Letterpress is essentially a type of of relief printing where a print is made by inking a raised surface and making contact with the paper. Back in the late 1400s, Gutenberg created his printing press and the first movable type. The popularity of letterpress in the 1800s led to the mass printing of everything from books to newspapers and these were printed using hand-set type, either wooden or lead. But this standard way of printing has long died off and what we are left with now are artisans who work hard to carry on what is now a specialised craft.
My Press Room
Instead of using hand-set type, I create my designs and have special plates made that are placed into the press- in the same place the old moveable type once sat. I still use hand-set type, but for smaller bits of stationery like cards, which, if you’re lucky, you may find some in my shop in the future. I have big presses and they are both wonderful. My first press is a Victorian press built in the 1890’s and was built in Halifax called the Arab Press. The Arab uses no electricity and is powered by foot using a treadle and momentum is kept up with it’s very heavy flywheel. My second press is much younger and electric, built in the 1950’s and is called a Heidelberg press. “Windmill” is it’s nickname because of the motion it’s arms make when it is swooshing around the paper. You can see it in action in my Instagram story highlights.
Press Set Up
To begin printing I set up the press by placing the paper exactly where I need it be and adjusting the press specifically for that paper. The Heidelberg takes into account the thickness and weight of the paper and I can adjust air suction, feed table tilt, feed table level, and a number of settings to make sure it feeds consistently.
Once I have the artwork placed where I want and the paper feeding correctly, I hand-mix the ink. I mix my ink from a Pantone swatch book which allows me to make all sorts of ink colours from base colours.
Inking the Press
After the ink is mixed, I ink up the press by placing ink on the rollers and running the press until the ink is evenly distributed on each roller.
Printing and Inspection
Once the press is ready- I run my first couple of impressions or test prints to make sure I like the registration, the ink colour, and that every part of the artwork has printed and I make any necessary adjustments until it’s perfect
Labour of Love
Letterpress is a lot of physical hard work and takes a lot of learning. I still learn something every time I print. The machines are old and sometimes we don’t get along but, in the end, the hard work pays off because what you are left with is a beautiful print that you want to run your fingers across. To be a part of such an old craft and bring such beauty to people today is something I am so blessed to be a part of.