L Letterpress Review Update with Preliminary Custom Plate Results

November 2014 Update : We R Memory Keepers purchased the Lifestyle Crafts brand in 2013, and the L Letterpress is now branded as the Lifestyle Crafts Letterpress or the We R Memory Keepers Letterpress Platform. As far as I can tell, the platform has the same dimensions and setup as the L Letterpress, and you can find the We R Memory Keepers platform in several places on the internet, including Dick Blick and Scrapbook.com. If you don’t already own one, you’ll also need to purchase a manual die cutting machine, like the Evolution, to create letterpress prints.

In case you didn’t notice the update in the first part of my L Letterpress tool review, I actually went and purchased one. I got it for a 50% discount at A.C. Moore, and for that much less it was worth it to me to check it out. Plus, I needed something with which to test custom plates. Look for the custom photopolymer plate review later in this post, and many thanks to Boxcar Press, who generously sent me a custom photopolymer plate with which to test. Details about ordering custom plates from Boxcar also coming later in the post.

I’ll give you a little background on my experience with printing, specifically with a brayer and ink. Basically, I have none. I do some rubber stamping and stenciling, and neither of these involve a brayer, but I figure that I probably have a background typical of someone who’s in the market for one of these little machines.

Aside from adjusting Curves in Photoshop to make the photos a bit brighter, I have not altered any of the photos in the review because I wanted you to see them in all of their unsharpened glory.

Be warned, working with the ink and the brayer is messy! Before you begin, make sure that you have plenty of paper towels or rags on hand and, most importantly, that you have a good supply of something like baby wipes or Wet Ones, which is what I used to clean things up. Lifestyle Crafts sells cleaning towelettes to use with the machine, but my assumption is that they’re pretty much the same as the wipes that I mentioned.

These are some of the standard “plates” that come with the L combo kit, pressed without ink on a piece of standard cardstock. I was pleasantly surprised by how crisp the lettering was:

Standard L Plates No Ink

Standard L Plates No Ink

An example of the pattern plate that comes in the Everday printing set, pressed with no ink onto the very thick cardstock that comes with the combo kit. It was difficult to run this piece through the machine; the combination of the very thick cardstock and the plate was almost too much. I was a little scared that I was going to break the hand crank on the Epic Six tool, but I have to admit that it did come out rather nice:

Standard L Plate Pattern

An example of most of the plates that come in the combo kit, inked with the black ink that comes with the L. As you can see, there’s very inconsistent ink coverage, especially on the non-type pieces. These were also printed on standard cardstock, and you can see the impression best in the third image:

Standard L Plates Ink

Standard L Plates Ink

Standard L Plates Ink

Things started to turn ugly when I went to wash the ink off the plates. Crack, crack, crack … I noticed cracks on many of the corners of the pieces, which don’t seem to stand up well at all to the pressure of being run through the Epic Six tool – the part that does the pressing. I had run them through less than half a dozen times when this photo was taken:

Standard L Plates Cracks

And, if you hadn’t noticed in the previous image, the ink doesn’t exactly wash off very well. I scrubbed and scrubbed with a Wet One, but the plastic pieces were permanently stained. I thought about taking some rubbing alcohol to them, but I didn’t want to damage the plastic even further. Here’s a before ink (left) and after ink (right) shot:

Standard L Plates Ink Stains

Not only that, but the next time I ran them through the machine, some of the ink that I was unable to get came off onto the paper:

Standard L Plates Ink Stains

Needless to say, I wasn’t very happy about this. I expected the plastic “plates” to last longer than a few runs, and the other printing sets that are sold for the L cost $25. Not inexpensive, and I’m apprehensive about using plates from the additional set that I purchased because I don’t want them to crack. It seems that I’m not the only one experiencing the cracking issue, as I found when I went to the QuicKutz forum.

