Yes, I finally did it. I’ve been going on and on about making a letterpress and I finally did it. While looking for invitations for my wedding, I totally fell in love with letterpress. It’s such a great combination of pretty yet tactile. I took a class on it and you can see the results of that in this post. But I wanted to be able to do my own stuff when I wanted.
I found two tutorials on making your own letterpress. The first is from instructables here: letterpress tutorial. This is a good one but I was concerned that the winding would really be very tedious. The second was from Readymade magazine here: second letterpress tutorial. This one used a bottle jack to apply the pressure rather than veneer press screw. Not sure if one is actually better than the other, but I favored pumping the bottle jack versus twisting the screw.
Unfortunately I only have a couple of pictures from the creation which was last week. In this post I’ll show the creation and in the next one I’ll show the results.
If I had to do it over again here are some of the changes I would make:
- I would buy a bigger bottle jack I think. I only got the 2 ton one.
- I have planned some augmentations to make such as making the bottom part of the platen (with the corkboard) slide out. I’ll post about them when I do make them.
- It also would have been very useful to have a drill press for this. We only had a regular hand-held drill. But my husband turned out to be very adept at getting the holes to go straight through while I looked from the side to make sure it was keeping course (except for one that we jiggled into place).
- You’ll note in the picture above that the top set of 2×4’s has another 2×4 on top. That 2×4 is not actually attached in any way. There wasn’t enough tension on the bungee cords (and we ended up using these heavy duty ones rather than real bungee cords). More tension is needed to actually push the bottle jack back in so that’s why we added the extra 2×4 on top. I think if we had the bigger press it would work better for this tension reason (though of course we’d have to raise the whole top section by a bit).
- The plexiglass for attaching the plate to was a bit hard to cut (maybe I just don’t know the correct way) and you’re supposed to draw even 1″ lines across it to help with centering. I think I will probably just order one from Ponoko. Again, I will post some pictures when I get it. I need to design and order it first.
Here we have the platten. There is wood glue between the two layers and hence the clamps as we screwed in the angle brackets which also held the two pieces together.
Again, a clamp since there is wood glue holding these together. We put 2 screws into each pair of 2×4’s. We could have done more but there were also going to be threaded rods holding them together so didn’t matter much. We only lost one drill bit drilling the holes for screws into them 🙂
Next to these you can see the 24″ angle brackets. Contrary to what the instructions say, 24″ does not seem ot be a common length for angle brackets. Fortunately 48″ is and we could cut them in half with a hacksaw (or rather my husband could). I covered the ends with electrical tape since they were kinda sharp.
And here are those threaded rods I spoke of. The instructions call for 8 5″ threaded rods. Well, the best I could find was 24″ threaded rods so that meant mor efun with the hacksaw.
More on actually using it in the next post . . .
Really fine job building this letterpress–it’s especially nice seeing it in action in that video!
I’m beginning to build one this weekend, and I was wondering what you used for attaching the corkboard to the platen and maintaining consistent registration? And have you been printing more with it? How is it working?
And awesome food, too!
For attaching the corkboard to the platen, I just used some tiny nails–it’s not the greatest way to do it since it doesn’t lie completely flat. And for registration, I run a test page with some double sided tape (actually double sided scrapbooking stuff because that’s what I had around). When I get the test page where I like it, I mark the spot with some tape on two edges. Then for the others, I just line up the edges.
What I *plan* to do is attach my corkboard (with glue so it lays flatter) to another piece of plexiglass or wood. Then put some brackets on the side of the platen so I can slide my corkboard piece in and out–this should make it much easier to attach new pages.
Also, if you look at the instructables one, they use page markers–small little bendable pieces of metal–for the registration. Then you can just slide the paper under them and you don’t need sticky stuff. I’d like to try doing this as well because both applying the sticky stuff and removing it was a pain.
After you create your design. How do you prepare the photopolymer printing plate? Let’s say I have a few designs I want to print. Can I do this at home. What is the process for this. I would really like to know.
