Boxcar Base vs. Elum Base

I know boxcar is the king when it comes to bases for photopolymer plates but what about the one Elum puts out. Just wondering what people have to say. There is a slight difference in price but not much. I am looking to buy one of these for my press. Is there anyone else making these bases? I even found how to make my own but… I dont know.



How to make your own


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I use a 7/8 thick slab of aluminum on my windmill. I have never used a Boxcar base nor the Elum base. The aluminum slab works, but it can be a hassle at times. I have the feeling that a base made specifically for letterpress would be much better to use. It’s in my nature to pinch pennies so I deal with the aluminum slab, but I talk to people who use Boxcar bases and they swear by them.

If I were just starting out and if I weren’t so cheap I would go with a base made for letterpress.

I would suggest that Bunting Magnetic bases are king in terms of quality and precision of work which can be produced, but out of reach for many due to price.

In addition, if you aspire to print with photopolymer, I would highly suggest you purchase Gerald Lange’s book. Particularly, if you have a Vandercook or similar flatbed cylinder press. However, it is worth the read even without a proof press.

Hi ArtSaville,

I got a laugh out of your penny pinching, do-it-yourself attitude. Maybe we should start a new thread, “Letterpress on a Shoestring.”

Often, though, ingenuity and innovation CAN get the job done cheaper and even better, in my opinion.

Letterpress has been, especially before its recent resurgence, a very traditional craft. Just look at, for example, the lay of the type case. How many crafts would never change the case to put J and U in order, instead of just putting them at the end, even though J and U have been in the alphabet for hundreds of years? But, if we do the unthinkable, and actually innovate occasionally :), we CAN make what some would consider improvements (photopolymer plates are a good example).


Yes! We need to innovate and develope new methods to help us do our jobs effectively and have them pencil out in the end. I just wouldn’t recommend being as cheap as I am. :) Especially for someone who may be just starting out.

Art. come on, a slab of aluminum, isn’t that a bit pricy? I must be the cheapest printer on the list, i buy 1/4” mag dies unmounted then mount them on my furniture with 2 pieces of chipboard under to make it type high, to ensure the die doesn’t move i surround the furniture with 6 point slugs on all 4 sides. Have done this for the last 30 years. Dick G.

dickg, if you haven’t printed from photopolymer, you haven’t needed the absolute accuracy that photopolymer needs for consistant work. Metal type or a metal plate are relatively forgiving, but the plastic will drive you crazy, if it isn’t your first method. And even then it takes the right press.

Most of what i print i use ludlow type. I make rubber stamps, mostly from type, but i have a cheap polymer machine, i have made polymer or regular rubber stamps and mounted them on my ludlow slugs sometimes with type. I have tried large polymer plates but they did drive me crazy. Dick G.


We’ve used Boxcar’s base & plates for our recent jobs and they’ve worked beautifully. The only issue we’ve had is the gauge pin placement, but it isn’t a deal breaker once you get some experience with proper placement.

We’ve also started ordering plates from Owosso plates (copper & magnesium) which are mounted typ high, canceling the need for a base.



The bases and the plate services are basically similar. Elum’s pricing is slightly less but it is based on the Boxcar model. Mainly it depends upon which coast you are on. You’ll save on shipping if you buy from Elum and you are on the west coast, and from Boxcar if you are on the east coast.


Glass is a good alternative if you can find a piece(s) thick enough and get it cut to your size. Otherwise use two layers of glass and a layer of compressed-cement sheet
(easily cut to size) as base, or a base/chase.(with or without registration screws)

image: base.jpg


I going to throw in my two cents. But, 7 out 10 jobs I have seen printed using photopolymer plates is uncalled for.

With all the people in this group that own Intertypes,Linotypes and Ludlows, I just do not unstand why people waste money on the photopolymer plates and base.

Three lines of Hot Metal typesetting at $2 or $3 a line is cheap.

An envelope job, three lines cost of type $9 and all you have to do is lock it up and start printing.

A business card 7 lines $21 and you start printing. And, guess what you can use the type again on reorders.

Also, people doing Hot Metal typesetting will give you a price break if you use the more than one time.


It has to do with quality and diversity (far more available and better typefaces, plus whatever imaging you need), less need for hard to find technical accessories,etc.

A computer, the correct software/fonts, a press, a base…

All set to go.

In that regard, the economics of machine comp really don’t compete. It’s not a matter of dollars and cents. Well, actually it is. Most folks aren’t working by the line anymore.


But Gerald, unless you have your own platemaker on site and have the resources to support it, you’re still on the hook of waiting for your platemaker to send plates to you.

