Was it coincidence that I recently bought a birthday card designed by using Letterpress? I think not, for this method of printing is making a comeback according to The Economist.
This centuries old method of printing, whereby letters are pounded deep into the paper, is no passing fad for a new generation of artists, graphic designers and others accustomed to the world of digital print. They have “discovered” a printing process barely changed since its invention by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-fifteenth century, and as a result are basking in the tactile and visual splendour that letterpress brings to their work. It’s a very far cry from the 1980s and 90s when photo-offset and computer printing deemed lead type redundant, and the only letterpress printing left standing were private presses whose handmade books were mostly aimed at bibliophiles.
So what accounts for this resurgence? Apparently, two factors. Firstly, digital fatigue and second and somewhat ironically, technology has made it easier to print letterpress than ever before. An apprentice need no longer spend years learning how to set metal type into rows as a computer design can be turned into a plastic printing plate. Thus, for both the hobbyist and the professional designer, letterpress, be it metal or plastic, is now the latest on-point tool. Those who are returning to letterpress are learning the fundamentals of typography; leading the charge are those trained in the visual arts, such as graphic designers, fine artists and illustrators.
I say, let’s have more of “what’s old is new”.
For an insight into the history and techniques of letterpress printing you can read Justin Knopp’s fantastic blog TypoReturn at http://blog.typoretum.co.uk/
He has his own letterpress printing business and is also involved in the conservation and restoration of old printing presses.