Now, for the custom photopolymer plates. The great news is that they work in the L tool, as a couple of you already confirmed in the comments and to me personally! Here are samples of the plate when pressed with no ink using the thick cardstock that comes with the L combo kit (top), regular cardstock (middle), and Strathmore Acrylic Linen Canvas paper on the non-canvas side (bottom):

Custom Plate No Ink

Pretty exciting! But, unfortunately, I was unable to get good results when I started to use ink. Lots of muddiness, instead of a nice, crisp print. Here are samples pressed with the black ink that comes with the L combo kit onto regular cardstock (top), Strathmore Acrylic Linen Canvas paper on the non-canvas side (middle), and Strathmore Acrylic Linen Canvas paper on the canvas side (bottom):

Custom Plate Ink

Stay with me, everyone, because there’s good news to come! Harold from Boxcar Press also has an L machine for testing, and he’s helped me understand why I was getting such muddy impressions with the custom plate. It seems that the tools supplied with the L Letterpress kit aren’t exactly conducive to getting great results, and if you use the tools that come with the kit then you will almost undoubtedly experience results similar to my own. In other words, you should probably repurpose the brayer as a paperweight or Christmas tree ornament because it’s not going to give you the desired results. However, here’s what Harold was able to achieve in very little time using a few tips and tricks of the printing trade:

Custom Plate Pro Results
image courtesy of Harold Kyle / Boxcar Press

What a world of difference, huh? I was completely amazed by how excellent his results were. So, how did he do it? You can see the in depth explanation of his process on the Boxcar Press blog. There’s definitely some effort (as well as some trial and error for newbies like me) involved in getting a good print, but I think it’s worth it for great results. I’ll be posting my own results as soon as I’m able to get the additional supplies needed for testing with Harold’s technique.

If you’re interested in getting your own custom plates to work with, then I highly recommend Boxcar’s plates. They come with adhesive backing already on them, and you can reuse them time and again without worrying about them cracking or becoming stained. I even got soap and water on the adhesive, and afterward it still worked very well. My overall experience with the plates was excellent.

The plate style that you should request when ordering is KF152. Boxcar’s printmaking is charged by the square inch, $0.67 cents per square inch, with a minimum purchase of $30, which works out to roughly 45 square inches, or 8.5” x 5.25”. The plates are easily cut with scissors, and you can gang up your designs in the space in any which way you want and can cut them out to form separate plates. You can submit your files in Illustrator or InDesign formats, and PDFs are great, too. Read more about prepping files for Boxcar here.

Well, everyone, I hope that this has helped you make your decision about the L Letterpress. I also plan on using the tool in embossing an die cutting projects (pieces for doing both are included in the combo kit), which is an added bonus for me. And I’m super stoked about the fact that custom plates will work in the machine. Can you imagine the possibilities? I can’t wait to try out the new technique! On a final note, for this post at least, please beware of buying the plastic “plates” sold by Lifestyle Crafts for the tool, at least not until they figure out a way to stop them from cracking around the edges!

images, unless otherwise noted, are by Kristen Magee

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46 comments on “L Letterpress Review Update with Preliminary Custom Plate Results

  1. Pingback: L Letterpress Tool Review  |  paper crave

  2. deb commented //

    great review, its definitely a + to use the custom plates! too bad about the pieces included in the kit, but at least it works! thanks for sharing

  3. nina commented //

    if you use simple green, mineral spirits, or turpentine on the plastic plates the ink should come off just fine.

  4. Cassie commented //

    Wow – great write-up! This is immensely helpful and now I’m thinking more seriously about getting one too. Thanks so much!!

  5. Ashleigh commented //

    I also bought the L Letterpress & experienced the same problems that you did (poor ink transfer, cracking around the edges) and I even had issues with the plates leaving an outline impression around them which I found pretty disappointing.

    As far as cleaning your plates go, here’s a helpful & cheap hint: Use vegetable oil. You can buy the cheapest stuff out there, but it cleans up the mess of the ink pretty darn well! Just poor some on the inking block and wipe away with a paper towel!

    Thanks for the information about custom plates & the brayer, I’ll definitely be looking into that.

