Epic Letterpress machine reviewed | How About Orange

March 14, 2011

Epic Letterpress machine reviewed

The folks at Lifestyle Crafts recently sent over a complimentary Epic Letterpress and Die Cut machine to try out and review. I received the Epic Combo Kit, plus a few different sets of plates, extra ink, paper, and cleaning cloths. I was eager to see what kind of results the letterpress would yield, since I go rather bonkers for deliciously textured designs pressed into thick paper.

I opened up the packages, including the plastic printing plates that came with the combo set. "That looks like trouble," I thought when I saw how warped they were. It's been over ten years since I've applied ink to anything with a brayer—I did a bit of block printing in college—but it seemed like rolling ink onto a bent piece of plastic would be challenging.

I selected a couple plates and secured them to the hinged lid with the provided adhesive stickers. Then I positioned a small card on the bottom board and added the foam placement guides so I could print multiples.

A test without ink seemed like a good idea, so I closed the lid and ran the thing through the machine. (I forgot to take a picture of that part, so pretend there's a business card and some plates under the clear lid in the photo above.)

Here's the result. Pretty nifty! Kind of wish I couldn't see the bottom edge of the plate under that "y," but I can deal. Let's get out the silver ink.

Rolled it out a bit in one direction, then the other, until it was nice and even on the brayer. Carefully applied the ink to the plates, and...

Ew, yucky. As I suspected, rolling ink onto plates that aren't quite flat is very tricky. I wiped the ink off and tried again. Rats. All the cards looked like they were made by a blind monkey. (Click any of the photos of prints in this post to view larger.)

Next I tried an all-over pattern on a bigger piece of paper stock that came with the machine. The print is much better because this plate was flat, but holy smokes. That paper must be much thicker than the smaller cards, because it used every bit of arm strength I had to crank it through. Granted, my arm muscles are virtually nonexistent, but I didn't expect it to be that hard. I had to crank in quarter turn increments while struggling to hold down the machine with the other hand, and I was constantly afraid I'd break off the handle. But all was well! The print looks good.

Let's try another one. This "thank you" plate was warped too, but I managed to get a seemingly even layer of ink on it. Lovely! But as I lowered the clear hinged cover, the plate fell off because the adhesive wasn't making contact in enough areas to keep it stuck to the lid. I reattached it and held it on with my fingernails while I closed the lid.

The result was a pretty good print.

After looking at the print more closely and cleaning off the plate, I see the "o" and "u" have little divots in the plastic, causing tiny flaws in the print.

If you're not a crazy perfectionist like me, this probably won't bother you. The photo at the top of this post shows the card I put together with a couple of the prints and some orange masking tape. It's respectable. But as for me, I think I'd rather leave the letterpressing to the pros since the struggle outweighed the fun. For another review and some excellent tips on getting the most out of the L Letterpress (including using better printing plates), see this post by Boxcar Press, a commercial letterpress shop.

P.S. A note about silver ink: 24 hours after making these prints, the ink wasn't completely dry and came off on my fingers. 48 hours later later it's improved, but I can still rub off silver ink from the patterned card. I suspect this is related to the particular pigments used in silver inks and paints. See this post about another non-drying silver paint experiment. I'm reasonably sure other non-metallic inks won't have this problem, however.

P.P.S. I gave it another go! See the results of my next letterpressing attempt here.

42 comments:

todd said...

not too long ago there was a blog post where some professional letterpress printers tried to use an epic letterpress and work through how best to get the machine to do professional work. i'll try and find a link. it was very interesting reading.

todd said...

here we are - http://boxcarpress.com/us/blog/2009/11/24/l-letterpress-printing-techniques-from-boxcar-press/

recommended reading!

Jess said...

Todd, yup, that's the one I linked to. I agree! It's really helpful.

emily @ the happy home said...

thanks for posting a really honest review. most bloggers skim over negatives of products they receive, but i truly appreciate your upfront nature!

todd said...

sorry yes you did link to boxcar and i did not see that.