It’s really six of one and half dozen of another—you can make the investment in a digital backshop, or a metal one. Working with hot metal takes a commitment of having a imposition system that can support it. That is probably why we don’t see more of it, when it’s so easy to just send a file and print off whatever polyplate is supplied by a vendor.

As a shop that does hot metal trade typesetting, it’s a bit of a let down that more people aren’t interested, but the current letterpress trade trends are not really friendly to metal in general and hot metal in particular. Such is life I suppose.

Michael Seitz
Quality Letterpress Printing
Missoula MT

Hi Mike

I don’t disagree with this. But, actually, based on your argument, if you don’t have a platemaker on site or metal comp machine on site, what is the difference?

I supply plates by late afternoon for e-files received by my film guy by early morning. No hook. Works.

Take some solace in the fact that photopolymer is dependent upon film (at least, for now). If you keep those machines running, you will win in the long run. Assuming anyone cares about letterpress in the near or distant future.


Can someone tell the cost of making a photopolymer plate for a 7 line, type sizes from 6 to 14, job for a business card.
Please do not place a link to a website that makes photopolymer plates.

I just want the cost of a 2”x3” photopolymer plate.


You can figure anywhere between 60 and 70 cents per square inch depending on the plate type you need (deep relief vs. standard relief, etc).

However you’ll find that most platemaking businesses have a $30 minimum order.

Plus shipping.

Hope this helps,



It is a question of education and knowledge, there are 2 parts to this equation: the ones of us who know what they are doing and how to proper calculate a job to make a living from it and the ones who just learned to print in whatever From and yet don’t know that they don’t know all of it.

I have type on the floor, Hotmetal (Ludlow) and Film and Plate, pending on the job, the form is selected. And as long it is not Typeface not available, a lot can be done in Ludlow or Linecaster. Monotype if your lucky to be close to one.

Alas, all fine Folks printing social ephemera make no use of the few existing hot metal providers on the market as they could. Maybe we need to show them that is is not a monumental task to switch out a chase and make a proper form and lock up.

Share the knowledge

Just for the record: for several years now, there have been so-called “digital” soft photopolymer relief plates for flexography which do not require film. These plates have a built-in black layer. The exposure unit (a laser I think), “ablates” (erodes away) the black layer where image areas are going to be. This basically makes a built-in negative which is part of the plate. The plate is then exposed and processed in more-or-less the normal way, and the remains of the black layer are removed as well.

There is a huge market for flexo plates, which are used for printing a wide range of products which we use every day. That is why the flexo people have had these units developed for them. It is questionable if the size of our letterpress market will ever justify the development of such a system for us. And, even if they did develop it, we would have to buy the exposure unit, which could be compared to a kind of imagesetter, and that unit would certainly not be cheap.

So what I understand after a person spend $30 plus another $10 for shipping the cost doesn’t stop.

You need a base and if there a change cost start all over again.

I guess a shop with a ludlow and Linotype you do the same printing a person with photopolymer for less money and get more of the everyday work.

Photo polymer plates have their place, and for someone with no type or typecasting resources it might be the only way to keep printing. The sad part is that without the support of letterpress printers, the hand-set and machine set types are disappearing quickly. I don’t really understand why, if a printer is going to embrace a photographically generated plate-making process, why they wouldn’t just embrace off-set or one of the more direct to plate modern processes. Letterpress has already become skewed by the crash printing crowd; why not finally accept the industry changes that happened in the 1950s?


As a printer with Linotype, Ludlow, process camera, photopolymer processor, even offset, here’s my perspective: the few customers I have for a hot metal workflow are at least as old as I am, 50s and older, and all understand the capabilities and constraints of hot metal (“sorry, the only 16-point mats I have are Baskerville and there aren’t any italics or refinements or small caps”).
Younger customers are almost all designers who expect an exact match in face and size to their design, including graphic elements, and that means a plate from their file, with few exceptions. Type substitutions are a VERY tricky business and must be understood by all, early in the process.
And for what it is worth, you don’t need a dedicated base for mounting photopolymer plates. There are several combinations of lead base or blank slug and photopolymer plate that allow mixed lead/photopolymer forms. That requres a certain mental flexibility, so good luck with that.
I know of no Linotype/Ludlow caster today who is making a living setting envelope corners and business cards, especially without serious thought about minimum pricing. A few have tried and disappeared. I don’t know how much Babcock is doing at, but he is trying to provide the full potential of the slug, and has faces nobody else can offer.

