Thoughts on Letterpress Printing

Prior to taking this class, the only kind of printing with which I was familiar was that which is accomplished by a computer. You pull up Microsoft Word, capture your thoughts and ideas with a few swift motions across the keyboard, manipulate the both text size and font style with the push of a button and press “Print.” Autocorrect tools guide the writer every step of the way, marking poor grammar and glaring spelling errors. In utter contrast, the task of letterpress printing is daunting and time-consuming, without the aid or efficiency of modern technological tools. The complex, painstaking process of selecting a typeface, determining line length using the pica pole and subsequently configuring appropriate spacing, incorporating ornaments, arranging word sequences one letter at a time, inking and annotating proofs, all to produce a single page of text. What a computer user with limited skill set could produce in a mere 20 minutes could take hours to produce using the letterpress technique. It is the attention to detail that goes into every piece of letterpress art that has garnered my respect. What’s more, seeing Ray Loomis, age 82, still actively volunteering and performing demonstrations at the Museum of Industry truly emphasized the dedication that is simultaneously cultivated. Before I got to experience both the trials and tribulations of creating my own stack of original printed pages, I took for granted the seemingly effortless task of using a computer to design and to print graphics and text, yet partaking in letterpress printing has endowed me with an understanding the root of this now abridged process.

A collection of typeface, one of the integral components of the letterpress printing process.

A collection of typeface, one of the integral components of the letterpress printing process.

photo-45

Showing off my contribution to the “Brief and Partial History of Printing in Baltimore”!

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