Posts tagged Printing Press
A lesson in doing the thing you said you'd never do

We recently purchased and moved a 2,000 lb. Heidelberg Windmill printing press. It is a beautiful 10x15 red ball press manufactured in the 1970's. For more information on Heidelberg presses, check out this APA article. I also really love this blog: The Windmill in My Garage.

I always say I'm never moving another press when we finish a big move. We've moved our studio 3 times, and have moved presses and equipment in and out more times than that. Usually we tackle moving with rented equipment and buying pizza and beer for every guy we know. This time, we decided to pay someone to do the move for us. Ballard Transfer Co. moved the Windmill and our new paper cutter with two guys, a forklift and a giant truck. One of the guys did so with a cigar in his mouth. (He was awesome.) They were professional and experienced, and made it look like moving a 2,000+ lb. press was no sweat. I'm so glad we made the decision to hire movers. I actually slept the night before and didn't have a mini panic attack on the day of the move. Hooray!

So, why a Windmill, why now?  

My maximum speed on our treadle-operated C&P is around 500 prints per hour. The minimum speed of a Windmill is 2,200 per hour. When we were a one person business, it made sense to have one press. We're now a business with six employees. We're filling larger orders than ever, and we're working on building relationships with sales reps for continued growth. This means we're printing about as much as we possibly can on the C&P. In order to keep shipping orders ASAP the way we want, something needs to change. We could have extended working hours. (Less rest time, less family time, less working on new products time.) We could have bought another C&P and put the baby in full time daycare. (Taking us to only 1,000 prints per hour, and costing a flobbidy jillion dollars.)

One morning I searched for "letterpress" on Craigslist (dangerous!) and saw the Windmill for sale. This is not the first time I've seen printing equipment for sale and changed direction drastically to make it happen. As I always say, there's no "letterpress store." You can't drive to IKEA and pick one of these bad boys up. When the opportunity to buy printing equipment presents itself, you have to move quickly. We talked the decision through at length (although quickly) and decided to buy it. 

The question you may be asking right about now is this: "Aren't you the treadle operated and handpress loving person who swore off motorized automated presses?" Yes. The answer is yes. I have said no way, no how, I'm not doing it. Never. Never ever. I'm not putting a motor on my C&P. And I've been a little snooty about the "handmadeness" of printing on a Heidelberg. I've been all about the slow, methodical, hard way. 

So what do you do when your business starts to outgrow the slow way? It's scary to invest in a new press. I have a lot to learn, and it's humbling to stand before a 2,000 lb. enigma. It's scary to admit that your business has changed. It's scary to admit that you've changed. 

Windmills are incredibly beautiful machines that take skill and practice to operate. They are certainly not a walk up and push a button kind of thing. I honestly didn't understand their complexity until I had one in front of me. Humble pie is being eaten. 

Buying this press has raised questions about who we are as a business. Is our identity connected to the exact method in which we print? Is our brand just about the slow, treadle-operated way? Is that why our customers buy our cards? I don't think so. I believe our brand identity is about what we have to say, our commitment to quality & simplicity and the real, honest people behind our company. 

Buying this press raises questions about my role in the company, too. When we started, it was just me. Literally alone in a tiny room, with just the C&P. And that's not who we are anymore. We have a beautiful team of talented, caring people who bring more to the company than I can do alone. They are the other stars in our constellation. They have supported and kept us going and growing this year as my role has changed. I'm a mom now. I don't have 60 hours a week to give. I don't print, package and mail each thing that we sell. All of this is still done with meticulous, loving care. But my role has changed. Honestly, it's been weird for me. I'm learning about who I am in my new role. I work from home often, managing scheduling and new clients, making big picture decisions and designing new products. I think about cash flow and marketing and social media and the future of our brand. I change diapers. I search for new lines to add to our retail shop. I implement CRM software. I send e-mails. 

I'm not always inky anymore. And I miss being inky.

