Letterpress, print, type, Typography


I have stripped down the little press, cleaned away years of accumulated gunk and stuff, de-greased and re-greased, made bits move which had long since given up, got rid of a little surface rust and made a baseboard. I’ve also made new a new lay gauge but not quite got that finished yet. I took it into college today and showed it off to my students who were (possibly, just a little) impressed and had a pump at the handle to make the ratchet ‘ding’ on the ink plate. I had set some type up in the little chase too, ready to set up the bed with the adjusting screws…

Ok, I couldn’t wait until the weekend. I had to have a proper go – ink and all – even if I hadn’t got everything as ready as I wanted (there are still a couple of bits still not quite as ‘working’ as I’d like). I figured that a quick test print or two would help me in getting it set up properly, and see if the rollers were in good enough condition to print from.

So I inked up and had a go. Sorry, but I was a bit too inky to photograph the process, but I will next time. I didn’t get any good prints, but I did get some that were really promising!

The rollers seem to be ok for now, and I have got a decent level on the chase. A bit more ink next time too.  All I need to do now is to get my b****y typesetting skills sorted!

I can tell you though, that I have used 36pt Franklin Gothic Bold with 36pt Mercury Light. I can’t imagine what I will do with scripts like this – I have several, along with some copperplate scripts and a bunch of Frakturs… I will definitely have a play with them first!

13 thoughts on “Impatience!

  1. I was definitely, just a little impressed! I would love one of these!
    You are such a big kid not being able to wait though haha Nevermind, looks like it came out well 🙂

  2. Aw c’mon! Am I just supposed to sit and look at the thing? Well, ok, then just a bit of a kid. I did get ink down my shirt too…

  3. Lovely bit of Franklin, it’s such a hardman of a font that giving it a light impression helps soften the blow.

    The Mercury type is swish, any quality cafés around you that need the most beautiful menus?
    I bet the ‘g’ is gorgeous, perfect for the word eggs. You can tell I need some breakfast…

  4. Cleaned up press is looking good!

    I’m embarrassed by my naivety here, but how would one go about closing up the kerning between the W and the A? Is negative kerning like that impossible?

    Or are there characters with, erm, notches cut out that allow for common problematic kerning pairs? ‘AV’, ‘WA’, ‘To’ etc. A bit of desirable overlap is frequent. How do you deal with that?

    Us kids of the digital age really don’t know we’re born, do we.

    1. Ah Stu, when we were young, we had to go and mine the lead to make our type ourselves. With our bare hands! You certainly don’t know you’re born!

      But seriously, you are pretty spot on with your assumption that you can’t negative kern with metal type. There are some founts that come with kerned pairs, and there are others, particularly in fine scripts and those with swash caps that all have little overlapping parts to allow them to fit snugly together. I’ll make sure I focus on that particular detail in the next “meet the family” post – I have a number of these founts now, so I can properly illustrate this…

      1. And you have done. Read, enjoyed and understood, thank you :o)

        On the subject of printing, I imagine you’ve seen this ace vid?: http://vimeo.com/9928781.

        The speed and finesse of the manual page swapping is a particularly eye-opener.

  5. Man, that is a great video! I’ve just watched it twice! It is good to see letterpress, screen and lino printing employed in the same too! But most imortantly, it shown the real process – in this environment there is a lot of setting up, manual amending, putting back type in it’s proper place, cleaning the presses. Although this video is impressive, it also suggests at some of the less exciting parts of the process, which can be incredibly tedious as I have been recently finding out!

    You may also like this video that is made from thousands of still images. Lots of different print methods and book production processes:

    and particularly this one…

    Although the guy’s tone voice is a bit dull and annoying, this shows some real dedication and passion for the craft.

    Mmm. Printy, printy!

  6. for Stu –
    Kerning is indeed possible with metal type. I have many kerned letters among my fonts. Some were cast with kerns, others were kerned as the need arose. Kerning of lead type is done on a special small 6″ bladed table saw used in print shops. It’s called a “Trim Saw” and allows the printer to cut with an accuracy of 1/2 point – that’s 144th of an inch.

    Nice work for a first time out on such a small press – but next time, make life easier on your self and use a smaller font. This press was never intended to print type over 36 points very well, and the ink coverage and pressure needed to print this form well simply does not exist is this charming little hobby press.

    Also – I found it curious that your roller ‘trucks’ seem to be a larger diameter than the rollers themselves – but that may just be an Adana thing. Are you certain that these rollers are properly adjusted for inking? When you lay an inked roller onto one of those large letters, the pressure should be enough to lay a 12-18 point stripe across the print area.

    Best of luck with this project!
    – Alan

  7. Many thanks for this information Alan. I didn’t know about the trim saw – I guess that it must irk you when you hear todays digital designers talking about hand-kerning when all we’ve done is pushed a couple of buttons!
    As far as the rollers are concerned – I thinks these are right. I’ve visually checked against images of new rollers for this machine, and they appear to be the same sort:
    But they also may be very worn out too. I should be in posession of a larger 3×5 Adana very soon which has brand new rollers, so will be able to make some comparison prints.

    I thought someone might pull me up about using the big fonts on the little press – I am just a bit impatient to get going! I do have some smaller stuff, old and new, and aim to do some more prints in a more appropriate format next!

    Thanks for your encouragement too – I’m kind of nervous about this now that I have ‘proper’ printers reading the blog, but I am alsways open to advice, suggestion or rebuke, in the true spirit of the web!

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