I agree with Devils Tail Press, if you are going to do your printing with photopolymer plates, just buy a small offset press and cut out a lot of stress in your life.

Offset is so fast and easy, just shot your copy with a litho camera,take the negative, burn an offset plate and print all the copies you want.

That is the Crux:

in Days gone by, a client would ask a Printer of to to best express his intentions in print. Today, we get Files from a Designer and he wants it produced. More than often, you can’t match it in metal.

IF they ask for Letterpress, you can’t substitute with offset.

Aaron and Paul

These seem like some very narrow minded and restrictive statements. Everything evolves. So did letterpress.

You can’t do this stuff with metal type or photoengravings:

And, it is letterpress printing. I practice letterpress because it gives me control over production. I choose the best techniques, tools, equipment, materials, etc. available. I’ve spent a good time of my life printing with metal type and photoengravings, and I am very well knowledgeable about the history of the technology. I’m not a new kid on the block. But I also readily accept constructive change in the field.

Is the practice of letterpress strictly defined by tools and techniques that effectively ended in the 1950s. I think not.


@Gerald, Some of the letterpress printing I see could be done easily by offset presses, with much less equipment and space than is necessary for letterpress. The examples of your fine printing is one thing, but you, like myself had the advantage of building our shops when equipment was readily available and not too expensive. The demand for letterpress equipment is becoming so great that I would actually recommend that some people might want to look at used offset or silkscreen equipment, especially for work that is heavy with computer generated graphics. If I had the space, I would probably put a Multilith in for long runs and envelopes.

Having worked commercially in offset and letterpress I have a pretty good sense of what is happening to both kinds of printing. With the advent of better laser and ink-jet technologies both offset and silkscreen are just as endangered as letterpress, in fact letterpress is not a growing industry at all, commercial printers are jettisoning their old equipment at an alarming rate, and press parts, tools, inks and paper that are suitable for letterpress are either no longer being made, or, in the case of inks and paper, have been severely curtailed. The letterpress market as it is today is no longer able to compete within the printing industry in any real way, and it has been like this for 40 years. Sure letterpress is cool, but it is damn hard to make a living in letterpress if you don’t have a niche market. Product can’t be produced fast enough, which is the reason that many shops dumped their equipment 30+ years ago. Who out there makes a living with a Kelsey or Baltimore press? How many more C&Ps or Heidelbergs are left on the market? I think the college and book art letterpress programs are doing a disservice to their graduates by building up hopes for a career in a vanishing industry. Print as a medium is disappearing rather quickly, and with the demise of printed newspapers, and the introduction of ebooks the industry will take a hit from which it may never recover.


i’ve made my living mostly in letterpress the last 30 years, i’ve had a niche for that time, the last 5 years the niche has almost dried up, i’ve lost almost 75% of my business due to computers and everyone going paperless. Thank God i’m old (not as old as Paul) and not just starting out in this field. Dick G.

Damn Dick, you’re gonna make me want to go out and get a walker. You know there are three sure signs of growing old: First you lose your hearing, second you lose your memory, and….I can’t remember the third one…



I’m not seeing this. A lot has changed in the last decade. Just look at the membership numbers here. For the last several years, student enrollment in the courses I teach has been consistently high. There is a lot of interest in letterpress out there, surprisingly so.

I have had quite a number of students who have gone on to establish their own shops and some of them, intent on making it a viable commercial concern, are doing fairly well at it. A lot better than I am.

I was talking to a rep at Boxcar Press about a week or two ago and in the conversation I asked how many employees they have now. I had heard some fairly impressive numbers. When she told me the count I just about fell out of my chair. I had to ask her twice, just to confirm. Unbelievable.

Letterpress is very much alive and kicking. And though all these recent print anthologies on the new letterpress that are coming out really don’t reveal it, some of these printers are damn good, and deserving of attention.

And the growing numbers of new practitioners has greatly expanded the service field, to the benefit of us all. The paper manufacturers and distributors are all about promoting letterpress. When has that happened in our lifetime?



I have processed these black plates for a flexo client. They are prepared without film with a very expensive machine, as you suggest. But the black is burned off with a standard processing machine and then you are set to go as usual. Note though that the requirements for flexo processing ARE quite different than those for letterpress processing.

These plates are currently only available for flexography and I too might doubt we will see these plates for letterpress. If that ever happens though I am sure we will all be forced to buy our plates from Boxcar as they would likely be johnny on the spot on this. And that will be that.

Still, if not for flexography, there would be no photopolymer plates for letterpress. If their existence makes viable the small letterpress market, great. But the main concern is the long-term, or even, the short-term, viability of film. Something will or will not happen to resolve this.



