With Letterpress Love, from Alaska

Hello!

I am an artist and graphic designer in Juneau, Alaska. I’ve been dreaming about incorporating / expanding my business with letterpress. I learned about the process a year ago, and can’t stop thinking about it! As a former scientist, it seems like a perfect fit.

I just read through quite a few of the Letterpress for Beginner discussions, and many recommendations include volunteering at a working print shop. Unfortunately, because of my location, there are no letterpress printers in my city, and potentially my state (making it hopeful for a new business, but a bummer for learning). SO - a few starter questions for the Letterpress Hive Mind:

1. Before purchasing a shipping a large press to Alaska, is there a tabletop version that would be a good beginner project?

2. Recommendations for where to get plates printed?

3. Things you wished you knew when you started?

I do have the T&T Press Restoration site, and Box Car Press’s “Supplies & Equipment” bookmarked.

Before COVID-19, I was planning to take a week long vacation and try to visit letterpress studios in the Pacific Northwest. But if anyone is up for a videoconference Q&A session, in exchange for Alaskan gifts (sanitized and safely packed), I would love that! Or am happy to pay for a consultation with good old fashioned cash / invoicing!

Thank you! I hope you are all staying safe and healthy out there.

Meghan Chambers
[email protected]

Log in to reply   15 replies so far

Hi Meghan, and the bug bites another one…There are lots of tabletops out there, but before you plunk down money, what is it you are trying to do? I have have collected 4 presses now and they each do a different job. Take a look at http://art.coynewessling.com. My work is not traditional letterpress But i do use them to print.

My Poco press and The large Iron Hand press are for art prints (Lino or wood block) the two C&P presses (a 10x15 and a 6x10 table top) are for cards and Small art prints and i also use photo polymer from boxcar. you may find some one on the west coast to provide them you can ask the guys at Oblation Papers & Press in portland.

But back to my original question. what kind of art do you want to do? That will point you to the type of press you want.

Terry

Hi Terry (@draagn)! I can’t tell if I’m replying correctly, but this looks like the only option.

I’m hoping to do small art prints (up to 10x15 would be ideal, eventually), stationary, cards, invitations, etc. I have a small business right now, and all of my cards are digitally printed at a local printer. I’d like to elevate their quality, and also be available for custom jobs for clients.

The tabletop press was ideal to begin with, so that I could learn on something that looks more simple in my garage before jumping up to a larger standing press (C&P or Heidelberg Windmill). I have no idea if tabletops are more or less simple (will need to make some phone calls and do some research)!

My ultimate goal is to open a studio in Juneau, and have both a retail storefront to sell my and other local artists work, as well as a letterpress & screen printing studio to supplement.

I just checked out your website - looks like a cool mix of technique and tools!

When setting type for your stationery remember there is no spell checker.

The Oxford Dictionary of English:
stationary > adjective ‘not moving or not intended to be moved’

stationery > noun ‘writing and other office materials’

Spell checkers…

Oops, don’t kick me off the forum y’all. I’ll be sure to spell stationery correctly next time. :)

Hi Meghan, old letterpress people are worse than english teachers… they spell everything backwards. Which by the way is a proofing technique. but I digress.

You may want to drop John Horn a note to see if he has any presses left. You’ll have to clean it up and get new rollers on most, but he knows his stuff. The shipping is whats going to cost. http://www.johnthetypesnob.com/category/equipment-for-sale/

If most of your art is starting as digital getting photopolymer plates will be the quickest/easiest way to go. You can also print from lino and woodblock on the press. My preferred way.

My art is printed on a B/W epson printer on waxed butcher paper and burnished onto the lino or woodblock. Then I clean up the details with a fine sharpie.

The photo below is a 5x7 card test from Lino, on my 6x10 C&P Pilot press printed on Crane 90 lb. cover Pearl White. The dark red is a custom mix of Cranfield’s Caligo Safe Wash Relief Inks. Makes the cleanup super easy. I’m happy and with each printing, getting better.

Love to see some of your work, and hope this helps.

image: Red Bird test.jpg

Red Bird test.jpg

I used to know a letterpress printer in I think he was in Juneau. He had a 10x15. It was called Bucket of Type Press. I will see if I can find his address.

Sorry to say he is not in Juneau, but Anchorage.

Ben Robar
6516 Cutty Sark North
Anchorage, Alaska 99502

He may know some other letterpress printers in Alaska.

Draagn

Please describe in more detail the process to burnish the image onto a wood block. You start with a computer image and then print it on butcher’s waxed paper? Then, what next?

thanks

LD

LetterpressDad - It’s a simple process really. I have an Epson WF-7210 inkjet printer and a roll of butcher paper from my local grocer, Its heaver than wax paper and has the coating only on one side.