We have been very close to maximum efficiency for the presses we have, the team we have, and the amount of hours we want to work. If we're constantly doing production printing, we can't be doing the things that make Constellation & Co. what it is. If our production printing can be faster and more efficient, we can focus on the things we love:

Writing, designing and producing new products
Printing with wood engravings and hand-set type
Sending handwritten notes and snail mail
Spending time with our customers in the shop and at events
Enjoying time with our families & friends that inspire the things we create

So the Windmill represents many things about the next era for Constellation & Co. It's about celebrating change and growth. It's about having the capability to produce awesome stuff in the quantities we need to keep growing. It's a new thing for me to learn and experiment with and a way to get inky again.  For the first time in awhile, I'm spending time alone in a small room, just me and a press. It's a beautiful, full circle kind of thing.

Printing Will & Meggie

I've been printing like a mad woman these past few weeks. I've also been carrying around my camera to capture process for you. (Yes, you!)

Here's a behind the scenes look at the 48 hour whirlwind that was printing Will & Meggie's wedding invites. Since this design required a long skinny image, I jumped in the car and went to West Seattle to borrow Myrtle Alley Press' Vandercook. This press is a beast. It can print up to 18" x 24", and requires about a week of energy to print for a day. (Picture me, sweaty and tired.)


The plate for printing the first color on the interior. Big big plate!


I really like pictures of tools.


The first color, on the page. How pretty is the texture on that banged up feed board?


Plate for the second color on the interior.


I like big stacks of paper.


Back to C&Co. and our Chandler & Price. Time to print the clouds!


This is a great example of what white ink looks like when printed on colored paper. It's semi-transparent, kind of milky, and looks like clouds. Great for this application, not great for others.


More beautiful stacks of 50. Repetition is soothing.


Plate for the invite's front on our C&P.


First color on the front.


Here come more clouds!


These clouds were really fun to print.


Final steps: Scoring the pieces to fold and sewing machine perforation! The sewing machine isn't a great method for high quantities, but worked great for these 150 invites.


All done!

Updates: New Stores! Upcoming Events! Etcetera!

We have been busy bees over here at Constellation & Co. (Hence the blog silence. "Update blog" is on my Teux Deux every day, but it tends to get neglected for other tasks.) But here I am, and here are some highlights.

Visit our new stores! Our card & gift items are available for purchase in several new stores! It's been a great month since we launched our wholesale catalog, and we've enjoyed seeing orders coming in from lovely shops in fun cities.

[McNally Jackson Books, NYC]


The Curiosity Shoppe, San Francisco

Our friends in Seattle have shopping options in new neighborhoods, and we're excited to make new friends in NYC, San Fran, LA, and Des Moines! (Hooray for friends!) We are honored to be a part of so many great shops. For our full list of options, check out our stores page.


Attend an event! The Spring & Summer are shaping up to be busy and fun! We love Seattle (and have have some things planned for our local friends this summer - stay tuned), but we're also hitting the road!

Want to shop, chat us up, and get some high fives? Come out to one of the following events near you:

Tacoma! Wayzgoose!: Letterpress and Book Arts Extravaganza King’s Books opens it's doors to the local letterpress and book arts crazies for a day of creative activities, shopping, and steamroller printing! When? Sunday, April 22, 11 am – 4 pm

Portland! Crafty Wonderland: Super Colossal Spring Sale The Oregon Convention Center transforms to become home to over 200 handmade vendors! The event sports free admission, and welcomes all ages. This is our first Crafty Wonderland - we're super excited to be a vendor and we hope to see you there! When? Saturday, May 12th, 11 am – 6 pm

Seattle! Pioneer Square First Thursday Artwalk See us on our home turf! 57 Biscayne (our studio's fabulous home) throws open all it's studio doors to the public! Our studio will be open, presses running, cards & gifts for sale, and refreshments served! Come see where we do what we do, and ask us a hundred million questions! (We'll tell you everything we know.) When? Thursday, June 7th, 5-9 pm

Safety First!

"The platen press is as dangerous or as safe as the operator makes it. Student operators should follow common sense safety practices until each becomes a habit."

The following is an excerpt from the 1953 edition of Platen Press Operation by George J. Mills. (More information on the book can be found here.) Quotes from the book are italic and the other comments are my interjections/self-reminders.

1) When feeding, stand erect in front of the platen with weight evenly distributed on both feet.
Comfortable shoes are also important, because you'll be doing a lot of standing.

2) Run the press at a speed at which it may be readily fed.
Shaving a few minutes off of your print run really isn't worth smashing a hand.

