Universal I, III, SP15, SP20, or 219? Any preference?

What do you feel is the most reliable and makes the best impressions between the more popular Vandercook models? Universal I, III, SP15, SP20, or the 219? Reading the many mechanical issues with the SP15, I’m hesistant to stray away from the Universal series presses. How would you rate these presses??? Thanks for your thoughts!

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The Arm
17 years ago

From my experience the SP-15 is an excellent small press. Mine hasn’t needed any repairs in the years that I have had it. If you keep it oiled and adjusted correctly and know how to set the packing and rollers, then it should serve you well for a long time to come.

I believe that the SP-15 had the best bang for the buck of any of the presses Vandercook made. And at only 705 lbs. you can get it in to a lot of spaces (living rooms, apartments, etc.) where you could only dream of having a Universal.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

john christopher
17 years ago


I can only contribute from personal experience – I bought my sp-15 from the local art college in brighton, uk 15 years ago for $200 approx, it had been used and abused by students daily and only received a basic maintenance (annual visit by a certified vandercook engineer to check and set the bearings – I think not!); so for a machine dealing with critical measurements within a 1000th of an inch there are bound to be mechanical issues! I guess the ability to make good impressions with any of these models depends just as much on the maintenance history of each individual press as it does on the technical skill of the operator. As a vandercook owner you are the designer, the compositor and the pressman and the maintenance guy; and thats the joy of it, its hands on like any other craft process…. sorry i’m starting to ramble now…. so to get back to the point my sp-15 needs a few spare parts, not arising from an inherent flaw in the design but just it’s user history.

all best

john christopher

Gerald Lange
17 years ago


Based on my experience with these models I’d say that yes, the SP series is the most prone to mechanical failure. These were Vandercook’s low end presses and were engineered accordingly. The SP-20 is under built for its size.

I’ve had 4 of them over time and each had problems, especially with the flimsy trip/print mechanism, and I might add, the horrible roller adjustment mechanism (which by the way can be replaced on the SP-20 with Universal roller blocks—the placement holes are already there).

Not sure what you mean by “best impression.” I’d think any of these presses is capable of high end reproduction quality printing. The smaller diameter of the SP-15’s rollers is somewhat of a nuisance because of their relative light weight. They simply will not stay in position. I’ve invented a million contraptions to try and resolve this but have never found the perfect solution.

I’ve used SP-15s for quite a lot of edition work, but I would not recommend them for this purpose.

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