Letterpress, print, type, Typography

Hot Metal!

Well, lukewarm anyway! I did a little printing again this weekend using some new metal type I had bought last week. I didn’t intend to do anything ambitious, just a little typesetting and proofing, just to get back into the swing of things; it was as a student in 1987 when I last handled metal type properly. I must say, I didn’t enjoy it very much. Even then, it seemed out of it’s time against the photomechanical typesetting operations that were prevalent back in the day. Apple were just making proper headway into colleges after taking hold within the design industry just a few years earlier, and I even I thought that was just a fad!

Ah, enough reminiscing! The brand new type came beautifully (functionally) packaged with a hand written label. I couldn’t help taking it into college the day after it arrived – mainly to show it off in its pack, all nice and clean! Sad I know, but look:

With not a millimetre to spare! I think this has a beauty of its own. Not in an artistic sense, but in the precision of it’s manufacture and its shiny newness, in anticipation of its inky future. Ok, here are the close-ups  I guess you expect from me now!

These full stops print just a fraction of a millimeter. In this image, they look a little like silver ingots. Or maybe not, but they are pretty cool. I guess this is just a bit of typo-porn for those of us who appreciate, ahem, specialist tastes!

I spent a couple of hours (!) setting a few lines. I had forgotten just how fiddly and frustrating this is. Just imagine how many people were working in the print industry, their years of apprenticeship training and the speed they eventually worked at! It truly boggles the mind. Here’s a shot of my workspace on completion.

On the right is my composing stick, generously donated by Christian and my trusty tweezers – I couldn’t pick up and place individual pieces!

This shot above is now my screen saver!

So what does it say? It’s a line from a book by one of my favourite authors Haruki Murakami and I just thought it would make a good first example of typesetting on the blog! Plus, it’s quite funny and a bit surreal.

Unfortunately I didn’t get many good prints. I was either over-inking, over-pressing, or both. I smudged them, half printed them, dropped them – the air was a shade bluer than the ink I used here, which was a mix of Prussian Blue and Opaque White Caligo waterbased inks. This print was to test the opacity of the ink on a previously rolled out black base.

You can see just how much pressure I used for this one – you can even read it from the back! I need to make a holding platform to support the paper next time (like I did for the last one – duh!) to prevent it from sliding off the type as I lay it over. I should be able to control the pressure a bit more too.

I also printed off a few woodtype prints using the blue ink, this time with a little more success. Again, just a few postcards, but when I’ve got the metal type printing better, I’ll overprint these with the Murakami excerpt in black.

This is a lovely print, lightly pressed and revealing the diagonal grain on the ‘R’ and the slightly odd shape of the lower part of the counter space of the ‘D:’

This is the cleaned up type. Sometimes when the gain is visible on the face it doesn’t print. I’m glad this does. It looks more ‘wood-typey’ I guess.

I picked up another letterpress block in Portobello market last weekend, this old post card standard. I thought it would be nice to letterpress my own postcards with this period design. It is a lovely thing in itself:

There are machining marks where the surface has been ground away by hand. But how does it print? Again, I didn’t have a great deal of luck getting the inking and pressure right, but got a decent enough impression to evaluate:

This is inked up ok, but over-pressed, but the detail prints clearly:

Like I said at the start, this was not intended to be a creative endeavour, just a little typesetting and paying around on the press. again, I’ve learned a lot about the techniques I need to use to get better results from the metal type and blocks, that my new inks mix well, and the opaque white is really opaque!

There will be another post soon of some ceramic pieces that have been recently fired, as well as some lino and wood cut printing as well. Keep tuning in, and if you get a moment, send me a lie


9 thoughts on “Hot Metal!

    1. Cheers Trevor. I was thinking about some blind printing recently – I have a few sheets of really soft and fibrous handmade paper left over from a previous project that would take a good imprint. I’m also planning to make some more organic substrates as the seasons change and will probably use these as well. I should also have another press by the summer…

  1. I am really starting to become ridiculously jealous of your collection of a typornography
    … and is it bad this is relatively new term to me?
    I aim to revisit again around Easter, if that would be okay? Perhaps I may get a chance to see some of this ever growing beautiful collection up close?

  2. I was one of those on a six year apprenticeship, and the day I passed out with my ‘indentures‘, was the day that the company announced we was now going on to phototypesetting.
    And yes your fingers were very nimble, (not quite so now), but hopefully when we can get together, I‘ll show you how to do it without the tweezers, and how to tie the page cord!!!
    All the best Paul

    1. I was thinking of you when I wrote that Paul! But if I had wrote a post about phototypesetting systems I bet there would be another batch of people waiting to comment about how the AppleMac affected them! The only worry is that the next big revolution in the industry is not the next new bit of technology, but the technology that replaces humans from the process all together!

      Long live the LEADEN ARMY!

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