Adventure in Mini Letterpress

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I have been completely fascinated by letterpress letters and wanted to include them why decorating. However real letterpress letters are kind of expensive ($4-$5 per letter) and given how large I wanted to make the piece it seemed unrealistic given how frugal I am. This meant I needed to find a more cost effective way of creating the look I wanted. I also really didn’t want to make a larger scale one without testing the process.

Introducing my mini letterpress.

To start I found the least expensive bag of little letters that Joanns carried. It was $3.99 for 36 little letters. That said it still wasn’t the look that was rolling around in my head, but for the purposes of this project they were just fine. In order to give different depths to each letter I picked up a bag of balsa wood. It was the most expensive at $10.99 however with the 50% off coupon I scored it was only $5.50. For the frame I used a ¾ inch hardboard and flipped it to the back side. It would be simple to make your own but for me that would mean heading up to the shop and I was trying to make this simple and quick.

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The first step was to pick the letters I wanted to use. They have absolutely no meaning, rhythm or reason, they were just the most “normal” looking letters that the package had. After you have picked them, figure out how you want them positioned on the frame.

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Time to get out that balsa wood and a knife or exacto saw, like the one I used. There were 3 different heights of balsa wood to use. I choose them at random for the most part, picked a letter and started cutting. To start with I placed the letters on top of the wood and cut just past were the letter was. The length was a bit more tricky, I had to cut each piece a couple times to fit.

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After I had everything positioned I painted all the letters. And blocks different colors. (sorry no picture of these step)

As the paint was drying on the letters and blocks I decided to have my fun and distress the frame. This meant heading outside and beating it up with a hammer. Remember to try and hit it randomly. I used both ends of the hammer and a nail sinker just for effect.

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For the stain look I created on the frame I used a watered down paint mixture. I wiped it on with a paper towel and then wiped it down with a dry one before the paint dried. At first the depressions weren’t dark enough for my liking. I darkened the original paint/water mixture and painted in each depression, while immediately wiping off the excess from the frame.


Next step was to start gluing everything in, and then it would be finished. I glued each letter to its designated block and each block into place. Remember to place the letters backwards to create a more authentic letterpress look. I made the mistake of getting everything out of order, I suggest keeping them in order so it is easier to put back together. They were in and it looked great… but not perfect. It wasn’t finished what was I thinking?

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It didn’t look right but I couldn’t figure out why. Which is when I enlisted the help of a friend, sent her a picture and she suggested that I antique the blocks and letters more. That was it, that’s exactly what it needed. I mixed some brown and black paint and dry brushed the edges of the frame and the blocks. These would have been much easier if I had use an ink pad BEFORE I had glued everything in place.

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Even with the little hick-ups the result is so cool. I am definitely going to create one on a larger scale.



Exacto saw or kitchen knife (please be very careful)


Framed wood

Balsa wood

E6000 or whatever glue you choose

Paint brush

Craft paint (I used black, white, brown, yellow and red for mine)

Paper towels or shop rags




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