Thursday, July 31, 2008

Anatomy of a Custom Letterpress Baby Shower Invitation

Here is Joie Studio's first anatomy lesson, where I'll take you through the making of a custom letterpress baby shower invitation from start to finish. Here at Joie Studio, we meld old and new letterpress techniques to get our desired results, and this baby shower invitation, more than many other projects here at the studio, showcases the different techniques we use, making it a great project to use for our anatomy lesson.

This project is actually for a very dear friend of mine, so Rebecca, the host of the baby shower, gave me a free rein to do whatever I wanted. I knew that the couple were decorating the nursery with a hippo theme, and as there is a hippo in Joie Studio's upcoming baby line, I decided that it would be the perfect design.

The hippo is part of a safari group that was created and illustrated by the ever talented artist Matt Cox. I laid out the shower invite digitally to figure out how the layout and spacing. Here is the digital proof:

The fonts in the proof are Kabel and Liberty. Kabel is the digital version of Sans Serif Light, and Liberty is a variation of Bernhard Cursive. Both these fonts are fonts that I have handset type for.

Setting the Forme
Here at Joie Studio, we use a combination of handset type and magnesium plates to letterpress our projects.

Here is what a case of type looks like:

To set it, you would take each letter out, one by one, and set it on a line. Time consuming, but I think that handset type gives the best result so I keep as many fonts as I can fit into my type cabinet. The case above is pretty empty, but some of the other drawers weigh as much as 50 lbs.

As space is a major consideration and setting type is majorly time consuming, we also use metal plates. The metal plates are etched from digital files that we send to the engraver's. We used to have our metal plates mounted on wood and we still use a lot of our plates that we had made that way:

I found, however, that I wasn't happy with the natural variations of the wood mount. As it's an organic material, wood will expand and contract depending on weather conditions, and with letterpress, even 1/1000 of a difference will translate onto paper. Sometimes it's ok, sometimes it's not. So now we order unmounted metal plates with a deeper etch that we mount onto a metal base. The deeper etch also allows us to give a deeper impression to our clients who want to go as deep as possible. Here's a closeup of an unmounted metal plate:

For this project, we used a combination of handset type for the text and a metal plate for the hippo illustration. Once the type is set, I use wood pieces called furniture to lock the set type into the chase (which is the frame that fits into the press). What is to be printed, once set, is called the forme, shown below:

Most ink colors are handcrafted by yours truly. Sage is a color that I use a lot so whenever I mix sage, I try to make a bunch extra. For letterpress, you don't use very much ink at all during a run. I store handcrafted inks in little 2oz tins, and as you can tell, I rarely mix that much ink, and this amount will last me through at least 2 more jobs:

Just a couple dabs gets the press to look like:

So after I letterpress printed the forme, the invitations looked like this:

It's still missing the hippo. The hippo is on an unmounted metal plate. To print the plate, it is first locked into a metal base, also known as a honeycomb or patent base:

The forme is then set into the press to be printed:

Notice the roller bearers on both sides? The bearers keep the rollers inking the forme properly, which is essential for gorgeous letterpress printing.

The Result
Here is the result of all that hard work:

I hope you love the result as much as I did, and I hope you enjoyed a peak at our letterpress process from concept to creation. The LUXE letterpress launch has taken up so much of my time that now that it's launched, I can turn my attention to debuting these gorgeous letterpress animals. Keep on the lookout for more animals in Joie Studio's upcoming baby line!


wisconsinJer said...

Use to do letter press in 1952 while in high school, Marinette, WI.

Didn't have metal base and you're right about the weather effect on wood. Most of the base we had was under .875 so we mostly had to underlay base with onion skin paper.

Whatever worked.
Here's some pics and info I put together a couple years ago.

and here are more recent activities a couple years ago.

monique said...

Very cool of you to post the steps of your process!

How does the unmounted plate stay on the honeycomb base?
I'm reading more and more that Owasso Graphic is the place to go

Tina said...

Whatever worked with wood is right, wisconsinjer! I still do all this crazy makeready on rainy days!

Mo, if you look at the picture with the honeycomb base closely, you'll notice that there are four little toggle hooks on each side of the plate. You put the hook into the hole and using a toggle key, tighten the hooks in the holes so it locks the plate in place. Pretty simple, and it gives you (almost!) the placement ability of a photopolymer with the crisper prints of metal.

monique said...

ah I see!

I'm a big fan of your stuff and I'm finishing up my lessons at Armory tomorrow (which is how I found your blog)


Bill said...


I had two questions for you.
1) Who does your deep etch plates
2) Where did you get your roller bearers.


Tina said...

Bill - Beaver Engraving in Portland, Oregon, does my photoengraving. The thicker the plate, the deeper the etch - I use 11pt magnesium. Most magnesium plate users go with 16gauge. They have 1/4" magnesium as well.

The roller bearers are actually 36pt full face rule (or type high slugs). I've also used linoleum blocks cut to size and built up to type high with good results.

Ana said...

That was facinating...I can really appreciate all the work that goes into this process! Thank you!

Mona said...

Your invitation is beautiful, can you tell me what kind of press that is and where you bought it. I miss printing from my old high school printing shop day, I thought that I would try and pick it up.

Bespoke Letterpress Boutique said...

This is a great resource and very informative! I have just done a feature on my blog referring people to your post - hope this is okay!!!

Congrats on such a great resource!

monique said...

Hi Tina,
Where did you find your honeycomb base & toggles?

Thanks again for your insightful posts!

Amber Events said...


Anonymous said...

Good post.

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