Elements of Typography on the Letterpress

This summer I was excited to take a letterpress class. The course was taught by colleague, Eszter Augustine-Sziksz, printmaker and book arts professor at MCA. We focused on four primary techniques for printing with letterpress; pressure plates, polymer plates, movable type (wood and metal) and linotype blocks.

My focus for this class was to examine elements of typography on the press. I experimented with expressive typography, working with methods of repetition, pattern and reflection using letterforms from the typeface, Bodoni. The typeface can be classified as a modern style and is influenced by the art movement of Romanticism. It is an 18th century Italian typeface designed by Giambattista Bodoni. Some characteristics of this typeface include rationally consistent forms and axis, abrupt, thin serifs (hairline serifs), round terminals, small apertures, and even stress.

Pressure Plate Prints

Pressure Plates can be made by laminating paper onto paper. In the examples below, I used yupo paper and PVA bookbinding glue to create my pressure plates. The results of this technique are “soft”.

Polymer Plates

Polymer plates can be made a few different ways. One way is to create a digital print on transparency paper. Another is to paint black acrylic on mylar paper. For either option, the pre-plate will be exposed to UV light where the negative space (where the UV light can pass through) will result in a “hard” polymer plate for the press. The result will be the reverse print. The plate below was created with black acrylic and mylar paper.

Linotype Block

The linotype block can be carved with wood carving tools. Like the polymer plate, your image should be the reversed for the letterpress.

Movable Type

You can set large type directly on the press or you can set small type in a composing stick and then set it on the press. Remember to face the knick up and away.

Below review the images from a student run letterpress workshop at MCA held earlier in the year. Currently, MCA is the only letterpress facility in Memphis – please contact continued education for information on adult letterpress classes.

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