The Bare Minimum for a Book Studio

why babes in publishing need a book arts lab, and what it could be

Publishing is an act of creation. Aspiring publishers should learn each step, from soliciting the best content to finding the right distribution model. Beyond the business, they should understand the ethics, the impact, and the history of what they do. These are all elements of current publishing programs. The most successful programs lean into experiential learning; learning by doing, understanding by practicing. A student can see a P&L and say yes, I understand, but by attempting to balance it, they appreciate the complexity. 

No two publishing programs look the same, and they shouldn’t. For BA programs here in Canada, Centennial College focuses on a bi-annual magazine, On the Danforth, that they publish as a team, and Vancouver Island University has a year-long optional course to produce Portal, the annual magazine. Experiential learning is a key element in the process of education, one that is often at the forefront of a universities academic goals:


The fourth of five focuses within their strategic plan (page five) is: “enriching experiential learning and research opportunities as ways to master valuable competencies.”

One of the three strategic priorities is rethinking undergraduate education; within that, they emphasize “experience-based learning.”

Applied learning is a core element of the BCIT teaching strategy, and they guarantee an element in all programs.

Experience is the first goal of the current strategic plan “experiential learning” is listed directly in strategy one of this objective.  

In their strategic framework they have “intensify dynamic learning” as a key component, and explain that they intend to be a leader in experiential learning. 

While they refer to it as “enriched educational opportunities” the description matches the definition of experiential learning of other schools; this falls under the first of the “core ideas.”

They list next-generation learning as one of nine strategic directions, and elaborate that they will provide more “flexible, experiential, skill-oriented…” learning opportunities.

They list experiential learning as a key element of their academic objectives In the Provost welcome, the introduction, the relevant programing, and again in the first listed priority.

SFU also acknowledges the benefits of experiential learning in their reports, but their most recent strategic objectives are focused on capital plans. Within those objectives, however, they mention more specifically that they need more space for the library (page 32) and that there is a need for space devoted to the book arts ( page 35). 

For an aspirational model, we can look at RMIT University in Australia, with the Bowen Street Press. A student-run press with a functioning website, blog, podcast, and a wide variety of publications (zine to book) this model allows students to engage with every facet of an active press for credits. A similar operation, much closer to home, is Ooligan Press at Portland State University. Another student-run trade press, it functions as an apprenticeship, ensuring hands-on experience before students move into work-study roles in the industry. Students must complete a minimum number of hours in the studio/lab to graduate and can work in a variety of roles. Students from other programs are eligible to apply to work here as well. 

Even without a functioning press, there are examples of other publishing programs maintaining a book arts lab successfully. At the University of Plymouth, where they offer an MA in Publishing, they offer a variety of digital and manual facilities for student use. Western Colorado University also maintains a full bookmaking studio on campus for their MA level publishing program. At the London College of Communication MA Publishing program, they maintain a full book arts lab as well. 

You can’t cover every facet of an industry in one program, but you can provide opportunities. As the SFU MPub moves deliberately away from periodicals and focuses on book publishing, it’s important to add to the breadth of that one niche. Students arrive here looking to forge a career in various industry roles; editing and curation, management, and design are some of the most popular.
*****Add information about Mauve’s Research (re: crafts improve retention of knowledge)

Space, Materials, and Time

Now that we’ve covered the why we can move into the how. The current publishing lab, The Himie Koshevoy Publishing Lab (room 2960 in Harbour Center) is an excellent starting point and should be redeveloped to better suit the department’s goals. It does lack the dimensions needed for a robust studio, however, so a longer-term plan is needed.

Faculty within the Publishing Department at SFU have noted an interest in collaboration opportunities with the library. As mentioned above, the library has noted an interest in building a book arts lab. They have quickly run out of space in the Burnaby maker space, and the current letterpress remains mostly unused. As such, the proposed book arts studio could be a partnership between the MPub and the Makerspace (a subsection of the Library).  By placing this space within the currently closed SFU Bookstore (downtown), we are utilizing a space that is already rented, is currently vacant, and one that can showcase the work of the SFU students. A partnership with the SFU bookstore is also possible, though more effective would be the opportunity to employ students from the publishing program, to allow them to gain experience with bookselling, retail marketing, and related tasks and maintain a flexible part-time job on campus (international students are very limited in off-campus job opportunities, and Canadian work experience can be fundamental to effective placements). Products and printed objects (including those published by CISP) could continue being sold in the space to neutralize costs.


The components of a book arts lab rely heavily on what will be taught. Printing is integral, but papermaking, binding, finishing, reprography, and digital printing are all excellent areas as well. Many print hardware companies are open to donations of equipment, software, and materials, so an outreach plan should be in place to negotiate this before purchasing. If donations can’t be secured, used equipment and leases should be considered before outright purchases; in some cases the value savings are extraordinary. 

First, let’s look at what other book arts studios have in their departments, then I will list my suggestions. Most studios break up their materials into two or more spaces. 