3) Avoid wearing long sleeves, long neckties, or loose clothing which may become entangled in the moving parts.
This also includes scarves, jewelry and long hair. Fashion has it's place, but that place is not behind the press.

4) Do not reach into the press for a mis-fed sheet after the platen begins to close.
Let it go. It's not worth it.

5) Do not reach into any other mechanism of the press while it is in motion.
Always good to remember with any large machine.


6) Keep the floor clean of oil and paper to insure a firm footing around the machine.
I've been guilty of ignoring this one in the past. I like to throw misprints on the floor to get them out of the way. But I've reformed - imagine slipping and hitting your head on the press...

7) Do not oil or clean the press while it is in motion.
My press is treadle operated instead of motorized, so this one is easy.

8 ) Stop the press when it is necessary to clean a print from the top sheet.
You're not as fast as you think you are. And you like your hands.

9) If it is necessary to be away from the press while it is running, remove the paper from the feed board.
Not applicable. If I'm in the other room and the press is running, we're haunted.

10) Give undivided attention when feeding. Avoid distracting conversation or horseplay.
This is a tough one. It takes all of my self-control to give undivided attention to anything. But this is the most important rule. Printing while too distracted (or hungry, or tired, or rushed) can really be devastating to your print job, your machine, your hands... Printing takes a lot of planning in advance. We don't do "last minute" for this particular reason.

11) Be alert for strange sounds from the press which may indicated that something is wrong.
Printing presses are like babies in this way. If they're making unusual noises, you probably need to check on them.

These could easily be dubbed The 11 Commandments of Press Safety. (In fact, they should probably be printed a poster that hangs on the wall of every print shop. Hmm... idea!) It can be very easy in a "modern" print shop to get distracted or attempt to multitask while printing. It's really important to maintain a healthy respect for the printing press. It's older than you, it's bigger than you, and it deserves your respect.


I've got a few of my own print shop rules as well. Want to hear them? Read on.

Sara's Rules for Press Room Health, Safety, and General Happiness:

1) Keep your phone near the press at all times.
Most of the time, I print while alone in the shop. God forbid something was to go drastically wrong, it would be really important to be able to get a hold of someone.

2) Keep your mind active.
While I'm printing I like to listen to radio shows, music, audio books, anything to keep my mind fresh. I find that this type of mental multitasking keeps me on task and keeps me from spacing out. Plus, it keeps me from feeling like I'm stuck in repetition all day.

3) Do one thing at a time.
E-mail, phone calls, etc. are for office time. Printing is for press room time. The two rooms are only separated by a door, but it's an important distinction. Those kind of distractions are the ones that are hand smashers.

4) If you're sick, stay home.
Printing is a physical activity. It's a work out. It requires a lot of you. And when I'm sick, I'm not at my best. No deadline is worth botching a job or smashing a hand.

5) Do what you love.
Being self-employed is a great way to ensure that you love what you do. But anything you get up in the morning to do for a living eventually becomes "work." If I don't want to be here, it usually means I need to take a day to do something else. (Printing when you'd rather be elsewhere is a horrible way to spend a day. All that repetition and time for your mind to wander...) I usually head home on those sorts of days. I take a walk or a nap, read a book, do some knitting, and hang out with my cats. The following day (when inevitably, I'll have started to miss it), I'll return to the shop and love it all over again.

Photos by Karen K. Wang. For more of the photo shoot she did at our old shop, and to see all of her other great work, visit her blog. (And make sure to see this one - my hubby is cute!)

Inky Hands are the Printer's Tools

I have a confession. I'm a messy printer.

It's a relief to say that out loud.

Getting my hands dirty is part of the appeal of letterpress for me.


I love seeing something I designed made into a photopolymer plate.


I love mixing ink to find just the right color.


I love the rhythm, the sound, and the feel of operating the press.


I love seeing the image impressed into the paper. And I love that each job surprises me and teaches me something.

I love what I do.

Jenny took these process photos while I printed Sound Homebrew Supply's coasters and business cards last month. (You can find photos of the finished product here.) These photos initially appeared on Jenny's internship blog. She's done a great job with the blog, check it out!

