~A History of Letter Press Printing~

johann gutenberg


Letterpress is the oldest method of printing and was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany in 1470. It was the predominant technique from then until the 1960’s when it was gradually replaced by offset litho, digital and intaglio printing.

platen 3The original letterpress printing skills used raised metal type cast in individual letters. The type was patiently hand-set by a compositor in a composing stick, locked into a metal frame or chase. The presses used in the Victorian period were treadled for power and hand-fed to print the sheets one at a time.

Not much has changed since the 1400’s – Johannes Gutenberg would recognise the techniques. Plates are locked into chases, ink is still mixed by hand, sheets are fed on and off one at a time. Letterpress printers are resourceful folk and are always looking for presses and type to continue the tradition of quality relief printing.

Now in the 21st century letterpress is enjoying a real comeback. It is highly valued for the unique tactile impression it leaves behind. You are drawn to run your fingers across the sheet and feel – a printing method that cannot be replicated by any other printing process.

Beyond style today’s customer is looking to be more earth-conscious. The paper most suitable for letterpress is cotton based and not tree-consuming. The machines are treadled by foot and fed by hand, thus not using any electricity. The machines we use are an Arab crown folio size machine (1900), a Heidelberg platen 10 x 15 (1966) and a Heidelberg cylinder double crown size (1959). Our machines are now an object of engineering beauty and typify the skills and developments of their period.


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