    • 4 Cylinder Printing Presses
    • 1 galley press
    • 2 platen presses
    • Range of type (wood, metal) and ornaments, plus accessories
    • 4 Nipping presses
    • 1 bookboard shear
    • Wooden bindery equipment (laying/finishing)
    • Electric finishing stove + tools for gold tooling
    • Leatherworking tools
    • Misc. bookbinding tools, including bone folders, knives,
    • backing hammers, backing boards, gilding boards,
    • burnishing tools, type holders, and brass type for
    • blocking in a range of sizes
    • Three JTM Presses
    • Schmedt Prägnant
    • Brass Type for Blocking
    • Powered guillotine
    • Risograph RP3700
    • Canon Imagerunner C3035
    • Perfect binding machine
    • Rapid 106 electric stapler
    • Wiro binder
    • Coil binder
    • Round corner cutter
    • Omnicrom for foiling
  • Six etching presses
  • Three litho presses
  • One proofing press
  • One Sign press
  • Four Vandercook presses
  • Ferric chloride tank
  • Hot plate
  • Spray booth
  • Stone graining sink
  • Screen printing tables
  • Screen drying racks
  • Seri-Glide 4464 vacuum screen printing table
  • Power washing booths
  • Emulsion stripper dip tank
  • Plate processing sink
  • Photopolymer plate maker
  • Emulsion scoop coating station
  • Ranar XPO 4048 screen exposure unit
  • NuArc flip-top platemaker 42″ x 33″
  • OLITE screen exposure unit: 72” x 64”
  • Nipping presses
  • Hot foil stamper
  • Work tables with cutting surfaces
  • More than 150 drawers of metal and wooden type
  • Pictorial printing ornaments 
  • Chandler & Price platen press
  • 2 tabletop platen presses
  • 2 flatbed proofing presses
  • Book making equipment and supplies 
  • Bindery Equipment
  • Board Shears
  • Guillotine Cutter
  • Several Book Presses
  • Four Standing Backing Presses
  • Several Lying Presses
  • Sewing Frames
  • Scharf Fix Leather Paring Machine
  • 3 Quickprint Hot Stamping machines
  • 2 Kensol Hot stamping Machines, up to 8×10″ chase
  • A large selection of tooling and hot stamping forms
  • Rounding Hammers
  • Newsprint paper
  • Printshop Equipment
  • Five Vandercook Proofing Presses (Universal 1, Universal 3, Number 4, 219. 10-21)
  • Two Chandler and Price Treadle Operated Platen Presses
  • One table top proofing press
  • Antique Washington Press
  • A large selection of Lead Type Faces
  • A selection of Wood Type Faces
  • Metal and wooden furniture
  • A variety of inks and modifiers
  • Hand brayers
  • Newsprint papers
  • Aprons + rags
  • Type Specimen Book
  • Type Catalogue
  • Vandercook SP-20
  • Charles Brand Etching Presses
  • French Tool Etching Press
  • Charles Brand Lithography Presses
  • Exposure Unit and Vacuum Frame
  • EXcono Plate Exposure Unit
  • Rhinotech Washout Booth
  • a broad range of letterpress, printmaking, and bookbinding equipment, including Vandercook presses and a Colts Armory platen press with metal type
  • A digital lab/clean room for MFA students, featuring Apple computer workstations, a color laser writer, a large-format flatbed scanner, and a large-format inkjet printer
  • The Eucalyptus Press, with two Vandercook presses, a Chandler & Price platen press, an etching press, an 1860 Albion handpress, hundreds of cases of metal and wood type, and a large-format polymer platemaker to combine computer typesetting and design with relief printing
  • The Florence Walter Bindery, containing equipment and materials for contemporary and traditional binding; our traditional binding equipment includes French handmade presses, sewing frames, and other tools bequeathed by the daughters of noted fine hand-binder Florence Walter
  • Guillotine paper cutter
  • board shears
  • Kwikprint foil presses
  • Paper drill
  • Backing press
  • Sewing frames
  • Book cradles
  • Nipping presses
  • Spiral binder
  • Hand tools
  • Wood and metal type
  • Light table
  • Polymer platemaker
  • Solvents
  • Safety equipment
  • Ink
  • 15 Presses (8 various Vandercook, 2 19th century iron hand presses, a Showcard sign press, four platen presses, and an etching press
  • Hydraulic press
  • Restraint dryer
  • Valley beater
  • Reina beater
  • Cook tops
  • Felts
  • Moulds
  • Deckles (various sizes)
  • Washout booth
  • Power washer 
  • Printing and screen coating tools
  • Emulsion and washout chemicals 
  • Screen printing tables
  • Six Vandercook proof presses 
  • Eight platen presses (2x 10” x 15”, 2x 8” x 12”, 4x  6” x10”)
  • 2 Kuttrimmers
  • 3 guillotine paper cutters (1 power, 2 manual)
  • An A-3 photopolymer platemaker
  • Many cases of wood and metal type
  • Three board shears
  • Vagelli standing percussion press
  • Four job backers
  • Two French laying presses
  • Many nipping presses (various sizes)
  • Finishing presses, sewing frames, and all the standard hand tools needed for basic binding (knives, awls, rulers, dividers, etc.)
  • Papermaking
    • 50 ton press
    • vacuum table
    • 2 beaters with washers
    • Standing book binding screw press
    • 7 vats of various sizes (2 small Japanese vats)
    • 25 moulds of various sizes and types (laid, wove, Japanese, Indo Islamic, canvas stretcher, stretched mesh wove, nagashizuki)
    • Many deckles, coverings, and chapri
    • Wide assortment of press boards, felts, and interfacings
    • Electric dryer, stack dryer, fans, fridge, and drying brushes
    • Gram scale, Baby scale
    • Guillotine paper cutter
    • Photo trays, flat files, standing shelf racks, marble drying rack, and file cabinets
    • light box
    • Hand beating table, pair mallets, one large beating stick
    • 20 4 gallon buckets, 10 plastic garbage buckets, 
    • 4 hot plates
    • 5 shelf sheet pulp storage unit
    • Blender
  • Printing
    • Seven Vandercook Proof Presses:
    • Nolan hand proof press
    • AZ PA520 Inox Photopolymer Platemaker Exposure and Washout Unit
    • NuArc exposure unit
    • Polimero A3 photopolymer exposure/washout unit
    • Motorized etching press, 27×48″ bed
    • 600+ cases of metal type, including Bembo, Dante, Futura, Gill Sans Joanna, Spectrum, Van Dijck
    • 40 cases of wood type
    • Kutrimmer
    • Boxcar Bases in various sizes: 13 x 19, 12 x 18, 9 x 12, 6 x 9
    • Bunting Magnetic Bases in various sizes: 8.5 x 11, 2 x 4
  • Finishing/Binding
    • board shears
    • several kutrimmers
    • Guillotine
    • standing press
    • nipping presses
    • job backer
    • sewing frames
    • Plough
    • foil stamper
    • drill press
    • a variety of hand tools and equipment (Japanese screw punches, leather working tools, and cold metal working tools)
  • Digital
    • HP LaserJet 5200TN 11×17” printer
    • HP Color LaserJet CP5225 11×17” color printer
    • Epson Stylus Pro 4900 Large-format color inkjet printer
    • Epson V600 Photo scanner
    • Epson 10000 XL 12×17” scanner
    • Graphtec Craft Robo Pro cutting plotter
    • Canon Powershot G15 camera
    • Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR camera.