Press Moving, Take Two

Last Friday, a moving company picked up Josephine (our C&P) at 619 and brought her to the new studio. We've now moved her twice, and it unfortunately (in my experience) it doesn't get easier.

I'd like to take a few moments to talk about moving a printing press. The first time around, I read everything I could find on the Briarpress discussion forums about moving a press. I wanted to find the step-by-step instruction manual on the easy and fun way to move a 1,200 lb. press. Unfortunately, that doesn't exist. Like most things in letterpress, everyone has their own theory, their own tried and true way, and their own 5,000 words to say on the subject. It was really overwhelming. I'd just spent a decent amount of money on this investment into our business, and it was important to me to do it "the right way."

We didn't have a ton of money to hire a company, so when we purchased the press, we moved it "ourselves." I put that in quotations because it really wasn't just us. It took several knowledgeable people, lots of brute strength, an expensive truck/trailer rental, and 5 hours to move her across town and into our space at 619. It was really important to have people around that knew what they were doing. Because, despite my do-it-yourself attitude and go-getter "spunk" - I can no more move a printing press by myself than fly to the moon. I can really really want to move a printing press - but it takes a lot more than that. 1,200 lbs. is a lot of weight. And last time around, I felt like I was carrying that weight around on my back - it was a lot of stress. Thankfully, it got done. No one got hurt, and the press made it in one piece. (The press hadn't been so lucky earlier in life - the previous owner of the press hired a moving company to transport the press from California to Seattle - and they dropped her off the truck. Several parts were damaged and repaired before and after we bought the press.) I walked away from the day of that first move with a healthy respect for the 1,200 lb. commitment we'd made.

This second time around we had the opportunity to hire "professional" movers (at the cost of the DOT as part of the relocation). In my mind, this meant a lot less stress. Unfortunately, that's not really how it turned out. This account is not meant to be a complaint, but a word of warning for others. Regardless of my repeated warnings, the moving company didn't take my old girl's 1,200 lbs. seriously. They arrived with 4 guys and a dolly - which worked fine for moving her out of 619 and to the new building. But at the base of the 14 stairs between the street level at the studio, there was a showdown. Josephine won the first round: the movers couldn't budge her up the first stair. (Here insert lots and lots of Sara stress.) A stair climbing hand truck was rented, which eventually worked. (After, of course, the movers watched a Youtube video on their phones to learn how to use the equipment.) The stair climber ended up being an effective way to move the press, but it took several movers holding up the downstairs side to keep her from falling back down the stairs. It was really touch and go for awhile, and I had to walk away down the block to diffuse my stress level. On a whole, the move was a success. The press was not irrevocably damaged (although the feed board did get snapped in half), and it's done now. She's in place. But it definitely could have gone the other way - and I'd suggest to others that they carefully vet their movers and inform them as best you can. This is not an everyday move, and the stakes are high.

Long story long: moving a printing press is hard. There is no easy way to do it. It should not be looked at lightly. Purchasing a press is often not a particularly expensive commitment - but it's quite a weight commitment. Choose your press and workspace carefully, and be ready sweat it out. As for us? We'll be at the current location for as long as we possibly can. First, because we love the new space. But also, because it's just too much work.

The lessons I've learned about stress from press moving could make up another epic blog post (or half a book!), so i'll leave it for another day. But it's definitely the kind of thing that makes you think about how small you are, and how much you need others.

On a lighter note, the moving company also picked up and delivered our new-to-us Paragon paper cutter. We found the paper cutter on a local Briarpress classified listing. (If you haven't checked out Briarpress, you definitely should. It's a great resource for all things letterpress, with classifieds, forums, photos, etc.) We went to see it a few weeks ago, paid for it, and negotiated with the moving company to move it on the same day as the press move. We really lucked out finding such a great cutter. It's been completely refurbished, is 100% rust free, sharp, and ready to go! Seeing its sexy self next to our press has inspired us to complete the restoration on her. (Glossy black, gold lettering - the whole nine yards.) By the way, the paper cutter is in need of a name - any ideas?

I'm happy to answer specific logistics questions about moving a press - comment your question and i'll answer as best I can. Also, check out the Briarpress discussion forums - there's tons of info and first hand accounts.

