Friday, November 30, 2007

Wedding stationery

We're just about ready to send our wedding invites to be made into film now. The envelope in the mail will include invite, reply envelope and a booklet containing information about the historic town, directions, gift registry and the perforated RSVP card.

Who would've thought it would be so hard to get ready?

Here's a sneak peak at the invitation:

Monday, November 26, 2007

New base!

I finally got to pick it up today: my new metal base! I've never been so excited about a lump of metal before. $100 from a local metal machinist, and he assures me it's even and ready to go. He's also offered to help out with anything that I need that's metal - which might come in handy with the auto-rotating mechanism on my ink disc. He reckons he could even build me a platen press from scratch if he had something to copy from... but I don't exactly have that much money!

Behold it's shiny-ness!

So yes, all very exciting. This is the first positive in a few days. I've been feeling a little unsure about where this is all taking me.

Things on my mind:

  • Will I ever get a decent deboss with my little Adana? Is it a polymer problem?
  • Is it possible to start a business with a tabletop press, or would I need to find a bigger press, like a C&P?
  • Is it just me, or is the hobby/art/business of letterpress mostly about troubleshooting?!
  • Am I using too much ink or too little? I know using less is best, as long as there is even coverage, but so far only heavy ink is working for me. I don't like the feel of it when it dries. It looks more like a lino print.
  • Will it ever get to a point where I find the sweet spot and then the next 100 prints look just as good, instead of one good, 5 bad, 2 good, 5 bad...?
Regarding the first question, I know that if you have large areas of ink, the impression will be shallow, or non-existent. But I can't get even fine line prints to have a good impression. I've been struggling with the packing, the knobs behind the forme, and the type of paper. I've heard that the similiar model of Kelsey rarely gets a good impression. Is it just not possible with an Adana eight-five either? Are my dreams of having high-quality letterpressed stationery just... well, dreams?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tags in process

The guy making my new metal base wouldn't answer his phone and wasn't at his workshop where he said he'd meet me today... so no base to report on.

Mixed up some trans. white and process blue and got a lovely colour, but can't solve printing issues tonight, so I gave up on it to work on something easier. That's the spirit.

These sets of little swing tags in progress. Printed on eggshell Strathmore, which is much thicker than the BFK Rives I've been using. I've printed the first colour so far: swirl plate used for Save the Dates with trans. white/orange ink. Trans. white seems to dry very quickly, so I was cutting out the first few tags about half an hour after printing.

Rabbit will be second colour. Was going to be the full strength orange, but it's a rather dull colour when printed, so we'll see. I mounted the bunny on a base, and did a couple of impressions. I'm keen to put ink on the press right now and get the 100 tags done, but it's almost midnight, so I might just leave that one till the morning...

Friday, November 23, 2007

New goodies

The focus has been more on supplies than prints lately, but I promise there'll be a lot more printing happening soon.

Today's goodies include new paper, calipers and ink.

1.06m x 18m roll of 300gsm BFK Rives white.
I've never spent so much money on paper in my life, but considering my job finishes up in a week, I thought I'd buy in bulk now so I don't have to worry about it for a while again. Also, buying it like this, instead of by sheet from the local art supply store, saved me about $140 - about 35% off I think.

Been borrowing my brother's set for a while now, so I was happy when these finally arrived from ebay. They were about 75% off retail, so another bargain. Very useful for troubleshooting uneven plates and bases. Also good for measuring paper thickness.

Pantone Process Blue and transparent white. Blue, because the 072 Blue I bought previously was darker than what I wanted for my giraffe print. Trans white because... well, everyone else is using it and I'm not sure why. Hey, it was cheap.

After a bit of a play with ink, I now see the beauty of trans white. I wasn't expecting a goo that resembled caramel when I opened up the pot, but mixing it with a little blue I realise the usefulness of this ink. It'll come in handy when I want a washed-out version of a colour. Will try printing with it tomorrow.

For those playing at home, there's a great forum on Briar Press about inks. It's incredibly informative, and explains oil-based, rubber-based, alternative inks, Pantone Matching System, and mixing colours really well.

