Working with MWE

We want to help you
make kick-ass things.

We may be new to printing, but we’ve been designing for 30+ years. That whole time we’ve been working directly with a wide variety of printers, and learning everything we can. We know the industry and the technology. We know the processes and the people, and we know the expectations, fears, and challenges. Printing may seem overwhelming from the outside, good printing is part and parcel with good design, and we want to get you as excited about printing as we are.

Can you quote a job for me?

Of course! Use our quote request form, or drop us an email with the basic specifications and we’ll get back to you right away.

I’m a designer and I already have a piece designed, will you print it for me?

Sure thing! If the artwork is compatible with our process and equipment, we’d be happy to print it. If it’s not, we can work together to make it work, or we can help you find another great printer who can do it.

What are the specifications for artwork?

If you’re an experienced designer, you probably know what to do, or at least what questions to ask. If you’re not a designer, rest assured we’ll work with you to make sure everything’s set up for optimal printing. That said, here are a few basic tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep lines thicker than .4pt for polymer plates (greater detail can be achieved with magnesium or copper plates.)
  • We can print halftones (90 lpi or larger for polymer plates, finer for metal plates) are possible, but rough type and line art generally reproduce best.
  • Large areas of solid color may appear a bit mottled, we call that “saltiness” and it’s a feature, not a bug.
  • Remember we’re hand-feeding, and printing each color separately. Registration is surprisingly good, but allow for less-precise registration than offset printing, especially on small runs.
  • Remember that our inks (aside from metallics) are transparent, so the paper and ink will additively show through. (For example, if you print cyan ink on yellow paper, it will look green, if you add red ink over that, it will look brown).

What size can you print?

The 10″ × 15″ Chandler and Price platen press has a print area of roughly 8″ × 10″

The 5″ × 8″ Kelsey “Excelsior’ press has a print area of about 4″ × 6″

The 14″ × 20″ Vandercook proofing press has a print area of roughly 12″ × 18″

In all cases, the press can accommodate a sheet size somewhat larger than the print area, depending on the print location.

What quantity can you print?

We can print one, but that’s not very cost-effective!

We can print ten thousand, but that’s 14 hours of manually feeding the press. Per color. Per side. If we don’t misfeed any. There are more efficient presses for that.

Cost-effectively, the sweet spot is between 100 and 2500 sheets.

But remember, if we can print four copies per sheet, 2500 impressions is 10,000 pieces. And there are variables and workarounds and efficiencies.

Simply ask! If we can’t print it, we can introduce you to another great printer who can. We’ll walk you through the options and point you in the right direction.

What type is available?

Here’s a catalog of our metal/wood type we have in the shop. Obviously, for hand typesetting, the faces, sizes, styles, and character count are limited to what we have on hand, or (at additional cost) what we can find/buy in today’s thriving metal/wood type market.

If we’re using polymer plates, we can use any digital font available.

What papers are available?

We can print on most papers, but experience drives us towards a few favorites. We’d advise not to skimp on paper, it’s such an integral part of the finished product and it hurts us to see a carefully-crafted piece printed on cheap paper. Quality paper not only looks and feels better, it takes the ink (and impression) better for an all-around better final product. Even when you’re going for that “cheap paper” look, it’s best to use premium cheap paper… In any case, we’ll help you find the right stock.

We can print on coated (shiny) or uncoated (rough) paper. Uncoated is generally easier to work with and accentuates the process better. Coated is a little trickier, but sometimes it’s more appropriate.

We can print on most weights of text, cover, or cardstock.

We can print both sides of the paper, but remember that the deep impressions y’all crave will be visible on the reverse of the sheet, and dark printing on a light stock may ‘show through.” We will advise you for best results.

Colored stock is an option, and a great way to add extra color to a simple job, taking into account the tips in “Color Options” below.

As of mid-2022, paper availability remains utterly bananas, many stocks from many mills are in short supply or unobtainable, if you have a specific stock in mind, let’s order it while we can!

What colors are available?

We can print any Pantone color, including fluorescents and metallics. If you choose a color from our ever-growing stockpile of ink, there’s no charge. Special-ordering or custom-mixing a color, will add some cost/time. Sadly, it’s not possible to buy a teaspoon of ink from a reputable ink vendor, so each custom color costs about $20.

We can print as many colors as you like, but note that each color is printed separately so each color is essentially doubling the press/setup time, and registration becomes more difficult with each color added, requiring more “makeready” (extra paper/time to get it dialed-in).

