Printing Heritage at Old North State Press

Chris Paul, of North Carolina-based Old North State Press, shares with us how an evening introductory printing class flourished into a love for printing machines and letterpress. From there, with the help of numerous, generous mentors and his wife/partner, Danielle, he has immersed himself happily in the craft. Read on to discover how Chris passes on the knowledge he’s learned with the letterpress community.

Chris Paul of Old North State Press adjusts his printing press.

CRAFT AND TRADITION

At Old North State Press, we are dedicated to preserving the tradition and craft of fine letterpress printing. We started our journey with the acquisition of a simple cylinder press in 1998. The studio now boasts an impressive array of heavy, outdated machines and equally obsolete related equipment, all meticulously maintained and loved.

In addition to supporting custom client work where the unique characteristics of letterpress printing is desired, the press produces original designs for stationery, note cards, wedding invitations, birth announcements, broadsides, and other printed matter.

I am a classically-trained designer and typographer and completed my MFA in Design at Yale School of Art in 1995 where I was first introduced to traditional printing methods. I enjoy fretting over the details and coaxing beauty from these iron beasts. My wife and partner, Danielle, is a fearless editor and etiquette expert. She has a Masters in Communication. This background comes in quite handy with our clients and the work they bring us. Danielle has a keen eye for fine presswork and ensures every piece we produce measures up to our exacting standards.

Old North State Press foil and letterpress printing wedding invitations.

GETTING THE PRINTING BUG

Back in the early 90s, while in grad school, a few of us signed up for introductory printing classes, taught once a week on Thursday evenings, at the university printing facilities. The start of the digital era in design was in high gear and while many of us had been working in print for some time, our understanding of the tradition and craft of printing was limited. I had only seen pictures of metal type in books. Greer Allen, the former University Printer at Yale and one of the instructors, would regularly shake his head at how little we knew! He was, however, a truly patient and enthusiastic teacher.

In the class, Greer and a local book designer, Howard Gralla, taught us how to set type by hand and print our simple creations on a Vandercook proof press. I was hooked immediately. The exquisite mechanics. The rich history. The endless possibilities. I vowed then and there I would learn as much as I could about letterpress and, one day, find a press of my own.

I got a job doing design at IBM in 1995. In 1998, Danielle and I moved into our first house. It had a garage and thus, room for a press. We acquired our first press, a Vandercook No. 3, soon after moving in.

A beautiful Heidelberg Windmill stands ready for action at Old North State Press.

THE SHOP: A CREATIVE HAVEN

Because I work in software design, I tend to think of everything as versions. We’re currently on version 3.0 of our shop which we built in 2014 after moving to the Charlotte, NC area. Our shop is about 400 sq ft and houses all of our equipment. We still have the original Vandercook No. 3 but have since added two late model 10×15 Heidelbergs. The first Heidelberg was re-built from the ground up by Graeme Smith while he was with Whittenburg in TN. It is a beauty and our most prized piece of equipment. The second Heidelberg was acquired this past summer and is in need of a good cleaning and some serious TLC. Our intent is to dedicate this second machine to foil and die-cutting.

Old North State Press foil and letterpress printing.

Because of my desire to learn everything I could about traditional letterpress, I also got into hot metal typecasting in the early 2000s. With the help of some amazing mentors, I was able to acquire an English and American Thompson Sorts Casters and a small library of matrices. I first learned to cast type under the thoughtful tutelage of Pat Taylor, former proprietor of Out of Sorts Type Foundry, and Rick Newell formerly of Heritage Printers in Charlotte. We also have many cases of metal and wood type, an antique John Jacques & Son paper cutter,and all the various accoutrements you’d expect in a working shop.

What we love most about our shop is having a dedicated, climate controlled space to design, make and learn. Letterpress has a deep heritage, and these machines teach us something new every time we use them.

NORTH CAROLINA COOL

Our shop is located on our property in an older, heavily wooded and secluded neighborhood south of Charlotte, NC surrounded by horse farms. We are 10 minutes from historic downtown Waxhaw and 30 minutes from Uptown Charlotte.

PRINTING MENTORS

I am deeply indebted to many for the generosity of their time, patience and wisdom. I first learned to print from Howard Gralla and Greer Allen while a grad student at the Yale School of Art. Rick Newell helped me acquire my first press and type, and he taught me what it means to run a shop. Pat Taylor, Rich Hopkins, Mike Anderson, and Jim Walczak inspired me to give typecasting a go and encouraged me to keep at it.

Fritz Klinke of NA Graphics took me under his wing early on and instilled within me a love of the process, hot metal type, and the journey of “figuring it out.” Elias Roustom of EM Letterpress taught me more than a few tricks of the trade along the way and his work continues to inspire me. Further, where would any modern day letterpress printer be with a reliable rigger? Pete McFee has moved every press I’ve ever owned and introduced me to electricians and repair techs who know and appreciate these old machines. Priceless!

Old North State Press foil and letterpress printing.

I’m also indebted to and inspired by the many designers, printers, and clients I’ve met along the way who have shared hints, tips and techniques and pushed me to learn and make.

Last but not least, sincere thanks to my partner, Danielle, who has taken this journey with me, providing support and encouragement at every step.

PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN

I am not yet a full-time printer, however, I spend as much time as I can in the shop and am fortunate to have clients who keep coming back and pushing me to learn new things. I suspect one day I’ll be doing more printing than not, but we’re still a few years off from that goal.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

By day, I work in technology, designing digital experiences and products. Thus, my design process for letterpress can seem to be a bit fragmented. Sometimes, an idea occurs to me and I have to get it out as quickly as possible. Other times, a fragment of an idea may sit in my head, stewing, for a few weeks/months before I act on it. Occasionally, I will start with a technique I want to learn…like die-cutting or foil stamping and create from there.

Old North State Press foil and letterpress printing.

While I end up sketching quite a bit in the late process, my early iterations are almost always via writing. My sketchbooks have more words than drawings. I have an old t-shirt from Emigre with the slogan “Design Is A Good Idea” and this embodies how I approach what I do. Once I think I have something, I’ll sketch around the idea and poke at it multiple times before attempting to start something digitally.

There is so much great work out there, you never have to go too far for inspiration…old and new.

PRINTING FEATS

I’ve been a member of the American Typecasting Fellowship for over 15 years and am a graduate of Monotype University, both run by the amazing Rich Hopkins. Our shop was one of 15 that Rich choose to feature in the book, The Private Typecasters, hand-printed and bound by Henry Morris at Bird & Bull Press. We’re also featured in the book, Vandercook 100.

Most of all, we are proud of our ability to continue to learn, make beautiful things and share what we know with others.

PRESS HISTORY

Our first press was Vandercook No. 3 Proof Press, acquired from the Charlotte Composition Company with help from friend and mentor, Rick Newell. I won’t tell you how little I paid for it, but I will say they almost paid me to haul it away. I love that press because it is so simple.

One of our first real print jobs on the Vandy was the birth announcement for our son, Aidan. We did the same when Erin came along in 2003. In 2017, we printed Aidan’s high school graduation announcement on our Heidelberg.

Old North State Press foil and letterpress printing.

BOXCAR’S ROLE

Boxcar has been an inspiration from the beginning: I distinctly remember my first encounter with Boxcar and how elated I felt that someone was actually running a successful business doing letterpress! I then invested in the Boxcar Base and haven’t looked back. I use Boxcar Bases on each press I own and Boxcar processes all my photopolymer plates.

What I love most about Boxcar are two things: One, Harold Kyle and the team have continued to innovate from the very beginning…helping to modernize letterpress and make it relevant for today. The Boxcar Base and Swing-Away Lay Gauge are two prime examples. Second, the team at Boxcar shares everything they know and have helped me be a better printer. I’ve not found anyone more dedicated to the current community of designers and printers.

SHOP TIPS

Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? If you’re just starting out with a press like a Heidelberg, focus first on mastering the paper feed. There are so many nuances to feeding and once you master it, your life with be less frustrating and your printing faster and more satisfying.

An old technique I found out about recently, the Flying Dutchman, can help you get tighter registration on a Heidelberg by taming paper bounce:

Read everything you can get your hands on about technique and setup and don’t be afraid to fail. Successfully printing on these old machines can be challenging. The most important piece is to keep at it. It takes time and experience to encounter the various challenges that will present themselves. When they do, step back and think. Frustration, failure and disappointment are how we learn.

I founded the Facebook Letterpress Group in 2007, and we are currently 4500+ members strong. Included in the group are both active and many retired printers with great experience and know-how. I turn to the group regularly when I encounter something I haven’t yet figured out. The team at Boxcar, the Letterpress Commons, and Briar Press sites are also a tremendous resource. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep asking until you understand.

Old North State Press foil and letterpress printing.

WHAT’S COMING NEXT

This might actually be the year we get more of our custom stationery line up and running. This is a goal we’ve had for some time…but…life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans! Now that our children are older, we have more time to dedicate to our various printing projects.

We also held our first letterpress workshop recently, partnering with the Charlotte Chapter of AIGA. It was a big success so we expect to do more of the same and help spread the love for letterpress and type in the Charlotte region.

Inquisitive Printers: Even More Things That Caught Our Eye

We remain on the look-out for all things creative, fascinating and colorful. Check out a few of the intriguing items, events, and cool happenings that recently caught our eye.

From Cathy:  

I have always enjoyed the CBS Sunday Morning program as it has introduced me to many fascinating creative people and stories over the years.  On the March 10th broadcast, they focused on fine press books from the printing to the binding.  It is always exciting to see a letterpress print shop on network news.  Enjoy the segment if you haven’t already viewed it.

Larkspur Press Bookmaking Bookbinding Letterpress, Inquisitive Printers

(photo courtesy of cbsnews.com)

From Maddie: 

Whew! BOY HOWDY! Anyone in need of a podcast recommendation? Yes!? OKAY. Let me tell you about my favorite podcast OLOGIES, hosted by Alie Ward. This show is all about asking smart people dumb questions.

Alie sits down with a specialist in a different field of study in every episode. For example: Entomology (Insects), Selenology (the Moon), and Tuethology (Squids!!!). This podcast series does not disappoint. You will be giddy with excitement to learn all there is to know about each episode’s topic and an added bonus: delightful side notes of fact checking or defining fancy scientific words. Also worth mentioning, if you listen to the very end of each episode Alie will share a secret with the listeners. 

