Instructions for DIY “letterpress”

This tutorial is based on a save the date card I designed and produced for my wedding, but the same technique could be easily applied to invitations, programs, escort cards, etc.  To begin, you will need the following:

Begin by reading this great post from Boxcar Press that details how to get great results with the L letterpress machine.  I will explain my personal experiences and recommendations assuming that you have read Boxcar Press’ suggestions.

First you need a design.  You can create the design yourself using any software that will allow one to one drawing and can export a high quality PDF.  Alternatively, you could hire a graphic designer to create the PDF for you.  Below is an image of my design created using Adobe Illustrator.  You will need a separate plate for each color.  I decided to keep the spacing in tact, meaning one big plate for the gray and one big plate for the yellow, this saves a lot of time when you are affixing the plates to the pressing folder.

Design by Kate

Example of press-quality PDF sent to Boxcar Press for platemaking, design by Kate

I made the black and white file above based on Boxcar Press’ platemaking machine dimensions. The machine must print a set width, so you might as well fill all available space with designs. I was careful to arrange the designs so I could cut out “whole” plates for each color. I also knew that I was going to make my invitation suite in the same way, so I included all the invitation plates in this file to save time and money. See my cut diagram below:

You can see in the highlight plates how they are cut to keep text and design items connected on one plate per color. This makes it much easier to align and register your different colors.

Photo by Lifestyle Crafts

The image above shows the L letterpress machine and letterpress folder. In addition to this kit, I purchased a larger (6″) soft rubber brayer, block-printing ink, and paper.  As mentioned above, I used Crane’s Lettra 110 lb. cover paper.  I purchased 26″ x 40″ sheets in pearl white and had them cut to size at a local printing company. That way I was able to buy the paper in bulk and create a variety of different sizes for every piece of the suite (rsvp cards, thank you notes, invitations, etc.) The great thing about Lettra series papers is you can buy corresponding envelopes.

When you have properly aligned your plates and setup your “gauge pins”, you are ready to print! I found that having my husband (fiance at the time) available to help was imperative. We setup an assembly line where he would position the new sheet of paper and I would ink the plate and remove the bearing strips. Then my husband would crank the pressing folder through the machine. The reason I couldn’t do it by myself is simple, my hands were covered with ink after the first few impressions. This made it impossible for me to pick up the next paper and position it without smudging ink all over the fresh paper.

We did one color at a time, to minimize clean up and setup. We needed about 100 completed cards, so we pressed 140 yellow cards. In retrospect, we wished we had pressed even more “extra” cards. We found it very difficult to get a card with both an acceptable yellow press and gray press. If your colors overlap, think about which color you want to read as “on top” and be sure to press that color last.

Generally, we found that the yellow was easier to press than the gray for two reasons. First, it is harder to pick up imperfections on the edges because it is light in color. Second, the yellow was on the larger and bolder text, making it harder for the ink to bleed.As for the envelopes, if you plan on printing the return address through the printer, keep in mind that they are too thick to roll through most printers. You will need a rear feed printer that allows the envelope to remain flat while it advances.

Overall this was a rewarding DIY project. I was pleased with the end result and especially enjoyed the freedom to create my own design. That being said, it was not an easy project. Go into it with an open mind and a good attitude and you will enjoy this DIY letterpress adventure!

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28 thoughts on “Instructions for DIY “letterpress”

  1. LOVE YOUR BLOG! I want to make my own letterpress invites for my wedding and I also want to make my own Polymer plate but was wondering what dimension did you use to make your plate? Ive looked all over for dimension on their site and cant find anything. Can you please help me out? Thank you!

  2. Hi Evelyn, I am so glad you like my blog! Sorry for this delayed response (I was out of town for a friend's wedding). My PDF file was 9.5in x 17in. If I am remembering correctly, this is the maximum size for a single plate, but you can make your plate any smaller size. I believe the important direction is the 9.5in, as that is the width of the machine. To maximize your plate/$, make your file 9.5in x anything up to 17in. Hope this helps!!

  3. Thank you so much Kate! Do you remember about how much you spent on the plate being that size? My wedding is still a year from now, but I just want to be ahead of the game :) Thanks for all the help!

  4. I think they have a $45 minimum order, but my plate was a little over $100 (including tax and shipping). Also, I found Boxcar to be extremely helpful in answering L Letterpress questions over the phone. Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

  5. You did an awesome job! I have been considering purchasing the L Letterpress machine for my wedding invitations, and after seeing your results, I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to do it. Do you have more pictures of the rest of your invitation suite? I'm curious how the all turned out. Lovely job!

