I’ve always admired the tactile nature of letterpress stationery and was curious about the process that goes into making a letterpress print. It’s a technique that goes back to the very beginnings of printing history and today Emmaline from Coco Press is showing us How Letterpress Printing Works and what it means to her.

 I can’t remember when I first discovered the wonderful, wonderful world of letterpress but I knew immediately it was for me. Already a print maker, I set out to learn everything I could about this beautiful trade, now some four years or so later, I have spent countless hours teaching myself everything I can about letterpress and realize that I have only just scratched the surface…

But to the uninitiated out there I hear you ask ‘So just what is letterpress anyway?’

Well I could give you a run down on the long history of the printing press and wax lyrical about what a sad world we would live in if Johannes Gutenberg never gave us moveable type, but lets face it, letterpress is so much more than that.

Letterpress is an experience of the senses. Its beautiful to look at, the wonderful hand mixed ink in every colour ever imagined, the beautiful lettering coupled with funky design make a mini feast for the eyes. The impression stamped deep into the soft and beautifully textured 100% cotton paper begs not only to be touched but to be caressed by the softest part of your finger tips so no detail is left unexplored.

 

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For the printer the sensory experience continues, each antique printing press has a voice of its own, singing its siren song to the printer as it bites into each fresh piece of cotton paper. The ink is a perfume the printer comes to love as they taste the excitement of printing each and every new piece of letterpress art.

Often printed on vintage and antique printing presses sometimes dating back to the late 1890’s, letterpress has been given a modern spin through the use of photopolymer plates as the method of impressing ink and image into paper.

The presses I print on are often referred to as clamshell presses due to their clamshell opening/closing action.

The photopolymer plate is affixed to a mounting block within the presses chase (a metal frame) on one side of the ‘clamshell’ and the paper is placed on the other side.

The action of the foot treadle brings the rollers up over the photopolymer plate leaving a layer of ink, as the ‘clamshell’ closes the paper meets the inked up plate and the ink and lovely deep impression are transferred to the paper- and voila you have a letterpress print!

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So when you experience your first piece of letterpress art, stop, take a minute and admire the design, the ink colours and stroke the paper like no one else is watching and smile as you imagine good old Johannes printing for the first time…yes it really would be a sad world if he never gave us moveable type.