  6. kristen commented //

    Thanks for the tips about cleaning the plastic plates, nina and Ashleigh. And Ashley, sorry to hear that you’re experiencing the same problems. Hopefully Lifestyle will be able to fix this!

  7. Dondrea commented //

    Great review! I can hardly wait to place my order for custom plates. I, too, experienced some cracking last night and was feeling like I’d been duped. Glad to know it’s possible to get a good crisp image with a working plate.

  8. INK+WIT commented //

    love the new logo and look and love Boxcar

  9. ashley commented //

    We use Boxcar for all of our custom plates- they are fabulous. Great customer service too. : )

    Thanks for trying this out; I was curious.

  10. Lauren commented //

    Thanks for posting this review!

    I am OBSESSED with letterpressing and have been wanting to find some affordable machine to do it myself. When I heard about the L Letterpress, I was stoked.

    I completely appreciate your honesty about how this machine works. I think I will make sure I can get a good deal on it.

    In my printmaking class in college, we used veggie oil in clean-up for the inks. It really does wonders!!

  11. Gloria commented //

    I use GooGone to clean up and it works great!

  12. Jennifer commented //

    Kristen,

    thank you so much for this post!! If I hadn’t read the linked post on Boxcar, I would have been kicking myself for purchasing this machine. I ordered (and haven’t yet received) the letterpress.

    As I mentioned on Boxcar’s blog, I visited a local Paper Source here in Boston this past weekend to see some print samples from the L letterpress, and was really upset at the awful quality of what the shop had on display. It was FAR worse than what you have pictured here!

    I already planned on ordering plates from Boxcar, and I’m thrilled that Harold put up that post, if only to have reassurance that their plates will work with this machine.

    Thank you again!

  13. Mark Smith commented //

    Hello, this is Mark from Envelopments. I want to thank Boxcar for their approach to reviewing the L Brand Letterpress and offering their insights in response to all your hard work at Paper Crave. The testing you have done was very thorough and a lot of work. We know as we have also been through this process.

    I also appreciate Boxcar’s honesty in first acknowledging their apprehensive concerns when the L Brand Letterpress tool was first announced. As with any new tool, there will be skeptics from the reigning masters of the craft. I can just imagine how the Scribes felt when Gutenberg hit the scene. And as it is with any craft, art form or product, there will always be different levels of quality…just look around at the various “real” letterpress printers…not everyone is a Boxcar.

    Boxcar’s approach to informing the public and sharing their depth of knowledge will be welcomed by many…particularly those who want to learn and explore as well as the recipients of a beautiful letterpress creation from the hand of someone they know.

  14. The Fashion Slinger commented //

    I’ve been on the fence about the L Letterpress – should or shouldn’t I? BTW, this week at AC MOORE, you can get one for 40% off retail, at least that’s what their ad said.

    Anyway, thank you for this review. I’m glad I waited to buy it! I’m so happy that Harold over at Boxcar shared his printing experience and techniques also. Without either of you I probably would have bought this thing then thrown it against the wall in frustration.

  15. Elaine B. commented //

    After messing with a kelsey, the L letterpress is much better even with its issues. I think it`s fantastic. Boxcar press is just the cherry on my cupcake.

  16. Laura Haselden commented //

    Thank you so much for all of your hard work! I just received this kit as a Christmas present from my wonderful parents and was already in problem solving mode before even opening the box! I can WAIT to check out Boxcar Press now and get some custom plates and go to town. Thank you for all your suggestions!

  17. ThemeChaser commented //

    WoW!!! Thanks for the post. I really wanted to purchase this item and was a bit concerned about its performance. I will be checking out Boxcar for plates. Thanks Again!!!

  18. Jessica commented //

    I did my research before buying the L Letterpress. I stumbled upon your post which gave me the final push to buy it. You were dead on with your review. Thanks for researched information. After getting custom plates, it made the world of difference. Its a fun letterpress for the price. HOwever, now it has me craving a more sophisticated Letterpress

    Thanks for the info!

