Buy a Printing Press for Under £100

Following on from my recent post on my purchase of an Adana 5 x 3 small printing press, I thought you might be interested to know how I tracked it down. I’ll give you a list of resources, and an idea of what you can expect to pay. Though this is a guide to buying a letterpress, many of the same methods could be used to track down an etching press, or silkscreen equipment.

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This article is a guide to tracking down a starter printing press, so if you already have one, or aren’t looking to purchase one this may not be the blog post for you.
I was lucky. My first press was given to me by a tutor and for that I am eternally grateful. I was pretty broke when I left college, and my wife and I were about to have our second baby. I had been working nights towards the end of my course but the area we were living in had little to offer in terms of amenities. We were all set to move out of Cornwall when we managed to find a place in Bodmin which suited our needs. I don’t claim to be much richer now, but I can still afford a printing press. If you are thinking that printing presses are enormous pieces of equipment, well, they can be, but I am not going to cover buying a Heidleburg, or a Columbian press.
There are a number of places to look for second hand printing presses. Unless you want to pay big bucks, all the presses will be second hand, although it is possible to buy refurbished machines with some parts recast and others repolished. I would try the following;

1. Ebay

– Just search for ‘printing press’, then in the Categories on the left hand side select ‘Printing & Graphic Arts’ then select ‘Letterpresses’. You may also want to try ‘Book Press’ – these are big hunks of metal with a screw thread in the middle attached to a plate and they’re great for relief printing. This should give you an idea of what is available. It’s pretty shocking how low some of the prices are. For example, at the moment there is a 1960’s Heidleberg Platen Press on for only £200 and it has no bids. Why is this? Transport, mainly. A machine like that weighs well over 2 tonnes and needs dismantling and likely specialist transportation. Then, when you’ve got it, you have to house it and maintain it. If you just want to learn letterpress, it’s probably not the one for you. Sadly, a machine like that may well go for scrap because noone can use it. I can see a couple of Adanas for sale at the moment, a “Five Three” like mine is on for £150, and there is a larger “Eight Five” on for £550. The latter looks like it’s been nicely refurbished, hence the higher price.

To start out you might want to try waiting for one with a low starting price and try your luck – I have seen several presses go for around £50. Be careful, many of the listings are ‘collection only’, which means unless you’re prepared to fork out for petrol to collect, you may want to rethink. These machines aren’t too heavy, so if you can get someone to pack it up and courier it to you, that may be a better option. Equally, you could ask the seller if you could send a courier from your end to collect. At least that way you can assess what level of insurance you want etc.

2. Trade Listings

– Usually these are the websites of Press Manufacturers who sell reconditioned or advertise for their customers;
Harry F Rochat Ltd –  mostly large presses costing thousands.
Graphic Arts Equipment Co. – again, larger presses.
I won’t list any more because to be honest you’ll be lucky to find any small presses in the Trade Listings. The only one worth mentioning is Caslon who refurbish and supply parts for Adana machines. Their ‘remanufactured’ 8 x 5 model is £745 + £15 carriage, and is a good deal if you don’t want to hunt around on Ebay and want a machine that is as new. Although I purchased a letterpress, many of the same methods can be used to track down an etching press.

3. Craigslist (Worldwide), or Preloved and VivaStreet (UK)

– These are great alternatives to Ebay. The last one, VivaStreet is where I got my Adana. It was local and came with loads of type for £90. Now it needs stripping down and oiling, and I had to order roller trucks (runners), so they were an extra £18 + £4 carriage (thanks Ellie Evans), but I think you’ll agree that’s a pretty good deal.

4. Charity/Thrift Shops

– OK, gone are the days of picking up a printing press for 50p at the local Charity Shop, many now hire advisors who help price items more realistically. That said, I have seen relief presses for sale before now, and they weren’t priced over the odds. Keep your eyes peeled.

5. Other listings

Briar Press have a really useful list of Letterpress Suppliers it’s worth checking out.
Printmaker.com have a small ads section which sometimes has printing presses offered (I’ve even seen them for free).

6. Local Printshop Closures

– If a print shop is closing which has been around for longer than 20 years, it may have some machines for sale, or at least some type – it is worth enquiring. It may seem a little vulture like, picking over the bones of a dying industry, but think of it more like you will be making use of the same tools they used and keeping an artform alive.

Whether you’re a poor struggling artist, or a go getting printmaker, I hope this was helpful and guides you on your way to your first printing press. I’d be interested to hear about anyone elses printing press bargains, or of any other places people can hunt for their first press – please drop me a line (photos are most welcome) at printmakingarts@gmail.com.

Comments

    • Matt says

      Hi Sofia
      Thanks for commenting.
      Lino and woodcut are the main types of printmaking I do. For smaller pieces I use a baren, or the back of a wooden spoon to burnish the back of the paper and make a print – this is cheap and I know of many people who use this method for producing editions too.
      However, if you are set on getting a press, have a look for a book press, or ‘nipping’ press on Ebay like this one. I also use a table-top proofing press like this one – although you will be lucky to find one for less than £100.
      One other alternative would be to build one. The plans/instructions for building a ‘bottle-jack press’ are available online (view them here), and I have every intention of building one for a future video tutorial on this blog –
      I hope that was helpful. If you have any other queries, drop me a line.
      Cheers,
      Matt.