Inquisitive Printers : Alie Ward Ologies

(photo courtesy of allieward.com)

I listen to this show while printing. Yyou can tell when I am listening to this podcast as I am laughing out loud and smiling. OLOGIES is a delight and I hope you give it a listen…then proceed to tell all your friends about the wondrous information you just learned about Entomophagy Anthropology (eating bugs), Mixology (cocktails), or Somnology (sleep). Enjoy! 

From Rebecca:   

Everyday there are more than 12,000+ planes travelling around the world at any given time. Want to see just how populated the skies are? Check out this nifty website, flightrader24.com, that shows in real-time who could be flying above you!

Inquisitive Printers

(photo courtesy of flightrader.com)

Glass meet metal.  UK-based  Heriot-Watt University has some interesting news for welders, fabricators, and artisans. They’ve been able to weld together certain types of glass and metal using a specialized ultrafast infrared laser systems. The University’s scientists and partnering research labs are still working on perfecting the method. Hopefully, this could lead to some interesting developments in both the manufacturing and art realms.

We hope you explore some of our links and perhaps learn a little bit more about what interests us here at Boxcar Press.  Email us at info@boxcarpress.com the things that delight you also!

Letterpress On The Move: Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer

Always on the move, letterpress printer Chris Fritton just might be coming to a town near you. Chris has visited over 160 letterpress print shops in North America, where he is known as “The Itinerant Printer.” As a guest printer, he enjoys making one of a kind prints, cards and posters with his hosts, with the added bonus of the letterpress camaraderie. The Buffalo, NY, native shares with us his creative origins and printing on the go.

Chris Fritton is a Buffalo, NY native and letterpress printer.

A PRINTER’S JOURNEY

I’m the former Studio Director of the Western New York Book Arts Center in Buffalo, NY, and for the past four years I’ve been doing The Itinerant Printer project. I travel around the US & Canada visiting different letterpress shops, and the only thing that I bring with me on the road is paper & ink. I use what those shops have in their collections (wood type, metal type, border, ornament, photopolymer plates, etc.) to create unique prints.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

COMPELLING LETTERPRESS

I got into letterpress printing as a writer and a book artist. I started out by making my own cut & paste zines during my teens, and then poetry chapbooks. I learned how to screen print early on, but that never really felt like the perfect medium for me.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

When I found letterpress, everything clicked.  There was something so compelling about actually building the language — setting every letter in every word and stanza by hand. It was so visceral and fundamental. I was lucky enough to print at a place in Buffalo run by one of my mentors, Hal Leader: Paradise Press. It was a tiny space right in the middle of a modern print shop, and it held all of his type and presses, as well of those of his mentor, a Roycroft master printer named Emil Sahlin. I worked at Paradise Press until Richard Kegler had the idea to start the Western New York Book Arts Center. Then I got in on the ground floor of that project.

Chris Fritton, Itinerant Printer is a letterpress printer.

PRINTING IN NEW YORK & ON THE ROAD

WNYBAC was my baby, and that’s where I printed for six years. We had an incredible collection that we used to create gig posters, event posters, broadsides, cards, etc. I knew where every single thing was in that shop, from the tiniest ornaments to the missing sorts that were in standing formes.

My favorite thing about it was the energy. We were always experimenting, always trying something new, always using alternative materials and processes. It was an incubator, really, and a springboard for what I would do in the future.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

Now, everyone’s shop is my shop, at least for a day. With The Itinerant Printer project, I’m often only in a location for 24-48 hours. I have to familiarize myself with the shop, its contents, and try to create something interesting. Often, I have no idea what I’ll find; I don’t even know what kind of presses they’ll have. It’s a never-ending challenge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

BEAUTIFUL BUFFALO, NEW YORK

All of Buffalo is a cool landmark. It’s a city rife with amazing architecture, copious greenspace, and a revitalized waterfront. The city is steeped in history, and its blue-collar legacy is evident everywhere you turn.

Chris Fritton, The Itinerant Printer, is a letterpress printer whose travels include 60+ letterpress print shop visits.

I miss it when I’m away, but so many of the shops that I visit have fantastic surroundings as well, from Menagerie Press in Terlingua, TX, among the Chisos Mountains to the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, WA, with a view of the Space Needle. It’s impossible to choose a favorite.

PRINTING MENTORS

Although I look to the past for ideas sometimes, I tend to appreciate the work of my contemporaries just as much, if not more. I really like the work of modern letterpress printers who are combining analog & digital technologies to get intriguing results. Right now, off the top of my head, James Tucker of the Aesthetic Union, Brad Vetter, Dafi Kühne, Kathryn Hunter of Blackbird Letterpress, Lindsay Schmittle of Gingerly Press, and The Print Project in the UK are churning out astonishing work that looks like nothing else. It’s their openness — their willingness to embrace something that may or may not work, as well as their desire to make something that doesn’t look like traditional letterpress that makes their work so arresting.

Chris Fritton, Itinerant Printer is a letterpress printer.

FULL TIME FUN

The Itinerant Printer project is a full-time job for me, much like a traveling band. I often take a break during the summer, however, and when I’m home in Buffalo, I run commercial vessels on Lake Erie as a “day job.” It’s a nice break from printing and traveling, and often I find that I feel recharged when I return to letterpress.

