Cassette At Work

The Resurgence of Letterpress and Artisan Printing

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It’s a fact of modern day life that print publishing is slowly being replaced by digital technologies, yet there’s one thing that print offers us that cannot ever be replicated by digital publishing, and that’s the sentimentality of looking at and touching something hand crafted. Despite the increasing popularity of digital publishing, print will always have a ‘soft spot’ in people’s minds, and the artisanal quality and craftsmanship of hand printed items will never go out of fashion. This is seen through the resurgence of letterpress and artisanal printing over the last few years – something that was once deemed outdated and no longer efficient is now being re-embraced.

There is a strong correlation between DIY culture and the rise of ancient printing techniques such as the letterpress. Artists and writers alike enjoy the process of creating something attractive and useful with their hands, even though the process requires more skill than hitting the print button from your computer. Designers love letterpress because it adds quality and tactility to their work.

The history of letterpress

Johann Gutenberg introduced letterpress technology to the western world in the mid-fifteenth century when he used moveable lead type to create the first machine printed books. This printing technology was used for hundreds of years until the invention of offset printing in the nineteenth century.

Letterpress is today used for custom stationery, wedding and party invitations, greeting cards, and even designer business cards.

How does letterpress work?

Letterpress is more expensive than other types of printing such as thermal engraving or offset printing, due to the amount of labour involved. Most presses are antiques, and many are manually operated. The press setup process takes much longer than modern methods, as the plate must be set and locked into the desired configuration, which can take some time.

Once this is achieved, multiple test runs are made to ensure that paper and print are aligned, to troubleshoot any inking problems, and to generally prep for the best possible print run. Because the setup can sometimes take longer than the actual printing, you may find that it costs as much for a single print as it does to buy 50.

Multicolour projects are even more labour intensive because each colour is printed separately. For every layer of colour, a new plate must be made. Which means printing time for multi-colour jobs can take a number of days, as each colour needs time to dry.

Why choose letterpress?

If the process is slower and more costly than modern printing methods, you may be wondering why this centuries old technology has suddenly become so popular? We’ve already mentioned the digital fatigue experienced by artists and designers, but ironically, modern technology has made today’s letterpress printing process easier.

In the past, apprentices spent years learning to quickly and efficiently set individual metal letters and spaces to format each page. This technology is still used by many letterpress print shops. Newer methods, however, allow designers to create either a metal or plastic printing plate from a digital design, achieving the same handprinted look with a less time consuming process.

The increasing popularity of letterpress within the DIY and creative crowd represents a mingling of culture and technology, and is aligned with the rising demand for handmade products on sites such as Etsy. A beautifully made letterpress print shows off an artist’s skill and provides a sustainable way of producing multiple copies of an image. Hand-printed letterpress invitations show craftsmanship and quality, and add a tactile, unique quality to your design.

Although digital technology may continue to seek dominance in the world of publishing, the desire for high quality artisanal printing isn’t going anywhere. The combination of art and design, and the appeal of handmade items, will ensure that letterpress printing is here to stay.

It’s a fact of modern day life that print publishing is slowly being replaced by digital technologies, yet there’s one thing that print offers us that cannot ever be replicated by digital publishing, and that’s the sentimentality of looking at and touching something hand crafted. Despite the increasing popularity of digital publishing, print will always have a ‘soft spot’ in people’s minds, and the artisanal quality and craftsmanship of hand printed items will never go out of fashion. This is seen through the resurgence of letterpress and artisanal printing over the last few years – something that was once deemed outdated and no longer efficient is now being re-embraced.

There is a strong correlation between DIY culture and the rise of ancient printing techniques such as the letterpress. Artists and writers alike enjoy the process of creating something attractive and useful with their hands, even though the process requires more skill than hitting the print button from your computer. Designers love letterpress because it adds quality and tactility to their work.

The history of letterpress

Johann Gutenberg introduced letterpress technology to the western world in the mid-fifteenth century when he used moveable lead type to create the first machine printed books. This printing technology was used for hundreds of years until the invention of offset printing in the nineteenth century.

Letterpress is today used for custom stationery, wedding and party invitations, greeting cards, and even designer business cards.

How does letterpress work?

Letterpress is more expensive than other types of printing such as thermal engraving or offset printing, due to the amount of labour involved. Most presses are antiques, and many are manually operated. The press setup process takes much longer than modern methods, as the plate must be set and locked into the desired configuration, which can take some time.

Once this is achieved, multiple test runs are made to ensure that paper and print are aligned, to troubleshoot any inking problems, and to generally prep for the best possible print run. Because the setup can sometimes take longer than the actual printing, you may find that it costs as much for a single print as it does to buy 50.

Multicolour projects are even more labour intensive because each colour is printed separately. For every layer of colour, a new plate must be made. Which means printing time for multi-colour jobs can take a number of days, as each colour needs time to dry.

Why choose letterpress?

If the process is slower and more costly than modern printing methods, you may be wondering why this centuries old technology has suddenly become so popular? We’ve already mentioned the digital fatigue experienced by artists and designers, but ironically, modern technology has made today’s letterpress printing process easier.

In the past, apprentices spent years learning to quickly and efficiently set individual metal letters and spaces to format each page. This technology is still used by many letterpress print shops. Newer methods, however, allow designers to create either a metal or plastic printing plate from a digital design, achieving the same handprinted look with a less time consuming process.

The increasing popularity of letterpress within the DIY and creative crowd represents a mingling of culture and technology, and is aligned with the rising demand for handmade products on sites such as Etsy. A beautifully made letterpress print shows off an artist’s skill and provides a sustainable way of producing multiple copies of an image. Hand-printed letterpress invitations show craftsmanship and quality, and add a tactile, unique quality to your design.

Although digital technology may continue to seek dominance in the world of publishing, the desire for high quality artisanal printing isn’t going anywhere. The combination of art and design, and the appeal of handmade items, will ensure that letterpress printing is here to stay.

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