Monday, October 25, 2010

Lessons in Letterpress

Yesterday I took a 6 hour course on letterpress at The Arm located in Brooklyn, NY. I've been wanting to take this class for quite some time and I'm so glad I finally signed up for it. As you know, I'm absolutely adore all things letterpress so I thought it was high time I learned more about this fascinating process. The great thing about The Arm is that once you take the class, you are able to use the studio by the hour so I'm hoping you'll start seeing my designs in letterpress form soon!

The Arm studio

We started off by learning about printing on the Vandercook Universal Press. These days most letterpress pieces are printed using photopolymer plates. That is, (in exceedingly simplified terms) you send your computer generated design to a company who turns your design into a raised "plate". You place your "plate" on the letterpress machine, roll ink over the design and "press" the paper over it to create the indented design. But the majority of this class was spent learning how to print using wood and metal type.

Vandercook Universal Press

Wood Type Set

Using the wood and metal type was absolutely fascinating to me. It's hard to imagine that back in the day all printed pieces were set by hand. Each individual letter and space is it's own block. Not only that but printers had to set everything backwards. It's so easy to take print and design for granted these days. I mean, I spend hours designing printed pieces using a computer. All I have to do is use the delete key, make a few clicks with the mouse and then press print. Imagine the time, skill and manual labor it took to print a book!

So my class partner, Caroline and I decided to re-create the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster.
We used the wooden type, centered it with "furniture" blocks and set it on the Vandercook press.

Furniture blocks neatly ordered by size.

The finished product!

We also learned how to use the C&P Pilot press, a smaller hand operated press used for undersized printed pieces. This time we used the metal type, which if you can believe, is even more tedious than setting the wood type.

C&P Pilot

Inking the rollers.

Metal type set made out of lead.

My name and address set in a "frame" on the C&P Pilot press.

A menu set with metal type.

I had so much fun learning about the letterpress process and I'm excited to do some of my own printing very soon. If you're as captivated by typesetting and letterpress as I am, you might enjoy this video from 1947 entitled: Your Life Work Series, Printing by the Vocational Guidance Films. It's a little long but definitely worth a watch. It truly makes you appreciate the craftsmanship of old fashioned printing. I'm so happy letterpress has not become a dying art form and interest in it continues to grow. Buy something letterpressed today!


Prippy Handbook said...

LOVE letterpress. I've also long been obsessed with this trade, and I think it is great news that you've begun to explore the process!

Hope to see more Navy Bean letterpress designs soon!

sarah, flourish design + style said...

Hi Janis! That must have been so very cool.. good for you for trying something new :) xoxo

LindsB said...

this sounds like the coolest class ever!! I would love to learn letterpress. In fact when I was first looking at wedding invitations I tried to convince my dad that we just HAD to have a letterpress machine to do my invites and we could start to do others too :) It didnt really get anywhere, he said no haha

Navy Bean said...

Thanks so much! The class was awesome! Lindsay, I've definitely searched on ebay for an old letterpress machine before I even knew how to use one! Haha! But have you heard about the home letterpress kit by Lifestyle Crafts?

I blogged about it here:

Definitely intrigued by it. Although as long as I have access to the studio, I think I'll stick with the real thing.

Bruno Cauwe said...

Hi there, Letterpress lovers.
Did you see - Bruno Cauwe - on YouTube ??
Professinal Letterpress Master Printer in The Netherlands.
look and enjoy your self.

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