THE CREATIVE FLOW

When I’m on the road, because I’m going in blind, I have to design on the fly. Because I’m normally using movable type, I design primarily on the press bed (if it’s a proofing press), and have to make decisions about color & form very quickly. The experience has made me very decisive, but also accepting of failure, because when you’re working that fast, it doesn’t always work out the way you thought it would.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

PRINTING FEATS

To date, I’ve visited over 160 letterpress print shops in 45 states and 4 provinces. I’ve covered over 60,000 miles and made close to 25,000 prints on the road. That feels pretty noteworthy to me. To culminate the whole adventure, I recently finished a 320-page coffee table book comprising 1,500 photos and 130,000 words that tells the story of all the people, places, and prints along the way. The book is a monster and it had to match the scale of the project.

Chris Fritton, Itinerant Printer is a letterpress printer.

PRINTING TIDBIT

Here’s a fun fact: I’ve never owned a press. I have a great collection of wood type and sundries, but no presses. At this point, it wouldn’t make sense to get one either, as long as I’m on the road.

BOXCAR’S ROLE

Boxcar was elemental when we were doing jobbing or custom work at the Western New York Book Arts Center. It was the fastest, easiest, most reliable way to get the results we needed. When I’m on the road, Boxcar is the first name that comes up in every shop for photopolymer platemaking. It’s amazing to see how far its influence stretches, to every corner of the US & Canada.

Ombre roll or rainbow roll on a Vandercook.

PRINTING TIPS

Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? Baby wipes with a little bit of baby oil for cleaning your hands. It acts as a solvent for most inks and keeps you from running to the bathroom every thirty seconds to wash up. Other than that, employ as many techniques as you can to get the results you want: pressure printing, laser cutting, 3D printing, woodcut, linocut, photopolymer — don’t restrict yourself.

Ampersands, letterpress printing, wood carvings.

WHAT’S COMING NEXT

In 2019, I’ll round out The Itinerant Printer book tour. After that, I’m considering taking the project global in 2020 — The Itinerant Printer, around the world. I can’t wait to see what printers in other countries are doing, as well as spend time learning about them, about their presses, about their cultures. Logistically, it will be a lot different than the North American tour, but I know it’s possible, so keep your eyes peeled for a launch date!

Ali Norman: All In The Details

Crafted with care, hypnotically delicate, and dizzyingly detailed are what instantly come to mind when viewing Ali Norman’s body of printed work. A traditional printmaker by nature, Ali enjoys expressing her vivid concepts through silkscreen, etchings, and now letterpress. The Florida-based printer shares with us the joys of learning new techniques, infusing nature motifs into her work, and pushing the limits of her art.

ALL AROUND LOVE FOR PRINTING

I’m a printmaker with a huge passion for etching, but I also love to dabble in other processes (such as letterpress!). I first learned about it from the amazing Eileen Wallace during my MFA. She helped spark my interest and encouraged me to push the limits of my polymer ideas. Learning from her was an incredible privilege!

HOME IS WHERE THE PRESS IS

Currently, I have access to etching presses at home and at work (the University of Tampa), but no real letterpress access. I’ve been lucky enough to make friends with Sarah and Phil Holt, who have the cutest little letterpress shop at home!

They were very kind to let me use their beautiful orange Vandercook to print my most recent polymer creation. I’m hoping to work with them more in the new year! You can check out Sarah’s letterpress work on instagram at @monpetitpaperco.

PRINTING MENTORS

I am really inspired by and thankful for the amazing printmaking community that has popped up on Instagram. I have “met” so many amazing artists and learned some cool techniques just from the internet. On a more personal note, I pay close attention to my dreams and am strongly attracted to old engravings, magical texts, and tattoo linework.

PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN

I am not currently printing full time. Having just finished my MFA in the spring of 2018, I’ve been teaching part time at the University of Tampa. This gives me a good amount of free time to work on making and selling art on the side! So far I am finding it to be a really healthy and rewarding balance. Although I grew up here [in Florida], I haven’t been back for quite a while! I’m still currently exploring the area.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

I absolutely LOVE designing for photopolymer!! I’ve found that drawing the key layer first on tracing paper allows me to then flip-flop my ideas, scan them, and easily draw color layers. I’ve tried working more digitally, but always go back to the tracing paper!


ALL IN THE DETAILS

Works take me anywhere from a week to two months to complete before printing, but I’m always working on a few things at once. I try to keep it slow and steady, drawing at least a little every day until I am satisfied. I also often work back in to images, so that can end up dragging things out… as goes printmaking!

FAVORITE PRINTING TECHNIQUE

Intaglio will always be my go-to process, but it’s not always very practical! I like to change things up, especially with quicker processes like letterpress or lithography. It is so satisfying to see a trapped layer lock perfectly in to place each time, and to feel like one with a machine. I also really enjoy how the design process for each technique is so different – it keeps me on my toes!

PRINTING FEATS

At this point in my career, I am just very proud and grateful to have made it this far! I’ve been working hard to make my passions a reality and am really seeing that come back to me lately.

PRESS HISTORY

I currently have a little tabletop Conrad E12 etching press that was found by a friend of mine at a thrift store! After some heavy cleaning, I now use it almost constantly. I’m hoping to also have a letterpress to call my own some day. Floridian printers – hook me up please!

BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE

I had my polymer plates for my most recent print made by Boxcar Press! I was a little nervous about someone else making my matrices, and they turned out perfectly. I’m really grateful for this service.

