Open Letter to the group

For a year or more I have read the posting from people getting into letterpress printing. As a teenagers in the early 60’s I read books on letterpress type and printing, went to letterpress trade school for three years, and worked with trained craftsmen.

I have seen many postings from people that know nothing about letterpress, but want to do it. They get upset that the equipment they purchased will not do the job.

This letter is to all new letterpress people, before jumping in and buying a press, learn about letterpress.

Learn what some printing presses will or will not do. Learn what types faces work best with the paper stock you want to print on and the ink it takes to print the job.

Spending money before learning, is money down the drain.

Log in to reply   14 replies so far

Learn how? When is the last time you saw a Letterpress Trade School in operation? Many people will suggest that coming to this site would be a great start. I might have to agree.

However, when asking a question here, you can easily get drastically different answers from different people. Some people say deep impression is beautiful and great… some say it is simply WRONG and dangerous and offensive to the old time printers. In my other thread, you can clearly see people saying that top notch work can NOT be done on small Kelsey presses, while others say that it certainly can be done. Which is correct… they both came from this same site.

It’s not as easy as “go learn it”. Like me, I wanted to learn, and had to jump in and get started so that i could learn as much as I could on my own. That required buying a press, type, plates, base, etc etc.


You really touched a hot button it seems. I am with you. I have read the posts on this site voraciously for a long time, and opinions are often opposite from very experienced printers. It would be nice if there were still letterpress trade schools but I am not aware of any. I am not sure if you are referring to me when you say top notch work cannot be done on a Kelsey, but, if you are, that was not my intent. I think an experienced printer can, but, it places an unnecessary extra burden on the beginner who will have more difficulty getting it to perform really well. I should also add that there are a lot of Kelsey models out there. I do not have experience with all of them and they get pretty big. Some models are certainly better than others. ( DickG told me I shouldn’t knock Kelsey because we are both from CT and they might kick me out of the state for bad mouthing them). If you aren’t lucky enough to live near some letterpress resource, school, museum, shop, you don’t have much alternative that I can think of short of doing exactly what you are doing.

Aaron David,

Thanks for the letter and advice.
I’m trying to learn here, as much as I’d love to attend a workshop here in Mex, there are none, there are barely enough people who still know or remember what these machines did when printing. They are all used for die cutting or numbering nowadays.
So.. I’m learning as I go, thanks to this wonderful community.

This might get to be a good, and quite long thread. There are some wise words already. I think there must be room for differences of opinion with regard to the equipment and the process of printing. I do it pretty much the way I was taught, but am considerate of others who may do it differently.
It is probably frustrating and confusing for a new person who is sincerely seeking information to be bombarded with differences in information from two or more apparently experienced printers. I have no first hand experience with either craft, but I think if you asked two orchestra conductors, or two mud pie makers, you would get three opinions from each. Like much of life, there just isn’t only one right way. There are lots of wrong ways and it is good experience to explore them. Mistakes can be good lessons as long as it isn’t the mistake of putting your hand in the platen press at the RONG time.
There are no trade schools, but there are a few printing craft schools and some colleges offering printing courses.
There are also a few individuals who offer their shops and their experience to teach. I am one of them. I teach what we used to call fine letterpress printing. We printed on the paper and not into it. I respect the new artists who want to do deeper impression and will show my students how to do it. But not with my type.
There is a history of people who are self taught and are good at what they do. I suppose one could buy an airplane and learn to fly without lessons. I think it would be better to have lessons. I think the same with letterpress printing.
I think Briar Press is a great resource. It is an unmodulated forum and like the rest of the internet, there is some good information, some not so good information, and certainly biased but sincere differences of opinion.
Get some ink on your shirt and beware of type lice.

Speaking as a newcomer, I have obtained tremendous benefits from Briar Press (cf. huge thanks Elizabeth & Co running Briar Press). Without this site, I would not have been able to ask so many questions and get lots of answers (often differing answers, but that’s ok).

From my own limited experience, my sincere suggestion to beginners is to attend a letterpress class before buying your own press.

There are letterpress weekend classes in most major cities in the US. This may mean traveling (and staying overnight), but I believe the effort & cost is worthwhile. Alternatively, find out if a local experienced printer is willing to teach one-to-one.

