Showing 16 posts tagged printing

For the Love of Letterpress

The Counter Press describes itself as “a little letterpress studio producing small scale, limited edition typographic prints and printed matter.” Behind this modest description however, you’ll find an extremely passionate pair of designers who have built an impressive, analogue only, print studio with a growing portfolio of typographic work, in a little over two years—all in their spare time.

I visited the studio this weekend to meet with David Marshall and Elizabeth Ellis. The duo design and print around their busy freelance schedules working for prestigious branding agencies. Founded in 2011 to fulfil a creative yearning, David said that the Counter Press was “a hobby that got totally out of control”. “We started for the love of it. At first we were curious to see how others were doing it. The letterpress world is like a bubble—a real niche. Now we’re part of that world, and have become petty well known. It’s much harder to achieve this in other areas of design where the communities are much larger and fragmented”

Based in a bright former warehouse, run by Bow Arts Trust, the ground floor room is a perfect size to contain the impressive set-up. Plan chests and type drawers run along the walls, either side of a solid composing table with the presses at one end: A pair of tabletop Platens, an A3 size proofing press and a large Vandercook Cylinder press.

They are committed to practicing traditional methods, only printing with the wood and metal type they have acquired—no plates or computers. Despite this, the work they produce is very modern in both composition and content. With only evenings, weekends and the occasional holidays, they have to be certain that their time is focussed on the work that suits them. “It takes so long, the ideas we print need to be worth it, so a lot of thought goes into our prints. Letterpress is slow, complicated and often painful, but because this is spaced over weekends and evenings, the ideas are allowed to percolate and little details are added along the way.”

With this in mind, they’ve enjoyed developing processes to suit their way of working. To avoid opening cans of ink and the lengthy clean-up, early stages of their work are printed “dry”, using carbon paper to take an impression of small sections. In this way the larger design can be composed from these ‘printed’ slips in the way pre-computer layouts were made.

David and Elizabeth make it quite clear that they are not interested in making a living as commercial letterpress printers. “The whole point was to have the creative freedom to indulge ourselves and print what we liked. We’re interested in developing ways to keep doing what we’re doing while slowly expanding. As designers first and printers second, we get excited about problem solving and finding solutions using letterpress, so we would like to explore ways of collaborating with more designers on projects.”

So far they’ve made good traction selling their prints. It’s inspirational to see such creative energy, and investment put into self-fulfilling work. The Counter Press is a great example how much can be accomplished in your spare time and what passion can achieve.

A post by Brad Martin at londondesignz. I Love that ‘S’!

The Society of Revisionist Typographers at Fortnum & Mason.

As part of the London Design Festival, The Society of Revisionist Typographers (known also as SORT Design) were running a Letterpress workshop at Fortnum & Mason in London’s Piccadilly. I popped in to see them and the lovely examples of their work being showcased.

Driven by a passion for traditional printing skills, Thomas Boulton and Theo Wang founded SORT with the aim of bringing these skills back into active use through application and practice. While this philosophy underpins their work, they don’t let it limit their creativity. The examples above demonstrate a maturity, depth of knowledge and firm grounding in typographic practice.

For anyone visiting them at Fortum & Mason, SORT were giving out personalised note pads, the catch being that you had to print your own! Once they had composited and inserted the type, the lucky recipient had to operate the Letterpress - one swing of the lever and my notepad was ready. No prizes for guessing what I had printed, but I’ve included a couple of photos above if it wasn’t obvious!

Telegramme style

After cultivating a striking visual style over several years Telegramme Studio’s easily recognizable work is in high demand. Large clients, including Habitat and Random House, to small ventures, such as the branding for a friend’s new ‘Hawt Sauce’ have had their products ‘Telegrammed’. I was keen to find out the story behind this prolific studio and how its distinctive identity developed.

I met up with Bobby Evans who is now the studio’s one-man design team. Telegramme was originally a collaboration of two friends living in different parts of the UK, working via the postal service (his partner, Chris, has since left to set-up a fashion enterprise). After graduating the studio gravitated to East London and has remained in this area for several years.

Despite nearly being kicked out of university for not conforming to the ‘clean’ brand of graphic design being taught there (aimed at preparing graduates for life in a design agency), Bobby forged even further towards a grittier style more suited to the type of projects he wanted to design for: band posters, record sleeves and skateboards. The type of things his studio is now known for.