Trim the paper to the size you need. My printer take up to 13x19” paper and has a direct feed in the back. Then just print your art, on the coated side. No need to flip it as you will do that when placing it on the Lino or wood block.

Make sure the lino or wood has been sanded with a fine grit sand paper. to make them smooth and wipe off and excess powder with a damp cloth. I then paint the lino with a diluted white chalk acrylic paint. Play with the dilution based on the paint thickness. You may need to lightly sand again if you have too many paint streaks. This will give you better contrast when carving.

Position the paper on the lino or wood block and tape it in place. Be careful not to bump or move the paper once its down or it will smear. Then burnish the paper to transfer the still wet inkjet ink onto the Lino or wood. The paper will tend to curl as you burnish so practice on some cheap wood until you are comfortable doing the transfer. You can always lightly sand off a bad burnish job and start over.

The last step is to fill in any voids with a sharpie.

After carving I again lightly sand the lino or wood and with wood I seal it with a light varnish. It makes it easier to clean after printing.

I use a bone folder as my burnisher see photo.

One other note: lately for wood I have been using our Maker Space’s laser engravers to carve my art. A two color 9x12 image takes about 3 hours to engrave.

Hope this helps

image: FB800Nmed.png

FB800Nmed.png

Draagn

Thanks for the detailed explanation!

Hi Meghan!

Hopefully I can be helpful. Wishing you the best of luck on your journey!! I fell in love with Letterpress thanks to the magic of the internet, of course. I had no idea where to start, but I knew I wanted to do it. So I feel you!

My suggestions:
- Decide how much you can reasonably spend & what type of space you’re willing to dedicate. Do you have a studio? Would the press need to make it into your basement? This will be a big factor in what kind of press you’ll want.
- Figure out what you want to print (photo polymer plates? or lead type??). What size (printing area) will you be happy with?

After scouring eBay & Craigslist, I found a tabletop Kelsey (5x8). It was a great starter press for me! Easy to use/figure out and *big bonus*: I could lift it into my car myself, haha. It’s a bit safer than the floor models for a beginner, since you can’t smash your fingers quite so easily. You go at whatever speed you like and you make each impression at your own pace. Downsides include a lighter impression and less even inking. It was a great deal for me and it was in almost ready to print condition. I got lucky!

I have since graduated to a C & P 8x12 and it is a great second step. It is motorized, so I feel much better having a bit of experience under my belt. Larger printing capacity and much more consistent. It takes up about 4’ x 5’ in my garage and required a forklift/serious business to move. This was another Craigslist find and again, I was lucky with its condition.

For ink, I liked http://www.letterpressink.com for ink in tubes.
I’ve used https://www.boxcarpress.com for photo polymer plates (great resources for file prep, browse their whole site) and https://crownflexo.squarespace.com (a little bit cheaper)
eBay for anything lead or miscellaneous (shippable) little things you need.

Feel free to contact me with any other questions you have. I’d be happy to talk Letterpress any time! Hopefully we can help you find a press. :-)

Moriah

just a note, a little table top press may cost as much or more than an 8x12 or 10x15 Chandler & Price, which will be a much much more capable press, if you have the space for one. A windmill might be overkill for what you are doing.

I started out with a $100.00 Craftsmen table top model I got from a retired printer. We moved it with pickup trucks. It has some limitations, but it was a nice way to learn… and I’m still learning. Welcome to the most addictive hobby on the planet!

Thank you all for your amazing suggestions!

- Moriah, your links and anecdotes where SO helpful. Thank you! I’d love to chat more. Please feel free to email me ([email protected]) or drop me a line on Instagram (@marms_and_meeks) if you’d like.

- Scott, yes, I hope to upgrade in size to a standing model one day. Luckily I am financially able to start with a tabletop press and then add a floor model when I have space.

- Daleraby, thank you! I’m glad to hear that.

An update: I am working with T&T Press Restoration and will be the proud new owner of a C&P 6.5x10 O.S. Pilot in July. I am so excited! I’ll be getting the basic supplies from Boxcar Press, but any other supply ideas are appreciated (especially paper - how is it these days, with the pandemic?).

I am hoping to learn on the tabletop press, and try to establish how successful a letterpress business would be in my town (and state). If it is, I will invest in a studio space and a floor model. Floor models appear to be considerable cheaper, if you don’t have to consider shipping. So I’m hopefully I can make that step when raodtrips and shipping methods are slightly more reliable.

Thank you, everyone! My apologies for not signing on here in a few weeks. Life has changed rapidly with the pandemic and the national civil rights crisis, as I’m sure you are all experiencing too.

I hope you are all well. These are unprecedented times, and we’re certainly lucky to have art and hobbies to keep us busy and our creative minds at work!

All my best,
Meghan