Letterpress Costing Materials

Earlier in the month I had the opportuntity to speak at the Ladies of Letterpress Conference. It was a terrific venue and an inspirational group of people on hand. After morning classes we got hands-on with a lot of cool letterpress equipment–including some scary/fun non-OSHA compliant wonders:

T.W. & C.B. Sheridan paper cutter

A video posted by Harold Kyle (@haroldkyle) on

On two mornings, I spoke about letterpress costing and product development. I had approached the Ladies to speak after classes on these topics during the January session at MIT Sloan’s Executive MBA. I love the intersection of cost accounting and product development, where operational capabilities and market possibilities collide. I created a spreadsheet to envision costs for the slides, something that you can open and copy to play around with. This is a Creative Commons licensed spreadsheet, so feel free to embellish and re-share; instructions are on the first tab.

A couple of students asked for the slide deck afterwards. I have this embedded below if you’re interested–bearing in mind that all numbers are ficticious and aren’t giving you any top secret insight into my operation. By way of explanation, the first day we covered slides 1 through 36, and broke down the costs behind a single Smock Happy Birthday Card. The second day we discussed the remainder of the slides–how careful cost accounting has kept Smock’s gift wrap products afloat despite many cost overruns along the way.

Many good discussions flowed from the audience. Jeff Marrow of Percolator Press shared how his detailed cost accounting in Excel rolls up into annual reports that he uses for decision making. Nancy Flemm from pixies & porcupines talked about how 17Hats keeps track of many business functions, including cost accounting–allowing her to focus on her work better.

A theme of the talk was finding creative ways to keep products profitable despite rising costs. Smock gift wraps in particular have had to suffer many bumps in the road, so it made a good example. As a postscript to the talk, I faced another obstacle in our gift wrap production when I returned to Syracuse: the printer in Syracuse who runs these large (25x38) 2-color offset sheets was going to scrap the printing press! I really didn’t like any option at this point, but I quickly ran some numbers and realized I should send out some riggers to save the press. It will pay for itself within 6 months with the current volume of work. I never thought that I would own a 2-color, 40 inch, 40 year old offset press, but here it comes:

The correct way to move a press

A photo posted by Harold Kyle (@haroldkyle) on

…so the saga continues!

Thanks to all the attendees and to Kseniya and Jessica for creating such an invigorating conference. If you have followup thoughts, open up this post to leave them in the comments section below.