Advice for an upcoming business.

Hi there- I’m opening a boutique soon and would like to offer letterpressed invitations, menus, coasters and stationary. I’ve taken a weekend course already, and will probably take another before opening the doors.

I’m hoping someone out there can help offer suggestions as to what I would need starting out. The press I learned on was a Vandercook 320G Hand Proof Press, so I’d be looking for something similar- is ebay the only option? And as for supplies/tools, how much of what should I purchase, and any from where?

I am in central Texas.

Thanks for your help!


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I think starting a new business is tough and adding a service that you are farily new to could = trouble. You may want to start off partnering with a local letterpress company until you become more familier with all things letterpress, taking a class and having someone come in and request 200 invites for a wedding can be a much different experience. I’m not trying to discourege you, just suggesting you give it some time before you dive in

I would have to agree with JHPapers. Letterpress is a seductive craft, but it is deceptive. Making the occasional greeting card, or having fun as a hobby is something great after a basic lesson or two, but offering printing as a service is serious business. I have been printing full time for about 3 years now, and it is still a constant learning process. I would bet that people who have been printing for decades could say the same.
It is one thing to buy the right press, and figure out all the supplies and papers you need, but it is a whole other ball game to be able to produce good quality printwork from all of that.
If is is in your budget, look at hiring a printer with some experience to work for you and teach you a thing or two.
Having said all that, keep your eyes out for a Vandercook, since that is what you are familiar with. If you can find one, plan on paying $3,000 to $5,000. A C&P is a good alternative, but it is a platen press, so look for a class or two that you can take on that. You may find a good deal on a C&P (From free to $3,000).
You will also need a source for platemaking ( I recommend Boxcar Press), and the supplies that go with that (base, keys, quoines, etc.)
If you want to set type, keep your eyes on the classifieds section here at Briar Press for sets of type, and take a class in hand set type (it is an art in and of itself).
For ink, i like Van Son Rubber Base (some printers like oil base, your call)
For paper, trial and error till you know what you like. Crane’s Lettra is a good place to start
There are alot of things to tackle, and i wish you the best of luck, just be sure you know exactly what you are able to deliver before making any promises.
Good luck.

Saw your note in Briar. First let me say that both JH Papers and Natron gave you some good advice. They know as I do, printing is not so simple….but do not give up on your dream.

I have over 60 yrs experience and I am always glad to help another beginner. There is a lot to learn, but it is not impossible. Important to get started right! I can help with info and advice on equipment and types, etc. As a hobby, I do this to keep in touch with the craft I love so much.
If you are serious, contact me so we can talk. Nothing to lose. Good luck to you and do not rush into anything blindly.

Welcome ashley!

First off, I think the advice you’ve gotten so far is great. When I decided to start a part-time letterpress business with my husband, I really underestimated the amount of time it would take to get up and running. It’s taken us about 2 years since we bought the press to get started, but it has been very rewarding. This delay was as much a product of the “part-time” nature of the business as a desire to spread out the investment necessary over time.

I don’t know the specifics of your situation, but I would definitely recommend doing a couple jobs for friends and willing volunteers before hanging your shingle. We did this and it really helped iron out some of the unforeseen difficulties which crop up when you are relatively new to printing.

It will also give you an idea how long things take (like prepress, makeready, cleaning up, etc.) which will help when you are setting prices and scheduling jobs.

I would also recommend that you become intimately familiar with the practical limits of your press, to allow you to confidently talk to designers and clients about what letterpress can and can’t do. We started out printing limited amounts of greeting cards to get ourselves familiar with how things work before we dove into the wedding invitation market. After all, people will be much less upset about roller slurs on a $3 birthday card than they will on their $1000 wedding invitation job. I’ve also had to turn down jobs from designers which are just not possible for me to accomplish on my platen press.

Also, you may want to keep in mind that there limited sources for supplies. NA Graphics is a fantastic resource for all things letterpress. There are a few places around the country which sell presses, but I don’t know of any off the top of my head in Texas. Buying a press off ebay is possible, but it is more advisable to buy a press after you look at it in person and make sure it works, especially if you are relying on it for commercial use.

Finally, as far as tools go, John Barrett of Letterpress Things has a great list on his website here

I also have a list of suppliers/resources I used on my business blog.

Good luck!

Wow! Thank you for all the advice (and concern!).

I do realize that this is a huge thing, and will not accept jobs that I can’t handle- I’d be a complete fool to say that I could complete a large traditional wedding package early on in the shop!
(And I do have a business partner so I won’t be going it completely alone. Also, if budget allows, I’d like to contract a designer/presser, so yes, that’s been considered.)