PRINTING TIPS

I’m still quite the beginner at letterpress, but I manage to learn something new every time I print. I even managed to smash my fingers in the Vandercook once (oops!).

WHAT’S COMING NEXT

Lots more printing!!

Top 14 Valentine’s Day Letterpress Picks for 2019

We’re smitten with printin’ and know that you (and that special someone) are too! Peruse our list of the top 14 favorite gifts for this upcoming Valentine’s Day 2019—from heartwarming (and hilarious!) cards to letterpress goodies that are sure to bring a smile from ear-to-ear for that certain someone.

Let us know what you are getting your printing paramour this year in the comments below!

Valentine's Day Letterpress Gift Guide - 2019. Cards, journals, and printing goodies galore!

1.  Letterpress Business Card workshop (Feb 7-March 14 , Poughkeepsie, NY). | 2. Fun retro illustrations in comic book form in this art poster from The Art of Manliness that is the definitive guide to wearing sunglasses for your shade-loving significant other. | 3. A tongue in cheek card from Thimble Press for the friend who is not a fan of Valentine’s Day. | 4. Ampersand Cookie Cutter from Cutter’s Craft. | 5. Splurge on 2 of Journaling Janes Letterpressed Journals – Reasons Why I Love You and Reasons Why I want to Spend the Rest of My Life with You – Make it a double gift (from J J Letterpress). |

Valentine's Day Letterpress Gift Guide - 2019. Cards, journals, and printing goodies galore!

6. Book Artist Tool Kit enamel pin from The Paper Carnival. | 7. You Are A Foxy Lady letterpress poster from Neon Kitchen. | 8. I Want You In My Arms card from Violet Press and Paper. | 9. Personalized Gutenberg Press journal from Mine Gift Store. | 10. For the music lover in your life – an art print for all ages from Cotton Blossom Press. |

Valentine's Day Letterpress Gift Guide - 2019. Cards, journals, and printing goodies galore!

11. Bigger is better and especially in Valentine’s cards (from Benchpressed). | 12. Treat your printer to a 10x or 15x Loupe (from Badger Graphics) for their shop, you can never have too many. Or google “vintage loupe” to score one with personality and history. | 13. One Fine Specimen card from Type High Letterpress. | 14. A Catch All Tray from The Art of Manliness: A tray for printers with the philosophy many try and do to aspire to in their print shops.

Hidden Treasures at Type High Letterpress

Right down the highway from Syracuse, New York, is Rochester’s very own Type High Letterpress. At the helm of this cozy, treasure-packed print shop is Tony Zanni. From wood & metal type goodies to presses that shine, Tony gives us a tour of this hidden gem tucked away in upstate New York.

Tony Zanni Type High Letterpress IMG 1
Tony Zanni Type High Letterpress IMG 4

PRESSES AND WOODCUTS AND TYPE, OH MY!

Our shop is located on the second floor of an old candy factory in downtown Rochester, NY called the Hungerford Building. It houses around 40 other artisans of varying crafts. We occupy a 1,200 sq. ft. space that is long and narrow.

At the front of the shop is a small retail area. The rest of the shop is packed to the gills with over 700 cases of wood and metal type, and over 150 galleys of dingbats and cuts. At the back we have our 4 large presses:  a Damon & Peets 8×12, Heidelberg Windmill (with factory foil stamping attachment), a Vandercook No. 3 Proof press and a giant Wesel Iron Handpress. We also have a fun collection of small table top presses hiding around the shop as well.

The space in and of itself isn’t really interesting, however, what it’s filled with captures imaginations and inspires creativity. There are all sorts of letterpress goodies to look at. We have originals of Adobe’s Wood Type Ornaments typeface, old wood cuts from various shops around the western NY area, slug cutters, miterers… The Hell Bucket. There’s a lot of stuff to look at if you ever visit.

MOST PRIZED POSSESSIONS

This is going to sound funny but my favorite thing about the shop is that it’s heat included. Our original location was a bit better but boy was it cold in the Upstate winters. The new space… Toasty!

As for fun things / prized possessions, there’s a couple. First would have to be my Vandercook, Izzy. Yeah, I named her Isabelle or Izzy for short. I found her thanks to Shelly at French Press. I asked Shelly to visit this estate sale (because I couldn’t attend) and had her look for Vandy’s. She called and said there was a Vandy in the garage, mostly complete.  I said great, put me on the phone with the seller, offered $500 sight unseen. They said yes and I picked it up two days later. I honestly think this was the last $500 Vandercook to be had and this was back in 2009.

This past summer I acquired another nifty item: a Lufkin 6 ft. tape measure with inches and Pica rules on it. Maybe not super practical, but pretty cool.

One more super cool thing I have is an original plate of the very first Photographic image printed in a magazine. It is “A Scene in Shantytown, New York”  that appeared in the March 4, 1880 issue of New York Daily Graphic – the first halftone photograph ever printed by a newspaper. Yes, we have a pretty cool collection.

SHOP SIZE

I jokingly refer to my shop as the “train car”. It’s about 15′ wide by 65′ long and has 3 windows in the back and a double door up front. With any luck we’ll be moving down the hall later this year a space that is 1500 square feet. I’m not looking forward to moving all this again.

