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Mom, this is how letterpress works

On 12, Mar 2012 | One Comment | In How To, Letterpress | By Zoë

You might know letterpress printing as an obsolete art form, a luxury wedding invite method, or as a huge piece of machinery rich with history and squeaky gears. I’m no expert on the matter but I’m a believer of the latter (as well as the wedding invite one, a bit). I want to explain how it works for all of you who give me a blank stare every time I bring it up.

Letterpresses come in many forms and shapes but this specifically is a Chandler & Price named Leora who lives in Paper Boat Studios under the care of Amy Thompson. See all of the moving parts and pieces here (image courtesy of Watch this unnecessarily long video of me in action to get a sense:

  1. Start by mixing your ink.
  2. Place it on the ink disc and run the machine by spinning the big wheel, allowing the rollers to spread the ink evenly.
  3. Place your photopolymer plate containing your art on the bed and surround it with closely locked furniture, so that it will not shift.
  4. Place the bed in the press and use the lever to lock it in.
  5. When the press closes, the paper and the art will touch in the same place every time. Using some placeholders to guide the paper, orient your paper to be perfectly registered with the art on the bed.
  6. Finally, spin the wheel away from you and begin to press on the foot pedal. Eventually you should get in a rhythm that requires no more spinning of the wheel and the foot pedal alone will keep the momentum of the machine going.
  7. Place your paper in the placeholders and pull the big lever on the left of the machine towards you. This puts the machine on ‘print’ not ‘trip.’ Trip means the machine stops the plate from touching the ink as opposed to print which allows the contact to be made. Your impression should be made on the paper. You can choose to hit it twice, creating a stronger impression with more saturated color or leave it at one hit. Remove the paper from the machine and put the lever back to trip so that it doesn’t print on the tempin (sp?) while you place out a new piece of paper.
  8. Repeat!

Side note: This is cool.

There it is! One of my favorite results of the print is not just the final product (here) but also the test prints that come out of it. See some examples of accidentally cool prints:

23 karat gold business card! Only 1 exists


* Title is a play on Jessica Hische‘s famous site, Mom This is How Twitter Works.


  1. This is awesome. I want crafty gold business cards!

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