When the digital revolution began way back in the 1980’s it sounded the death knell for letterpress printing, it was considered old fashioned and too fiddly compared to the speed and efficiency that digital presses could offer.
But as quickly as the pendulum swings one way it will eventually find its way back to the other direction and for several years now letterpress has been experiencing a full-blown revival. Whether it stems from our current love of all things vintage or the idea of large-scale print runs being synonymous with globalisation who can tell but we’ve seen the letterpress revolution is underway.
The letterpress method of printing has changed very little since Johannes Gutenberg’s original press designed in 1439 with letters affixed to wooden blocks that have to be placed into the chase. The printing blocks are then coated in a thin layer of ink and pressed down onto the paper below. Depending on your press type the letters may have to be re-inked approximately every 50 impressions, not a job for the impatient, the press minder has to possess a great eye for colour and impeccable attention to detail to ensure that the overall job stays consistent.
Each letterpress print impression is very slightly different form the one before or the print that will follow making them unique therefore giving them a higher perceived value along with a sense of craftsmanship. Letterpress printing cannot be rushed and unlike a standard digital press that can produce several thousands prints in an hour with a letterpress machine you are looking around 900 within the same time scale.
Letterpress printing is continuing to grow in popularity, at the start of the revival it was used for limited edition prints or posters but due to its artisanal quality and traditional feel it is now being used for invitations, correspondence cards and stationery.
Why do we love it so much? Everyone I spoke to had different reasons for loving the end result of letterpress work, for some it was the ability to tweak and refine it during the production process, for others it was holding something that had been crafted and considered and some people love the slight embossing effect you invariably get. One colleague told me that the tactile effect gave the printed piece more authority, it carried a sense of credibility.
Our letterpress love affair shows no sign of abating and letterpress presses are now highly sought after. In the 1980’s the same presses that were consigned to scrap metal merchants or landfill are hot property, fetching upwards of £20,000. If you have one in the garage that’s not being used, it could be the time to sell.