I’ve always loved type in its various forms whether handwritten or computer generated and also like old letterpress type so I was looking forward to starting the Typography section of the course. I’ve dabbled in handwritten type and calligraphy and feel I want to spend time during this section experimenting with both as well as looking at how to select suitable fonts/ typefaces along the way for use in projects and learn more about some of the attributes of successful typography.
I’m going to add examples of typography I find interesting and visually appealing to my visual diary pages. I decided that I wanted to research traditional letterpress printing. I’ve always liked the appearance of letterpress and recently have been aware of some card companies who produce work in this traditional way particularly for events such as Weddings. I love the texture and quaintness of a traditional letterpress piece and have always wanted to give it a go. Letterpress has become popular again with today’s popular handmade look as each print if subtly different.
Letterpress is the term used to describe relief printing of text or images using a press with a type – high bed. This involves composing and locking movable type into the bed of a press, inking it and then pressing paper against it to transfer the ink from the type. Although the origins of such dates back to AD c. 200 when relief prints were made with blocks of carved wood it is thought that Johannes Gutenberg was the founder of printing with reusable movable type in the mid 15th century.
Prior to its invention, the distribution of books were very limited because they were being handwritten by monks and scribes. Once movable type was invented, literature was able to be created in multiples and thus enabled knowledge to spread much faster than ever before. With letterpress all the letters, numbers and punctuation marks of a certain typeface are represented as little blocks of lead, each design raised out of the block like a stamp. One could assemble these characters into a layout of sentences and paragraphs on a press bed, apply a layer of ink, add some paper and pressure resulting in a printing page. A type of relief printing, only the raised parts of the letters – not the blocks that they were attached to – would print.
Letterpress remained in wide use until the second half of the 20th century when offset printing evolved which replaced its role in printing.
The industrial revolution saw a huge range of developments and hand presses being created attempting to improve on the weighing and leverage needed to create an imprint and many of these are still used by hobbyists and enthusiasts today. Large scale full size platen presses were also being developed and used for commercial printing. By the 1960s the developments in offset lithography printing a process where the inked image is transferred from a plate to a rubber cylinder and then to a printed surface, changed the nature of the printing industry and letterpress machines became largely redundant. However, the letterpress while previously very labour intensive there have been a few simple advances in letterpress printmaking that make it easier and quicker to produce custom designs and illustrations, such as the fabrication of a copper plate, as shown below that contains the entire design in one type-high block.
Historically, it was bad technique to allow any of the letters to make a deep impression into the paper – called a kiss – because when reading a book you didn’t want to see the impression from the print on the other side. Nowadays, people crave thick, cotton papers that when printed with a heavy impression, leaves a very tactile appearance unlike traditional digital printing.
Letterpress printing is a skilled art and takes a lot time and patience. Overall consistency to ensure a quality print. Colors are printed one at a time, which explains why it is more costly to get a more colorful print, since each color equals its own film and plate, plus ink mixing and press set-up and registration.
These days polymer plates, a recent technology which enable custom designs to be created with the aid of a computer rather than having to rely on setting type or ornaments. The process to create a polymer plate involves exporting a black and white design as a PDF into a film. The film and plate are exposed on a light table and the light that passes through the film to the plate hardens the plate. The plate is then rinsed, and whatever areas have not been hardened by the light simply wash away. The polymer plate is then attached to a type-high base (the height of lead type, .9186″) and the raised areas of the plate are inked and printed!
Letterpress Now By Jessica White By Lark Crafts 2013
Reinventing Letterpress: Prints by Contemporary Practitioner (Illustrated) by Charlotte Rivers
I also found this really interesting video on youtube about Letterpress.