Tag Archive for 'photopolymer'

Letterpress at AIGA MN Design Camp Workshop

This post is a recap of the fun we had this last weekend leading a press free, hand style letterpress workshop at AIGA Minnesota Design Camp. We were located in the wine cellar at Grandview Lodge in Nisswa, Minnesota. Over 300 designers attend this event annually. We did three sessions of this 1.5 hour long workshop with over 120 total attendees.

The process was about putting down lots of ink quickly, creating textures, layers and happenstance in the layout and printing. No press required, no two prints alike.

Studio On Fire brought in lots of good stuff:

10 large cases of our woodtype collection (about 400lbs of type, mostly Hamilton faces)

Tape and cardboard (served as the bed of the press, tape held type in rough position)

A wadded up paper towel was the “printing press” (used with hands to burnish the back of the sheets)

Several dozen CSA images supplied on photopolymer plates (permission of CSA archives)

Wood grain background textures (blasted with a powerwasher, then relief carved)

Lots of good ol’ French Paper to print on (poptone sweet tooth and many many remnants)

Ink and brayers (oil based inks and soft rubber rollers)

It was a fluid process and a good chance for everyone to step away from the computer. A huge thanks AIGA Minnesota for having us and to the AIGA volunteers that supplied a steady stream of nature wash solvent to clean up and redistribute the wood type and images. And thanks to Phong Tran for his photo contributions.

If you would like Studio On Fire to do a workshop with your group, let’s talk. Please do contact us for more information.

Q&A – Contemporary Letterpress Printing

Studio On Fire principal Ben Levitz answered some questions on contemporary letterpress printing last week for “letterpress week” over at Oh Hello Friend. Here is the Q&A exchange:
Just what is letterpress?
Letterpress is a method of relief printing. It is the process of inking a type high reversed image and then transferring that ink to a substrate, making a print of the positive image. While previous generations relied on moveable wood and metal type, most modern letterpress is achieved with a plastic material called photopolymer. Photopolymer has bridged the gap between the computer and letterpress printing presses. A digital file with correct specifications can be moved to water wash polymer plates and printed on letterpress in place of handset materials.
So why Letterpress? How does letterpress stand unique as a printing method?
Letterpress used to be the primary method of all printing. Nowadays designers have so many printing options – digital printing, offset printing, screen printing – letterpress as a printing method is such a small part of todays printing industry. However, we’ll give you three good reasons letterpress is alive and well.
#1. Tactile Design – Like to feel what you see? That sculptural impression is a primary reason for using letterpress printing. This heavy impression is how letterpress has reinvented itself over the past couple decades. Things like text, line work and patterns offer an impression into soft paper material. As a designer, if you get the artwork right and pair it correctly with a material, the resulting impression is unmistakably letterpress. It is an effect unmatched by any other printing method.
#2. Unique Materials – Just try running a toothy 600gsm cotton stock through a digital printer. Maybe some thick blotter paper for coasters? A thick duplexed stock business card stock perhaps? Even thin onion skin stock or napkins? Yes, letterpress will print it all. Lots of special stocks that just won’t run through modern offset and digital presses. Letterpress offers material versatility that is unmatched by any modern presses. Just don’t ask for slick coated stocks, they don’t like to take an impression.
#3. Upscale Presentation- The materials we print on for letterpress generally cost more than going to any local quick print shop. And the time consuming nature of letterpress printing process means it is not mass produced. It has that artisan quality which sets it apart. The cost of each color makes projects printed with letterpress have a certain simplicity. Generally letterpress projects are only a couple colors. There are no slick gradients or drop shadows. We hear all the time that anything looks better letterpress. We’d say this is because letterpress makes people simplify the design.
What is your heart and passion behind letterpress?
Speaking as both a designer and letterpress printer for the past decade, I’d say letterpress is still gaining momentum as a production method. When people get a letterpress printed business card handed to them and turn it over in their hand, they feel it, look at it closer and consider it . It literally buys extra seconds in their hands. It is this notable pause that exemplifies letterpress printing as a breath of fresh air. As our society increase our digital communications and the time we spend in front of glowing screens, letterpress printing becomes an even more unique counterpoint. It is something we both see AND feel. We are tactile beings and letterpresses tangibleness makes us connect.
My passion behind letterpress printing and starting Studio On Fire goes back to studying original masters like William Morris, W.A. Dwiggins and Fredrick Goudy. These fellows truly understood and merged both design and production. A critique of todays design reality is that fewer and fewer designers understand the production method for which they are designing. As designers we have so many options, we’ve become generalists. At Studio On Fire design and letterpress are dating again. We are committed to making letterpress printing one of the most premium and relevant production methods for contemporary design. Understanding our niche letterpress market and offering production advice to the designers that come to us how we work. Merging design intent with letterpress printing keeps our work exciting.
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Biography – Ben Levitz, Studio On Fire
Company founder Benjamin Levitz received his BFA in Communication Design from the College of Visual Arts. He spent nearly a decade in the creative industry working with design leaders at Kilter, Larsen/California, and Thorburn design agencies. His creative expertise has focused on design as a branding tool for a large and varied list of national companies with work consistently appears in award shows and publications of AIGA, Communication Arts, Graphis, Print magazine and Type Directors Annual. He has served as an adjunct faculty member at the College of Visual Arts teaching advanced typography course work.
Ben’s tactile design sensibility led to the founding of Studio On Fire. The studio began in 1999 with a vision of uniquely combining design and production skills in modern letterpress work. Ben left the agency world in 2006 to run the studio full time. The Minneapolis studio currently produces it’s own design and letterpress projects in addition to printing custom work from for an impressive list of agencies and design firms across the United States.
See and read more at the company website studio on fire.

