How fast is too slow?

Am I slowing down, or is the world speeding up? For the past few months, most of the custom letterpress printing inquiries I have received have been “need it yesterday” situations.

When you’re paying for letterpress as I imagine it, you’re paying for the dedicated attention of a skilled craftsperson. But if you need your prints right away, you reduce the opportunity of the craftsperson to take the time to apply his or her skill. You’re paying more and getting less.

Has it always been this way, and I have been lucky enough to avoid it until recently? Or, is the perception of lettepress changing in the marketplace? Has the craft of the process been forgotten, and the final result of a stack of prints is all that matters, no matter if it was rushed out in a hurry?

In the face of this, I am tempted to impose a strict minimum turnaround time of 15-20 days. Do you feel this is egregiously slow?

I am very curious to hear and share experiences on this topic!

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I think 15-20 days would have been considered insane lead time even in the heyday of letterpress. You need to consider that you’re trying to win over “modern” customers, who are used to turn-around time in terms of hours or maybe a day or two at most.

I always had a 2 week turn around, I would charge extra for faster service. But the last 10 or so years nobody can wait. did a business card last week, it came in mid morning and they needed it by noon. My favorite was a huge job I quoted, something like 800000 pieces, they liked the price but when I told them 5 weeks they had a cow, they needed them in 5 days, told them if I got 10000 pieces in a day that was doing well.

I don’t think 15-20 days is too long. I tell my clients 2-3 weeks. If they want faster printing, they shouldn’t be choosing letterpress.

Too many problems can arise from not having enough lead time. I had to print a job from polymer in a week and the plate was defective. I had no choice but to send it to the client as there wasn’t time to get a new plate made. The ink was slurred around the edges of one word. It was awful looking and embarrassing to send out subpar work.

Ever since that job, I set the expectation right away and tell clients that letterpress is a slow and labor intensive process. I can’t just “push a print button” like a digital printer could.

ryanhowell, “Shall I rush the job, I was rushing, before you rushed in here” was a sign in the front office of shop I worked at in New Orleans. Yes, everybody wants it yesterday.
Another shop I worked in had sign ” there is never enough time to do the job right, but always enough time to do it over”
best james

In 1962 while in the 8th grade we were visited in my father’s print shop by a classmate and her father to order wedding invitations for my teenage classmate. The book of engraved invitations on order was produced, The two week turn-around was too long. They needed to send the invitations immediately, no time was to be lost. I stayed up late, and a special color, on fancy deckle edged paper, was ready to be mailed the next morning. I wish I still had a copy-perhaps my finest work. I hope they are still happily married.

I wish I had had the presence of mind to copy a quote I once saw by the wood-engraver Barry Moser. It basically said that he would do the job using all the skill he had, and would deliver it when it was done - no deadline, and don’t bother him while he was doing it. The customer would have to wait for however long it took to do the job right, and they were invited to go elsewhere if they could not abide by his schedule. It was a brilliant piece, and I’m sure it sorted the wheat from the chaff. Myself, I never had the luxury of turning away customers.


I have a sign in my shop.
Lack of Preparedness on your part,
Does Not
Constitute an Emergency on my part.

Most jobs, 3 to 5 working days turnaround.
50% Deposit, non-refundable.

Another sign…
Some Brighten the day by visiting and
Some by leaving.

Another sign…
You say you can get it cheaper?
I know where they buy the paper, the ink, the electric, and the rest we do in house.
Unless their working for FREE,
I doubt it.

Another sign:


Pick two.

It’s more of a joke for my customers as they (other printers) understand how crazy the turnaround times are now just to get a job or keep a customer.

image: photo(3).JPG


If you are using poly plates and a Heidelberg platen doing deep impression and only one colour on lettra where is the 15 - 20 days?

It could be the four or five jobs that have come in earlier,
Also not everybody has their own platemaker.
I ask for 2 weeks from when I have everything ready to print but usually it doesn’t take that long. I also like to have the time in case of a bad plate or some other issue.


Sure glad I have a nice collection of Ludlow Fonts, for fresh type and no problems with plates. Magnesium cuts work great.