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  • JIm Poelstra
    12 years, 5 months ago

    I build affordable bookbinding equipment.    I’m looking for a way to expand my line of equipment, I would like provide those who want to learn the art of letterpress an opportunity to do so without morgaging their homes.  So, I am researching building an inexpensive letterpress. 
    In searching the internet, I have found nothing but a cheapy plastic thing but nothing that would really do letterpress the way it should be done. 
    So I have some questions:
    When designing this, what are the most important criteria and in what order of importance:
       ease of registration
       size that it will press
       ease of use
    One of the designs I have seen is using a 2 ton hydraulic jack and making a simple press with it.  It would seem to me that  using this high a pressure, it would deform the type.  How high a pressure is needed to imboss the paper?  Is the 2 tons spread out over the size of the plate enough, too much, not enough?  How much pressure per square inch would be adequate?
    What would be the general size you would like to see?  11×14?  8-1/2 x 11? 
    I have seen several different ways to register the paper: 
       Put the paper on the printing plate and place the whole thing in the press.
       have the printing plate on the bottom with the paper on the top and press together.
       Have the paper on the bottom with the printing plate on the top.
    Which would you prefer?

    II am familiar somewhat with the process but have never done it so any help you can give would be greatly appreicated, not only by me but those who end up starting the art of letterpress by buying one of the ones I build.  Thanks!

    Ashley E. Hurst
    12 years, 4 months ago

    I think two tons of pressure would be a bit overkill for letterpress! Pulling an impression doesn’t require all that much pressure. The heavy debossing you see on most letterpress printed objects is actually a fairly modern trend, and most older letterpress printing presses needed to be adjusted in order to achieve this effect! I’m sorry I can’t give you more specific figures. I haven’t done any letterpress in quite some time and I don’t have the brand/model of the presses I did use handy.


    As for press criteria:

    Price (In a perfect world, this would be a non-issue and thus the least important aspect!)

    Ease of Use

    Ease of Registration

    Size That It Will Press

    Pressure (This is a bit tricky because while a nice deep impression is lovely, a high amount of pressure could be disastrous for type, plates, and other printing blocks.)


    Another very very important factor would be ease of clean-up and press maintenance. I have wanted to get a table-top press for quite some time, but I have to admit that I am a bit intimidated by the prospect of having to maintain one (especially a used press that is no longer in production!). We had two large letterpress presses in my university’s print studio and whenever they broke down it pretty much crippled all letterpress operations. Since the equipment was so specialized we had to wait for a repairman instead of being able to troubleshoot on our own like we did for the various other printing presses. Being able to repair my own press would give me peace of mind and allow me to get back to making much more quickly (and probably save some money to boot).


    For paper registration, I think pressing the paper onto the plate would probably be better. Personally, I would be worried about trying to lock up text/the plate if I were to have to press it onto the paper. However, it might be difficult to get the paper to lie flat for printing and not flap up or shift. With the press I used, the paper clamped onto a drum that was rolled back and forth over the press bed. You could hold down the other end of the paper while printing to ensure that the paper would meet the plate correctly.


    I am very much a novice at letterpress printing, but I hope that I was able to help in some way!


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