Jess said...

No problem. I love when people share informative links; thanks for looking that up!

Marisa said...

Oh, wow. Yeah, that would never fly in this perfectionist household. Thanks for your honest review!

Helen said...

I have one and love it. I haven't bought a card since i got it for Christmas. It has taken a lot of practice, and I'm sure it's much harder with bent plates, but I haven't had the issues you discussed. Particularly with the wet paint-mine comes out practically dry. It's all about using as little ink as possible. Of course, it's not as good as a real letterpress, but it's a fun tool to have at home.

Miranda @ One Little Minute said...

I could have been tempted by this little machine, had I not seen your review. It's amazing how much time and work goes into creating a great image and impression even with a fantastic, 100 year old press. I'll stick to renting space at the local printshop. I am curious how this die cuts, however...?

Grandma G said...

All that and you don't even get to do a giveaway? Maybe you want to give away THAT machine. ;)

Mum/don'tgiveittome

Violet said...

Hi! I also did an in-depth review of this machine if any of you may be interested :)

http://www.vivalablogette.com/an-in-depth-look-at-the-l-letterpress-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

Jess said...

Violet and Helen, thanks for your feedback. It's great to hear other people's experience, too!

min said...

I love the print without ink. So fun. It sure does seem like they're so itty bitty and would be impossible to ink well even if they WERE flat! A full card sized die with small letters would seem more manageable. Similar to making a screen print...you need to have space around the edges for your hands to manipulate. Doesn't seem like this kit quite thinks of that.

But still neat-o.

Chandeen @ Designed by Chance said...

Great review! That printing press looks fun to sue once in a while, but not all the time.

steph k said...

WHAT?! How did I not know about this little thing!?

Brooke said...

I am ELATED, even if it's not perfect. I have always wanted a letterpress and figured I would just have to wait until my kids are grown up so I can save the $$$ to buy a big one. Thank you, I have a very real obsession with letter pressed stationary.

Anonymous said...

Thanks--this was really helpful. I've always wondered how it would work and what would happen if a rookie like me tried to use it. Looks like I'll stick to stamping and dry embossing!

Elle @ LibertyElle said...

Your honest review is greatly appreciated. I've been toying with the idea of purchasing one of these, so it was quite helpful to see some actual examples of it in action. Thanks!

Mrs Soup said...

See, I love the look of the non-inked letterpress so this would be a great product for me! Gorgeous!

mary fran said...

I made my business cards with it! I used inks & plates from Boxcar Press, but I got professional results. http://www.flickr.com/photos/maryfranwiley/4582343803/

When I used the inks you can buy with the press I only got mediocre results.

You can avoid that line under the type by using less paper padding - your impression won't be as deep, but there will be no icky shadow.

Jess said...

Mary Fran, those look pretty darned awesome. Thanks for your comment! I used whatever padding was already under the "press bed" or whatever you call that bottom board. I'll try taking it out and using a sheet of thinner paper. Thanks for the tip!

yush said...

Has anyone ever used the QuicKutz version? I'd be interested in knowing how they compare...

yush said...

Oh, this is the QuicKutz. My apologies. I was confused by all the names that came up when I was searching...

Nikki said...

I got this kit for a gift and none of my plates were warped. You should ask them to send out some new ones, and check their products before they ship them! Quality control people...

jenschulze said...

Letterpress typically works better with rubber-based inks, which dry by absorption. Oil-based inks dry by evaporation. If you find that an ink is staying open too long, try hitting it with some heat by way of a hair dryer.

rental elf said...

Very nice, thanks for the information.

Tanya @ Dans le Townhouse said...

I think the blind monkey-made one looked pretty good . . . very cute idea.

Laura said...

