The Future of Letterpress

The letterpress was incredibly influential, from its creation to today. However, it is outdated and impractical in comparison to mechanized printers of today. In comparison to electrical printers, the letterpress is slow, labor-intensive, and unnecessary. While there is no future for the letterpress in printing books, I believe there is an emerging and niche market for works made by a letterpress.

In our day, being unique is both praised and sought after. Being different is highly valued and everybody wants to stand out in one way or another. For this reason, I feel that the letterpress is not dead—that it is, in fact, making a comeback. As we saw in class, brides are turning to the letterpress as a means of printing their wedding invitations and letterpressed greeting cards are popping up in stores. People like options and choices, and the letterpress offers many choices that traditional printing today does not. Letterpress printing will continue as a viable commercial form because it allows for the personalization and customization that today’s consumer so appreciates.

This being said, I do not expect the market for letterpress printed objects to explode. I believe that it is currently, and will remain, a niche market for consumers who are aware of the printing process, value its artistic qualities, and have the ability to pay for it.IMG_5255

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The Linotype as Revolutionary

A linotype is a massive machine that, when turned on, confronts its user with hissing, whirring, and clanking made by the various pulleys, bars, and levers that make up the machine. And if the noise and the complex parts aren’t daunting enough, the linotype also has a hidden compartment of molten hot lead prepared to squirt at the pull of a lever. To the average person today, the linotype looks like a terrifying appliance not to play around with; however, during its prime years, it was an incredibly powerful tool that increased the efficiency and accuracy of the letterpress. The linotype is, in actuality, very similar to the original method of hand-setting type; however, the linotype contains features that assure its dominance over previous methods of hand set type.

In hand-setting type, a worker would place individual letters, or movable type, into a bed on which the type would be pressed. While the actual printing was quick, the process of hand setting was incredibly time consuming. The letters were small, placed in individual boxes, and required being spelled backwards and upside down.

The linotype greatly eased the process of hand setting in many ways. First, a keyboard was introduced to the machine, so instead of searching through a box of letters, all a worker had to do was press the keys on the board and the letter would be placed on a bar in the order in which they were typed. The linotype further arranged the letters in the order they were typed in, leaving no room for errors such as misplacements or upside down letters. Similarly, when a line was complete, the machine would make a cast of the entire line in the hot lead from the machine. This prevented any further mistakes that could occur in the printing process, such as pieces popping out, falling down, or becoming jumbled. The linotype allowed a worker to type multiple lines a minute, where previously, speed was measured in how many minutes it took to set a line.

While the linotype can be considered to be an extension of hand-set type, it should not be thought of as an equal. The linotype is more accurate and much faster than previous methods of hand-set typing, and should be considered a great advancement in the history of printing.

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Handwriting to Letterpress: The Communication Revolution

Try to imagine what today’s world would look like if every book, document, and paper had to be hand-written instead of printed. This is the exactly how the world existed prior to 1452, the year the printing press was invented by Gutenberg. Today, the original process of printing via the printing press seems time consuming and labor-intensive. However, the printing press completely revolutionized communication and information exchange, and the world today would be a completely different place were it never created.

 

Before the invention of the printing press, books and documents were made by hand. This meant that every page of every copy of every “printed” object had to be physically hand-written, ink on paper. This process was incredibly time consuming and, because of that, lead to the production of very few written documents. Not only was the hand-written process of printing time consuming, it was also very expensive and was hence a luxury that only the very wealthy could afford.

 

The printing press involved individual letters that were hand set into a plate, forming the body of the text. After a page was completed, the page could be printed an infinite number of times. While the initial hand-setting was slower than handwriting, the ability to copy the page over and over again led to the printing of far more documents than before. The printing press made the reproduction of texts and images extremely easy and sparked an explosion of written text.

 

The rapid expansion of printed documents meant that more people could get their hands on text and written work. This, then, lowered the price of those documents so less wealthy people were able to afford them as well. Literacy rates rose as people suddenly had the potential to own their own copies of text. Ideas could be shared more rapidly and with more people than ever before. The printing press was a remarkable invention that truly revolutionized communication and literacy rates.

 

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