VANDERCOOK technical letterpress


RELATIVELY EASY TO OPERATE, Vandercook cylinder presses are quite popular with graphic designers, printmakers and serious hobbyists because they can provide that most sought-after deep impression that distinguishes letterpress printing.

By taking this workshop that covers 2 different Vandercook models, you can give your skills a tune up OR learn the basics so you can print personal work or projects for your clients.

  • For 2 to 6 people, age 15 or better

  • $120 each

  • 6 working hours plus lunch

  • All materials provided

  • Completing this workshop gives you access to Vandercook Press Rental and an afternoon diversion

  • Current workshop calendar, or email us to request a date.

Wear comfortable shoes and work clothing. Dress for the weather : we are not air-conditioned and in winter much of the heat rises to the top of our 20-foot ceiling. Bring questions, your camera and a notebook to record your process.

Meet the presses

THERE ARE MANY MODELS of Vandercooks and you'll use 2 of the more typical ones here. You'll find working on a flat bed press makes setup easier and adjustments or corrections are also usually quick. These are the real workhorses at Lead Graffiti, both for client work and for personal projects that range from business cards & invitations to broadsides & books.

  • Vandercook SP15—As one of the smaller Vandercook models with a printing area of 14" x 18," this one is hand-cranked and gives you a solid sense of the press action as you work, sort of how it feels to drive a car with standard transmission. The SP15 is hand fed, yet fairly fast with a printing speed of about 240 sheets per hour once you've gained a little experience.

Below shows Ray demonstrating the various control options on the Vandercook Universal III.

  • Vandercook Universal III—A larger press with a printing area of 18" x 24," this one is a push-button automatic with 3 modes of operation : manual, cycle and run. While the Universal III is also hand fed, it can print slightly faster at a rate of about 250 sheets per hour. Another advantage is an overall reduction in physical effort, especially when you're printing large sheets or longer edition work. The added option of running in either cycle or run mode can further reduce effort and increase speed.


Above Ray points out the ideal line width that shows up with the roller height gauge. This allows you to make minute adjustments to the hight of the inking rollers to achieve even inking without over inking.

This workshop is ideal for :

  • creative designers, writers, librarians, and people who want to get away from the computer and work with their hands;

  • future printers who want to rent Lead Graffiti's Vandercook presses for personal projects;

  • those who have access to colleagues or shops with Vandercook presses;

  • people who want to polish their skills; or

  • those who own or are actively seeking a Vandercook press.

Additionally, we have supporting equipment such as a perforator, paper drill, creaser, and corner rounder which can add additional options to your projects.


BONUS : Afternoon diversions

TO HELP YOU MAINTAIN YOUR PRINTING SKILLSET once you've completed this workshop, we offer you the opportunity to come in free of charge and work with the Lead Graffiti staff on a broadside of our choosing. You'll be thinking on your feet and getting your hands dirty setting type, making press adjustments, mixing ink, printing and cleaning up.


These sessions usually take from 4 to 8 hours. You can bring a friend age 12 or better with you. Both of you walk out with 2 copies of the broadside for your efforts. After you've completed the technical Vandercook workshop, click here to request or suggest a date for an Afternoon Diversion.


Typical projects

BOTH OF THESE MODELS are our go-to presses for the bulk of our work. About the only job they won't print well is coasters, due to the small size and extra-thick paper stock. Otherwise, you can count on them for :

  • stationery ensembles & business cards,

  • party & wedding invitations & other announcements,

  • greeting cards & note cards,

  • posters, including poetry broadsides & artist prints,

  • certificates & keepsakes, and

  • limited-edition books.

Workshop topics covered

START YOUR WORKSHOP with a tour of the studio and examine some pieces of work up close to familiarize yourself with techniques and options. As you engage each press you will cover: 

  • studio, press & paper cutter safety

  • mechanics of a Vandercook, adjusting rollers, press makeready & packing the cylinder

  • using furniture, quoins, keys, lock-up bar, & roller guide

  • various lock-up techniques for wood & metal type on a flatbed,

  • using photopolymer plates, woodcuts & linocuts, copper, zinc & magnesium plates

  • printing, registration, image evaluation, & directions for improvement

  • straight printing, double rolling, double printing, added hand rolling

  • preparing artwork for a photopolymer plate & linocut / wood cut

  • press clean up & maintenance

  • resources for paper, printing supplies & equipment, and online discussion groups and promotional blogs

  • marketing opportunities for letterpress work


Four projects printed on our Vandercook presses

⬆ The 8 images you see here of 14.5" x 22.5" posters span 5 years and a total of 115 poster series  of our Tour de Lead Graffiti project. They are printed from handset wood & metal type (plus objects like rubber bands and bike gears) on our Universal III. The prints typically involve 4 to 6 colors each, with some occasional hand rolling thrown in for painterly texture.


⬆ This custom clamshell box holding a soft & hardcover book merges an essay by British author Nick Hornby and the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road. A linocut image (printed black-on-black for the cover and white-on-white for the flysheet), and a photopolymer plate (for the text of the lyrics) were both printed on our Vandercook Universal III. Bookbinding by Lead Graffiti. This project raised about $18,000, all of which went to the Tree House School, a school for autistic children, in London.


⬆ This unusual 30-inch-long wedding invitation was printed as a work-and-turn in one color on our Universal III, which is usually considered to have a maximum print length of 24". 

AND with the right job configuration, we have even been able to expand that to as long as 50".


⬆ A set of A2 notecards (5.5" x 4.25") and belly bands were gang printed 4-up for New York City's Metropolitan Opera using our Universal III.