A passion for screen-printing and “broken-down type” contributes to this visual style: “I love the visual aesthetic of screen-printing and the process. It’s not always viable for projects with very short turnaround times—gig posters might only get the go-ahead a few days before they’re needed—but even when I’m designing for digital output I find myself automatically adding in trapping and overlays which result in a particular quality.”

Texture is another key ingredient:

“I enjoy emulating the quality of small items that have been blown-up, so you can see the grain and texture in the printed material. However, I’m careful to maintain a modern edge - I don’t want the work to rely on visual trickery or be a pastiche.”

“Although I started as a graphic designer I found that I’d often need illustrations for my work but rather than hunt down say a specific style of bird for example, I’d simply draw one”. The same goes for Bobby’s lettering but rather than drawing it from scratch he prefers to customise existing type to make it fit the project, looking at the decayed lettering and ‘ghost type’ that you see a lot of around East London for references.

The passion for designing gig posters is as strong as ever. Even now when he finds out that a band he likes is planning a local gig he’ll get in contact and offer to produce the official posters. And as an active board member of the UK Poster Association (UKPA) he also supports and promotes the work of British poster artists, exhibiting posters around the world at events like SXSW.

You can see more of Bobby’s recent work on tumblr here.

Sketchy Characters

I spent an enjoyable day yesterday re-learning how to screen print at London’s ‘Print Club’.

As a test print I decided to use some of my sketchbook letters and experiment with a few types of paper, including this lovely gold and silver.

The one-day course was very good, running through everything; preparing your artwork, making your positives, coating your screen, printing your work and finally removing your stencil. Well recommended!

A tale of two letterpress studios

I follow these two Brazilian print studios, Letterpress Brasil and Estúdio Carimbo, on Instagram. I look forward to the interesting snippets of work they both post from São Paulo – enough that you can almost smell the print from the other side of the world.

They both produce their fair share of wedding stationary which appears to be hugely popular (hitting that soft stock hard enough to leave an impression, which has become fashionable).

Estúdio Carimbo is run by Érico and Marcelo, two graphic designers “with a passion for typography, printing and old stuff”.

Letterpress Brasil is a team of graphic designer Marcos Mello and Letterpress printer, Patrícia Passos (great names).

Here’s a few clips of their work.

The changing face of Bowie
I just spotted this typographic screen print produced exclusively for London’s V&A museum to coincide with it’s forthcoming David Bowie exhibition. 
It features the lettering and bespoke typefaces from over 100 designers. Matt white ink has been printed over rainbow holographic paper which looks brilliant. Each print comes with a certificate naming the full list of contributors including, Jonathan Barnbrook, Ian Anderson and Anthony Burrill.
I love the look of it but I think the overall effect is a little crowded and too much like a list of type specimens. I’d have preferred it to be bigger too. The print is 50x50cm. High-res

The changing face of Bowie

I just spotted this typographic screen print produced exclusively for London’s V&A museum to coincide with it’s forthcoming David Bowie exhibition. 

It features the lettering and bespoke typefaces from over 100 designers. Matt white ink has been printed over rainbow holographic paper which looks brilliant. Each print comes with a certificate naming the full list of contributors including, Jonathan Barnbrook, Ian Anderson and Anthony Burrill.

I love the look of it but I think the overall effect is a little crowded and too much like a list of type specimens. I’d have preferred it to be bigger too. The print is 50x50cm.

Modern Wood Type

In a process moving from digital to manual, these beautiful woodblocks have been designed in Illustrator, laser cut and then printed by hand.

Produced by Nigel Bents, Paul Oakley and Jonny Holmes while at Chelsea College of Art & Design in London, the characters were based on a Bodoni poster typeface. The extreme stroke contrast has been used to house these playful decorative patterns.

The letters were cut from 3mm plywood then mounted on type-high blocks before letterpress printing at New North Press in Hoxton.

Even before inking, I love how the laser cutting has scorched a warm colour onto the wooden face of the letters.

The Missing ‘W’, Ben Eine

One of the first posts I wrote on Type Worship showed the creation of Ben Eine’s “Shutter Front” print being created while attempting to beat the world record for the most number of screen printed colours in a limited edition print. Each is hand-pulled producing a outstanding seventy-seven colour screen print.

