Hand & Ink: a Mini Letterpress





Introduction: Hand & Ink: a Mini Letterpress

Hand and Ink is one of my on-going side projects. I started working on the idea after many visits to a letterpress company. The Original Heidelberg's were inspiring; churning out perfect impressions over and over. I wanted to make something similar but more low-tech for home experimentation.

My first prototypes were simple compound presses. They worked... sort of. I moved away from the compound press towards a toggle press design. It was much easier to control the imprint pressure in combination with leather spacers. This version of the press is by no means perfect, but it is a fun little desktop machine that you can use to print cards, etc.


1/4" MDF - 12" x 18" sheet
1/2" steel tube - 3 inches long (home depot source)
1/4" steel rod - (home depot source)
2 Cap Nuts - (mcmaster source)
1/4" - 20 threaded rod - home depot has it cheap or (mcmaster source)
Wood glue
Leather - a few 2.5 x 4 inches

To Print:

Cotton paper - I used Lettra 120 gsm
Letterpress plate - I made mine from acrylic. Polymer plates would probably work better


Laser cutter
Hex screw driver
Metal saw
X-Acto knife

Step 1: Prepare Your Parts


Download the attached illustrator file and laser cut the pieces out of 1/4" MDF.


Use a metal saw to cut the 1/2" steel tube to 3 inches. Do the same for the 1/4" steel rod and 1/4" -20 all thread. Cut another piece of all thread about 1 inch long.


Use an X-Acto knife to cut your leather pieces to size.

3D Print:

There is one part that needs to be 3D printed. It holds the platen plate and allows it to slide in and out for easier inking. I tried making it on a Makerbot but the results weren't so great. I ended up using a higher res FDM printer and the part worked much better. It is ready to print at http://shpws.me/LuDb or you can try it on your own printer. File is attached below.

Step 2: Assemble

Once your parts are cut out, start putting everything together. I would use a bit of wood glue to make the main frame sturdy but make sure not to glue any of the moving parts together.

Step 3: Impression Plates

There are a few options for creating impression plates. Since I had access to a laser cutter, I went to town etching plates out of 1/4" acrylic. The results were okay, but the plates warped and caused some problems while printing. All in all I was satisfied with the laser etched plates, they didn't produce professional results by any means, but it was a cheap way to experiment with different letterpress designs.

I ordered some sample polymer plates to try. Haven't gotten around to printing with them yet but I am sure the results will be superior to the etched acrylic. Boxcarpress.com makes polymer plates.

Step 4: Printing


You will need a thicker paper to get a good impression. I used 120 gsm cotton Lettra paper. I bought printing ink from a local art store, I prefer water based because it is so much easier to clean up than oil based.


  1. Choose the design you want to print and use double sided tape to attach the inking plate to the MDF platen.
  2. Start by squeezing a small blob of ink out on the acrylic inking plate. Use the brayer to roll the ink to a uniform thickness and make sure the brayer is fuller covered in a thin layer of ink.
  3. Roll the inked brayer over your impression plate. Avoid getting anywhere that isn't raised etching.
  4. Slide the platen and plate into the press.
  5. Add your paper to the press.
  6. Push the lever down firmly.
  7. Pull out the platen and carefully peel the paper off of the ink plate.
  8. Let your letterpress card dry fully.

Step 5: Results

The press worked best for thin lettered designs. The impression depth was good but the ink coverage isn't perfect using acrylic printing plates. I will experiment more with polymer plates in the future to get better prints.

Feel free to iterate on this press design and share your results! I will be working on an aluminum version soon to that I can increase the pressing force for better impressions.



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    11 Discussions

    I don't see any reference to the two clear (or metallic?) components found in the photo under step 1: Prepare Your Parts. Are they also laser cuts, but not a part of the MDF? Do they fit between the three L shaped lever pieces?

    1 reply

    Those are handle spacers made out of acrylic. you could make them from mdf if you want to. They are in the Hand&Ink_Press.AI file under the label 'handle spacers'. As long as the material you use is 1/4 inch thick they should work as spacers.

    More questions! Sorry, I'm not an expert at this, I'm building it for someone else...
    First, is the platen plate fabricated in the laser cut itself, or is it a separate component? I can't quite tell. Second, what dimensions should impression plates and paper be made, 2.5 x 4 in, like the leather? Thanks again!

    1 reply

    No worries, I haven't built one in awhile either. The platen is made with the laser cutter and mdf. The impression plate can be made with a laser cutter and acrylic or you can order polymer plates from a company that makes them (I know of boxcar press). I guess the max size would be 2.5 is 4 inches for the impression plate; I just made the impression plate and paper business card sized.

    Sorry, it doesn't appear Ponoko accepts AI files and I'm having trouble converting to EPS, SVG, or DXF. Would you upload a version ready to be uploaded to Ponoko?

    3 replies

    Thanks for the quick response! One last question (I hope): in the image labeled "Manufacture" there appear to be two bolts grouped with the other 3D printed components, but no corresponding STL... are these simply 2 of the 4 cap nuts listed in materials? Or are they models that need to be printed?

    Those are the cap nuts you can get from McMaster. You only need 2 (4 was a typo) to hold the handle assembly together.

    Looks super. Nice build.

    i love this ,it looks amazing but i cant get the parts :( , still good on u for the great effort

    1 reply

    You can get parts 3D printed at Shapeways.com and the MDF laser cut at Ponoko.com! All the hardware can be found at home depot too.