On dark papers, dark inks will be hard to see, and light colors will be invisible. “Opaque” white is tricky and never as opaque as most people would like. But silver on dark paper looks pretty great. Metallic inks on uncoated stock lose a bit of sheen, but still look pretty sweet.

Note that colors also look different on coated and uncoated papers. When in doubt, we’ll make a ‘drawdown’ to test the inks on a specific paper sample.

This all sounds great, but how much does it cost?

We offer highly customized design and printing. There are too many variables to offer a one-price-fits-all answer. It’s impossible to even list a range. Drop us a line, and we’ll get you a quote, quickly.

Alternately, we can look at your budget and see what’s possible. If you are flexible on paper, color, size, design, turnaround, etc, we can design and print around your budget and get you the most for your money. It wouldn’t be the first time we liberated paper scraps from a commercial printer’s dumpster, but remember that beggars can’t be choosers (and we need you to come along as lookout).

Is it going to be more expensive than ordering bulk 4-color postcards from a website? In most cases, yes. If you’re looking for 5000 glossy full-color postcards, we can’t compete with online digital printers.

Is it going to be more expensive than your local offset printer? Maybe, but at certain quantities and depending on the design, it’s often comparable, or even cheaper.

Is it worth it? Look… we’re going to have fun together. We’re gonna make something special that we’ll be proud of.

Yes, it’ll absolutely be worth it.

But this other letterpress printer…

Letterpress printers sometimes list specific pricing online. Some printers print very similar pieces all day which keeps their costs down. Some stick to their quoted pricing, others nickel and dime you along the way. Some quote half what we quote and might do a good job. Others charge four times more, and might actually be worth it. We’re somewhere between the extremes in experience and capability, and hopefully priced appropriately. Check a few sources with similar specs and average them out, and that’s probably going to be pretty close to what we will quote. It’s always wise to get quotes from other printers, We’ll do our best to match or beat them.

How can I keep my costs down?

When working with us, you can save money by…

  • being flexible: we can find efficiencies if you’re flexible, like using leftover stock or ink, ganging jobs together, etc.
  • planning ahead: lots of lead time allows us to buy/ship our materials efficiently and schedule better. Having a clear idea what you want saves a lot of time. Delivering everything needed for the job (text, artwork, etc) all at once, carefully proofread and finalized, with clear notes is important with any design job, but particularly so when you’re dealing with letterpress printing.
  • supplying your own paper/envelopes — just confirm it’s a stock we’re comfortable, with and that there’s enough extra for makeready.
  • printing a higher quantity: setup/typesetting/plates are a big chunk of the cost, printing more copies usually dramatically reduces the price per piece.
  • keeping it simple: we can do amazing things with one or two colors. And keep text short and sweet if we’re typesetting it one letter at a time.
  • proofing carefully and being detail-oriented: If we make a mistake, we’ll make it right. If you make a mistake, it’s going to be expensive to reprint it.

Payment/Timing/Contracts

For custom jobs, quotations are valid for 60 days. Like most printers, we ask for a signed contract and half of the quoted cost before we start the work, and the remainder upon delivery/shipping. Any necessary adjustments to the quoted cost (revisions, reprints, quantity changes, etc) will be agreed upon by both parties as they come up.

We accept cash, bank transfers, Venmo, and PayPal. (We can accept credit cards through PayPal).

Job timing varies depending on the complexity of the job and our availability, but for most simple jobs, once the first payment has cleared and artwork is approved, it takes about a week to get any paper, custom inks, or plates that are needed, then a few days to print. If it’s a very simple hand-set job using paper and type we have in stock, it could be done faster. A more complicated job will obviously take longer. We’re happy to expedite orders at additional cost, but we’re limited by material availability, shipping, workload, the speed of the press, and ink drying times. We can only rush a job a certain amount before the quality suffers.

I need this thing designed and printed, and I just don’t even know where to start.

That’s why we’re here! Tell us what you’ve got. The best place to start is to forget all about design and printing and start with the content. What is your message? What is the function of the piece? Write out all the information you need presented, organize/refine it and build a clear heirarchy. Then collect several graphic design references that interest you. We can look at those and talk about what you like and what you don’t like. With all that information, we usually have plenty to start with and can get things moving.

Is Midwest Ephemera a perfect fit for me?

Hopefully, but maybe not! Letterpress printing is not right for every project. Our design style might not match your aesthetic. We want your business, but we’re always going to be clear about our capabilities and not pressure you into something you’re not happy with. Tell us what you want, and if we can’t do it, we will happily refer you to different vendors that can give you what you want. If you’re not comfortable with printing lingo and technology, we can manage your project to make sure everything’s on budget and on schedule.