When I mention to people that I am a lettepress printer I get one of two responses: What is letterpress or I love letterpress!
So I thought I would take a minute to explain what letterpress is and how the process works. Letterpress is just a printing method that involves printing from a hard raised image under pressure, using viscous ink.
I currently print on 2 platen presses, Helga and Stella, a Heidelburg Windmill Redball (10x15) circa 1954 and a Chandler and Price New Style (12x18) circa 1923.
I love printing on these vintage presses and using vintage printing blocks in some of my designs (some from as early as 1888). The history of the presses and blocks and the stories they tell are fascinating.
The process hasn't changed much since platen presses were first used, but technology has helped revitalize the craft.
- Digital vector design is created from artwork, text, etc.
- Photopolymer printing plates are made from designs. There is one plate made for each color in the design. This is the one stage that I do not do in house!
- During the printing phase, the raised plate surface + soft, cotton paper = impression in the paper.
- To setup the press I will adjust and align the plates and paper and print a blind impression test to make sure the alignment is perfect. This is usually done down to the point (think points size in fonts)
- Next I mix the ink (by hand) and apply it to the press (also by hand). I will then clean and re-ink the press for every color in the design.
- Finally, each card is printed once for every color in the design. Once all the cards are checked for quality and cleanliness (sometimes the old presses leave little extra marks) I fold, package and send them out to my sweet customers!
I hope this helps you understand letterpress, the process, and this cool place where art meets craft for so many.