Friday, July 2, 2010

adventures in letterpress-ery

so the L Letterpress finally arrived yesterday. i had been driving my husband crazy talking about it for days on end. i had plans to letterpress EVERYTHING i could get my hands on. new business cards, thank-you notes, wedding invitations, toilet paper... seriously, everything. it was going to open a whole new avenue for me. just think about it. being able to letterpress from home. i'm a graphic designer, and every time i get a paper sample that's been letterpressed, i drool over it. it doesn't matter what it's for. it's just so...pretty. elegant. lush. sigh.

after playing around with it for a few hours, i'd like to share my impressions (pun definitely intended).

first of all, before you buy this thing, look around the interwebs at the reviews of it. i didn't, and i wish i had. i'm still convinced this is a good toy to have, but it definitely has some serious drawbacks, which i'll get to in a minute.

as a birthday present, my mom got me the full letterpress kit, which includes a 'starter kit' and the epic six, which is a die-cutter and letterpress combo (although, i did not get the advertised circle dies, and i'm preparing to fire off an angry email to them!). supposedly, the starter kit has everything you need to get letterpressin' right out of the box. i really wish they had included some of their branded cleaning wipes, though. there isn't one mention of how to clean up when you're done other than to "use L wipes." the ink is tacky and does not wash up with warm water. i went out to pick up some new inks, paper and dies to play around with and saw that every one of their accessories is marked $6.99 (at hobby lobby). $6.99 for a package of 80 wipes, which, as far as i can tell, are overpriced baby wipes. so i went next door to the dollar store and picked up a box of baby wipes for a dollar. they do an alright job, but after some online research, i found that vegetable oil does a much better job, and is a heck of a lot cheaper. so take note! do not buy the overpriced specialty wipes! use plain ole' vegetable oil and a paper towel. done and done.

now, back to the actual letterpressing. the plates are really, really cheap. like, almost unbelieavable. they're plastic that look like they'd snap if you looked at them the wrong way. after TWO RUNS through the press, one of the plates (shown here) cracked in about 6 places. if you had plans on buying this to make 150 wedding invitations, you'd better think again. i don't know how this didn't come up during product development. supposedly, lifestyle is aware of this problem and has been replacing plates that have cracked (or so i've read online). i'm definitely going to be requesting new plates. two impressions (that weren't even any good) is absolutely unacceptable. they also give you this double-sided sticky tape to adhere the plate to the packing mat. it's not the greatest. i've also read that you can just use double-sided scotch tape, which works better than their stuff (which i've found to be hard to release from the packing mat).  i also had a hard time getting the black ink off this plate, even after using vegetable oil.

my first two prints were less than stellar. from what i've read, the brayer they supply is a piece of junk, so i'm going to be investing in a new one. it does take practice to learn how much ink is enough- it's definitely not like stamping. also, it seems to me like the edges of the dies could benefit from a light filing with a nail file or something. it's hard not to get discouraged by this, when the videos on the manufacturer's website make it look sooooo easy. each mistake is an expensive mistake, too, as the paper you use for letterpress is more expensive than regular cardstock. you need a thick, cushy cotton rag to absorb the pressing and create a debossed surface. L Letterpress sells paper packages ($6.99, again!), but they're mostly sheets of 25 or less, so each piece that you print is costing you a fair amount of money. the inks (also $6.99... see a trend here?) actually seem like they're reasonably priced, as you need to use very little ink. i now have three tubes (black, light blue and hot pink) and i figure i'll have them for a long, long time.

after a trip to the store to pick up more plates (ugh) and browsing some blogs and picking up some helpful hints, i tried it again, which much better results. what did i do differently? well not much... i changed to the pink, which, in my opinion, rolled on easier and was easier to get thinner, more even coverage. i also removed the padding sheet in the packing mat- with the packing mat, it's really hard to crank through the machine. without it, it seems to go through a lot easier. it's still not perfect, as you can see in the picture to the right- uneven coverage (which i'm actually ok with, frankly. it gives it a handmade feel...) i got two cards that i'm relatively happy with. but i wasted about 6 sheets of paper to get those two, so...

so where does all this leave me? well, my plans to start letterpressing custom wedding invitations are definitely shelved. but i think i could do some pretty cards (thank you's, congratulations, birthday and christmas, primarily), possibly some business cards for myself, and some canning labels. it's a lot of set-up and clean up to do just a few things, so i'd have to plan out in advance what i wanted to do, which isn't the worst thing in the world. i still love letterpress and am still excited to be able to get that look at home, even if it isn't as perfect as if it were run on a heidelberg or something. i'm also very interested in ordering some custom plates, but definitely not from the manufacturer. i'm going through this place, instead. they have a great blog post on this machine and how to get better results, so definitely read that before deciding to buy one or not.



an update: i emailed lifestyle crafts this morning telling them two of my plates are already cracked and i never received the circle dies that are part of the combo kit. they emailed me back already (which seems really quick to me, but maybe i'm just used to abysmally slow online customer service) and say they are going to ship me new plates, but are trying to get out of sending me the dies (seriously? what does that cost them, like 50 cents?) i've replied back that their own website states that the combo kit comes with the dies and since mine didn't, they should send them out to me. i'll keep y'all posted on what their response is.


i just recently purchased my L and have some of the same objections, but i did read the Boxcar press post before purchasing. i ordered custom plates (keep the polymer plate edges like they recommend and they make excellent inking guides ... just remember to peel them off before you print ...) from Boxcar and they rock.

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