  19. whit commented //

    i’ve experienced the same problems with cracking on the plastic plates included with the L letterpress — i’m SO GLAD i found this review before i dropped the $40 to order a custom plate from them. i will *definitely* be checking out boxcar after this instead – i plan to print my own wedding invites and was panicking a little that the plate wouldn’t hold up. thank you so much!!

  20. miranda commented //

    thanks for the review! does anyone know whether the boxcar plates are bendable? (i.e. able to flex at the base in between design elements)

  21. Sue commented //

    Thank you SO much for all this incredible info. I tried the press with horrendous results. Glad to know it wasn’t all my impatience.

    I just bought a Cougar custom engraver/cutter/embosser. I’m hoping that I may be able to create plates of my own designs. It engraves (even metal) but I don’t yet know how deeply, and if it would work in an etching press or the L Letterpress.

  22. Mindy commented //

    Has anyone gotten good results using the modified boxcar tips? the only good ones i have had are blind impressions using custom plates and soft crane paper. Hand inking seems to be the only remaining problem, but it’s obviously the most important. Even with the new 6″ soft rubber speedball brayer and recommended side strips, the ink print was still blotchy, coated the walls of the impression and strayed beyond the image… soo ugly. The ink completely nullified the deboss effect and the print looked far worse than that of a rubber stamp. perhaps a different ink is in order? i used a dime-sized amount of the lifestyle ink.or a better inking plate? or maybe the expensive japanese brayer harold recommended really makes a huge difference? recent google search seems to show that most people have given up on this machine.. can’t find updates anywhere.

  23. Jamie commented //

    How did you get such a good price on this? I’d like to buy one but only if I can get that kind of a discount. Any suggestions?

  24. kristen commented //

    Jamie – When the Ls were first released, I was told about a coupon for AC Moore, and that’s how I got it at such a great price. You might want to check out AC Moore’s website to see what current coupons they have and whether they would apply to an L Letterpress. Hope this helps!

  25. Sooz commented //

    Holy toledo-thanks so much! I’ve been dubious to be sure, but your review so nicely outlined everything and I’m keen to get one now!

  26. Mary commented //

    Thanks for the updates and review. I went ahead and bought the set up because I got it for a great deal. Between coupons and gift cards, I figured it was worth playing around with. The ability to get custom plates is what sold it for me. Although, I think that getting the types of prints I want out of it is going to be a labor of love!

    Hobby Lobby carries the full line of materials for the L Letterpress. I bought the Letterpress Kit separately from the Epic machine and that made it cheaper for me. The kit was on sale, then I used a 40% off coupon on the Epic Machine.

    Looks like I need a new brayer now too.

  27. Ella commented //

    Thanks so much for this insightful review. I’m new to the letterpress community and came accross this product. I thought it’d be a great tool for me to start with and start my invitations hobby. I’m definitely going to purchase this product, but I was wondering if you also tried using L customised plates?

  28. groanygirl commented //

    i just got one of these for my birthday and, of course, promptly went out and got another set of dies and some inks… wish i had read this first. :( however, i’m not ready to give up on it! thanks so much for your insight, tips and advice. (especially on how to clean up- i can’t believe they didn’t include at least one or two wipes in the ‘starter kit’ – “everything you need to start printing,” except the clean up!)

  29. Tiandra commented //

    Good review! Very unbiased…read a few reviews on another site bashing the product because they felt it was mocking the technique of letterpressing. Anyway, thanks a lot…saw the product in AC Moore yesterday. Will definitely purchase.

  30. Lisa commented //

    Was anyone able to find out the answer to Mindy’s question in regards to using L letterpress ink and getting a good impression on custom plates?
    I am thinking of purchasing a L press and want to make sure I will be able to get a good inked impression.
    Please e-mail – lmm_lisa@hotmail.com
    thanks!
    Lisa

  31. Kristine commented //

    I’m wondering if AC Moore wised up. This weeks 50% off coupon states:

    “Not valid on purchase of gift cards, Cricut®, Cricut Cake™, Slice®, Yudu®, Letterpress Combo Kit, Custom Framing, Custom Floral Arranging, Classroom Fees, Electric Trains & Train Accessories, & Memories & Moore”

  32. Nicole commented //

    I just bought the letterpress machine, but I want more plates. There arent many to choose from by this manufacture. Does anyone know of other companies that sell plates that will work with this machine? And is there a company that will make custom plates?

