Saturday, April 21, 2007

Learning How to Letterpress (aka, Step 0)

It occurred to me, after covering Step 1 and Step 2, that I should probably talk a little about how to get started in letterpress. I think that the best way to get started is to get your hands dirty and take a class in letterpress. Erin on Adventures in Letterpress seconds that opinion, and she talks about how to find classes or workshops in letterpress.


In Los Angeles, there are a couple places that I know of to take a formal class on letterpress. The one I that I've been taking is at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, California. I know that Art Center College of Design (look under Public Programs) also has a class, as well as Otis College of Art and Design (also under Public Programs). I seem to remember that LA Book Arts Center had a workshop once, but please don't quote me on that. (I will tell you, just by looking, that the Armory's class is WAY cheaper than Art Center or Otis.)

Outside of Los Angeles, I have absolutely no clue. Briar Press has a "Workshops and Events" Section you can check out, along with a section in their Yellow Pages for "Schools/Classes." One word of advice I'd like to offer you: many letterpress experts have divergent opinions on what is good and what is not. Very divergent. To the point of being disparaging to each other. Take all opinions with a grain of salt, do your own research, and decide for yourself what you like and what you don't. There are some that will only print with one type of ink or another, will insist that there's only one good way to clean a press, have a clear preference for photopolymer plates or metal plates, etc., etc., etc.


Aside from taking a class (or finding a local printer to show you the ropes as Erin suggests in her blog post linked above), you can read up on letterpress online and in books. Here is a list of annotated online resources to help you get started:
  • Introduction to Letterpress Printing by David Rose
    This article was invaluable to me when I was first starting out. It explains the whole process, and the article goes on to list more resources for you to learn more.
  • Letterpress FAQ
    This is the FAQ of the Letpress list. It provides great answers to questions on starting letterpress, different presses, setting type, paper and supplies, and more!
  • Secrets of a Kelseyman by Jack Gifford
    While the title makes it sound like this article is made specifically for the Kelsey, it's actually quite relevant for all tabletop presses, giving fix suggestions to common problems.
  • Basic Letterpress Tools
    This primer gives you the basics on what you will need to hand-set type.
  • Things Within Every Letterpress Print Shop
    John Barrett gives a good list (in shopping list fashion) of what you need in order to start your own letterpress studio.
  • First Press Suggestions by John Horn
    This is an invaluable article listing the pros and cons of different tabletop presses, if you're looking to get one.

In addition, General Printing, as mentioned in David Rose's article, seems to be the definitive book in learning how to letterpress. It became so definitive that it's been republished and is available for purchase online. Additionally, I've heard that, though I haven't seen it so my word is no good here, the DVD/VHS called Ten Presses and How They Work is a great resource.


There is a discussion forum on Briar Press, a number of letterpress listservs (see David Rose's article for the list), and letterpress groups on Flickr, Flappr, and probably any social networking site. Letterpress people are very helpful and friendly. I will say this again, though, some people have very divergent opinions on what is good and what is not. You need to research for yourself and figure out what sounds best to you.


Letterpress is an expensive hobby and habit. I've invested thousands of dollars into classes, my press, my equipment, plates, ink, and paper. My greatest suggestion to anyone looking to get started is to take a class or hound another printer until they let you try it out. You might find that while you like the end product, you don't care for the more tedious aspects of letterpress. Or you might find that you absolutely love it. I think it was worth every penny for me to take the classes and to get firsthand experience in setting type, using different machines, and watching and getting inspiration from others in class.

Happy letterpressing!


me...jane, you...not said...

I'm completely new to letterpress. I went to your site from the comment you left on my discussion for what to do as a "letterpress newbie". It's very helpful and I'm definitely going to take classes at the Armory. You're designs and products are beautiful. Thank you so much for your comment and for this great blog! Very helpful and informative.

SARAHSPY said...

wow. great resource! thank you for it.

Eileen said...

Thanks so much for those resources. Do you know by chance where one might find a class in bookbinding? Sadly the LA Book Arts Club is no longer in existence...

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