Hand-printed books of poetry,
Plus tips and supplies for fellow letterpress printers.

PRINT in slab serif type sorts

Getting Started

Letterpress for Beginners

We couldn't have been more surprised when we realised that most of our customers were new to letterpress printing. We know that many of you are looking for help, so we've written up some little guides to help point you in the right direction.

The guides are a bit fragmented and don't form a complete course – we'll be adding more gradually. Remember, our Printing Tips are aimed at hobby printers and this is how we do things, not necessarily how they ‘should’ be done.

The three most helpful things we can suggest to beginners are:

  1. Join the British Printing Society; your local branch members are the best source of advice there is.
  2. Bookmark the British Letterpress website, which has lots of help for beginners.
  3. Get a book! Printing for Pleasure by John Ryder is our favourite.

What we've got to offer you so far:

See also:

  • Type Lice
    Detection, control, and the controversy surrounding Comp Fever.
  • The Lay of the Case
    How type-cases are commonly arranged, and download the Happy Dragons’ Press preferred layout to pin up on your wall – or use the blank layout and fill in your own.
  • Composition (Type Setting)
    Adjusting and holding the composing stick, setting type and using leads between lines.
  • Justification & Spacing
    Using spacing to justify text in the composing stick. Including an illustration of the five standard spacing sizes.
  • Basic Justification Table
    Quick reference table for working out how to combine Em, En, Thick, Mid and Thin spaces to make different widths.
  • Imposition
    Preparing the forme for printing.
  • Position: Without Lay Bar
    Get your paper in position using only lay quads, for presses without lay bars.
  • Position: With Lay Bar
    Positioning paper on a press with a lay bar (the horizontal, flat metal bar at the bottom of the platen on an Adana Eight Five etc).

A Word from Stafford

These notes are prepared with an operator of small presses in mind;  treadle platens, Adanas, and the like.  They will often be rather new to the letterpress process, and a good deal of the Getting Started section is modified somewhat from the methods the commercial trade used, to suit their special situation.

Moreover in the curiously narrow view imposed on apprentices, it was often the case that one college taught something to apprentices in ‘Day Release’ classes, whereas another college tutor taught it a trifle differently. Also, within individual composing rooms and machine rooms,  ‘House customs’ varied enormously, and the lad got to think it was the only way to do things.

That lad, now aged maybe 60, and reading this, may think I've not got it quite right, but it works for me at the Happy Dragons Press, and has done since 1949.

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