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09 December 2015

Letterpress at ECA

At the University of Edinburgh College of Art, you can sign up to learn about tons of various methods in the print shop from screen printing to engraving - they're called inductions. Recently, four of us from the post grad illustration department signed up to learn how to do letterpress.
      Letterpress is the old fashioned way of laying type, letter by letter into a frame. For a long time, it was the only way to create large print runs of newspapers, books and such. Nowadays, everything is set digitally and letterpress has become an art of the tradesman. Happily, I came into the design world post letterpress - it makes life much easier. Still, there's no look quite like a hand-set letterpress piece, so I was eager to learn more about it.
     Steve McDonald is the head of the print studios and he showed us through the process. First, we learned about the tools of the trade:
Then we learned to create our names - one letter at a time.
The letters are not laid out like a typewriter, but rather, the most used letters are towards the center of the drawers. Upper case letters are usually in the top drawer - hence the phrase. And many letters are hard to tell apart if they are upside down - like 'u' and 'p' - hence the term, "Watch your p's and q's!"
      We placed in our leading - the space between the lines, which is literally a piece of lead - hence that term. (There are so many phrases we use that come from letterpress!)
When we had all our names together, it looked like this:
We had to make sure they were nice and tight. So much so that we could turn the entire plate over. The back was as pretty as the front!
Then we were off to the print room and the Letterpress.
Boris got the ink ready.
Then each of us got a turn running paper through the press. This is Karin.
And here's our final!
     You'll notice a few letters are missing - like the 'a' at the end of my name. No, I didn't misspell it. Turns out some of the letters are so old, they've been plum worn down. You either switch them out or put a little piece of paper under them to bring them up to height - next time.
      This time, it was just very cool to go through the whole process and see our results - very exciting! Next time, I'll tell you about the wood block letters we used!

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