanks Youtube) and finally bought one. I missed my chance to get a refurbished one direct from the manufacturer on ebay - I recommend that route if you find yourself interested.

If you buy one of these CNC’s you will get a copy of Vectric VCarve which is a great program and there are tons of videos about. Some machines offer cloud based software, but I didn’t want to pay for a monthly subscription.

I’ve had it for a couple months and have learned a lot. It’s a bit of a wormhole because not only can you make wood plates to print but a whole bunch of other stuff.

So far I’ve been just focused on achieving some consistency, but I gotta say it’s been a lot of fun.

If you have an interest in technology and woodworking I would try it. If you just want to print, print, print you may feel like you have to learn some new stuff & troubleshoot more than you like. I’ve enjoyed it though since it fits with my interests. But I felt the same way, I wanted to find out if I could make my own plates without sending out for polymer & the waste issue with that.

If you have any questions, let me know :)