“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The past is the past, the present is the present, and the future is the future.


Thank you all for this great discussion.

I studied typography in school and (after great effort) do a little bit of letterpress work for clients. Otherwise my work is web-based or either digital or offset printing.

I am nearly positive that a linotype machine would yield unacceptable results for display type (as opposed to extended text) that I use in my work — which for letterpress is mostly invitations.

There’s a typographic renaissance happening right now, at this very moment. And it’s unfortunate for people offering line-cast type — but for display settings, how could I possibly ensure that a cap L and a cap A are properly kerned? How could I add a custom swash capital? How could I use proper fractions and proper small caps (properly letterspaced) using a typeface that speaks of our time (even if that typeface happens to be a revival)?

I don’t think a linecaster or ludlow machine can do that. Weren’t they designed for setting extended text? Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Before some of you think that all “younger people” only want to print what they can produce on a screen, you have to realize that good contemporary typographic education uses a bit of each tool: pencil, pen, brush, a whole lot of transparent paper, fontographer, fontlab, and all that adobe stuff. Hell, we even tried to replicate the Trajan column with a chisel and a mallet.

Maybe I could get what I need from a linecaster to make a client’s business cards. But I highly doubt it, unless the brand objectives were to reprise 1960s corporate communications.

You might not like me for this, but I think type is digital. Even if I go on ebay and bid on expensive bits of wood and deeply adore Rob Roy Kelly’s book — type is digital.

Some other things:

1. Someone above mentioned a bygone time of having a printer set type. The printers I’ve worked with read printed words; they don’t see the spaces in between. Typesetting is the job of a designer.

2. I am not buying an offset press, are you crazy?

3. The letterpress industry should not compete with the commercial printing industry. Commercial printing is nearly (not entirely) a commodities market. Letterpress is beyond the commodity: the labour, the care, and the processes (the “story of production”) add value to letterpress that can not be captured by commercial printing.

4. That said, with everybody dreaming of starting a letterpress studio certain regions may be in for a crash.

Lastly, and longwindedly: tonight I was looking for an intern at a graphic design grad show. These early-20-year-olds were all so completely and utterly enamored with the print process. I was amazed. I thought it would all be ipad app this and ipad app that. But it was not.

Again, thank you all for your discussion and contributions to this forum. I’ve learned so much here and very much respect your work and opinions.

tmac, from your criticisms, you seem to be as far removed from the use of handset type as you are from linecast type. Fractions, small caps, these were offered only in some faces, and substitutions were often required (this is just as true of digital type). The same issues of spacing exist in all, and each has its own solutions. To close up letterspacing, in some faces Linotype offered two-letter refinement mats, Ludlow offered mortised mats. Handset may already have kerns, but cutting in and mortising were common remedies in the composing room.
Ludlows were intended for display setting, though I’ve seen whole books in which the text was set on the Ludlow. And though Linotypes are primarily text machines, mine willl cast up to 42 point. The problem today is getting mats. Nothing new is available, and what remains is not cheap.
Sure, type is digital now, but that is only the latest form, and the earlier forms are still useful. It is a good thing some of us appreciate that, and that others keep their distance. The idea that metal type can only reflect 60s design show a lack of imagination. Otherwise today’s type designers wouldn’t keep stealing old designs.
Printers don’t see the spaces? Too bad you’ve only met pressmen, not fully-trained printers. There is a difference, and in fact a typesetter and a typographer and a designer are also different things, even today.

@Gerald. Sure enrollment is up, I saw the same at UCSC several years ago. But where do the students take it from there? There are few Vandercooks available at any price (recently one sold for $14,000, I don’t know many recent graduates that can afford that), and type resources are dwindling. There is only one letterpress printing press manufacturer left in this country, and they are not making a production style press. Fabriano just dropped its entire line of Ingres papers. Ink companies no longer stock letterpress inks, and those that even know how to make it are few and far between. I watch auctions with regularity, but fewer and fewer quality machines or type are coming onto the market. The demand has increased, but the infrastructure is gone. In the area in which I live there are two shops that have letterpress equipment, and it is only used for numbering and die-cutting. There are no electrotypers left, and only one type foundry left on the west coast, and they survive because they are an in-plant service. The only plate shop in the area engraves letterpress plates one day every week or two, and survives only because they produce engraved awards for that industry. The only thing I see that has improved in letterpress is the polymer plate industry, so I understand why you think everything is hunky-dory.

