Friday, May 16, 2008

Craft 101: Letterpress Printing

Elise emailed me to share her love for letterpress and since she's fairly new to letterpress printing, I thought it would be interesting to get her fresh perspective on the topic. Elise was also kind enough to include some of her favorite links and books on the topic - perfect for beginners!

One of Elise's letterpress postcards

So please welcome Elise to the site...

Letterpress printing is one of the oldest forms of mass printing. Originally it involved arranging and rearranging raised letters into a frame, then inking them before pressing a paper on top. Letterpress printing was the method used to print mass quantities of newspapers and books long before the computer was born.

>> continue reading Craft 101: Letterpress Printing

While letterpress printing was once the printing method of choice, it is seen today more as a craft and specialized hobby. Many greeting cards and wedding invitations are letterpressed to provide texture and add to their uniqueness. The de-bossed impression is created from the pressing of the paper against the raised inked image or text.

There are many different typefaces in various sizes available for the letterpress - most of which were named after printers who worked in the 15th century. These lead and wood typefaces are still around, but many people choose to create plates based on something they have designed and typeset on a computer.

Linocut : I carved the tulip shape out of a block of lineolum and used it to create the
print in the image to its left.

Linocuts can also be used to obtain an image into paper with a press. To create a linocut, a relief carving is done on a sheet of linoleum which is generally mounted on a wooden block.

There are many different types of presses - some are completely hand powered while more recent or refurbished models have electric parts. I recommend browsing this Press Gallery Index to see many different styles.

About a year ago, I fell in love with the look and feel of letterpressed cards. At the time, I didn't realize that it was a printing method that I would be able to do on my own. Originally, I spent a good amount of time looking for a press to purchase online, but soon realized that 1) they were hard to find and 2) even more difficult to transport.

I was told by a fellow letterpress enthusiast about an art studio with presses in my area and decided to sign up for a three course workshop. During my three classes, I learned about the art of letterpress and became comfortable using their Vandercook Presses. I'm currently renting time on their press and create small prints and cards to sell in my Etsy shop. Eventually I would love to create custom stationary and wedding invitations.

Mixing ink : blending green, yellow and white to get the color I wanted.
I use Speedball block printing oil based inks.

You can clearly see in this photo the text on the bed of the press.
It is secured in place with wooden blocks of different sizes.

I use a large Vandercook press. The ink is scraped on to the rollers and
the type is set in the bed of the press. The ink first rolls over the text and then another
non-inked roller (with paper attached) rolls over the inked text.

If I had the extra space and time to dedicate to the hobby, I would love to purchase a press. Right now, renting space is ideal for me - especially because the press rental includes a variety of typestyles and proper materials that the studio has collected over the years.

Wood type alphabet that I bought on Etsy

I am still an avid collector of letterpressed pieces from various shops. Now that I understand the work and effort behind the craft, I am now an even bigger fan. Some of my favorite small companies include, Zeichen Press, port2port press, Satsuma Press, & Hammerpress. I also have found many lovely little letterpressed goods shops on Etsy.

1. Briar Press is an excellent online resource for all things letterpress. Through the site, you can purchase a press, download graphics for printing, or just learn more about the craft. There is a current listing of workshops available as well.
2. Five Roses is a fantastic resource as well if you are interested in learning more about printing today. They have outstanding resources and links to check out for more information.
3. Owosso Graphics and Boxcar Press are just a few of online sites where you can order plates for printing. When ordering plates, it is important to specify you want the reverse image. Otherwise, what you print will be backwards.
4. Wikipedia also has an informative article about letterpress and some great links to check out.

Two fun books that I have seen and read though are:
1. Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton
2. Letterpress: New Applications for Traditional Skills by David Jury

Make sure to check out Elise's blog to keep track of her progress and also check out her shop to see what she's been cranking out of her Vandercook!

Credit: Overview and associated images courtesy of Elise Blaha

Thanks Elise!!

Share your love for your craft! Email me at hearthandmade[at]gmail[dot]com, subject: Craft 101

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Melissa de la Fuente said...

Oh, I just love her letterpress and have already visited her shop and marked practically everything as a favorite! :)

Marichelle said...

Melissa, I'll be keeping my eye on this one! Can't wait to see all the great things that she'll be making!

Andrea Eames said...

Wow, this is amazing! What a great effect, and interesting process.

I've always wanted to own a wooden type alphabet too ... not because I would use it, just because I love letters.

Thanks Elise and Marichelle!

Marichelle said...

Hi Andrea, Elise really wrote a great piece - very inspiring. It really makes me want to give it a try. Oh well, another one to add to the "must try" list!