Letterpress Machines: A Rundown

Platen, flat-bed & rotary styles

The types and variations of letterpress machines is a vast and complex landscape. The machines were produced worldwide for hundreds of years, with some specialty machines still in production to this day. Navigating this landscape can be a daunting task for anyone new to this industry. With this blog post, we’re hoping to provide some clarity on the subject for you, our lovely reader.

Please note that we are very much oversimplifying the subject here – anyone with a true passion for these things has much more research to do for a complete understanding on the subject!

1. Platen Letterpress Machines


Platen-type letterpress machines are used for short-run projects such as place cards and stationery. The press is made up of two parts: the platen and the bed. Paper is placed on both the platen and the bed with the press opening and closing (like a clam shell) onto a flat surface where the type set and ink is located. These presses are usually quite old, with the majority having been built in the 1800s. The most notable brands of platen style machines are Chandler & Price and Kluge. These machines are generally the favorites of press operators because of their simplicity, reliability and quality of impression. A great starter style of press for anyone interested.

See More Examples of Platen Presses


2. Flat-Bed Letterpress Machines


The flat-bed cylinder letterpress operates most slowly of all models represented. This type utilizes either a horizontal or vertical bed, which the plate is then locked into. The plate is the surface the presses’ ink passes over, and it contains the document to be copied. The flat-bed has fallen out of favor with modern publishing companies, with much of their work now being printed on web-fed machines. The most common brand of flat bed letterpress machines is Vandercook. These are a bit more complex to operate and typically cost about double that of a platen style machine. They offer a massive printing area and are ideal for poster sized letterpress designs.

See More Examples of Flat-Bed Presses


3. Rotary Letterpress Machines


Rotary letterpress machines are used because of their ability to efficiently produce material in high quantity. They’re employed chiefly in commercial and specialty printing, such as newspaper and magazine production. This type of letterpress has two varieties: the sheet-fed rotary letterpress and the web-fed rotary. The web-fed rotary letterpress is used to print newspapers; the sheet-fed has been used for more specialized projects, as its speed is significantly lower than the web-fed rotary. These presses are not for the average press operator and were more commonly used by newspapers in their time. Hobbyist and commercial letterpress is rarely completed using a rotary press because of their sheer size and complexity.

See More Examples of Rotary Presses

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