@tmac. You obviously view letterpress from an outsider’s viewpoint. In letterpress typesetting is the work of the typographer, not the designer. Unfortunately since typography is being taught on computers, it is the only language many folks understand. I learned typography from hand-setting 1000 posters, and hundreds if not thousands of other commercial letterpress jobs. I’ve worked with letterpress, off-set, and serigraph commercially, and each branch of the printing industry is taking a big hit these days, because of web-based communication. I would like to know why you think I am crazy for suggesting that off-set printing is an option to people who generate their images on computers, and want to print, but can’t find or afford letterpress equipment? Having printed commercially for 35 years I would also suggest that letterpress has had to compete with the other printing processes, and cannot survive without a niche market. I think you have a romantic view of letterpress, and wonder how you would have fared, working 12 to 16 hour days at absolutely butt-grinding tasks, to produce a product that today can be printed direct-to-plate offset in just a few hours, or onto the web (which used to be a printing process), and a much larger audience, in a few minutes. Considering where we are having this discussion, I’d offer that I already know which process will win-out.


Just chacked the Elum website.
Minimum order of 15$ (4x6 inche plate) seems like a great deal!

What about the ESKO CDI Spark?

Anderson Vreeland claims it can do “foil-based digital letterpress plates” on their website.

I wonder how expensive they are.

All of this may be true: I may be romantic about letterpress, and I may not have worked 16 hours a day at handset type. I may be an outsider. I may never have met a well-trained pressmen (except that I have, it’s just that typography is no longer part of their practice).

I am only speaking from my modest experience: That when I convince a client to use letterpress (either on my press or through established studios), the client wants the same thing printed as what we show them in the proof.

Furthermore, when a client sees letterpress, they gush a little bit about it being letterpress. That reaction in itself may be considered nostalgic, but I prefer to think of it as the marketable difference that makes the price and the time and even the uncertainty or variability in the output worth while.

Paul, I know you have a tonne of experience. But offset is offset and letterpress is letterpress. Why would I buy a small offset machine when I want to do letterpress — with polymere or metal and with a smash impression or the lightest kiss.

It’s not unfortunate that typography and type design are being taught on computers. It’s actually fantastic. And as I said, well-taught typography is taught using all kinds of tools. You have to use your hands to know the shapes.

You’ve got to respect the way any person learns and whatever tools they use to learn with. Would I disrespect Adrian Frutiger because he used a pantograph instead of an iMac? Of course not.

Anyway, I think there’s a link somewhere in this thread for where I can buy type set on a Ludlow. I’m going to give it a try, if only just to learn something.

I did ask my local printer about their linecaster, which they listed as a service on their website. Unfortunately, that machine has been melted down into, i don’t know, deck screws or drilling rigs.

I think “classical letterpress” (metal type and hot metal composition) will become the sort of mad relative in the attic that lithography has become relative to offset.

It seems anymore that all the training revolves around the computer. From a production standpoint it makes plenty of sense, so long as there is an economic avenue for plate production—if that stops then folks might be wishing hot metal technologies were still around.

In looking at Etsy, which is a nice broad sample of “letterpress” (not the best of it mind you), you can see a vast uniformity of design that speaks of the computer trained design field—it ain’t pretty. If they can sell it and get high margins for the work well, what do I know?

Quite honestly, in 20 years we might be reduced to handmade papers and homebrew ink, and printing in large part will be cast back into the 18th century, unless you can make something interesting out of 20 lb bond copy paper.

I would suggest to the whole digital crowd that they might want to expose themselves to classical letterpress shops and skills before they’re all gone—you might just need them in the future.

Michael Seitz
Quality Letterpress Printing
Missoula MT

Good discussion folks.
Points strongly stated —
and stated courteously even if not in agreement.


You bring up some important points that I can’t say I’ve seen discussed here before, or on any letterpress forum. I teach at several art/design colleges and you are quite on the mark, these students are getting very good educations in typography and graphic design. A lot more than can be obtained just working on the job. And, a lot more than previous technologies allowed for.

I think the complaints registered here are basically anti-computer design and I suppose that would generally be correct but it tends to exclude the folks who have actually been trained in design. Maybe folks just think if they’ve seen one bad computer based design, they are all bad. Not so. And it is NEVER mentioned that an awful lot of metal typesetting and printing is horrid.

There is no magic pedestal upon which one should place one technology above the other. It has to do with the folks who are using the technology.

I process photopolymer plates for various designers and I have to say that I am seeing some phenomenal work come through the shop.