You may notice, however, that in the 5x5 alphabet grid, the wide ‘W’ is omitted.

So as not to miss out on any letters, the Certificate of Authenticity features the missing character, screen printed and sprayed in gold and black.

Jubilee Special: Royal Arms Reproduction 

This week as the UK celebrates the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, ‘royal’ imagery can be seen adorning all sorts of souvenirs: from cardboard cake-stands to cashmere slippers.

In contrast, items bearing the official Royal coat of arms, with the legend “By Appointment to…”, that you may find on items such as Heinz baked beans cans through to exclusive Asprey jewellery boxes, are much more strictly controlled.

These Royal Warrants are granted to individuals or companies that have been approved by HM Queen Elizabeth II, HRH Duke of Edinburgh, or HRH Prince of Wales, after providing them with goods or service for five years. About 850 elite companies currently have permission to use the Royal arms, which are regarded as demonstrating excellence and quality. Once this highly-prized mark has been granted you’d naturally want to show it off to full effect.

I have previously seen Royal arms beautifully embossed onto letterheads and was curious to discover, from a design and typography perspective, how the techniques use to reproduce these emblems might be used in other work to achieve a luxurious result.

On stationery and packaging the only way to perfectly reproduce a coat of arms is by engraving and die stamping it. This is relatively common for practice for blue-chip US companies; however a count-up finds less than ten printers practicing these traditional craft skills in the UK. Out of these, maybe only three or four could reproduce a coat of arms with only one able to hand engrave their own copper die stamping plates in-house.

Downey, a family-run company is acknowledged as one of the finest printers of stationery in the UK and have specialised in heraldic work since Alfred Downey founded the business over 100 years ago. In 1929 William Turner, originally an apprentice engraver producing stamps and bank cheques, took over the business. Leo Turner, the third generation to join the company, and his Uncle Barry Turner, a master hand engraver (and apprentice to Leo’s grandfather), took me through the production process.

For each colour in the coat of arms an individually engraved plate or ‘die’ is created. The arms must be shown in ‘full heraldic colour’ (five plus black) or one colour only. These dies are now made from copper and plated with nickel replacing the use of steel. The minimum size of the mark is determined by the size of the ‘legend’ (the five lines of text beneath the arms) which must be legible.  

What about the type?

I’ve seen both sans and serif fonts used, in all caps and mixed case, so I called The Royal Warrant Holders Association to enquire about standards. They confirmed that there are no specific guidelines for use of typeface: these choices are to be “governed by good taste”. So no comic sans then. New technology means that the text can be etched onto the plate from a digital file, to be finished by hand. 

It’s very detailed work. Even at a minuscule size, special attention is given to achieving a 3D effect on the golden lion and silver unicorn supporters by engraving their muscle shapes. As each colour is printed individually the metal dies all have registration marks so that they can be affixed accurately to the printing press. The press manoeuvres the die through four actions; across inking rollers (much like letterpress), then past a ‘doctor’ blade or ‘knife’ to scrape off excess ink, then the die is wiped to leave ink only in the engraved recesses. Finally the die is then pressed on to the paper with about three tonnes of pressure. All of the inks used are matt, including the gold and silver. The final plate is then punched, dry, over the combined print which burnishes the gold and silver producing a luxurious gleam only achieved with this technique. This process also embosses the whole piece ensuring that all of the sculptural details are enhanced. The final result is truly magnificent. The combination of the colour density from the individual inks and the final burnish and emboss transforms the image into a solid badge emerging from the paper. The shapes are incredibly sharp and crisp, even down at size.

Although these hand-made results are easily distinguished from every-day digital printing, designers are slowly becoming increasingly aware of this nearly lost fine art. As letterpress and screen-printing are enjoying a renaissance then maybe engraving and die stamping presents another opportunity for designers to get their hands dirty to achieve results fit for a king (or Queen, in this case).

Design with Beauty • Build in Truth

Fantastic stationery for The Architectural Association, produced by master stationers, Downey (more about them and their work to follow). 

Engraving and die stamping on this letterhead produces an embossed effect, so that you can run your finger across the artwork and feel the raised ink.

Beautiful. Could engraving be the new letterpress?