PRINTING IN THE EMPIRE STATE

We are in the Hungerford Building. surrounded by many other creative artists.  On the first Friday and second Saturday of every month we host events. We are the northern border of an area called the Neighborhood of the Arts.  About 3 blocks away are the Memorial Art Gallery, Anderson Alley Arts building, plus a host of other galleries & public art pieces.

TYPE OF SHOP

Type High is a commercial letterpress print shop specializing in hand set typography and design for letterpress printing. Obviously, I use Boxcar Press for our plates when the need arises. We teach letterpress workshops in our space, how to set type properly and print an edition. In addition, I also teach a semester long letterpress design class for the Rochester Institute of Technology.

PRESS FAMILY

The long list of things currently in the shop from largest to smallest…

  • Wesel Iron Handpress
  • Sheet 18×24 printable 16×22
  • Vandercook No. 3 Proof press
  • Sheet 14×20 Printable 13.5ish x 18.5ish
  • Heidelberg Windmill 10 x 13 with Foil
  • Damon & Peets 8 x12
  • Nolan Proof press 12 x 18 galley proof press
  • Showcard Press 14 x 20ish
  • Old style Pilot Press 7 x10
  • Craftsman 5×8
  • Golding 4×6
  • Kelsey 3×5
  • Sigwalt 2×3 toy press
  • Challenge 26.5″ cutter

MOST VALUABLE TOOL

The most valuable tool in my shop is my line gauge, Pica Stick, ruler… whatever you want to call it. My favorite one is a Gaebel 612H-12 with inches, Picas, Points and millimeters. Not only is it great for measuring and drawing straight lines, but it’s also great for opening ink cans, cutting open packages, getting things out from under the press. Not to mention, slicing pizza, and cutting cookie cake on those special occasions.

GETTING INKY

My favorite inks are from the old cans we pull out of shops that we buy out. The older the ink, the better the coverage. Plus it’s usually free and we’re saving it from going to the landfill. When we have to buy new stuff, it’s usually Van Son due to ease of ordering with our local supplier.

SOLVENT OF CHOICE

Don’t tell anyone, I order California Type Wash. It’s an older solvent, that’s probably not as good for the environment as some of the newer stuff but it’s by far the best i’ve ever used. It cleans quick, dries fast, and will take 100 years of ink off in only a few wipes. I like to challenge myself when cleaning up the Vandercook to do it only using one or 2 rags at the most.

BASE SYSTEM

For most jobs I need plates for, I use the Boxcar Base and polymer plates. My base is beat up, but it still does the trick. To be honest, I hate printing with polymer plates. It’s been my experience that the ink does not carry well, and they can be finicky at times with the amount of ink on the roller and the roller height. Since we go in between hand-set type and plates, it is challenging at times for make-ready.

OIL OF CHOICE  

You’re supposed to oil these things? Honestly, I just use the same oil I use for my race car. If it’s good enough to run at 6000 RPM for an hour in a race car it’s good enough for a press.

PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG

I’m cheap… I use Scotts Rags in a box… but only the ones from small mom and pops hardware stores, because they are different from the ones at Home Depot.

PIED TYPE

I just recycled a 91 lb. bucket of pied worn out old metal type. However, there’s still standing forms from shops we cleaned out years ago. Some of the type from those shops may have been sold or dumped at this point but the standing forms are still in our galley storage. There are also 5 drawers of miscellaneous wood type hiding in the shop. I need a few more hours in the day to handle pied type.

ORGANIZATION SECRET

I guess the only secret I have is a Sharpie. I have a pretty photographic memory for where my type is, what it is, and to where that random Cap L needs to go.  When I take something out to use, I write in Sharpie the cabinet and drawer number on the back of it. Other than that, as long as I put it away I know right where it is. When I don’t,  well let’s just say I swear a lot until I find it.

SHOP TIPS

Things I wish I knew from day one: How to price my work for lines of type setting, vs pricing a computer-aided design. And pricing for press time vs make-ready time vs finishing time. That probably needs to evolve for each person. As a one man shop, it’s tough to figure all that out. If anyone has a magic button for that, let me know.

Tony Zanni Type High Letterpress IMG 4
Tony Zanni Type High Letterpress IMG 1


2018 Holiday Letterpress Gift Guide

We count down the top 18 gift ideas in our 2018 Holiday Letterpress Gift Guide for that special printer on your list. Featuring calendars, prints, and type-themed goodies that are sure to please!  Let us know what’s on your wishlist in the comments section below!

Holiday Gift Guide 2018

1.  Flurry Paper from Boxcar Press.  | 2. The Vandercook 100 book by JustVandy   | 3.  PANTONE holiday ornament by PANTONE.   | 4. RGB & CMYK & PANTONE sticker by gschroeds.  | 5. Letterpress Metal Type 110 piece puzzle by alicing.  | 6. Hamilton Wood Type Water Bottle from Hamilton Wood Type.

Holiday Gift Guide 2018

7.  Letterpress type Serving Tray by forrest.   8. Live Love Letterpress mug by OddMatter .  | 9. Letterpress Metal Type Composing Stick Enamel Pin  by ThePaperCarnival.  | 10.  2019 Fundraising Calendar from Green Pea Press. 11. 2019 Letterpress Calendar by HighwayPress.  | 12. Heidelberg Windmill Press t-shirt by Boxcar Press.

