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.
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.
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.
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!