What size Tabletop Press should I get?

Hello! I’m shopping for my first press. I plan to use it to print 5x7 wedding invitations and 4x6 greeting cards. Due to space I 100% need to get a tabletop press until I either grow out of it or acquire a studio. What size would I need to print the above dimensions? Thanks in advance.

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#1 - 6x9 Golding Official
#2 - 5x8 Kelsey

A 5x8 Kelsey will have a difficult time printing anything 5x7. A Sigwalt 6x9 (essentially a Golding clone) and a C&P Pilot or one its clones would be better choices. Frankly with the two project sizes you mention, a C&P 8x12 or a 10x15 would be a much, much better choice.

I think going as large as possible would be best for items of those sizes. Where are you located? I know of a reasonably priced table top unit near me with a lot of extras. Looks to be a 6x9 chase.

Following what Arie said, if you must stick to a tabletop press, I think a 6x9 is probably your minimum. If you can afford them, there are usually a few Pilot and Sigwalt presses for sale that would serve you well.

I would recommend looking at Golding models— I was going to go with a pilot for my home press and decided to get a Pearl. I was partial to C&Ps since I’m in Ohio but the pearl 11 is really compact compared to C&Ps and is about as easy to move as a pilot press. Ive only had her a couple weeks but really love this press.

Unless you are dead-set on a platen style press, I’d recommend you consider buying a table-top proof press….and here’s why:

1- with a proof press, you can hand-ink. Inking is the real weakness of Kelsey / Golding/ Adana style presses. Those machines are good, but they start to fall down on inking when the inked surface gets bigger.
2- with a proof press, you get more pressure per square inch…. which again starts to get weak on small tabletop platen presses with large print areas.
3- the machine will handle larger image areas, but not take up much more tabletop space.
4- the good ones have grippers, which allow for very precise registration of multi colored work.

BUT they do have a few disadvantages, too:
1- they are slower, due to hand inking
2- they don’t have the same “public appeal”…. in that they are not considered as “cool”

I own quite a few presses, including a Kelsey 5x8, a Sigwalt, and a Showcard….. and from that group, the Showcard does the highest quality work. It equals my larger machines in that regard…. it’s just a bit slower. For short runs (under ~250) speed of printing is not the greatest factor anyway.

Thanks so much for the advice everyone!

@BComstock I’m located in Ontario, Canada.

Hi, saw your request and whatever press you choose you will need polymer for printing. I can help you with that when you are ready.

Well, I would think if you want a traditional table-top platen press, a Craftsmen Imperial would be something to consider. Mine was actually made in Canada and the company is still in business and still produces parts for their presses.

The suggestion to go with a cylinder type proof press has serious merit. My Craftsmen does OK with 5 x 7 format paper, but anything larger and I have to hang the sheet over the platen and print in two separate impressions. Most proof presses are big enough to handle anything you might want to print.

Typically, my press runs are between 100 and 200 impressions or so and as it is mostly a hobby, I don’t care too much about time, so I am seriously considering something like a Vandercook.

Another thing about the hand-inked cylinder presses; you can print several colors in one impression. In practice, I am not certain how well this actually works, but if the elements you are printing are well-separated (as is often the case on a greeting card), you should be able to ink the text in red, image(s) in blue and maybe a second image in hot pink if you wish. You’d need three brayers, three sheets of glass for the ink and of course, three different color inks, but it could be done. I’ve done it experimentally with my Craftsmen by removing the ink rollers and disk. I think it should be easier with the form flat on the table in front of you. I’ve seen it done with a Vandercook SP-15 as well.

As to polymer… well, that is an option, but you can also go with hand-set type, linoleum blocks or woodcuts. I’ve used polymer plates and woodcuts. Currently waiting for a laser-engraved woodcut to arrive.

daleraby- if we had “thumbs up”, you’d get one. It looks like your experience closely matches my own in this topic.

I also agree with you about PP plates- there are a LOT of other options, all of which can produce really nice work.

My view is that PPs only real advantage is that it’s easy….. and was popularized a few decades ago as “Digital Letterpress”. Once a person learns to use the other methods, they realize that PP is only one tool in a very large toolbox.

About laser engraved woodcuts:…. they work amazingly well. Somewhere here on BP, I posted a lengthy page about our experiments and usage of lasers to cut wood-blocks for printing, long before anyone else was doing it. We were able to easily produce type as small as 4pt, and 120 line screens. Is there now a company doing it commercially?

Winking Cat Press:
Well, there is sorta somebody venturing into this. See this discussion: http://www.briarpress.org/59191#comment-80063
It is kind of experimental, but I have hopes. When the woodcuts arrive, I will do some testing and letcha know how it works.

I’m currently relocating my print shop to an upstairs bedroom currently not in use. Something like a Showcard might serve me well for a larger format press… if I can find one suitable. The other option would be to build my own, but I kinda have more than enough projects on the table currently.

daleraby- I hope he succeeds. Laser cutting blocks is a great technique. We used it from ~2008 until I retired 6 years later.

Just FYI- here is a link to my old post, from back in 2009.

image: wood engraved 2.JPG

wood engraved 2.JPG

Ok all, I got a lead on a local press. 6 x 10 Kelsey Model Q – missing rollers/trucks. Im wondering if anyone can help me figure out what its worth, or better yet, what I should offer. Photo here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1WkleyOZPVAphIJs18sKhZC8CBNRqgvro/view?u...

Thanks in advance!


Rollers and trucks will cost a bit to have made and ship, factor that into your pricing. Looks like there was a nice condtion same size kelsey, different model, listed here on briarpress a couple months back with good rollers and trucks for $1,350 that has since sold. Take that as your high end price.

A few years ago I bought a Craftsmen Imperial 6.5 x 10 for $100.00. It was a handshake purchase order done over the counter at a gun shop I worked at then. A few weeks later we moved the press from his pickup truck to mine. There were a few issues as is often the case with a long-disused piece of machinery, but for the most part, nothing was really wrong with it.

Now, let’s be realistic; table-top presses like this are currently going for more money than renting a high-priced call girl for the weekend, I just got lucky in that a retired printer was in my store looking to buy a revolver. Neither of us knew what a press like this was worth at the time and certainly had no idea what they would be worth a few short years later. In general, offer less than what you are willing to pay because you can always raise the offer. It’s pretty hard to reduce the offer once you have made it.

As is often the case, whether it be the high-priced call girl or a press in pristine condition, it’s a seller’s market. If you are willing to remove a little rust, replace missing/worn parts, etc., there is a notable paradigm shift and it is a buyer’s market. A good analogy is the high-priced call girl who is past her prime I suppose. Like the old working girl, though, an old press can still be useful.

Yeah, I must be feeling “frisky” this morning.