Why is it that we will spend the extra coin for the vintage, the custom and the exclusive? Let’s use our engagement party invitations as an example. We’ll print 100 and send 85 to our friends and family. Naturally, we keep an extra few ‘just in case’. Also naturally, 5 guests will lose the invitation altogether and text us the day before to ask for the address, and most of the recipients will throw it on the fridge or cork-board and the day after the party will dispose of them straight to the (maybe recycling) garbage bin. We know this. We do this too. Yet, for our engagement party we have still gone through the boutique printer with the custom, one-off design and the matching envelopes over the option of using our bubblejet or going to the nearest chain stationery store for last minute printing.
As humans we have always been drawn to the unique, the different and the exclusive. When letterpress printing was the norm and the most common technique of printing from books to newspapers and posters, printers were considered better at their job if they were able to perfect the KISS technique- only allowing the ink plates touch the paper enough to transfer the ink and leave no impression. These days with digital printing being so accessible and easy, letterpress practitioners are encouraged to do the opposite; the de-bossing and texture of the letters after being pressed into the paper is what create the desire and distinctiveness of letterpress and why it still has any type of demand in the modern world.
In the past decade, letterpress printers have grown back into a thriving community. People are returning to crafts done by hand and as Dan Morris who has spent his lifetime watching his great-grandfather as a printer and continuing the tradition states, “As long as there are people who know how to use it, there will be letterpress”. So, is the art of letterpress then an expanding or shrinking craft? It seems that it would be any easy assumption that with the new coming age and advancement of technology there will be no room left for something as manual and time consuming as the practice of letterpress, yet anyone you ask in the practicing industry have the opposite view. “No printing process dies, except maybe collotype. Letterpress is seeing a renaissance. Flexo is going strong. Analog and digital printing will live an uneasy harmony far into the future” says industry expert Frank Romano. It seems the more obscure something becomes the more precious it is. As Rhiannon Alpers, the Head of Operations at Centre of The Book shared, different people are now taking ahold of it. Graphic designers, being a huge part. It would seem designers are looking for niches in the industry as well as missing the hand craft of creating designs. Pair a talented graphic designer with a love for letterpress and new technology and you get the result of a match made in heaven.
Introducing old school meets new school: A letterpress studio in London, New North Press, has become the first to combine 3D printing and letterpress to create an entirely modern and intricate 3D letterpress font. Taking over two years to complete, New North Press wanted the font to represent the deliberate challenge, effort and process of what was done in order to 3D print the incredible font. A font reminiscent of wire frames and labyrinth layers has proved extremely successful and has proven the potential of the future of letterpress and where it can lead. As a previously extremely hands on craft, we may be able to simply press buttons to create more intricate and faster designs therefore speeding the whole process and enhancing it, too.
An important factor of letterpress is the knowledge of the method and materials as well as a general love for the art. With many pop up classes and workshops now becoming available due to the risen interest in letterpress printing, it isn’t too hard for the average bear to come across and enrol in. It is time consuming and physically manual work but the character, charm and sophistication it brings to smaller short-run projects makes it all worthwhile.