Another great resource is this PDF from It's primarily about printing on a Vandercook, but has some excellent information about inks, colour and additives on page 10. Also has a good resource list and suggested reading list. Even if you don't print on a Vandercook, have a read.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

New metal base

My brother suggested a local company that may be able to machine a metal base for me. I rang them and they gave me the number of a bloke that may be able to do it for me. I rang him and he put me onto a friend of his who could do it. Sigh. In the end, I've found a man that can machine the perfect metal base for me for $100.

Well, it sounds like it will be perfect.

I pick it up later in the week, perhaps even tomorrow. Will post photos when it arrives, of course.

Monday, November 19, 2007


I've been tagged by Elizabeth at The Hive Design Studio (who, by the way, has gorgeous cyan tags on her blog right now, check them out).

Rule-posting first:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post by leaving their names, and links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

I'll try to make my responses relate to letterpress/design... since it's a letterpress blog!

1. I always planned to go to art school when I finished Year 12, but Dad didn't want me to be a starving artist. He wanted me to be an architect (I was topping the class at the time). Graphic design was the happy medium.

2. Letterpress is a combination of a few of the things I always wanted to have in a day job: messiness, ink, illustration, typography, design, colour, paper, working away from a desk, repetitive movements, repetitive movements, repetitive movements, being creative in a unique way, greeting cards, Illustrator vectors, photography, proofing, wearing grotty clothes... I could go on. Being a graphic designer is limiting because I'm being creative without getting dirty. I'm a grot by nature, and being a government graphic designer is eating my soul.

3. I'm a bit obsessive. I don't have 'interests' - I have obsessions. But being on a high with an obsession also leads to an inevitable low. I'm currently in a minor one - doubting my letterpress future and wondering if it's really worth pursueing or if I'm kidding myself. I guess this also comes with just losing your job.

4. I'm a horse girl. I have a gelding named Rick. I do highly detailed horse and animal portraits like this and this.

5. My real name's Louise, and I have a problem with posting my last name on the internet! That will have to change if Poppy Letterpress really goes into business.

TAG to:
1. Megan from
Megan Creates... - Such a wonderful positive spirit and a very talented woman.
Ampersand Duck - Because I know she's a kooky character and would like this ;)
3. Tanya at
Snap & Tumble - It's inspiring watching someone else with an Adana make beautiful things.
4. Lynn at
Satsuma Press - Because I couldn't help but buy one of her cards off etsy as one of my first purchases, and I'm so impressed with the quality. One of the first letterpress blogs I found.
5. Alexandra at
Dolce Press - a website/blog that I discovered only yesterday, and really need to finish reading with a big cuppa tea. It looks like a good one!

Apologies if you've been tagged already. Double apologies if you hate this type of quizziness.

Paper, bases, guillotine, test prints.

Today's little achievements:

I've ordered a roll of BFK Rives 300gsm white from
Melbourne Etching Supplies. THEY HAVE A SALE ON! Nothing like spending one of your last paychecks on paper. It'll be a couple of weeks before that arrives.

I've found someone that can make a metal base for me! WOO HOO! Tomorrow I'll be taking the base that I borrowed from &Duck (yes, I still have it. I'm bad) to Greg to illustrate what I need, then getting a quote for how much it'll cost me. Oh, and &Duck: I'll let you know how much they are in case you need some. I'll try to set it up so it has a magnetic top, and find a way to put a metal base on my polymers to prevent curling - perhaps a metal sheet the size of the base, which I mount the plate onto? I've never seen a metal-backed polymer before, so I'm guessing here.

Oh, and a friend of mine who works at an offset printers can organise guillotining of my next set of cards - phew! Still got sore fingers from cutting on Saturday.

Now, to today's printing. Here's a couple of pics of more test prints. They're much better than yesterday's, but I'm still not happy enough to run the final version. Stinking hot weather doesn't help either. It's going to be so nice to print all day and have time to work things out.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I've been doing a bit of forward planning. In two weeks' time, I'll be working on Poppy full-time, but in the meantime I have to sit through the last days at my job. It's hard, when I have so many ideas for letterpress, but no time to do it at night after work. I'm sure once I've been at home for a few weeks, I'll feel like I have far more time than I need, but until then, I can't wait.

Yesterday I cut up 45 cards ready to be printed with my giraffe design. I'm currently working on BFK Rives, off-white, 250gsm because that's the best I can find at the art supply store. I've found some white 280gsm online, but would really like a 300gsm. Oh, and a guillotine. Holy cow, I'm sick of cutting. I might talk to a local printer about cutting some cards to size in the future.