Holiday Gift Guide 2018

13. Hamilton Wood Type Blue Pullover Hoodie from Hamilton Wood Type. | 14. Daredevil furniture from Springtide Press.  |  15. Gallery Magnets from Springtide Press.  |  16. Printing Digital Type on the hand-operated flatbed cylinder by Gerard Lang |   17. Letterpress Paper Turtle Sculpture Kit by Questionable Press.

20th Anniversary Boxcar Press printing apron - Boxcar Press - Holiday Gift Guide 2018

18.  Boxcar Press Printing Apron by Boxcar Press.

All In The Printing Family With Two Tone Press

Thirteen years ago, printer and illustrator Michelle Dreher began the roots of Two Tone Press in Kansas City, Missouri. Joining forces with her sister, Angie, who helms the business side, brought exciting changes. It catapulted the growing letterpress print shop into a well-run machine full of creativity, fun & eye-catching prints and cards. They branched out with their blossoming printmaking community workshop. Michelle recounts the adventures of buying a building, expanding her studio for her sky-high printing visions, and what’s just around the bend.

EAST OR WEST, LETTERPRESS IS BEST

I grew up in a military family, so we moved around a lot. We lived in Germany and South Korea for several years before ending up back in the US. I later came to Kansas City to attend the Kansas City Art Institute and loved the city so much I never left.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

FALLING FOR THE PRECISION OF LETTERPRESS

At the Kansas City Art Institute, my degree was in illustration, but I spent a couple semesters in printmaking. While there, an interim instructor introduced me to the Vandercook. I immediately fell in love with its hairline precision and registration which made multi-color relief printing so easy.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

I started Two Tone Press in 2005 in a super-drafty warehouse loft on the top floor of an industrial brick building. I was later joined by my sister Angie in 2011 after buying a building in a soon-to-be up & coming neighborhood. She has a business background paired with a love for art and helped whip this place into shape. Together we built our own studio with a modest storefront and lots of open space and high ceilings. It’s been a long eight-year renovation journey but the studio is finally taking the shape of our initial vision.

KANSAS CITY COOL

When I purchased our building, there really wasn’t much going on around us. It has since started to flourish with other creative-minded folks who have banded together to build our own unique neighborhood.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

We even named our new area TowerEast District based on the very orange and prominent tv tower right next to us. It’s been interesting being a part of something new.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

PRINTING MENTORS

My passion lies in creating colorful relief block prints so I draw inspiration from my peers in the field. Our favorite shops are The Firecracker Press in St. Louis, MO and Tugboat Printshop in Pittsburgh, PA.

FULL TIME FUN

Two Tone Press is where I spend most of my time, but I do love to teach. I have been a part-time studio art instructor at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for over 10 years. And just last year in 2017, my sister and I along with another colleague, Ani Volkan, started our own community printshop called Print League KC. It shares the same studio space as Two Tone Press. In addition to letterpress, Print League KC offers workshops of other print processes such as etching, lithography, and silkscreen.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

THE CREATIVE FLOW

At our studio, we create everything from custom wedding invitations to business cards. When there’s “free” time, we create our own line of colorful poster prints and cards. Due to my illustration background, I tend to incorporate hand-carved block images where I can.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

PRINTING FEATS

With the immense support of my family, buying my own building to create our unique studio was a huge accomplishment. And later, being able to give back by starting a community printshop felt really good. I enjoy sharing my passion for printmaking with others.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

PRESS HISTORY

I gained a lot of experience working at another local print shop, Hammerpress, for several years after I graduated college. Then in 2004, Brady Vest, the owner of Hammerpress, offered to sell me a Vandercook No. 3 for $400. I jumped at the opportunity.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

It was a clunky machine that had no motor and a funny little hand crank to distribute the ink. Once I started my own studio, I later traded it for an SP15 from Indianapolis which is still my favorite press to this day.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE

We started by using metal-backed polymer plates that we spray-mounted to MDF boards. This made precision printing challenging because the boards were never perfectly flat. Then in 2013, my sister recommended we finally invest in a Boxcar Base so we bought the biggest one that would fit on our Vandercook, a 19×13.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

I can’t even express how much it changed our whole world by making setup so much faster and easier. The grid marks were totally worth it. I’ve never regretted the purchase for even a second and can’t believe I didn’t invest in one sooner.

PRINTING TIPS

Here is one of our useful letterpress printing techniques. We like using a sheet of mylar on top of the tympan sheets around the cylinder to keep a clean surface and then we also like to use removable sticker paper on it to bump up certain areas of the print.

WHAT’S NEXT

We look forward to expanding our store to offer print work from all over the world. We also recently bought the building next door which now has a gallery space on the second floor. We’re excited to put together interesting exhibits that will include letterpress and other print work.

Making the Leap Into Letterpress: Lauren Rolph

 

Newly fledged full-time architect-turned printer, Lauren Ralph of Helen Edna letterpress shares with us her printing journey so far. From being inspired by the vivid color palettes of Van Gogh and Kandinsky to taking up printing lessons at the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA, Lauren’s bright and clean designs reflect her dedication to the printing tradition.

TACTILE ARTIST

I began my career as an architect. Shortly thereafter, I came to the realization I missed working with my hands. The summer of 2018, I embarked on a new journey and opened my letterpress stationery studio, Helen Edna.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

I took printing lessons at the International Printing Museum in Carson. My favorite part was learning the printing process and being able to print my hand-drawn designs and turning them into cards. As a result of the printing lessons, I bought a Golding Pearl. Next, I made the leap to start Helen Edna!

