Tips for starting out?

I am new to letterpress and am just getting started. I have a set of uppercase sans-serif wood type and lowercase metal type in a similar font. Right now I am starting off small and have a simple hand press. Where are I am struggling with the most is where to start with inks and paper. Those are both expensive investments and I want to make a confident decision and find a solid supplier. I read that paper can be sensitive to oil-based inks. Any advice in terms of where to buy supplies for a beginner is greatly appreciated.

On a different note, I wanted to find out if anyone had any information on “natural” inks and papers? I have read about soy and vegetable-based inks but some sources have reported that they are not truly “natural” because of stablizers and additives. There are some pigment suppliers out there who make powders compatible with walnut oil, but I didn’t know if those would make for reliable inks (or if they would be considered true letterpress inks at all).

Sorry for the length! I am eager to learn and look forward to hearing from some of the best. Thank you!

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I really love Holyoke Direct for paper ( They only have 3 color choices in terms of paper, but you can order pre-cut paper at decent prices. They even do edge painting for you. Customer service is great.

There’s also ( for a bigger variety (bamboo paper, colored papers, etc.).

In terms of “natural” paper, all letterpress paper is pretty natural since it’s usually cotton and not wood pulp. You can find recycled papers (I’ve found several on Etsy) and hand-made papers (Porridge Papers is an example) that take letterpress printing well and are affordable. Part of the fun with letterpress printing, in my current limited experience, is finding new, fun papers to print on. It’s part of the process of me, I guess.

We don’t yet own a paper cutter and we haven’t established a relationship with a local print shop yet, so we don’t have access to anyone who can cut down parent sheets for us yet. Places like Holyoke Direct that offer pre-cut paper for sale or places where we can buy smaller sheets of paper that we can cut by hand are currently my favorite places.

We’re also new to letterpress and hope to get started this year with our two tabletop presses, so I feel ya!

In terms of ink, I think it’s always a debate here … you can find any number of threads on the subject, and it ends up coming down to personal research and personal choice. Experimenting with different inks and seeing their results may be helpful, too. We’ve chosen to mostly stick with oil-based ink. Letterpress ink is usually made with linseed oil (if I remember correctly), which is natural. We choose not to clean with mineral spirits, however, and there are other methods to clean with. We’re renting a house and our studio is inside and we have two kids. While they’re good at leaving the presses alone, we’ve just made the choice to keep the solvents to a minimum until we have a place of our own where the studio can be separate from the house. We’ve never tried soy or vegetable-based inks because of all I’ve read here; it ends up feeling like choosing the lesser evil and I’ve just chosen oil-based ink because it seems easier to clean with natural solvents.

Congrats on starting the adventure of letterpress printing! Briar Press is a great resource! :)

I use oil based old fashioned letterpress ink on metal type and have moved over to vegetable oil based inks for wood poster type.
I found the vegetable oil ink has different characteristics from oil based ink and although you can clean it off with vegetable oil you still need to use an oil derived cleaner. I tried a half tone yesterday and clogged it up, couldn’t get a good print.
No problem on the wood type for printing, cleaning the type I use vegetable oil and paper towels which gets most of the pigment off. Where possible I still give it a final wipe with a rag and an oil derived cleaner.

Thank you everyone for your replies and advice. I really appreciate it. I will definitely look into the paper and inks that were mentioned. I do agree that by being small printers in the first place we are already doing our part as eco-friendly creators. It is inspiring to know that there are those out there willing to take our planet into consideration as well as those who are willing to teach this art to newcomers. I am humbled.


Welcome to the wonderful work of letterpress.

May your journey bring you much joy.

Tom & Terri
T & T Press Restoration