Today I bought some sample coloured envelopes to match ink to for the giraffe. He's quite the cutey. I've also bought some rivets for future swing tags that I have planned.

This weekend's printing was short-lived, but consisted of tests printing on cotton ribbon, as well as the giraffe's first colour plate test. The ribbon I'd like to use for packaging my cards - yes, I know... I'm thinking too far ahead. I really just need to focus on the actual designs and printing, but a little forward though is a good thing. The ribbon printed well, so I might work up a design to print in colour, or a series of colours.

The giraffe plate is a different story. It's been stinking hot here in Canberra lately, and today was no exception. High humidity just before a storm meant I had a cranky little press. Before starting, I had to clean everything again in kero, as oil was seeping out of rollers and even off the ink disc. Think it's clean when you're finished printing? Think again.

The humidty also meant that I couldn't get the giraffe to stick to the base much at all, it just curled right up. I took it off, cleaned off all the residue off the plate and the base and tried again with no luck. Even after being pressed under heavy weight. I guess this is where a magnetic base and metal-backed polymer really comes in handy. May have to look into that for the future. For now, I did a test run in black anyway, expecting heaps of problems, but got some okay little prints.

I forgot to get a photo of the plate curling, but will if it happens again.

What experiences have you guys had with temperature and environmental conditions? We're in Spring now, but about to launch into a hot Summer - temps normally between 30-40 degs C (86-104 F) and I'm wondering what problems I'll experience then.

I've also been experimenting with different ways of cleaning up after pulling prints. Normally my clean-up process is this:
  1. Take ink disc off, clean up with Crisco oil and rags. Quick finish-up with a wipe of kerosene.
  2. Take rollers off. I keep about half a cup of Crisco oil in a 10L bucket, and I've found that the rollers are the perfect width to sit across the top of the bucket. That way they're held in place and I rotate them as I wipe them clean with oil. Every couple of runs I finish up with kero.
  3. Clean plate/locked up type with Crisco oil and old toothbrush. Keep your old toothbrushes! They come in handy. A quick brush with oil, and then final wipe down is usually all it needs.
  4. And then clean up of any palette knives that I've used to put ink on the ink disc.

This routine has been working very well (I'm a cleaning freak with my press and leave it spotless after each run). The process only takes me about 15 minutes. I've read other printers take ages to clean their big C&Ps. God bless my lil Adana.

Today I put a clean sheet of paper between the rollers and the ink disc to get most of the excess ink off the press. After a few sheets, I then added Crisco oil to the ink disc and ran the rollers over it a few times. I cleaned up the ink disc with a clean rag, and gave the rollers a wipe down, followed by kero. I'm not convinced this is a better way of cleaning up, but it made cleaning the rollers easier.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sample packs in planning

I haven't been neglecting my press since the weekend, but I have been planning my sample packs. I'd like to get 4-6 products printed that I can package in a clear box with branding to send off to various small retail outlets. So I've been researching packaging options, what designs I'd like to print, and who I'd like to send them to.

A day off yesterday to celebrate my birthday with my mum lead me to The Style Emporium, a little shop hidden away and full of all kinds of goodies. I could spend forever in there looking at everything. I'll be returning again, now that I know it's there.

Save the Date cards are being distributed this week. Really need to start designing the actual invites asap.

Also, next design to be printed is my giraffe and rabbit. The giraffe's first colour is currently sitting in the press ready to be inked, but physical restrictions are holding me back tonight, so I'll give it a go tomorrow.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Vote now!

Because I'm such a sucker for surveys (and I also want to know if this blog could possible help someone else out) I've added my own survey on the side bar.

Vote now!
You know you want to.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Inspiration wires

Ok, second post in one night.

Taking inspiration from Mav at port2port, I've set up some inspiration wires of my own. I thought it was such a fantastic way to spruce up a studio space, and the perfect solution for someone like me who is renting. I started collecting letterpressed cards before I decided to give it a go, and they were going to waste in a box.

Save the Date

The final finished piece, complete with Sender's address and printing details on the back of the envelope.

I know it's rather lame posting a photo like this and blurring the names, but I just don't want my details up on the web! It does make it hard to show off the cards though...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Save the Dates finished!