Gerald and tmac—

There’s no stopping progress, and there never was. I guess I lament that an immense amount of knowledge is going to vanish very shortly, and in exchange for what?

Modern computer design can make some very nice work. I really would love to see where offset lithography would have gone in 20 years if it hadn’t been caught up by sea change to digital output and the Internet. It would have been the height of printing excellence, especially when linked to foil, embossing, and debossing technologies—alas that we’ll never know.

There is a lot of crummy design done on computers, and a lot of crummy design done in metal, sure enough. The reason that I champion metal, and especially things like linecasters and hot metal is that it has it’s own visual aesthetic. However, this aesthetic is becoming extinct (hence my remark about things found on Etsy) and it probably cannot be revived in the digital universe.

The digital design stage really has no constraints. Short of the physical limitations of ink on a relief surface, you can do anything with digital and people do—with some truly awesome results, but those reflect a modern aesthetic, hopelessly dyed by the Internet and video.

So, what I truly lament is the passing of a design era. While legions of handsetters will continue, and a few folks will support them in their efforts, they are slowly fading into the West (to borrow Tolkien). Meanwhile we all are whistling past the graveyard than many want print media to be interred into.

I was twenty years in the printing business before I knew there was anything like design. In commercial letterpress printing you take what you have and try to make endless variations. If you are lucky a client will throw in for a logo or a cut, and maybe the bakery or welding cut found at the flea market will actually get used. If you get a good paying job, and the rent isn’t behind you can spring for some type, or a book on the subject of printing.

I was lucky in that when my wife went to university I was able to get a library card, and spent the two years we were there reading through the entire catalogue of books on printing and private presses. Almost 20 years later I am still trying to find some of the titles and add them to my library. I discovered the work of William Morris and Cobden-Sanderson, Axel Sahlin and Dard Hunter, Frederic Goudy and Bruce Rogers, Francis Meynell and Stanley Morison, Harry Duncan and William Everson, and so many others. I discovered the special collections and was permitted to see books that no one had ever asked to see, like Eric Gill’s collection of St. Dominic’s Press books, and Everson’s Novum Psalterium which literally caused me to rise out of my seat. I spent the last winter there teaching myself to bind books out of sheer boredom.

I was trained as a pressman, and I learned to register four-colors on a Multilith, and worked as a feeder on a two-color 50” Harris. I did a four-year apprenticeship in two years because I asked questions, got answers, and wasn’t afraid to lay on my back on an oil pan and scoop excess grease off of the gears of a giant press. I had a good enough eye for mixing ink that I eventually mixed the ink for all of the printers in the shop. I’ve worked at quick prints, and ran Hatch Slow Print where I got my first letterpress experience. I taught myself to make wood engravings at a time in my life in which I couldn’t afford to buy mag cuts, I figured I could just make them myself.

But even with years of experience the most valuable lesson I learned was that as much as I did know, I didn’t and couldn’t know everything. To that end, I spend my off time reading about printing, printing history, design and technique. Currently in my stack to read is a book about printing inks for pressmen (I guess they didn’t expect women to do it), the history of printing in New Zealand, the first book printed in Antarctica, a book about newspaper printing in the American West, artists of the book in Boston at the turn of the last century, essays on printing by D. B. Updike, Stanley Morison’s folio about the Fell Types (which was published the day after he died), the bibliography of the L D Allen Press, and a history of the Greenwood Press. And if I get caught up with those, I need to sit down and read all seven volumes of Fleuron from beginning to end. I study printing and printing history because the way you learn to be a better printer is by learning how it was done by the best printers - then emulating them.

I spent several years teaching book arts and letterpress printing at a western university, and have the pleasure of seeing several of my students continue their studies, and become skilled printers and binders. And I spend too much time on this site offering advice from my own experience in the hopes that I can help someone who is enamored with printing as I was 40 years ago.

I print in the very best way I can, I don’t go in for fads whether they be grids, confetti or crash printing. I respect my tools, keep them clean and organized, and if a client tells me they want something that looks like it was printed at Hatch [in its current confusion], I tell them I would rather cut off my hands and poke out my eyes (true story). I enjoy what I do and how I do it, and I print things that people want to keep. I’m not afraid to educate a client, nor am I afraid to show them the door. I collect finely designed types, borders and ornaments, and I don’t mind spending six hours sorting out a font of 8 point pied type, in order to add it to my collection. I like to wash-up a press after a productive day, and I stripped, painted and re-built three of my six presses to make them look and operate better. I live by the Stanley Morison maxim “The fine printer begins where the careful printer leaves off”, and my credo is ‘Festina lente’. Make haste slowly.