LOVE AT FIRST PRINT

Letterpress cards in boutiques are something that I have admired. Being able to design and print my own cards for people to enjoy is something that brings me great joy. 

Lauren Rolph letterpress

CALIFORNIA COOL

I live a really neat area in California that is close to just about everything. My house is near the Headlands Conservation Area, Dana Point Harbor … and next to Strands Beach in Dana Point.

All the design work and order fulfillment takes place at my home in Dana Point. While all the printing happens at my husband’s grandmother’s home (which is nearby).

PRINTING MENTORS

One of my printing mentors would be Mark Barbor, the International Printing Museum Director. Not only did he give my husband and I a printing lesson at the museum. Even more, he has been helpful in getting me started. In addition to Mark as a printing mentor, artists such as Van Gogh and Kandinsky are inspirational.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

FULL TIME FUN

Over the last several months, I have been printing full-time. It is a true pleasure in seeing my designs come to life!

CREATIVE PROCESS

How does the creative process begin? First, I begin drawing thumbnail sketches in pen and ink. Next, I take a photo of the design is uploaded in Adobe Draw. From here, I use the Apple Pencil to create the illustration. After this, I export the drawing into Adobe Illustrator and adjust the Pantone colors. Finally, I prepare the design file to send to Boxcar Press. The design file includes adding registration for the designs that are full-bleed.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

PRINTING FEATS

One of my biggest printing feats is opening Helen Edna. Opening this store is something I have dreamed about for years. 

FIRST PRESS

A Golding Improved Pearl No. 11, which I bought from the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA.

BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE

Boxcar Press’ customer service is impressive. They have a really fast turnaround, are always very polite, and willing to help with any questions you may have.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

PRINTING TIPS

I have three pieces of printing tips. My first, If you are looking to save time … for card designs that are not a full bleed (and have a good margin around the design) I order precut and folded A2 Crane Lettra, from Astro.

My second tip, to achieve the perfect registration try overlaying your design with the printed design on vellum.

The final printing tip, if you are looking for Pantone ink colors to be spot on, and able to apply directly from the tube onto the disk, check out Southern Ink.

WHAT’S NEXT

I’m hoping to exhibit at the National Stationery Show for the first time! I also plan on doing more craft fairs and continue to play with designs for my line.

Immensely large round of thanks + appreciation out to Lauren of Helen Edna!

Let’s See That Printed: Isle of Dogs by AJ Masthay

As soon as AJ Masthay’s “Isle of Dogs” print passed through our platemaking department, we had to know more. Discover as we catch up with AJ of Masthay Studio, and this sneak peek. Find out what is the inspiration for this ultra-detailed piece… and where can you enjoy this piece.

The piece was created for an upcoming Isle of Dogs group exhibition hosted by SpokeArt NYC at the Parasol Project, 213 Bowery, NYC. From their Facebook event page:

“Spoke Art is pleased to present the Isle of Dogs Art Show. This is an officially licensed art exhibition tribute to Wes Anderson’s most recent film. The dynamic group show features over one hundred artists, painters, sculptors and print makers, debuting one weekend only in New York City’s Lower East Side.

Isle of Dogs Wes Anderson AJ Masthay letterpress print

Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson’s most recent project, is a stop-motion animated film set in a Japanese dystopian future. The story follows a boy’s journey to find his dog after the species is banished to an island following the outbreak of canine flu. Inspired by the adventurous tale that Anderson brought forth, a select group of artists have created character portraits and highly detailed environments and scenes inspired by Isle of Dogs. Featuring a diverse array of painting, sculpture and limited edition prints, each artist offers their own unique perspective and interpretation of the Wes Anderson film. This whimsical and canine filled pop-up exhibition is an absolute must see.

About the Piece

I personally love the quirky works of Wes Anderson and am a huge dog lover. I have two very spoiled Labrador Retrievers Dexter & Halley. When asked to participate in this exhibition I immediately said YES!

My piece features the main characters from the film, both human and canine. As well as, the scene in which they debate whether to attack. Spoiler alert – they realize he has come searching for his own dog “Spots” and decide to help him in his quest. 

Isle of Dogs Wes Anderson AJ Masthay letterpress print

The print is a reproduction of a detailed graphite drawing utilizing a Boxcar Press’ photopolymer plate with a 133 LPI halftone screen applied. We’ve found that once dialed in on our Vandercook Universal III, these halftone plates reproduce tonal drawings beautifully. They come very close to the detail typically found in lithographs.

To mimic the graphite work we do the following steps. First, we mix a fairly stiff, dark gray ink with a touch of brown to warm it up a bit. Next, we use a paper that is soft and supple, such as Arches 88. Finally, we finish the piece with a hint of hand-applied color in the pilot’s eyes. As a result, this slight variation adds a personal touch of individuality. The hand coloring piece complements the printing perfectly.

Isle of Dogs Wes Anderson AJ Masthay letterpress print

The Final Edition size is 100 signed, numbered and titled, 15”x20” on Arches 88. Prints are available to purchase at the event. Remaining prints will be made available online following the event, through SpokeArt.

The Isle of Dogs Art Show group art exhibit is running from November 9th, 2018 – November 11th, 2018. For more details, check out their Facebook page here.