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letterpress 101 ] 2 vandercooks | floor-model platen | iron handpress 
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Some rather complicated lockups of small letterpress pages.

Some rather complicated lockups of small letterpress pages.

 

Letterpress 101 

Technical letterpress workshop

THIS INTRODUCES YOU to the traditional techniques used in hand-set composition using antique metal & wood type, plus printing your result on the tabletop platen press. If you are interested in acquiring a small press for a limited space, or if you simply want to try your hand at letterpress basics, this is a good starting point.

As you fill up your composing stick with lines of handset type, you unload it into a metal tray (called a galley) before inking it up and pulling a proof to check for errors.

As you fill up your composing stick with lines of handset type, you unload it into a metal tray (called a galley) before inking it up and pulling a proof to check for errors.

Tap into your inner Zen mode and give up the digital world for a day. The touch of individual antique wood and metal letters gives you creative ideas you'll never get while working on a computer. And pulling the lever of one of these little presses earns you a thrilling Aha! moment as you make your first print.

  • For 3 to 6 people, age 12 or better
  • $120 each
  • 6 working hours plus lunch
  • All materials provided
  • Completing this workshop gives you access to Workspace Rental and Table Top Press Rental
  • Current workshop calendar, or to request a date, email us.

Wear comfortable shoes and work clothing. Dress for the weather: we are not air-conditioned and in winter much of the heat rises to the top of our 20-foot ceiling. Bring questions, your camera and a notebook to record your process.

Just your type

IT'S HARD TO EXPRESS THE SATISFACTION of hand setting type in the same manner that would be familiar to Ben Franklin, America's most famous colonial printer. The act of handling each individual letter, each piece of punctuation, each decorative printer's ornament, and each and every piece of spacing makes you slow down and consider the importance, positioning and spelling of every word in your composing stick. 

This is a typical organizational layout for a common type case known as a California job case. Across the globe there are about 300 versions of this layout.

This is a typical organizational layout for a common type case known as a California job case. Across the globe there are about 300 versions of this layout.

There's a lot of important history and everyday expressions you hear that trace their origins back to this old-school art. If nothing else, by the end of the day, you will discover that words have weight.

Meet the press

THINK SMALL when using these table top platen presses. At a nominal chase size of 6" x 9," these little hand-cranked machines give you the best results for a maximum printing area of about 20 square inches. This workshop focuses on hand set type, but printing from photopolymer plates is also possible, as is the use of linocuts and copperplates.

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The diminutive size of these presses means they aren't suitable for Lead Graffiti's typical work for clients, but it does make them all the more charming and inviting for the beginner or hobbyist. They fit into a compact space and are relatively easy to move. And they only print as fast as you can pull the lever.

Completing this technical workshop gives you rental access (noted above) to studio time to work on personal projects using our table top presses and associated tools & equipment used in the workshop, as well as access to our considerable collection of wood & metal type. While you must supply your own paper and printing plates, a reasonable amount of ink will be supplied at no charge.

Click here for Lead Graffiti's rental policy.

Hand setting a type specimen sheet is one way to get to know a type style and the case layout. The 3 quaint gauge pins shown here are quite effective for aligning paper in this table top press.

Hand setting a type specimen sheet is one way to get to know a type style and the case layout. The 3 quaint gauge pins shown here are quite effective for aligning paper in this table top press.

Typical projects

WHILE THE PRINTING AREA MAY BE SMALL, the range of projects is only limited by your imagination.

  • stationery ensembles & business cards,
  • party invitations & other announcements,
  • post cards, greeting cards & note cards,
  • small handbills
  • calendars
  • bookmarks, bookplates, certificates & keepsakes
  • paper bags & envelopes
  • miniature, limited-edition books
  • labels & coasters

Topics covered

START YOUR WORKSHOP with a tour of the studio and examine some pieces of work up close to familiarize yourself with techniques and options. As you set type and engage the press, you will cover:

  • the layout of the California job case
  • using a composing stick
  • hand setting wood & metal type using leading & spacing materials
  • type proofing & correcting
  • locking up the form in a chase using type furniture and quoins
  • press makeready, packing & inking
  • printing & image quality
  • press clean up & redistributing type
  • resources for paper, printing supplies & equipment, and online discussion groups and promotional blogs