How to become a practicing printer - keep practicing.


Well said Paul
I like and have used the guidance/credo. Now I know the Latin.
This thread has wandered away from the original topic, but like a good conversation, has brought up some good stuff. Some strong beliefs and passions of the practitioners of our craft have been revealed.

Some people can’t learn from books, i’m a hands on guy, i can read about something 100 times and just don’t seem to get it, i have to do it before i understand it. i don’t read much, i’ve spent my like asking questions, chasing women, drinking beer, and printing. i don’t claim to be the best printer, one of my friends who i learned a lot from would always take the hardest things to print, he said he liked the challenge, i told him i’ll do the easy stuff, the crap work that he didn’t want to do cause its faster and easier to do, and for a while it seemed to pay better, he gave me the name “down and dirty Dick” I think its important to pass all this knowledge on to the next generation, things are changing fast in all the trades and the old ways are dissappearing rapidly. No matter how much you know or how long you have been printing there is always soooo much more to learn, i’ve tried to share my experiences on this list but almost daily i have walked away with three times more than i shared. Now i’m getting old i have quit drinking, caught a good woman that i’ll keep forever, but i’ll still ask questions and keep printing. Guys liks Inky, gerald, mike from montana, greg carpenter (my twin brother from the south), the devil tail (paul) and many many more have shared a lot and i’ve learned more here in the last few years than you could imagine, keep posting cause you guys are very much appreciated .

Devils tail ,
One of my mates was employed as caster operater for over forty years at ditchling press (formerly st doms ) working with peplar and co ,has some good abilities for a metal man .

Just want to comment that, as a printer with a whopping five years experience, I deeply appreciate the time that people on this thread devote to recording their thoughts and experiences. I lap up every word!


Are you soon to be ceremoniously dragged out into public become unclothed and shrinkwrapped to a lampost in the middle of a busy roundabout ?
One has not completed the journey its the start , you learn new every day you work ,you hit a problem and you sort it .
The job is to be done you did it yesterday you can do it todat , curley paper , wrinkling , oily blower stains , dogs ears , gripper maks , scrapes and scratches , the list goes on the cures are endless and you got to have an answer to them all and whichever of those it is ,you have fifteen minutes to find it and sort it or you can get out the door . Nothing like a bit of pressure is there!

After Australia went to decimal currency (14 February 1966) one of our customers wanted the $ signs to have two parallel strokes, not the single stroke which we had available.

There seems to be some hint of difficult customers in some comments in the above discussion.

When (at the weekly newspaper) we were very early in the conversion to decimal currency [introduction of the conversion “flowed” from north to south] I needed one of the (Intertype) matrices to run pi; both machines were single magazine, so I soldered with radio-grade solder the bottom of the combination where the bottom pair of teeth on the matrix would have been (the next pair of teeth were already there) and ground down a small triangular file to the shape corresponding to matrix teeth so that I could shape the matrix teeth; having the bottom teeth and the next pair up meant the matrix would run pi in our machines. I’m trying to remember, but I think the matrix in question was the pound sign, we wanted the $ to run in the magazine, but (once the problem was solved) my memory faded somewhat.

Later, at a daily newspaper, one customer retained both the old currency (sterling) symbols and the decimal ($), till we just ceased to notice the old in the copy sent to us; everyone else had dropped the old symbols about six months earlier.


Hey Barbara

Thanks from all of us.

I’ve no idea what Peter L. is talking about. Maybe he has no idea who he is pontificating to?



I am coming way back to you, the OP. No, you do not want to make your own plates. Seriously. I am getting so tired of this DIY nonsense. Support the best. Do your best. Make this a better world. Please.


You can shrinkwrap me to the to the lampost, but I would prefer that you had done it when I was 20 (so people would be staring/oogling my hot young nubile body). I don’t know why Peter picked Barb (lucky?), but the rest made sense.

I was in a twisted fashion ,saying that at the point you finish your schooling in print you got five years in , you would be ceremonoiusly enrolled and the learning just carries on .
offence was not meant !!!

Hi Peter,

No offense taken. I figured that when I said I had a “whopping five years’ experience,” you thought I was saying that that’s a lot. Just the opposite. I was being facetious. I full well realize that five years wouldn’t even make an apprenticeship. And I quite liked the image of being ceremoniously dragged out in public and being unclothed and shrinkwrapped to a lampost in the middle of a busy roundabout. My husband will make frequent use of it.

And thanks, Gerald and Girl, for coming to my defense. I felt like Joan of Arc being unlashed from the execution pyre.


