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For the Prospective Printer

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Information for the Prospective Printer

THERE ARE two main tributaries that feed into the desire to become a letterpress printer. The first flows from an interest in words, the alphabet, the history of printing itself. The second from an interst in art, literature, images, paper, ink.

While much of the same equipment must be acquired to satisfy both, there are some differences that should be considered. And the first question to be answered is, "What do you want to print?" If your interest is along the lines of letters, typography, printing history, you may want to collect type, and to use your press to display it. You may want to use your press for ephemera, occasional pieces for friends, and specimen sheets.

If your interests lie more in the second area, you may want to be expeimental, using type with other image sources, adding binding skills, multi-color images, etc.

While obviously these may overlap in time as your knowledge of the field grows along with your experience, this crude categorization in the beginning will help to at least get you started working with what most interests you now.

For ease of communication here I will attach "typographer" and "art printer" to these categories. The typographer would best be served with a table top platen press, with as large a chase size as you can obtain. Something like a Kelsey, a Pilot, an Adana--that kind of press.

The art printer might do well to start off with a flat-bed proof press--a Poco or Nolan. With the flat bed press, several small brayers, and some careful layout, you can print several colors at once. You can also easily incorporate non-type printing surfaces on these presses--cloth, lace, etc., as well as very large linoleum cuts and wood blocks.

If your leanings are in this direction, you would probably find the larger typesizes--30pt and up--to be the most versatile. Add to these some very large wood types. You are aiming for an output of a few copies of the same image.

For the typographer, a 9 x 12" chase size will let you print two pages at the same time of a book whose pages will trim out of an 8½ x 11" sheet. You will need to learn about imposition. But, once set up, you can quickly print many copies.

Both kinds of printers will need to learn about paper, inks, and clean-up.

Both kinds of printers will need the following at the very beginning:
How-to printing book--
    (I strongly suggest an old high school shop manual by Henry, or Polk.)
Leads and slugs
Lead and slug cutter
Composing stick
Furniture & reglets
Quoins (and quoin key)
Tympan paper
Bodkin (or awl)
Small galley
Pica rule
Ink - (1/4# tubes are best)
Hand roller
Container for kerosene (or a can of typewash)
Container of a solvent for cleaning rollers
Newsprint (for proofing)
Strong string (for tying up lines of set type)
12 or 18pt solid face rule for roller bearers
X-acto knife


In addition to the above list, the typographer-printer with the platen press will need the following:
Proof planer
Gauge pins
Pressboard

The art printer will only need to add a chase that will fit into the bed
of the proof press. (A chase does not come with proof presses.) And an
ink table--a piece of plate glass about 16 x 24" works fine-- for rolling
out your ink with the brayer.

And, both types will want to check out this resource link thoroughly.
© 2001-2008, Clair Dunn.