  33. Betty commented //

    I have a L Letterpress as well and I read Harold’s review on the machine as well. I am very much impressed with Harold’s result cuz I also had horrible and spotty inking like yourself. I am wondering if you have had better inking since your original posting date in 2009.

  34. kristen commented //

    I have to admit that my little L has been gathering dust, but I’m planning dusting it off and having a go at it again, hopefully soon. Will post my results when I have them!

  35. Michelle commented //

    Hi Kristen,

    The Letterpress just finally made it’s way to where I am (Manila) and I was wondering if you’ve tried using the clear, adhesive stamps on the Letterpress(the kind used for regular hand stamping–it looked a lot like the thickness of the plates)? Your feedback on the cracking plastic has gotten me worried and ordering from Boxcar might be difficult from where I’m living.

  36. Heather commented //

    I have been patiently waiting for the kit to go on sale in my area. Finally this month a scrapbook store near me had a sale and I got my L Letterpress today. I’ve been fooling around with it all afternoon. Observations so far:

    – In response to previous poster Michelle, clear stamps do *not* work. Way too squishy. Didn’t even leave a dent.

    – I had great results with rubber stamping ink (specifically pigment ink and chalk ink). In fact, I didn’t even try the ink that came with the set yet, since the stamp pads were working so well.

    -Got pretty good impressions on cold-pressed watercolour paper, though the supplied L paper admittedly provided superior impressions. I tried a number of different papers with mixed results (cardstock, stonehenge, etc). I’d like to find a really good substitute since the L paper is way overpriced, so if anyone has any recommendations I’d love to hear about them.

  37. Adina commented //

    Did Boxcar use the supplied ink or did they use the same ink they use on their presses? I wonder if this is the reason for the muddy prints I have been getting. Anyone know a good supplier for actual letterpress rubber ink in smaller quantities than a 1 pound can?

  38. Beth commented //

    Just wanted to thank you (& everyone who left comments) for the tips & advice & encouragement. I saw this machine on the Paper Source website & have been excited about it ever since. SO glad to read these reviews first & know what to expect. I plan to get some custom plates soon & am also grateful for the advice about cleanup w/ vegetable oil.

  39. Joy commented //

    Hello, Im from the UK and Im looking to purchase the letterpress does anybody know of any companies in the UK who produce custom plates that will work with the letterpress?

    Thanks
    Joy

  40. Jones commented //

    Hi everyone. I asked for an L letterpress for my bday in hopes of saving some money to make my wedding invitations and save $. My fiance bought it for me at Paper Source and we were told that we can make custom plates-very simple for the verbiage on the invitation. I will have to go back to Paper Source to give them feedback. The custom plate process is not so simple at all. It indicates on the website that you must submit it in PDF for and upload it. The instructions are unclear. Actually, you must have it rasterized with particular pixel counts. I was lucky enough to work with one of L Letterpress’ developers to get through this. He was very patient and helpful. However, none of the technical processes are discussed on the website. In fact, when I tried to call the numbers listed on their website and brochure, the number was disconnected. I finally found the parent company. Also, upon submitting the PDF document on-line, you must register and pay with your credit card online. Please note that it is not https and is not a secured website. I called the head office to ask if I can use Paypal instead; it was not allowed and they indicated that they use authorize.net for their payments. this was still a risk. It seems that the parent company supplying this product does not have a good sense of how to reach out to its customers and provide FAQs or at the very least, a secure website to remit payment. It’s a sunk cost for me but please be careful IF you decide to buy this. I’m willing to sell mine after my wedding. Good luck everyone!

  41. Ali commented //

    I’m using an L Letterpress to do my wedding invitations, with custom plates from Boxcar.

