Reviving the Letterpress Printer

Did you know that letterpress printing has been around since around 1440, when Johannes Gutenberg developed a machine that would lock movable letters into place and use a press to transfer ink from the letters onto a sheet of paper? This technique revolutionized the way we share information by allowing books and other documents to be created much more quickly. Since 1440, this technology has evolved beyond this labor intensive method, but we wanted to highlight a little bit more of its history and why some people have still decided to use it today.

taken from: Wikimedia

How Letterpress Works

While most everyone relies on inkjet printers these days, before 1440, all books needed to be printed painstakingly by hand. When Gutenberg invented the letterpress, a series of advancements would only further shape our society in dramatic ways.

As mentioned, the idea of a letterpress is relatively simple and involves three main processes. First is the composition process, where the moveable blocks of types are fixed together to form the desired text. They can be transferred as one unit for inspection by an editor to ensure everything looks correct. The second step is imposition, which involves pressing that text into a stone or iron tablet to ensure it is level and can be used for printing. Finally, the cords are used to hold the type together are removed, which locks the entire block in place for printing.

taken from: Wikimedia

Advancments in Letterpress

One of the major way that letterpress has evolved is in the printing process itself. In Gutenberg's days, the entire process was manual, meaning that someone would have to ink the press, feed in the paper to be printed on, and pull a lever/roller to ensure that the two made contact. But subsequent versions have automated this process to varying degrees, with the biggest advancements coming as a direct result of the industrial revolution.

For instance, one of the first advancements allowed ink rollers to automatically roll on to a ink plate to get fresh ink after each sheet was printed. Future advancements created rotary presses, which allowed for higher volumes of pages to be printed, and made overnight printing of newspapers a possibility.

Letterpress Revival

But a small and growing movement has decided to return to letterpress, even when the technology is more expensive than more conventional print methods. The reason? Letterpress delivers crisper images, which makes it particularly valuable to small presses making cards or high quality art books, where better image quality is expected with higher price points. This is referred to as the small press movement, for publishers making less than $50 million dollars in sales per year.

But even libraries and other community arts organizations are offering letterpress classes for would-be afficionadios of this old technology, meaning that we could see it popping up in many more places over the next few months and years.

taken from: Vermont NPR


As you can see, printing technology goes back a long way, but sometimes what is old becomes new again. What else do you want to know about letterpress? Have you used this technology before? Feel free to share your questions and comments below.

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