They're finally done! It seems like forever, but I have to keep reminding myself that I've only owned a letterpress for 4 weeks, and been printing even less.

The second colour for the cards ended up being a deep green, which worked well. Now we just have to round the corners, put them in the envelopes (which a minute ago, I've decided to print with our names on the back) and send.

Would love to show you the whole design, but I'm not keen on having our full names splashed across the internet. Might get better shots later, but here's a couple:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Second colour test run

Ok, so I totally forgot that I wanted to print the swirls as PINK not green. Woops. Just a little stuff up there. Oh well, they still look okay in the green.

This now means that we can't decide what to make the second colour. Tonight I tested the new plate with a charcoal, but it looked like black that was just running too light.

The REALLY GOOD NEWS is that after a little while fiddling without ink to get an even impression with one of my dodgy wood bases, the type from the very first print was PERFECT. Very happy. I've had to cut the plate edges closer to the type though, as some blank areas were printing as well, but that's easily fixed.

So we're debating now whether the second colour should be black or a really deep green. Either way, I should be printing the finals tomorrow night. My darling fiancee will help with the pressing though, I'm starting to get sore wrists already. I'm also sporting a huge bruise/lump on my right wrist.

In other news, I think I've found someone local that can machine a metal base for me. Might find out tomorrow.

Oh, and acetone nailpolish remover gets rid of spray adhesive :)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

First colour completed

Today's (short) efforts saw another 45 Save the Date swirls printed. So altogether now we've got 103 of them. We'll be inviting 80-90 people eventually, but of course only one copy needs to go to each household... so I'll have lots of extras, which I don't mind.

Now that I'm facing unemployment, I'm getting rather excited (and a lot more serious) about developing some greeting cards to sell on etsy and offer as samples to retail stores. Yes, going a little crazy already, I know... but a girl can dream! I'll be looking for a new day job (in graphic design) but the prospect of having far more hours to spend printing sounds like heaven right now.

Of course, that means I'll have to find a permanent solution for my base problems...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

First colour of Save the Dates

Finally, some success! Of course, still lots of room for improvement but it's something. With LOTS of make-ready and way too much time, I've been able to print first colour of the first 58 of 100 Save the Date cards. Why 58? Well, I bought lots of really lovely textured paper to use, and a few sheets of stuff I thought would be nice to have on hand. The nice stuff (Rives) is actually heaps better and very similar to Crane's Lettra, so I've decided to use up what I had and buy more tomorrow morning.

Seems that all of my problems definetly were the base, and I'll still need to think of a long-term solution, but for now, I'm happy.
Oh, and I bought a cheap corner rounder as well. If I do a lot of rounding, I'll need to buy a better one. I'll be rounding these cards though, it seems to work well with the design.

Uneven base

Ok, so it's the base that's uneven. It sinks slightly in the middle. I borrowed my brother's calipers (which are so fantastic, I've just bought a set on ebay), and found a height inconsistency of 1.04 mm.

Would love to buy a proper base, but I just found out that I finish my job in 4 weeks, so financially, it's just not going to happen at this stage. So for now, I have to work with what I've got. I spent a night sanding the high points of the base down, measuring every 0.01 of a millimetre. Works much better, but still far from perfect.

First run from yesterday, print now mounted with spray adhesive, printed with unmixed Pantone Red:

I'm happy enough that it's a clearly defined low area. Much better than being a few areas. Just to make sure it's definetly the base and nothing else, I temporarily pasted paper strips behind the patch, then did a second run:

So it's definetly the base.
Spent a bit more time yesterday making it a less dodgy paper fix, so I could get a little closer to printing the actual cards (yes that's right, 3 colours in one day!). I still have a problem spot, but it's not base-related this time. Low point on the photopolymer?

Also, still working on getting just the right green to match the sample from the bridesmaid's dress (that's the sample up the top of the pic):

And here's where I'm up to. Still patchy, and some uneven inking to boot, but it's getting better each attempt:

Problem with this print is that even though the ink is quite heavy, it's still very patchy when it was more even in earlier prints. Augh, can't win. Can't get any bite in the paper either.

I've got a whole day to work on it again now (and if I can't find a job in the next 4 weeks, I'll have 7 full days a week to work on it... sigh).