Season of Letterpress

Since my post about letterpress and learning to handset type, I’ve moved on to using plates as well experimenting on the press, a la H.N. Werkman.

As for the plates, our class made business cards, and as tough as I thought the handset type was, plates have their own difficulties. The main difficulty was registration. We were working on a Vandercook hand-rolled press so registration wasn’t easy with two colors. In fact, I think out of the 250 or so cards we made, a good majority of them are off-registration.

As for our experimenting on the press, we started out using things we found around the school or brought from home. Those included leaves, grass, ribbon, cut paper, string–whatever we could get our hands on that wouldn’t hurt the type! We discovered techniques of ghosting, overprinting, and even got the brayer roller involved. Once we’d experimented each of us picked a technique to push and then bind into a book.

Between freelance work and school, there’s been a lot of letterpress in my life over the past few months and it sure has been enjoyable getting away from the computer and stretching the brain a little. As a designer, it’s also been good to be on the other side of the file and get a better understanding of what it takes to letterpress, how to set up the files correctly and why certain things work better than others.

For instance, this holiday card I did for a client had a big ink surface area and the first letterpress place I went to told me it was going to look too funky once it was produced. The place that finally ended up printing it worked around the large ink surface area by using a roll press, but the paper had to be relatively thin because the roll would have bent thicker paper.

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