Letterpress printing is a fascinating art. When compared to how we’re used to printing these days (command + P) letterpress is immensely satisfying. This past week, I’ve had a chance to print using the two main methods used today. The one I’ll cover right now is the traditional way, using lead type and metal cuts.
The first step is to compose the type. I’m making a birthday card for a guy named Dan, so ‘Happy Birthday Dan!’ should suffice. Now that I know what I need, it’s time to pick each letter and set it in a composing stick upside down, left to right. Each line of type is divided by a bar of lead (this is where the term ‘leading’ comes from) and once finished, there’s essentially a solid block. This is important, because it makes the next step much easier.
Now that all the type is in place, it needs to move from the composing stick to the chase. The chase is a frame that will hold everything in place in the press. Once everything is in the chase, it is all held firmly using pieces of wood called furniture. Everything is tightened further using adjustable metal pieces called quoins.
From this point on, the two processes are the same. The chase goes into the press; ink is applied to the ink disk. Pulling the handle moves the rollers up to the ink disk and over the chase, making a print! This video gives a close-up view of exactly how a print is made.
So that’s part one of my letterpress exploits. Next week, I’ll share about a newer way to create prints, photopolymer printing.