Studio On Fire In Forbes Letterpress Article

So we got a call from Forbes last month. We did an interview about the resurgence of letterpress and talked about how modern photopolymer plating makes letterpress available to a more contemporary design aesthetic. But a lot of people are stuck with a mental image of letterpress as it came into mainstream design popularity several years back – distressed wood type, over inked artwork and a makeshift quality to the design that comes from using whatever typefaces and elements that happen to be on hand. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hatch Show Print and have been through the Nashville shop several times. But letterpress has a range far beyond that limited aesthetic. Pushing the medium is what our shop focuses on intently. To us, the resurgence of letterpress is this: making letterpress a viable commercial production method for contemporary design.

A few of the details in the article are a little fuzzy as they published my comments and I think she got a bit of a rise out of me. (yes, I realize if you have the patience and an extra hour or two, you can set some type on a curve with metal type, but that is certainly not commercially viable for our shop)  The point was that I personally take issue with anyone that would say printing with polymer isn’t real letterpress. Yeah, we use polymer. It’s a means to an end. Different tools make different marks. Maybe we should call our work “civil union printing” rather than “letterpress” so all the ludites can feel better about their craft. :) The bottom line is that photopolymer represents a new range of possibilities for designers and for letterpress. We embrace that wholeheartedly, but still have a deep appreciation for all of those willing to toil over a case of lead type.

Check out the Forbes article here.

Here are some pics of a photopolymer job being set up to print.

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ARTCRANK – A Poster Party For Bike People

If you are in Minneapolis, be sure to hit this one on April 4th. The ARTCRANK poster show blends a love for bikes and poster art. It is now in it’s third year. Here is a preview of a new print of the “cranky peddler” we just inked for Jason Strong. The light blue poster was in last years show, the brown poster is new and hot off the press for this years show – a perfect set. Make sure to be at the event to snag one, we only editioned 100.

The brown 17 x 22 poster is printed on French PopTone Hot Fudge stock. We printed dense black ink for the background, then overprinted the metallic silver. Note the size of the plate (9 x 12) in relation to the 17 x 22 sheet size. Since letterpress plate cost can add up quickly, keeping the plate size smaller keeps the production costs down. (Two plates for a full 17 x 22 image size would add up to around $400.)  And we love the detail we get from photopolymer plates too. The line work in the polymer plate material holds up very well. We recommend lines not go below .35pt in size.

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