  1. Debbie says

    Hi, have just found your website whilst looking into using a press for lino printing. I am a novice and have been burnishing my prints by hand for a few months now. However, I find this very tiring and a little hit and miss with the print being inconsistent, especially for larger prints. I have had a look on eBay but I’m not really sure how the letter prints work for block printing. Do you have any tutorials/photos on the technique of placing the lino and paper onto the press? All the artists I’ve seen on websites like etsy seem to be using the larger expensive roller type presses which are a bit too much of an investment for my level of printing. Thanks for any info you can give!
    Debbie

    • Matt says

      Hi Debbie.
      Whilst you can get some joy with a clear wood or lino cut on a letterpress, you would probably be better off looking for a book press or nipping press like this one. If you did want to try the letterpress route, you will need to mount the lino on a plywood or mdf block. You then mount this in the chase which is like a rectangular metal frame with little screws at the top and bottom. You place pieces of packing wood around your plate and then tighten the screws. When you have mounted the chase on the press, you will need to fiddle around to get the right consistency of ink (it’s not the same as for hand burnishing).
      I use one of these, which is fantastic, but you will be lucky to find a cheap one. I also hand burnish my prints – this is by no means an amateur method. Many, many professional printmakers use hand burnishing to great effect. Hand burnishing takes practice and you will often find you have to ‘wear in’ your burnishing tool of choice. I use a Japanese bamboo baren, or a wooden spoon. Other people I know use rollers, or even brushes (these can produce amazing and delicate effects).
      So, to sum up, go for a book press, or stick with hand burnishing. You could also set up an Ebay alert for ‘proofing press’ because you might get lucky.
      Not to go on and on, but an alternative way to go might be to look at old mangle’s for sale locally, or on Ebay. They can be converted quite successfully into serviceable printing presses. I have one in my garden earmarked for just that fate.
      Hope that helps,
      Matt.

      • Debbie says

        Hi Matt
        Thanks very much for your quick reply. That makes more sense thank you- couldn’t figure out where the lino block went! I’m using a wooden spoon at the moment so maybe I should stick to it as with patience I am getting nice results. Thanks for your help,
        Debbie

  2. says

    All of the iron bridge framing company etching presses can be customized to better fit the print maker. Our Printing Press and etching press variety provide wonderful results, offering consistency and elasticity.

  3. says

    Hi, I am looking to buy a A3 size printing press, mainly for mono printing and etching etc. Could you please recommend a few sights for me? Second hand would be great! I live in London, so am happy to pick up the press. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

  4. Alison says

    Hi There,
    I am looking to buy a press for embossing/etching. I am new to print and am studying for my BA in Fine Art and have been made aware that these machines are disappearing fast so would like to buy one. space and cost are clearly an issue for me as a student but any advice you can give about find a machine like this would be great.
    many thanks for you article above, brilliant and so informative.

  5. Marion Catlin says

    Hello Matt
    I have a small Adana press that someone left with me, plus a couple of trays of small type and bit which are incomplete and a bit muddled. I am not keen enough to sort and put together enough type to make it useful as letterpress printer but I am wondering what else such a press i useful for? I will keep it if I can find a suitable use but otherwise I am inclined to sell it so that someone else can enjoy it. I would appreciate some pointers
    Marion

    • Matt says

      Hi Marion
      An Adana can be a versatile piece of equipment. You can cut use it to print relief blocks from lino, wood or resin. This is what I use mine for. The nice thing about it is that once you have set up the plate and have a stack of paper ready, it is quick to use.
      The machines are pretty portable too. I’m thinking of taking one along to my next craft fair just to let the public have a go at making their own print.
      Another thing you can use Adanas for is embossing without ink. This can be great for designs on their own, or to add texture and depth to existing prints.
      I hope that’s helpful.
      Matt.

  6. Chris Stevenson says

    Hi Matt,

    I have an old 5×3 which sadly isn’t enjoying much use, and am looking for a “good home” for her. Is she something you’d be interested in offering something for? Missing rollers now (decomposed!) unfortunately but I have loads of type, furniture etc too. Not sure what the carriage costs would be from Bedfordshire though ;-). All the best, Chris Stevenson, Leighton Buzzard

    • Matt says

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your message.
      Would love to take the press off your hands, but I’m afraid that I can’t afford to at the moment.
      I would recommend putting the press on Ebay.
      You should get £75 -125 for the press on a good day (probably the lower end without rollers).
      You might want to sell the type separately, depending on what you have.

      If not, you might want to think about donating it to a school or art college nearer to you.
      I’m sure they will put it to good use.

      I hope that’s helpful.

      Best wishes,

      Matt.

  7. Héloise Bergman says

    Hi Matt, Thank you, this has been really informative. The example links to presses you recommend on ebay no longer show the images, so I’m a little lost. I’m looking for something (cheap!) to do etchings and embossed style lino cuts. Are the roller types good? that is what I used many years ago in New Zealand. Or, otherwise, do you know of any places/studios in London that you can use a press for a fee? Thank you!

    • Matt says

      Hi Heloise,
      I’m glad you liked the post.
      Sorry about the links; I’ll look into inserting some fresh ones.
      Really, for what you want to do you need an etching press.
      Whilst it is possible to emboss by hand, or even with a proofing press, for etchings that’s not really doable.
      Have a look at some of the studios on this page;
      http://www.cellopress.co.uk/celloweb/default.jsp?PageID=3&ResourceType=4
      Some are in London and rent presses/space by the hour.
      This site is going to have a major facelift over the next few weeks, so watch this space.

      Matt.

    • Matt says

      Hi Diana,
      I’m afraid I don’t sell presses.
      Your best bet would be to have a look on Ebay or Preloved.
      You can set up an alert for the term ‘etching press’ so you get an email from Ebay when any become available.
      Hope that helps,
      Matt.

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