Building a Printing Press
I’ve been wanting a letterpress for a long time. I was checking eBay periodically, but the inexpensive ones need a lot of work and have a platen area (the printing area) not much bigger than a business card. The nicer presses are hundreds of dollars and still only have a platen around 6 x 8 inches. I then came across these instructions by Charles Morgan and this diagram from ReadyMade magazine on building your own printing press using a hydraulic jack. It doesn’t have the ability to self-ink like a letterpress, but in exchange, I have an 18 x 18 inch platen. This is a picture of my press (my husband helped me get it together.)
This next image is the first print I pulled from the press. I collect old letterpress blocks, so these are are few inked images of some I have.
It even does a nice job with embossment.
This past weekend, I printed several cards using old blocks from India meant for printing fabrics.
So now my next adventure will be making my own plates with my own work!
If you decide to make a press yourself, here are some tips:
- I used melamine instead of plywood. It’s easier to clean if you accidentally get ink on the press, but does cost more.
- Make it 24 inches high and use 24” bungee cords.
- A drill press is helpful for drilling into the 2 x 4s. Otherwise it might take a couple tries to get the bolts in straight.
- Some jacks extend the last two inches by rotating the top (we didn’t realize this until after we mounted it on some extra boards).
- To anchor the jack on the top braces, take your jack to the plumbing section of the hardware store. You will probably be able to find a metal mounting piece that your jack will fit perfectly in and can be screwed into the 2 x 4s. I also used some 1” corner braces to keep the jack in place on the bottom. This way it is still removable.
- Adding handles helps with lifting the press up. It does come up on its own when releasing the jack, but sometimes it is nice to have an easy way to move it up a little more.
- Use a piece of plexi and draw evenly spaced lines to help with registration for printing. Your block can sit on the plexi.
- Back your paper with felt or cotton batting to help pad the plate. This will help get the embossment characteristic of letterpresses.
- Expect to spend around $100 in materials.
- Boxcar Press can create plates for you of your digital designs, or can you get creative and find other ways to create your own plates.
- Check out this link for basic instructions on using the press. I purchased my inks from Renaissance Graphic Arts, but you can also check your art supply store for printmaking supplies.
UPDATE: Learn how to print with your press!
Visit the blog post with a printing how-to.