  6. Thank you, Emma! Good luck with your wedding invitations. I will post more pictures of my DIY invitations once I take decent pictures of them! Hopefully that will be soon…so keep checking in :)

  7. I am looking for the L Letterpress machine, but am not sure which one to buy. On the Lifestyle Crafts website, I see Epic, Epic Combo Kit, and Letterpress Starter Kit. Which one are you referring to? Thanks!

  8. I purchased the Epic Combo Kit. This includes the Letterpress Starter kit and the Epic die-cutting machine. If you already own the Epic die-cutting machine you could purchase only the letterpress starter kit. I have heard that you can occasionally find the Combo Kit on sale at Michael's or online…so shop around!

  9. Hi Kate, this is such a helpful guide. Your invitations turned out really beautiful. I just have a few questions. How did you cut the plate once you received it from boxcar? And what did you mean when you said "whole plates for each color? Thanks Again!

  10. I, too, love letterpress, but find it too pricey for my budget. Could you give me an idea of how much it cost to get a custom plate made from Boxcar? How much did you spend on all of the supplies and how many pieces did you make?

    1. Hi Emily! To give you an idea of my at home letterpress costs: the L Letterpress machine was about $150. The paper stock depends on how many you are printing (we sent 135ish but messed up many more than that) and paper type…also, envelopes are more expensive than cards/flat stock. We used crane’s lettra 100% cotton, which seems to be the best paper for letterpress. It was $150 for the paper and $125 for envelopes (we used crane lettra envelopes in four sizes… save the date, outer, inner, response/thank you). Printing plates were $120, but I added other plates in the empty space (like happy birthday, etc) for future use.

      With other misc. expenses (ink, tools, cost to have the paper cut and folded) our grand total was about $700. However, we didn’t use even half of the paper and probably have 1/3 of the envelopes left (You have to buy lettra paper in bulk though.). I did get one quote from a local print shop before we decided to make our own: two color letterpress for 135 invitations (with response, reception card, and thank you notes) only (no save the dates) was $3000.

      I hope this helps!

  11. In the black and white file you show above, you have designs for different uses (ie: happy birthday alongside mr. and mrs.).  How do you use 1 design without including the other?  Did you cut the plate?  Is so, how?
    Thanks!

    1.  Hello! Yes, I did cut the plate into many small plates. The background plastic is thin and easy to cut with an x-acto knife or scissors. You will need to separate your plates by color and project. For example, one plate for “happy birthday” another for “thank you”. For more complex designs, like our save the date, I kept all of the yellow designs together (line, 8.7.2010 and our names) and then all the gray designs together (dates and dots on line and paragraph text). I added a cut diagram to my original post so you can see where the designs were separated. I hope this helps!!

  12. Thank you so much for posting this, I was curious to see how I should set up my plates and I love how you make use of the space. Your cards are gorgeous! You did an amazing job.

  13. Thank you for this review and for the link to the very helpful tips from Harold at Boxcar. I just ordered the L Letterpress to make our holiday cards this year. These tips will go a long way to make me less frustrated!

  14. Great post! I’ve been looking at the L Letterpress to make my own wedding invitations, so this was great advice! One quick question – I noticed the Crane’s Lettra paper only comes in 8.5×11 or larger. Did you cut the paper to size? What sizes did you use? Thanks!

    1. Hi Mel, So glad you found my post helpful! Yes, I purchased Lettra paper in bulk in 26″x40″ sheets and had them cut to size (and folded where applicable) at a local print shop. If you search around, you may find a paper company that will sell you part of a box of paper and even cut it for you. It will cost more per sheet, but saves some hassle. I used the following sizes: #10 for the save the date timeline, A2 for the rsvp and reply cards, folded A2 for thank you notes and A7 for the invite. When choosing sizes, just be sure you can get envelopes in the same size!

      1. Thank you so much for getting back to me :) I just realized that you mention that earlier in your post – so sorry!! haha

  15. These turned out so well – love them!

    I am doing a similar project, and have cut my polymer plates just like you did. However I am getting impression on the paper from the plate edges… how did you avoid this?

    Thanks :)

    1. Hi Candace! Hmm… I didn’t have an issue with the plate edges. Perhaps your paper is too thick? Or the plate is too thick? Did you use a different type of plate than I did? I hope you resolve the issue soon!

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