Visit our store at 219 E 10th Street, New York. Open Weds-Sun 1-6.

LETTERPRESS

Letterpress Printing (moveable type) was one of the greatest technological achievements in history. Typesetters would painstakingly assemble every single individual character into sheets of text, newspapers, leaflets and much much more. Printing houses controlled almost all communication until the internet arrived. It was powerful. Once digital printing came onto the scene, letterpress became obsolete because it was clunky and slow. Most presses were either destroyed or hidden away in garages and barns. Around the late 90's Martha Stewart and her ilk discovered the beautiful and unique quality of letterpress stationery (specifically for wedding invitations), and a new movement took off. Graphic designers who were tired of staring at their screens all day started rehabbing presses and using them again. It's grown so popular that most greeting cards at boutiques are laboriously printed by letterpress. Nowadays, a restored press can cost as much as $30,000.  

Letterpress and Graphic Design:

Most of the rules of graphic design owe some debt to letterpress. Since every printed word needed to be manually aligned, (one letter at a time, line by line), strict standards of layout, spacing, kerning and leading were developed. A typical printer's apprenticeship was seven years, embedding these rules into every single piece of printed matter in the world.  To this day, most of the basic rules of visual graphic design and layout are still done using the standards that letterpress conceived: What typefaces we use, how they fit together, how far apart the words should appear, where the margins on a page need to go, how objects should be aligned on the page etc. etc. It seems totally intuitive now.

It wasn't until the Bauhaus (around 1923) that people started setting type at different angles, experimenting with layout...Things that anyone with a computer can do today, but were very technically challenging back then.

I, Archie, learned everything I know about design by messing around in a letterpress shop. I didn't do any computer graphics work for way too long. Now those very basic letterpress graphic design rules have followed me and it totally shows in my work. I like to keep limitations on my toolkit so I make smarter, more efficient decisions. I owe a big debt to my knowledge as a letterpress printer.