Intro: 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)
Leather - a few 2.5 x 4 inches
Cotton paper - I used Lettra 120 gsm
Letterpress plate - I made mine from acrylic. Polymer plates would probably work better
Hex screw driver
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.
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.
- Choose the design you want to print and use double sided tape to attach the inking plate to the MDF platen.
- 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.
- Roll the inked brayer over your impression plate. Avoid getting anywhere that isn't raised etching.
- Slide the platen and plate into the press.
- Add your paper to the press.
- Push the lever down firmly.
- Pull out the platen and carefully peel the paper off of the ink plate.
- 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.