Letterpress And Other Fine Crafts


I heart  letterpress (c) Sarah Parrott

I ❤ letterpress (c) Sarah Parrott

Last weekend I went to The Finders Keepers markets at the CarriageWorks. These are a bi-annual craft market.

One of the joys of a market like Finders Keepers is seeing the revival of hand made arts and the market had many.

One of my favourites, since I have a joy in design, typography, books and words, is the revival of small letterpress studios. Art letterpress is more and more popular for such things as greeting cards, wedding invitations and small run books. I bought some great Xmas cards at the market.

In our modern day we tend to buy far too many things that are produced by the thousand in large overseas factories. We all know the problems of those places, when we import those goods we fail to export our labour and environmental laws to control them. You also end up with a product that often has all the personality of a brick.

We end up with something that is boring and disposable rather than delightful and quality. However there is a rising market for the more personal and custom, just look at the rise of craft shops and markets and the popularity of Etsy.

Visit the average gift store and you can see one way we are turning against the mass produced. Gone are the racks of factory produced greeting cards from Hallmark replaced with cards from smaller, independent design shops.

Look closely and you can see that many of them are produced using letterpress printing rather than the more modern offset printing.

Letterpress is really the origin of printing, the modern letterpress presses are not that much different to Gutenberg’s press.

Letterpress is a relief printing process, as distinct from the lithographic process used in offset printing. As a relief method it is best suited for type and line art rather than fine halftones. It is also poorly suited to colour printing.

Originally in letterpress the aim was to use just enough pressure to ink the paper, now most “art” letterpress uses a softer paper and a heavier impression so that the design is also impressed into the paper. This has the double advantage of creating texture and showing that the design was letterpressed.

Well done letterpress printing on the small, high quality presses used by most art printers gives a wonderful, crisp look to type in medium to large sizes.

As well as wedding invitations and greeting cards there are some letterpress printers who are using their presses for some brilliant short run book printing. Keep an eye out in your favourite independent bookstore for these gems. They are much more common in bookstores in the US than Australia but I have sometimes seen them here.

So when you get a wedding invitation or look at those cards in the gift shop have a close look at the original printing method and glory in the joys of letterpress printing. It’s just one of the artisan crafts undergoing a revival but it’s the one that attracts me.

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