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Industry

Interest grows in traditional letterpress skills

It may be the 21st century and the age of the digital press but some traditions in the print industry do not die. Over the last few years, the interest in letterpress has grown as more designers, students and craft enthusiasts take up the skills that once were the backbone of the industry.

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A workshop in progress at the Letterpress Collective in Bristol

Letterpress dates back to the early days of movable type in the 15th century when the press was first invented. By the 19th century composing copy, sub heads and headlines using metal type had become the standard way of preparing artwork ready for printing. Inserted into the type were strips of lead, spacers, engravings and decorative affects which once locked together formed the basis of a page, a poster or whatever was to be printed.

Incredibly, even as late as the 1980s, letterpress was still fairly common and there are still a tiny number of printers who used the system commercially, with the advantage that there is never a computer glitch or an issue with the digital printer’s software.

The quality of the print still attracts - especially for bespoke and one-off designs - and this is what has created an interest in the process along with the satisfaction of creating something by hand.

An introduction to hand-setting type and letterpress printing. You will learn the basics of composing type by hand, and how to use some of the brilliant old presses in our printshop

There is a chance for those interested in the fundamentals of the print industry to learn about traditional letterpress printing this spring. In Bristol, in the narrow streets of the medieval central district of the city, the Letterpress Collective is holding a series of workshops on March 24, April 14, 20 and 28, and May 5, 18 and 25. Nick Hand says that the one-day sessions are: “An introduction to hand-setting type and letterpress printing. You will learn the basics of composing type by hand, and how to use some of the brilliant old presses in our printshop. In the afternoon, you will be able to print something of your own.”

The organisation in Leonard Lane also runs evening classes and two-day sessions in order to celebrate 600 years of the printing industry in central Bristol. The centre comments: “The Letterpress Collective has spent 2013 gathering beautiful wood and lead type as well as collecting amazing printing presses including a lovely Heidelberg Windmill Platen (winched out of the store MShed by dockside crane), a Stephenson Blake proofing press and a set of nice little Adana hand presses.”

Meanwhile in Ormskirk, at the Rufford Printing Company, there is a letterpress open day at the Design Shed in Mawdesley, in Lancashire. The company says: “Come and have a go at Letterpress Printing, compose some metal type, get your hands mucky or just listen and watch our Intertype Linecasting machine actually casting type, it is a free event and you can stay as long as you want.”

You will receive instruction in hand typesetting and printing on an Adana, as well as practical points regarding maintenance of the press, workshop management and what to look out for when purchasing equipment

And at St Bride Foundation in London, there are a number of workshops with Mick Clayton using the Adana platen press and their huge bank of letterpress fonts. Clayton comments: “You will receive instruction in hand typesetting and printing on an Adana, as well as practical points regarding maintenance of the press, workshop management and what to look out for when purchasing equipment.”

The one-day sessions are on various dates until June, while also at St Bride there is an evening class running for three weeks from March 26, during which students will examine the processes and application needed to create their own work using letterpress. This includes hand composition of metal type and the use of our Albion, Columbian, Stanhope and Vandercook presses.

St Bride says: “The course includes induction to the workshop, health and safety, explanation of hand setting and introduction to the presses. Subsequent courses will look at wood letter printing, two colour printing and the use of illustration blocks with type.”



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