“Support the best. Do your best. Make this a better world. Please.” —Gerald

I can live by those words, no question.

Girl with kluge, when you were 20, wasn’t that 2 or 3 years ago?????


Somehow this thread has just cast me into the deepest depression! I’m probably just naive and wistful, but reading all this in the same week I hope to pick up my first press is a bit disheartening. It almost feel like the true masters of this art have utterly lost faith in it and, in some way, feel reticent to hand it over to the next generation because we were never asked to surmount the challenges you have faced.

In our youth, no, none of us twenty-somethings have likely spent 16 hours a day for months cleaning up pied type or hand kerning. No we have not suffered for days to produce a few pages which could easily be spit out in seconds from a copier today. We can never know your challenges, but that does not mean we do not appreciate them. I know I do.

Perhaps this art is dying. I was always encouraged by my mentors that it was not - that the advent of e-books was stirring an appreciation for the handmade as well as an awe for the new. Maybe I have received a disservice. I will say, nearly every pressman, typographer etc I have ever met has been a willing, encouraging, teacher so no offense is meant to anyone in this thread. It just seems…pessimistic.

I must have been born in the wrong age. I don’t suppose too many 24 year olds have a rotary phone in their house. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the fact that I have an i-phone too. I see nothing wrong with setting type by hand and using photopolymer. Why is one cheating? Why is the computer the death of letterpress? Doesn’t it open the medium up to a whole new era of artistic expression?

Sure etching, lithography, and woodcut arent primary means of image production anymore, but they remain alive and well among artists. I hope the advent of the computer will take some of the drudgery out of letterpress and allow it to grow as an artistic medium. Maybe I won’t make a living doing what I love, but I will do it nonetheless.

Please don’t lose heart. I grew up with a letterpress shop in the home. My father was a compositor and make-up man. It wasn’t until I grew older that the real appreciation for letterpress grew stronger. But in looking back I see that it was always there and continually growing. I spent the bulk of my career in offset, digital and mostly bindery. But will always have my shop at home and will print. I have some friends who have been in letterpress for over 50 years who are always teaching me new things about it. I’m sure that where you live there has to be some older (mature) letterpressmen who are more than happy to mentor young people to learn their craft. Make contact with any printing shops in your area, perhaps they know some. If you find a way to make a living from it, more power to you. If not, just keep on printing for the sheer passion.


Thank you. I plan to make it a part of my life whether it is profitable or not. I make my living now as a professor and a graphic designer (the bane of all pressman ha!). I’m mostly a book maker in my private practice and dream of one day starting a book arts center that preserves many of these traditional arts - gilding, marbling, paper making, binding, and all forms of printmaking. I have had my hand in each medium (having been in art school since the dawn of my short existence) and love them all.

I think it’s been a bit of a shock to leave towns were letterpress were alive and well and return to my hometown and find there are almost no private presses. Maybe in 10 years or so this city will have grown ready for a books art center (it certainly has every other form of art center/art education) and I will have found a way to invest in it and find people more capable than myself to contribute their wisdom. One day maybe! I will admit, in most ways Briar press has been a warm place with people willing to share both their passion and their hard won knowledge and for that I am thankful.

Where are you located? Perhpas someone on Briarpress knows of someone in your area. I am in Northeast Ohio. There are a number of letterpress shops as well as art studios around, but not always well known. But of those that are here, we either know each other or know someone who knows them. The grapevine is connected. It is probably true for your location as well.


You’re depressed? because of some commentary?

People do what they do, they have opinions. Some of these opinions are based on a lifetime of work, some not. So what?

Take what you need, but unlike the song, take the very best.


Well, Panthera, if your intent is to make letterpress “a part of [your] life whether it is profitable or not,” then I totally agree with Gerald — other people’s opinions may be of interest, but they should not deter you from doing what you want to do. Sounds maudlin, I know, but follow your dream. I doubt that we’re in jeopardy of having too many book arts centers. :-)


Panthera…. I’ve got to agree with Gerald on this one…. as long-time letterpress printers, we have all developed our opinions and ways of thinking, based upon our own experiences.

Technically, he is right sometimes and wrong sometimes from my way of thinking…. but that does not mean that the old masters of printing have lost faith in it. In fact it is an indicator of just the opposite: Both of us are passionately involved in promoting the field of letterpress. We may disagree on some technical aspects, or philosophical approaches to equipment, “good vs bad” printing, and so forth…. but that is a good thing, since it leads to discourse and discussion.

now… about you book-arts center idea: I think it’s GREAT.