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Books for Beginners

Some books to inspire or help

In an Internet age, recommending books on printing might seem an odd suggestion, but any real printer is going to enjoy books for much more than screen images can provide…even though digital sources can be invaluable especially if the books are hard to obtain.

The books here are a limited range of my personal favourites with the beginner in letterpress in mind. As they say on TV, ‘Other processes are available’.


There’s a rash of books showing work by current letterpress printers, most of whom are from an art background, but don’t overlook the great works of the past, & the creativity of the old craftsmen doing bread-and butter work.

PRINTING FOR PLEASURE by John Ryder: practical advice, discussions on design, good examples, and indeed discussions on the reason to take up printing at all. All in a very compact little book, although of course the details on suppliers are now obsolete.

LETTERPRESS PRINTING: THE ALLURE OF THE HANDMADE by David Jury describes the work of many excellent current letterpress printers and should inspire if it doesn’t overawe you with their skill.

PRINTED EPHEMERA by John Lewis (The 1962 hardback first edition is far superior to later ones.)

FOUR CENTURIES OF FINE PRINTING by Stanley Morison. A history of printing with examples of the best fine (book) designs.

VICTORIAN DELIGHTS by Robert Wood - examples of Victoriana, printing from a single commercial firm full of lively examples of typical work of the time.


Fashions change, tastes differ, but any aspiring printer should at least look at different design styles and advice, and study lettershapes and their importance, even if the result is to go their own way. INTRODUCTION TO TYPOGRAPHY by Oliver Simon. There are plenty of other more detailed works, but this is a good simple start.

TWENTIETH CENTURY TYPE DESIGNERS by Sebastian Carter. Again, there are plenty of books on lettering and designers, but start by studying s few in depth until you find your particular interest


Textbooks for printing apprentices from the 19th C on all give useful information, usually in great detail. The Pitman set of volumes ‘Practical Printing & Binding’ was the commonest, but covers many areas of no interest to beginners. Ryder’s book above gives much practical advice, but it all depends on the equipment you are thinking of using.

INTRODUCTION TO PRINTING by Herbert Simon is brief and simple. PRINTING WITH THE HANDPRESS by Lewis M Allen is recent, aimed at the art student rather than commercial printer, and focused on the use of the iron Victorian handpresses.

The older book all assume you will be working from metal type or wood letter, but many printers now use photo-polymer ‘plates’ made from computer images, and so bypass much of the old craft.