Letterpress Journey

I'm Starting a new journey this year. I'm finally going to figure out printing with the Nolan proofing press that I "acquired" from my father in law. The problem that lies ahead of me is that it's pretty bear bones. It's just a press. I have a few galley trays of varying size, and I purchased a very limited font on ebay for cheap.

My first challenge is to find a means for making or acquiring a plate that I can print from. Fortunately, I don't intend to do any form of commercial printing for others so that gives me a lot of flexibility.

So far I've looked into Boxcar Press photopolymer plates and required base, mounted magnesium plates, and linoleum block. I've not actually bought into and used these methods here, but I'm sure there are others out there who are looking at what options are out there. Here's what I've found out so far.

Boxcar Plates

To have photopolymer plates created is fairly inexpensive at about $.60–.70 per square inch. The problem with this approach is the upfront cost of the required Boxcar base. There are alternative bases, but there isn't much relative cost savings to be had by purchasing an alternative. The actual plates are thin so they have to be raised up to type height. Boxcar solves this by creating a base that sites on the press that the plates are then adhered to. That giant piece of aluminum is quite pricey. Maybe a bit too pricey for a starting place. Though it seems like they really have their stuff together and it seems like a pretty nice system. I may go down that road in the future.

Pros: Inexpensive plates in the long term, Digital designs can be recreated with precision
Cons: High cost barrier of entry with base cost,.

Mounted Magnesium Plates

These are more expensive. I've found one place (Owosso) that will do this so far, they also do dies other stuff too. A 4"x4" plate would cost me $29.25 before shipping which breaks down to $1.83 per square inch. They are mounted to type high so I don't have to worry about the upfront cost of a base.

Pros: Don't need a base, Digital designs can be recreated with precision
Cons: Would be expensive over the long run at 2.5 times the cost per square inch compared to boxcar

Linoleum Block

These are fairly inexpensive, I've been able to find 5"x7" Speedball linoblocks for about $5-$6 which puts it at about $.17 per square inch on the high end. The flip side of that is that you have to carve your own image into the block, and since it's a softer surface my guess is that the image surface might break down fairly quickly with repeated printing.

Pros: Low upfront cost
Cons: Can't directly convert digital designs to plate, soft surface may not be ideal for printing

I tried taking some test prints with an old linoblock plate I had made. Unfortunately I still don't have real letterpress ink so this is just with acrylic paint. It's looking viable while I'm looking stupid!


At this point, my first attempts will be with Linoleum Block. But it fits my first project pretty well. It is an art project and as such, would likely benefit from hand carved plates. I'm only planning to do editions of 200 so I think the surface will hold up fine.

I'm going to be doing a blog post about each print in the series so keep an eye on this blog for future updates about this project. If you want to make sure you don't miss the release of these prints be sure to sign up for my newsletter.