A tip I picked up during a discussion with a commercial printer: if you are printing with two inks where the different colors have to overlap, always do the run with the lighter color first so that it is behind the darker color. In general, you should print your lightest ink first, then move towards the darkest ink last. This seems very common sense, but something to remember when actually printing so that you don’t end up with a lighter ink showing up on top of a darker area (unless you’ve designed your piece that way on purpose).
Rita from Indiana had some questions for me about letterpress, so I’m answering them here in case anyone else has the same questions.
I’m considering buying a 3×5 Kelsey and using it to make some cards for friends. Except, I’m not sure if the 3×5 can handle the greeting cards. Do you know?
The 3×5 refers to the size of the chase that would fit into your press. 3×5 is quite small, and is probably too small if you were thinking of using say a Boxcar base with photopolymer plates, but it is a good size for doing small things like business cards, and smaller greeting cards. You will be limited by the size of this press, but if you just wanted to use say metal type for small designs on small cards, then it would be ok.
Though I’ve only just started with my 5×8 Kelsey, I’ve already found the size to be somewhat limited for some of my ideas. Personally, I don’t think I would buy a 3×5 as it is too small for what I would want to print.
Did you regret getting your Kelsey?
Absolutely not 🙂 I am very happy with my press. But, going into it, you have to know that you won’t get the same results, or have the same amount of room for your designs as you would with a larger press. When I took my letterpress course, we used large letterpresses (ie. Chandler & Price Oldstyle) which had a large chase and allowed for deep impressions if you wanted it. A table-top press is just that: small.
Would you buy a different type of letterpress?
If I had more space, and wasn’t a beginner, I’d love to have a larger press. But, because the only room I have for letterpress equipment at this time is in my basement, I can’t really have anything too big or heavy. Some of the larger presses weigh hundreds of pounds and you need forklifts and such to move them. Until I have a bigger house, with maybe a ground-level detached garage, I can’t really get much bigger than what I have now.
So far, just getting myself set-up with the little Kelsey has been quite a bit of work, so I’m really not ready for a larger press right now anyways 🙂
If I got a Kelsey, can I put it in my office? I have carpeting in the office. Is it dirty? Should I have a canvas covering underneath it? What do you think? I have white walls? I’m afraid of ink blotches and stuff.
Yes, you could put a Kelsey in your office, as long as you have a sturdy table for it (it is best to screw the press into the table so that the press doesn’t lift when you actually give it some muscle) and room to move around. The press itself isn’t a dirty mess, but the grease from oiling the joints/levers/moving parts can be, and so can the inks and whatever you use to clean the rollers etc. My basement is unfinished, so I can be less careful, but I’d be afraid to use the press near a white [or any nice] carpet, just in case some ink went wayward.
If you would use it in an office with carpet, I’d be sure to put cardboard or other covering all around your work area, and maybe even some paper to protect the walls or other things you wouldn’t want letterpress ink to land on.
I am learning that you really have to be organized and clean to keep everything sorted out and not get grease or ink everywhere. It is also necessary to wipe your hands frequently to avoid transfering inks, grease, etc. to your plates and other areas it shouldn’t be.
I hope this answers some of your questions Rita, all my best to you!
Our friend Anonymous posted this in the comments, and it is definitely worth a read:
Secrets of a Kelseyman! – By Jack Gifford, 1980: Some tricks and tips for users of the Kelsey and other tabletop presses.
So after my last attempt at printing with my photopolymer plate, I was a bit down. Not only was I not getting any impression, but the ink coverage was not good, and things were not going well. So, I fired off an email with my photos to my letterpress instructor (Jim Rimmer) to see what he could tell me. So far, I have learned the following:
- My design has some larger solid areas. This is not something I was thinking about when I designed it, but I should have. For my first ever run on my press, I should have kept to line art or text perhaps, for better results.
- The paper I purchased was a bit too textured, causing some uneven coverage.
- A printer has to ink specifically for light type and heavy illustrations, depending on the job at hand.
So, Jim suggested that I cut up my plate into sections – one for the bird, one for the berries, and one for the text. Last night I did just that and…
EUREKA! Ok, so I didn’t do a full run with ink, but all of the sudden I’ve got a definite impression with the text, a slight impression for the bird, and a better impression for the berries. This weekend I will have a go at it with some ink.
The design I’m working on is for a New Year’s card for my design studio clients. I’m hoping to get myself sorted out in time to send it before January 🙂
I also ordered some 120 lb cover Eames (Furniture finish) paper from Neenah, which I saw someone use in the letterpress workshop I attended with good results. I will post photos of this next trial run when complete.
A quick word of thanks to Kathleen at Cake & Pie Creative for mentioning my blog on her site. I’ve already received lots of feedback from visitors, and it looks like there are many letterpress beginners (or soon-to-be beginners) in the same boat as me. Be sure to check out Kathleen’s cool cards and craft projects!
A member of the HOW forum recently asked me how much my little Kelsey press cost, and what other costs are involved in getting started with your own small press. Here are just some of the items I’ve had to locate/buy so far and what they’ve cost:
- Kelsey 5 x 8 Press: Donated to me by my letterpress instructor (but you can usually find them for $300-500 USD at Briarpress.org, etc.)
- Furniture, quoins, chase, tympan, gauge pins: Ditto (donated by instructor)
- Recover rollers: $200 CDN
- (Deep Relief) Boxcar base for 5 x 8 chase: $150 USD
- 2 Photopolymer plates for first greeting card design: $50 USD
- Ink: Some donated, plus an assortment of oil inks from NA Graphics: $65.75 USD
- Solvent, rags, hand brayer: approx $20 USD
- Plus paper costs and lovely taxes, duties, and shipping on everything ordered up from the States.
So, letterpress so far is not a cheap hobby or business venture, but the results (once I get going) will hopefully be: priceless.
I recently ordered photopolymer plates and a base from Boxcar Press, as I have heard so many great things about the base and set up. When I received them, I had the base and plates set up within 10 minutes, so I was impressed with how easy it was.
After trying a run with no ink, I discovered that unfortunately I am not getting much of an impression at all. I know that that is common with the Kelsey’s, but I’ve seen others get more that I am, so that is a bit strange. I tried a few different papers (Arches, Somerset) and no change. I tried packing behind the tympan, and no change.
So last night I tried a run with ink, just to see how things would go. I am using a Van Sons red rubber ink. The results were not so good, and I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. Sigh…
The artwork turned out much better on the lined school paper than on the art paper. The only problems I can think of would be:
- not enough ink – but I doubt this, as I was told you don’t need much, and on the heavier spots, it was bleeding almost totally through the paper
- not enough packing?
- the impression screws aren’t tight enough?
I am a graphic and web designer based in Vancouver, Canada, and after taking a summer letterpress workshop at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, I was hooked.
Thanks toJim Rimmer, renowned type designer, book designer, publisher, and illustrator, and principal of Pie Tree Press and Rimmer Type Foundry, I recently acquired a beautiful Kelsey letterpress. I am positively thrilled to now own our very own press, and I am very grateful for all the help Jim has given me in starting up.
I fell in love with letterpress printing the first time I had designed an invitation for printing on a local printer’s Heidelberg. I watched as he set up the press and the mechanics were intriguing. Since then, I have designed many items for letterpress printing, but always wanted to try it myself – and maybe eventually get my own press. It took me about 3 years to get organized and find one, but I did , and it is now in my basement.