Within every letterpress print shop...

...are a variety of tools, equipment and supplies basic to the letterpress printing operation. Numerous books, sites and resources for information on "how to" are available. Print supply house catalogs of yesteryear have great illustrations and descriptions of the many items used by the letterpress printer. But for the newcomer, learning what all the "things" needed can be as challenging as actually finding them.

The following is a simplified list of the "things" needed to equip a letterpress printing operation. It's set up in a shopping-list format beginning with the press on through a natural grouping of items. Where appropriate a brief description is given.

The Press

A platen press needs the following items to be functional

Rollers (or at least the cores)

Trucks (round "wheels" that slip on the end of the roller)

press 2 Rollers-Trucks.jpg


Gripper Bar (rod to hold the grippers, located at the bottom of the platen)

Grippers (the fingers that keep the paper from sticking to the type)

Gripper Spring (attached to the gripper bar, opens/closes the grippers)



Chase (metal frame the type and furniture are locked up in)


press 3 Chase.jpg

Lockup Items

Items needed for locking up the chase prior to insertion into the press.


Stone (a smooth level surface for preparing the chase on)




Furniture (wood/metal blocks of various widths and lengths to fill in the chase for lock up)




Leads or Slugs (lead strips of various widths and lengths to fill in chase for lock up)


list 16 Leads Slugs.jpg


Quoins (locks for tightening/locking up the chase)




Key (T-shaped tool used to tighten quoins)



Planer (small wood block for leveling type prior to locking up)




Make-Ready Items

Items needed to prepare for printing


Line Gauge (ruler, generally 12 inches with picas on opposite edge)




Tympan (manila colored sheet. Smooth thin top sheet locked up on the platen)

Pressboard (red colored sheet. Firm thick sheet placed beneath the tympan)

Packing (paper of various thickness, from tissue on up, to adjust the impression)


list 8 Packing.png


Tympan Knife (utility knife to cut slits in the tympan)




Gauges (a set of three guides fastened on the tympan to hold the paper for printing)




Print Supplies

Items needed for actual printing and clean up.





Ink (rubber or oil based)

Note: Letterpress Things no longer carries Van Son Ink due to the discontinuation of their 1 lb. containers of Ink.


list 12 Ink.jpg


Wash-up Container (small airtight container for wash-up fluid)




Brush (horse hair or soft bristle brush for cleaning type and plates during wash-up)



Rags (cotton wipes for wash-up and cleaning)





Items used for setting/distributing type.


Composing Stick (hand-held tool that type is set into)




Tweezers (for picking up type and little "things")




Quads/Spacers/Thins (various widths of lead, copper, brass spacing for completing typeset lines)




Check out the Type section here on our website for a short list of items available for sale.

Visit Letterpress Things for our full inventory of type, ornaments, dingbats and much more.

Fixtures and Storage

Various tools, tables, cabinets that round-out the print shop's equipment list

 Not all are needed initially, but all will eventually find their way into a shop. 


Press Stand (some form of table for the table-top press)

Composing Table (a workbench of sorts where your stone will be placed)

Furniture Cabinet (cabinet for wood/metal furniture)

Lead/Slug Cabinet (cabinet for leads and slugs)

Rule Cutter (tool for cutting leads and slugs)

Type Cabinet

Visit the Equipment section of our website to purchase cabinets and fixtures or stop by Letterpress Things to see them in person.

Contact John Barrett for inventory, pricing, and other information.