As you can see, most functioning studio spaces have a wide variety of equipment; much more than could fit in the 490 sq ft publishing lab. However, they also tend to separate the equipment into more than one space. For that reason, a micro-lab in room 2960 would be an excellent working example prior to developing something larger in conjunction with the SFU library. 

If the micro-lab will be used to complement the existing programming, then the focus would be on design, history, and technology. Students should be able to produce covers for their books in book project, examine and test a variety of printing and binding methods, and ideally produce their own catalogues and reports. It would be vital to have a sink installed for some of these printing methods (tabletop letterpress, litho, linocut, screen printing), so if that wasn’t possible, it’s recommended to save those for a separate lab. One item of each type was listed, but in some cases, more would be ideal.

Suggested Materials Cost 


Manual Duplicator Have

RISO Duplicator $4-$5000

Typewriter $100

Heat Press $250

Colour Wide-Format Laser Printer (these are sold used regularly for ~$500, but MSRP is around $12-25k; renting is actually the best option, as for $85/m it includes ink and servicing)

Plotter (often sold for very little used, as the inks, paper holders, and paper are the more costly part)


Sink Required: 

Tabletop Press (cabinet, type, furniture, ink, brayer, paper…)

Tabletop Litho Proofing Press 

Tools for Linocut Blocks

Tools for tabletop screen printing (for totes, bags)


Binding & Finishing 

Cricut Have

Guillotine Used for $200

Nipping Press Unknown

Book Press Could be made

Sewing Frame $100

Bookbinding Plough ?

Handtools for bookbinding (awl, bone, thread, etc.) 


This Post Has One Comment

  1. JMax

    Shae, I’d be interested to take this — or parts of it — to the folks in the Library, who need to be thinking at this level of detail. Would you be interested to be part of that? I’m not sure when the opportune moment is, but since you’ve written this all down, it maybe can be soon.

    A note about Publishing programs running actual presses… the trouble (and I think this is widely acknowledged within these endeavours) is *labour.* Treating students, who are properly thought of as having learning goals, as labour (that is, part of the P&L) is problematic. Not saying it can’t work, but it requires a delicate, delicate balance, in order to keep the financial/marketing/reputational needs of the press from bulldozing the educational goals. Scheduling is a challenge — press deadlines need to fit term deadlines, etc… the conflict between different kinds of rewards ($ vs grades vs intrinsic motivation). And, perhaps most importantly. the ability to fail and learn from it, for instance. Burn the toasters, etc. I know this a little from personal experience once as a student, in which there was a client we were responsible to satisfy, and it wasn’t comfortable at all.

    As I say, I’m not completely opposed to the idea, but I do think it requires some very careful and detailed design to structure the relationship so that there isn’t a conflict of interest at the very heart of the thing. I’d be interested to hear what you think about that.

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