- Before attending, contact the teacher/instructor to ask what kind press will be used.

- Ask if you can try out small hand-presses, large platen presses and cylinder presses.

- If you think in the future you want to buy press XYZ (say Kelsey or Pilot), ask if the class will provide you with access to such a press. This will allow you to see if press XYZ is suitable to your expectations.

so mush for proofreeding
Please change unmodulated to unmoderated


I love your “so mush for proofreeding” Your prior post was excellent.


Sorry for the length of this post, but I figured my experience with learning might help someone out:

When I learnt to screenprint, me and three friends spent three months researching, both online and going to commercial shops and talking to experienced printers, before buying any equipment. We gathered our funds and bought a high-quality, third-hand setup. We then made a day-by-day, four-month-long plan that would develop our printing to the point where we were comfortable taking paid work.

For three of those months we were working in the studio for 6-10 hours, 5-6 days of the week. Within those 7 months we racked up hundreds of hours of research and focused trials and testing, gradually going more and more complex in terms of artwork and registration. All along we were taking notes of absolutely everything and analyzing every printing session. This got our troubleshooting down to a science and we were no longer stumped and panicked when things went haywire with a run.

When I wanted to learn to do letterpress, I spent about a month researching and then put out an ad asking for a press nearby. Within a matter of hours I had a press lined up and Inky had kindly offered me to visit his studio. I bought the press and went to visit him. My previous experience with letterpress was limited to assisting a friend on a Vandercook, as well as setting a single line of lead-type and pulling a couple of proofs of it. He showed me and my roommate around his studio, explained his presses and their operation and gave us a lot of helpful advise.

Since I wasn’t doing this as part of my coursework, me and my roommate then spent 5 months, in spare moments inbetween our studies, to get the press in working order. During those months I visited these forums every day and read up on a variety of topics, focusing on threads by newbies and technical discussions.

When I decided the press was ready to go, I spent an afternoon making sure I had adjusted it correctly, it was moving properly and that the rollers were as they should be.

Once the press was ready, I did a few hours more to dial in the form-specific adjustments and makeready. Then I dampened paper following a thread on here, doing a few tests with the level of dampness and the next day I printed tests for an hour, ironing out any differences.

My first run was 80 prints, 4x7.5” or so. I delivered them to the client on friday and they were very pleased. That piece of work was the first ever print I did on letterpress… on a Kelsey 4 1/2 which many on these forums say would not be fit for commercial work, at all.

It isn’t just about experience, with preparation, planning and patience you can get where you need to go…


And the best piece of advise I ever got, and it has come from every experienced printer I’ve ever met:

“If something is wrong, change ONE thing and try again…”


John, your not aware of any letterpress trade schools, what about that one in Lyme, CT? Beautiful equipment and a pretty good teacher also. Dick G.

I’m going to jump in here with my 2 cents worth. While I’d rather cast type and hot-stamp, here’s what got me interested in letterpress a long, long time ago. The fellow who printed this did it on a 6 X 10 Kelsey with type and rule that he also purchased new from Kelsey. This was back in the late 1960’s. He had never printed before and was totally self-taught.

image: MWH.jpg


I came from a litho background, so some of that experience has carried over to letterpress.

I spent a long time learning/being taught before I had the confidence to show people what I could do. My mentor was self taught but had been printing for over 30 years (and had amassed a cornucopia of delights in the process).

We’re now in a situation where people are constantly asking us if we’ll run workshops so they can come and learn how to do it. The problem is time and the lack of it!

I was pointing out, some of the posting from people that jumped in and purchased a press before knowing what press to buy.

I want people to spend money on the right equipment for what they plan to print.

Take time to ask questions to the group on what you plan to print. If you want full coverage of a large image a small press will not do the job.

I want to read about happy letterpress people that enjoy the press they purchased.

Aaron you are quite right, figure out what you want to print and get the right equipment to do the job. The only problem is no matter what press you have you always want to print something bigger, then you get a bigger press, but that’s not enough, then you need a small press for the little things, then you want a kelsey, no a craftsman, make that a c&p, then you talk to John Falstrom and now i want a golding, now i have 12 presses, how do you stop the madness, i know i’ll switch to offset???? Dick G.