Meet the Presses: Annabelle

Annabelle is a Chicago Printing Press No. 11, made by the Sigwalt Company in the late 1800’s & early 1900’s. These presses were built on exactly the same principals as the large presses of the same era that we use to produce all of our products - this one is just miniaturized!

(For example: our Chandler & Price press weighs 1,200 pounds, and this press weighs 8 pounds!) This particular style of press was often used by schools, offices, pharmacists, churches and hobbyists in the way a label maker or desktop computer would be used today. This size & style of press originally sold for $12.00, complete with type, ink, rollers, tweezers, paper, and more!


In case you didn't catch it the first time - this press is tiny! The photo above shows one of our business cards held in her grippers.


Our little Sigwalt was found in an antique store in Selma, North Carolina. Selma is a very small town (Wikipedia lists their population as just over 7,000), which most people probably don't get a chance to stop at. My parents & sister recently took a road trip through the south, and stopped in at Selma's antique stores. While they were there, they found lots of letterpress goodies - wonderful printer's blocks, and this beauty of a press.


My sister (who is 11 and awesome) named her Annabelle, and she made the long trek from Florida in a box my dad custom made for her.


Side Note: My family and I have always been close, but since Brad and I moved to Seattle, we've lived really far away. It can be so hard sometimes, living 3,000 miles from the people we love. We love our city, our friends here, and the life that we've built - but there's nothing like family. My parents have owned their own business for 25 years, and they are such a big part of why I wanted to start Constellation. The do it yourself spirit - the sense of integrity in business - the never give up work ethic - I learned these things from them. In the last few years, it has been such a joy to share all i've learned about letterpress with my family. They have been amazing - supporting us in every way possible as we pursue Constellation. And they've learned a lot too - which they've practically put to use in searching out and finding printer's blocks for us - and now, a press! We really can never thank them enough.


Our new addition made her debut at our Urban Craft Uprising booth. It was the perfect tool to show everyone who stopped by how the printing process works on a small scale. It was such a joy to see kids' eyes light up when they saw her work! We have lots of tiny prints planned for our new friend, which we'll share with you soon!


For more information about Sigwalt presses, you can read the original instruction manual for the Chicago presses online (which is where I got a lot of additional info about this particular press). A great article on the Sigwalt company history can be found here.

Meet the Presses: Jefferson

A few months ago, we walked into a very dark and cluttered antique store in Tacoma, WA. In true American Pickers fashion, we looked high & low, under things & over things, sifting through boxes and piles of unnameable old things.

After some searching, Brad moved a pile of bicycle wheels aside and found something that made us both gasp. In that odd place, we found an 1880's era Galley Proof Press by the Chandler & Price company (the same company that made our large platen press).

The price was a bit steep, so we walked away from the shop without the press that day. And we both thought about the press... sitting there unused, rusting... for two weeks. We did some research, had a lot of conversations, and eventually returned to the shop to buy the press. It was a tough negotiation - the gentleman really didn't want to sell the press. But we really wanted to buy the press. And at long last, Jefferson (his new name - everything needs a name!) came back to Seattle with us.


Jefferson's new home in our shop.

An illustration of the press from the era.

An illustration of the press from the era.

Some info on the use of a proof press:

To obtain a proof on a galley press, the galley containing the type is placed on the flat bed, the type is inked with a brayer, a sheet of paper is placed on the type, and the roller is run over the face of the type. - Frank S. Henry's Printing for School and Shop, 1917


While these types of presses were initially intended for creating proofs (for checking spelling, etc. - a.k.a. proofreading), we will be using the press for creating posters & art prints. This past weekend, Jefferson had his inaugural run! We did small runs of 2 posters (one designed by us, and one by our good friend Josh Power), specifically designed to maximize the printing area of 25" x 9.5". The designs were carved into large linoleum blocks, hand inked and printed on various paper stocks.


It took some time to figure out the optimal amount of packing, ink, and pressure was required - each press is a new adventure, and has it's own requirements and quirks.


We had a ton of fun printing on Jefferson this weekend, and will definitely be doing lots more projects on him in the future. The posters we printed on Jefferson will be debuting this weekend at the Urban Craft Uprising, with a sneak peek tonight at the First Thursday Art Walk. Come see them, and us!