But the way I see it, the sooner I can get a press, the more practice I will get. And when another class is offered, I’ll take it. I understand class does not = experience, but until I get my own, it’ll have to do.

And LP is so detail oriented, I can see how a) it’s seductive and b) you’re always learning. Perhaps that’s why I loved it so much.

Keep hitting me with advice and words of caution-
they’re helping me plan, are being submitted to the budget, and getting me excited about the future!

Many many thanks!!

Hi Ashley,

I just wanted to say hello - and that I seem to be currently in a similar situation to you. I’m considering opening up my own letterpress shop at some point soon - but like you, I have only had minimal experience. I too took a class and learned on a Vandercook, and am hoping to be able to take more classes in the near future. It’s hard because I feel as you do - that there is only so much pre-planning and investigation you can do before you just jump right in and start figuring things out on your own.

However, I’m definitely trying to listen to the advice of others (like the people who have responded to your post) and take things as slowly as possible. One printer I spoke with told me he wished he had started out producing more goods (i.e. his own cards, coasters, etc) before starting to accept big custom jobs. I’m probably also going to investigate “renting” some time on some local presses (like at the place where I took my class) to gain more experience before I go out and buy my own equipment. It’s very tempting to want to go out and start buying stuff right away. I’m also going to try and connect with as many local pressers here to pick their brains about their experiences.

Anyway, good luck to you!

One thing that i could definately recommend is to try and find an actual job working as a printer, or as an apprentice. I know it might be slim pickings, because there aren’t a huge amount of job openings for an entry level letterpress printers, but you might check out the existing shops in your area and see if they need a hand around the print shop.
Start with the basics and learn what a functioning print shop feels like. It may be touchy, because you don’t want to come across as someone who is just trying to become the competition, but if you have the time to invest in their business a bit, then you can become a printer on someone else’s watch, and make some cash on the side while doing it.
You will be amazed at all the things invovled in making your clients happy and balancing your passion at the same time, but you will get a great foundation for running your own operation, and you can learn some lessons the easy way (from someone with experience), rather than the hard way(hours of your own trial and error).
Just a thought. Good luck.

Well, here’s an update. My partner and I have purchased a man’s entire shop. You might have seen the ad on the classified page- 2 kluges, 1 c&P, many drawers of type- everything we need to get started! Presses should be delivered by Halloween. :) Then it’s practice practice practice.

Updated. Ashley, how are things going with your operation? I am in a similar situation, although i have been pegging type for some years off and on since High School. I am the Letterpressman at the Florida Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts, and have recently purchased … and am about to move … a New Style 8 x 12 C&P w/ 2hp motor to my home shop, largely to suppliment the printing activities at the Museum. Only i am doing this under my name, G. Johanson, Settlement Printer.

I figure that more than likely i have to develop a toehold in the niche market of Colonial and Restoration ephemera, something that we at the Settlement have been doing for our own giftshop. I have already had some luck producing a Hornbook after a 1647 “Old Deluder Law” specimen from the Bay Colony, sold mostly to Homeschool families, a few Museums and some folks into unique Colonial Items to hang on the wall. Next in line may be a Chap Book series, vintage Postal Stationery, and items related to other specialty historical fields. At one point i would like to step into wood / lino cut cards and specialty announcements for the more general public, more than likely for sale at St. Augustine.

A view of the Pioneer Settlement’s Print Shop can be seen at

I don’t think i’ll be able to quit my day job and retire into doing this to support myself anytime soon, but at least it might be able to pay for itself and help fund the exhibit at the Pioneer Settlement. Never started up a business before, so it’s just a tad scarey particularly since the target market is rather specialised.

Thus for the near future, i’ll be printing by the light of Midnight Oil, working the ’ the regular job’ during the day, honing my skills at FreeHand and Illustrator and seeing where this endeavour goes.

Good Providence in this, and in all your future endeavours for this coming year!
Keep us in touch with how you are progressing.

Your Humble Servant,
G. Johanson, Settlement Printer.

It’s much easier to print stationEry than stationAry!!

It’s much easier to print stationEry than stationAry!!

It’s much easier to print stationEry than stationAry!!

Just an update: press was successfully installed yesterday. C&P “New Style” 8x12. Will be ordering new rollers and trucks soon.

It’s GREAT to hear of someone who is opening a letterpress shop! I wish you a lot of luck, and success. It is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend one’s carreer, if you can find a way to earn a living doing so. is a great company for people to order coasters from, you do not have any experience in artwork prep. coastersonly will prep any art work for free and their prices are as low for small orders as they are for the large casino clients.