Yes, I put myself on the waitlist on this machine even before it came out, tickling my designer/printer senses, and getting married in May, I had grand plans for my invites with this machine. Too bad I am such a perfectionist, because it seems every time I break this thing out I get irritated at it. It seems there are lot of improvements that the company needs to make, but have not. The plastic "plates" don't withstand much repetition and are prone to crack and warp. Boxcar and a few other companies offer high-end but cost effective plates that work well in the machine. It does do diecutting very well, but is an expensive machine just to do some diecutting. Thanks for the review, I knew I wasn't the only one frustrated over it!

rilojane said...

I have been wanting one of these in the worst way! Thanks for the read and the good pictures. I've been wanting to see it in action.

Jess said...

I actually have this machine and LOVE it! It definitely takes practice and patience but I have gotten awesome results. It looks like you are using way too much ink. You really don't need hardly any ink at all, especially for the little words. I heard that they came out with ink roller strips at a trade show in january that are supposed to help a lot.

they've got a pretty good blog with ideas and stuff (i discovered it last week... some of it is kinda scrapbooky, but i like the letterpress projects) www.lifestylecrafts.com/blog

Ann said...

Aww, I now have even more respect for antique letterpress equipment and its operators. That said, I imagine practice makes perfect (or at least some improvement) once you get familiar with a tool. Thanks for the informative review.

Tammie Lee said...

wow, such a great thing to try out. I love the piece with out the ink. Something about images pressed into paper that is so wonderful to me. Thank you for sharing this, each step of the way.

Abbybeth said...

I have the letterpress kit as well, but use it with the Quickutz Big Shot - it's sturdier and just an all around better piece of equipment than the Epic. I'd also recommend dumping the brayer that comes w/ the kit and upgrading to a nice screenprinting brayer, such as the ones from Speedball. If your brayer is like the one that came in my kit it's no where near an even surface and doesn't give good ink coverage. I also second the comment that you used a bit too much ink as well which probably is contributing to the length of dry time. Once you get used to it, it's a great toy to play with!

Jess said...

Yep, I think too much ink was part of the problem on those first cards. I'm sticking to my theory that there's something about the silver pigment that makes it take longer to dry, since I think I used the ink pretty sparingly on the all-over pattern. My silver-painted Christmas light project and the comment on that post from the mom who routinely spray paints kids' tap shoes all different colors and found that only the silver stays sticky supports it. But I think I might need some more data points on that. :)

Roller strips and an upgraded brayer can't hurt for sure. Thanks, guys!

Hayley said...

I've used this tool and found that the first time I used it I was using WAY too much ink. This was at Christmas time and I think the cards I made are still wet. Just make sure you use a TINY amount of ink on the ink base. It will seem like you are not using enough, but trust me, a little bit goes a LONG way. You may have to apply ink to the ink base a little bit more often, especially for larger projects, but it is worth it to get a really crisp and quick-drying print by using as little ink as possible. Just a tip!

Bun said...

this is great. thanks for doing a review like this!

xoxox by bun
www.bybun.com

Bernice said...

Hahaha, blind monkeys.

Thanks for doing this review! I've been eyeing this machine and was wondering if it was worth all the effort. I absolutely love the look of letterpress prints but I'm also kinda lazy. hah.

able mabel said...

Hmmm...I may have to see if I can get my hands on one of these. I adore the look of letterpress

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just bought the Epic Letterpress machine just recently. I know it comes with a few pieces of paper/cardstock, but what kind of paper would you suggest to use when using the Letterpress? I was told that regular cardstock doesn't work all that well with this machine.

Jess said...

Hi there, Anonymous. I've only used the paper that came with the machine—the stuff available from the same company. I think it's true that regular cardstock isn't as soft and thick, and therefore you won't get as deep an impression in the paper. But I haven't researched any alternatives.

robayre said...

Not sure if others would look down this far on the page at comments, but I have often looked at this post and when I just came back to reference the links once again I was sad to see BoxCar's links no longer worked. Fortunately I scrolled through old posts and found it, they must have moved their site so old links changed. At any rate their article is now at https://www.boxcarpress.com/blog/l-letterpress-printing-techniques-from-boxcar-press/

Jessica Jones said...

Thanks! I updated the link in the post.

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