“Don’t tell anyone with a Kelsey that I said this, but for single-color printing it’s probably going to give you better results than an old cast iron Kelsey press, if you use it right! You just have to learn how to “mod” it to print well.”– BoxCar Press
I’d like to begin this post by stating that I have no experience what-so-ever with letterpress, besides the fact that I absolutely adore it. When I heard about the release of the L Letterpress, I was beyond thrilled. To be able to do letterpress at home, on a table top, and without investing in heavy machinery (not to mention the space to put this machinery)- seemed like a dream come true. That is, until I received it and put it to work. I planned on using the L to create small note card sets, coasters, etc, to sell in my shop. I can honestly tell you that my expectations may have been a bit far fetched. I was expecting to open the box, and begin cranking out perfect prints. This was not the case. But please do not dismiss the possibility of creating beautiful, clean prints on the L . Take a look at the photo on the left (printed by me!), and keep reading to see how it’s done.
Let me begin by telling you what the L Letterpress Combo Kit includes, and give an honest opinion of each item. Ok, here we go:
- Epic Six Letterpress and Die-cutting Tool
Better quality than I expected. The tool is roughly 12 x 8 x 5″. It is made of plastic, except for the rollers which are metal. It weighs close to 7lbs, and has a nice little carrying handle built onto the front of it. The manual handle crank does come off (and falls off quite often), and I’m still not sure why it is not permanently built on.
- Clear Packing Mat with Grid
I have a feeling that if this were sold separately from the combo pack, the combo pack would not sell at all. The epic six and this clear packing mat with grid are the two main things from the kit that you will need to produce prints. (This is assuming you do not have any other machines, like Cuddlebugs, etc.) The packing mat with grid is a relatively good weight, not too flimsy, and will have to withstand the duration of your epic six. You can not letterpress without this. It will be used to hold your paper and attach your plates to.
- Paper Placement Guides
Small pieces of cheap foam with an adhesive back. Nuff said. You can read about a better alternative- paper gauge pins- from the article mentioned below.
- Ink Base
A clear acrylic 5.5 x 5.5 x .25″ square, which is used to put your ink on. I’m still not 100% sure if the surface is completely even on this thing, b/c it takes a while to get ink evenly applied to the brayer. But that could because of this:
The brayer honestly looks like a disposable toy, and you would think that the roller would be soft like a rubber stamp. Guess again. It’s a hard rubber, similar to a glue stick for a glue gun. It is near impossible to get ink evenly applied to this thing, unless you do it with your fingers, and who wants to do that? (Photo courtesy of Boxcar Press)
- Ten A2 flat cards
Nice quality paper, but a bit expensive to keep purchasing if you plan on making prints on a regular basis. If you can buy paper wholesale or from a local print shop, I’d advise this option instead. I am now using Crane Lettra, and it works great with the tool.
- Nine Printing Plates
Sighs. The most disappointing of all. Yes, they are cute designs. No, they will not hold up for more than a few runs. Besides the fact that they are made out of very cheap plastic, they crack during a print (and scare the crap out of you b/c the popping sound is so loud) and are more like disposable plates. Even if they did not crack, they left very ugly impressions on the paper from the corner of the plates. I actually got so annoyed that I called QuicKutz to inquire about this problem, and the answer was to trim the excess plastic from the edges of the plates. Um, WHAT!? After doing that for about 10 seconds, I quickly realized that this was not a fun task, and there was a very large possibility that I would ruin the plate by cutting off too much. The plates are all very tiny, especially the word plates.
- Tube of Black Ink
Well, the ink is very thick and sticky- and a mess to clean up. You can buy the L Cleaning Cloths, or you could try baby wipes- which is what the guy from QuicKuts suggested on the phone. The baby wipes were a nightmare, and I still have not tried the L Cloths. Other than the ink being a mess to clean, it seems like a nice ink. So nice that you will use it for the lifetime of your printing? Probably not. Since the black ink was the ink included with the kit, I used it and then put it away until my next try. Which happened to be about two weeks later. When I opened the black tube of ink, the ink would NOT come out of it. I had to use a knife to get it to finally come out, and when it did there were small clots of ink on my roller. Not sure if the clots were from the ink, they could have been from a mishap that was completely my fault. Be prepared to make mistakes!
- Circle Cutting Dies
These cutting dies could be used for gift tags, jelly jar lids, favor tags, stickers, coasters, etc. I said could, not would. After attempting to cut out circles with the largest die, I noticed that it did not make a clean cut. The edges of the circle were a bit jagged =/ The dies are also very flimsy, and if you are planning to use your Epic Six to cut things- you may want to try other dies from QuicKutz. I personally do not plan on using my tool for cutting things, but I have a feeling that using a Cricut or other option would be better.
Ok, so now that I’ve told you about all of these items, I’d like to share with you some secrets to getting the prints you hoped for.
- First and most important, read the L Letterpress Printing Techniques from Boxcar Press. It will give you a better understanding of what you can do (and buy) to really get this thing to work. It is a review by a letterpress professional, and I’m thinking that the L may have been much better out of box if someone like this had given it a test run before mass production began. Using the roller bearers (plastic strips the same thickness of your plates) while inking really helps get even coverage. I can not stress this enough!
- Order new plates. The L plates simply will not do, and it’s unfortunate because they have a lot of nice designs to choose from. I read on a forum that they were planning on making custom plates out of better materials, but I’d have to see it to believe it. After most of my plates cracked, I contacted QuicKutz once again. They said they would ship new plates, but I have yet to receive them. I ordered photopolymer plates from Boxcar Press, and they are fantastic! Even if I do receive the original replacement plates, I doubt I’ll use them now. You can see the cracks on the L Plate below.Comparison of Plates
- Buy a new brayer. If you are serious about printing with the L, the small brayer provided simply will not do. I purchased a Speedball 6″ Soft Rubber Brayer from DickBlick. If you’ve already invested in the L, another $12.00 will save you a lot of time and frustration in the end.
- Get a can of Orderless Mineral Spirits and baby wipes or paper towels. I use this to clean up and it works like a charm.
- Wrap your ink base with a piece of plain white paper and tape it underneath. After you are done with the ink, you can simply throw away the paper instead of scrubbing the ink base to clean it.
- Above all else, be patient! If you were like me and tried getting great prints out of box, you probably ended up pulling your hair out or throwing a few things. Practice makes perfect, and it will take a bit of trial and error. The good news is that with this information you can create some really nice things.
Here are some more successful prints that I have made, and will be adding to my shop:
Overall, I think this is a really nice tool to have if you are interested in learning letterpress. The fact is that the L Letterpress combo kit was created to be affordable for a hobbyist, hence the low quality products. If you plan to use this tool to create sellable products, you are going to have to do a bit more investing than just the combo kit. It is a good starting point, but I can see that I will still try to buy something more substantial in the future (13 x 18 Heidelberg Windmill, 1963). I love the way my prints are turning out now, and I can honestly say that this will not be the end of my relationship with the L! Thanks so much to others who gave honest reviews of this product, and to professionals who took the time to help out the Letterpress noobs like myself.
I’d love to hear about your experience with this tool. What were your opinions of it? Did you produce quality prints with it? Do you have any secrets to share with others?