It’s funny how things work out sometimes. A little while back, I was thinking about breaking out my L Letterpress and giving it another try after my not-as-successful-as-I-hoped-they-would-be initial attempts. And, about a week later, the folks at Boxcar Press let me know about their new L Letterpress plates. What a happy coincidence! They kindly sent me the birthday-themed plate set, which gave me the perfect excuse to dust off the ol’ letterpress tool and give it another try. Be sure to check out the giveaway that’s going on right now and enter to win your choice of two plates that you can use to make your very own letterpress goodies, too!
Before we get started with the tutorial, I’ll point you in the direction of Boxcar Press’ intitial post about the L Letterpress here, as well as their follow up here. Their initial tips and techniques have helped me get what I think are some pretty nice results, and their recent follow up suggests several additional techniques that I know will help me achieve even better results in the future.
I made two key changes from my initial attempts that have made a world of difference. First, I took Boxcar’s suggestion to toss the brayer that came with the L Letterpress kit, and I purchased a 6″ Speedball Soft Rubber Brayer to roll the ink. Second, I used the roller bearers that come with Boxcar’s plate sets. These keep the brayer parallel with the plates and allow you to exert a much more even pressure during the inking process. The roller bearers helped me SO much!
Note : Lifestyle Crafts now offers roller bearers (aka Ink Guide Strips) that can be used with their plate sets. I haven’t tried them out yet, but I’ll bet that they go a long way in improving results with Lifestyle’s own plates.
What You’ll Need
* L Letterpress Kit – As of this post, the kit was in stock at Studio Calico, but due to its current popularity, it’s out of stock at several other places. Keep an eye out for it to come back in stock at the following: Paper Source, Amazon, Scrapbook, and Lifestyle Crafts.
* Embossing Machine – The original kits were available bundled with the Epic Six, which seems to have been discontinued. However, the kit also works with other embossing machines like the Cuttlebug and Evolution. If you know of any other compatible machines, please let me know and I can add them here.
* Heavy Cardstock – I used the heavy cardstock (330gsm/120lb) sold by Lifestyle Crafts, and it worked very well. I also have a post coming up that shows results for several different types of cardstock, so stay tuned for that.
* Letterpress Plates + Roller Bearers – The plates from Boxcar Press are great, easy to cut with scissors, and they come backed with reusable adhesive so you can use them over and over. Just make sure not to use water to clean them, per Boxcar’s instructions, or they’ll break down more quickly and the adhesive won’t last as long.
* Scissors (to cut the plates)
* Letterpress Ink – Lifestyle Crafts offers a spectrum of ink colors in small quantities. That’s what I used, and I really liked working with them. Again, some of the colors are harder to come by due to the kit’s popularity right now, but you can still find several colors in stock at Lifestyle Crafts and Studio Calico.
* An Ink Knife (to spread the ink on the inking plate)
* A Soft Rubber Brayer (to roll the ink onto the plates)
* Position Guides – I used the foam guides that came with the letterpress kit, but in the future I think that I’m going to invest in the Henry Gage Pins that Boxcar recommends because the foam guides do allow the paper to wiggle around more than would be desirable if you’re printing more than a few copies.
* Baby Wipes / Vegetable Oil / Old Rags – The baby wipes were surprisingly good at cleaning the plates and roller bearings, but I needed something more heavy duty (the veg oil) to clean the brayer and ink plate. I also used liquid dish detergent and warm water on the brayer and ink plate to clean up any ink that was left after rubbing vegetable oil on them.
Making the Tags
Step 1 : Cut the letterpress plate(s) of your choice. The Boxcar plates are easy to cut with regular craft scissors, and the roller bearings (yellow strips on the right) come packaged in the envelope with the plate.
Step 2 : Adhere plate(s) and roller bearers to the lid of the platform, and position guides on the base. I used multiple plates – the “For You” sentiment and the chevron pattern – so it took me a few tries to line everything up properly. To test alignment, both of the plates and the guides, I ran lighter (read: not as expensive) cardstock through the machine sans ink. I only used foam guides on two sides to hold the cardstock and, in hindsight, I probably should’ve added a third (one on the left, one on the right, and one at the bottom of the cardstock) to keep the cardstock more snugly in place. As it was, I didn’t have any problems with the cardstock shifting (and it would’ve been my own fault if I had), but if I were making several copies at once, I may have had problems.
Step 3 : Gather inking supplies. I purchased the 6″ Speedball Soft Rubber Brayer and got MUCH better results than I ever had with the brayer that shipped with the L Letterpress. A very good investment. I also went to the hardware store and bought a little putty knife that I used as an ink knife to spread the ink around the plate before running the brayer over it.
I used the inking plate that shipped with the kit, but having read Boxcar’s L Letterpress Revisited (point #3), I think that I might invest in a larger piece of plexiglass or glass in the future because I did feel like I didn’t quite have enough room to spread the ink as evenly as I would’ve liked. But if all you have is the inking plate that shipped with the kit, it should work fine. Just make sure not to put too much ink on it, or it won’t spread thinly enough.
Step 4 : Ink the brayer, roll ink onto plate(s), and position cardstock for printing. It takes less ink than I originally thought to get good coverage, and I had to practice for a little while before I got a feel for the correct amount. So, if you find that you’re getting muddy prints or feathering on the outside edges, you’re probably using too much ink. Two or three passes with the brayer over the plates – with very light pressure applied – works for me, but you’ll want to experiment to find what works consistently for you. Finally, place the cardstock into position on the lid just before the next step.
Step 5 : Close the platform lid, and run the platform through your embossing machine. This is pretty self-explanatory, and I’ve found that, once the lid is closed, everything stays in place very well.
Step 6 : Voilà, a handmade letterpress gift tag! As I mentioned in the supplies area above, I used the cardstock from Lifestyle Crafts, and I was very happy with the results. Hmm, could this be the start of a diy letterpress addiction?
images by Kristen Magee