Thanks for the tips on building the home press. I would really like to make one someday soon.
I ordered my plate from Boxcar Press. You make an eps or Adobe Illustrator file and upload it to them. About a week later they send you your plate! Easy peasy. I ordered it with the sticky backing so I could stick it a piece of plexiglass to easily pull it in and out for inking.
Hey there, really nice 🙂 This has definitely tempted me to build something similar on my own, but do you get a good impression on the paper with this set-up?
I got a reasonable impression. The biggest issue was that it’s not an even impression. You can tell where the bottle jack is. I’m still working that out. I think perhaps a thicker platen to make the pressure distribution more even might help.
Yes, that was what I was thinking too. Spreading that pressure evenly will be tricky. I am currently considering a few other design options as well.. I was even thinking of free falling the platen from a reasonable height! I guess I have to experiment, and if something shows up, I will get back to you. A proper letterpress machine is too expensive for me, so I am like why not try building one if and when I have got time to kill!
And one more thing, is there any particular reason why you chose to have the photopolymer on the base, rather than on the underside of the platen? Is it because it is easier to ink the photopolymer when kept on the base?
Mostly because of the directions I was following. But after taking a letterpress class, I now know that it’s also the way it’s typically done: the paper is pressed into the plate rather than the other way around. Not that it couldn’t work the other way it around . . . it might; I just haven’t tried it.
Wow! I really enjoyed reading this blog post…very fine job on your homemade press! It’s been an inspiration to me – I’ve been thinking about creating my own. Unfortunately I must have arrived to late to check out the ReadyMade Magazine article that you referenced – because it doesn’t seem to be on their website anymore. I have read the other tutorial from instructables.com which I think is very good. I’ve been looking at ways of how to build my own version of the letterpress. Anyways thanks for this blog post!
Great post!!! Thanks for documenting your DIY. I saw the plans a while ago and always wondered how well it worked. Since your creation have you implemented any changes to your existing press? Also, the video doesn’t seem to be available any more did you remove it? I’d love to see it in action.
The only change I’ve done is to order some new platen plates from Ponoko. I should really post those, but I haven’t taken a photo. I haven’t had a chance to use the press much since making it. Hopefully will have a chance to play with it again soon though.
Also, I just checked the video and it does still seem to be working, so maybe there was just a blip in the system when you tried.
Also, just realized ADR was right about the link and I have updated it with new link.
Hello, I enjoyed your article very much (most im..pressed!) and have just started building my own letterpress based off the same design you used. I am adding a sliding plate at the bottom (where the plastic is). The slide will be taken from an old computer desk. My plan is rather than having the paper stuck to the platen and the letters on the base is to have both the paper and letters on two completely separate bits of sturdy MDF. These are then placed together on the base and then when the press is operated it simply applies pressure to the the two bits of MDF. I then release the pressure, slide out the base separate the MDF and repeat. Do you have any more tips on getting the even pressure you need? Thanks again!
The best tip I have for getting even pressure is to make your platen very thick. You can see mine isn’t super thick (only two layers of plywood). I would make it more like 4-5 layers of plywood in order to distribute more evenly. Even with two layers, the plywood is still “too flexible” and I think this is part of the issue I have. The link to the style of letterpress I didn’t go with has an example of a thicker platen. This of course also means your letterpress needs to be taller which I recommend in general since otherwise the rubber bungee cords are too long.
Your idea about the two pieces of MDF is good, but just be careful with registration. I imagine it would be tough to get a sharp line if the the two put together move even a bit. But the slide idea is great! Would love to hear how it turns out.
Hi there! Thanks for this! I was curious is you saved the letterpress tutorial from Readymade Magazine as it looks like Better Homes and Gardens bought them out and has since removed the link. Boo. I can’t seem to find it anywhere. Thanks for your help.
Unfortunately, no, I don’t have the original, but it looks like the Wayback Machine has it for you: https://web.archive.org/web/20100822022058/https://www.readymade.com/projects/tabletop_letterpress Have fun with it!
Great! Thank you- I appreciate it! ????