    The little brayer included in the original kit has actually given good results – I bought the upgraded brayer recommended in the Boxcar tutorial and found it much harder to use than the basic little one!

    I’m also not using the roller bearers – just inking up freehand with the little brayer then using a Letterpress cleaning wipe to tidy up any ink smudges before printing them. Contrary to people’s assumptions, the Letterpress wipes are much more effective than babywipes for this kind of tidy-up work – I tried both. But I agree that vegetable oil is the quickest and best option for cleaning the plates, brayer and ink block.

    The main technique tricks are to use quite a small amount of ink on your inking block, and to look carefully at the plate each time you re-ink and make completely sure that the new coat of ink has hit every little bit of your printing surface – after printing the previously inked area has a slight colour change on the plate, so you can see where the new ink has been applied fairly readily.

    Other than custom plates, it is also important to use proper uncoated cotton letterpress paper – it’s much more forgiving and picks up the ink more evenly. The L Letterpress cards and envelopes are expensive at RRP, but you can get them discounted on the internet, or order alternative letterpress paper from a paper merchant. Cardstock just doesn’t seem to cut it either in depth of debossing or ink transfer, I think because it is too rigid and often coated.

    As helpful as the Boxcar tutorial is, I’ve found that not all of the extra steps are essential to getting a nice result. Out of 80 thank you cards I’ve printed so far (over about four hours of steady work), only three have been duds (two of those because I forgot to clean up the ink smudges before printing, so actually my bad) and the quality of the prints is equivalent to the final ‘Paper Crave’ shot displayed in the post above.

    Overall, this tool needs some care and patience, but it’s easier to get good results than some of the tutorials may lead you to think.

  42. zulfar commented //

    Hello,

    I am doing research with at-home letterpress tools and the L letterpress has been the tool I’m leaning on buying based on the majority favorable reviews. My hesitation however comes due to the company (Lifetime Crafts/Quickutz) website being non-existent? Is this letterpress tool along with the company discontinuing or what? Can someone please give me some information on what is the latest and greatest letterpressing tool?

    Before I saw this post, I looked at Boxcar for customized plates and was going to use them for my business’ logo/design. Its good to hear from other letterpress lovers that Boxcar is the go to source for the personalized plates.

    I appreciate any feedback! Thanks in advance :)

  43. kristen commented //

    Hi Zulfar –

    We R Memory Keepers recently purchased Lifestyle Crafts/Quickutz, and the L Letterpress platform has been rebranded under the new company. You can purchase the letterpress platform (http://store.scrapbook.com/wr-03416-0.html) and WRMK’s Evolution die cutting machine (http://store.scrapbook.com/wr-03790-3.html) separately. I linked to Scrapbook.com because they carry both tools, but if you look around online you should be able to find several places that carry the tools.

    As far as I know, they aren’t planning on discontinuing it.

    Hope this helps!

  44. zulfar commented //

    Thanks Kristen for your response!

    So am I understanding correctly, We R Memory Keepers has merged with the Lifestyle Crafts/Quickutz company? Unless its clearer on your website that this merger has happened, people like myself would have second guessed buying the Lifestyle Crafts L letterpress because when their website is non-existent, one presumes they are not in business any longer.

    I’m trying to find out what size is the L Letterpress platform so I can understand what largest size paper can be inserted to letterpress in the tool? I don’t see the dimensions on your site? I’d like to be able to make journal size notebooks as big as 8.5″ x 11″ (front/back cover letterpressed).

    Thanks again,
    Zulfar

  45. kristen commented //

    Zulfar –

    The original post here was written 5 years ago, and the merger happened at the end of 2013, which is why it wasn’t mentioned. I’ve updated the post with a note to clarify that, yes, Lifestyle Crafts has become a part of We R Memory Keepers.

    The letterpress platform that I have is 6″ wide x 12″ long. I wasn’t able to find dimensions for the We R Memory Keepers brand, but it looks exactly the same, minus the branding, as the one that I have. You might want to contact We R Memory Keepers to confirm. Journal size notebooks would definitely be too large for this tool, though.

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