Saturday, February 18, 2012

It's All About Letterpress

wise-ass may have once asked you, "What do you want, an engraved invitation?"  And the simple answer is no - no, you don't.  You want a letterpress invitation.  A debate continues to rage - mostly on wedding sites - on which is better, more formal, or more "proper."  Every so often, someone even brings up the dreaded thermography.  There's no gray area here as far as I'm concerned; letterpress is hands down the preferable printing method.

©2011 Angelique Felgentreff
Letterpress has been around since the 1400s when Gutenberg first established the printing press.  Raised type (wood or metal) is coated with ink and then pressed into the paper, oftentimes leaving an impression in the paper itself.  With the right sort of paper, one can "print" in letterpress without even using ink (called "blind embossing") which exudes a decidedly understated elegance.

Using a letterpress yourself takes some time and practice to gain proficiency - it's most certainly a craft unto itself.  There's lots of fun jargon - movable type, leading, chase, furniture, platen, etc.  The good news is that there's a lot of print shops around that are now offering courses and workshops in using a letterpress, so you can go and try it out and see if you like it.  If you don't, there's still a good number of printing companies that offer the service.  If you want something very specific, keep in mind that they will need to charge you to make a custom printing plate, which you can keep for use later.

The other option is engraving, also called "intaglio" where an image is engraved onto metal.  The engraved area is then filled with ink and pressed onto (not into) the paper.  When dry, the type feels raised on the paper, instead of pressed into it.  While it's certainly a step up from an email or bad handwriting, it's just not the same as letterpress by any stretch of the imagination.

©2011 Angelique Felgentreff
If you really get into the process, you can buy your own letterpress.  You don't need the full-on Heidelberg Windmill press to get started (although you'll probably want one).  Small hand presses can be purchased for around $1500.00.  Be sure to also have some cash on hand for the type, furniture, coppers, ink, paper, etc that you'll need to get started.  And be prepared for a bit of a mess!  A note:  The "Kelsey" brand presses are by far the most common on the market here in the US, but they don't have the best reputation for quality.  They're generally student presses, and a used one might have been abused.  Don Black in Canada wrote a little bit about choosing your first press that I'd highly recommend.

I attended a small workshop here in New York and found that I liked the process as much as the product.  If you like doing things with your hands, you should definitely give it a go.

--A

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