Printing Ace: A Look at Albertine Press

Shelley Barandes, the printer behind Albertine Press, is inspired by architecture and fine custom letterpress printing. It’s no surprise as both trades support the meticulous nature of crafting complex and carefully devised works through attentive planning and design. And like architecture’s founding core values: beauty, durability, and utility—Shelley’s letterpress printing has it in aces.Beautiful popping color on Albertine Press cards

THINK INK Professionally, I am a trained printmaker who spent five years post college working in architecture in Paris and New York before coming back to printmaking, and then letterpress, where I stayed for the past nine years. I’m also a mom to two apprentice printers (4-year-old and 9-month-old girls), both of whom have grown up in the studio. I take the little one with me every day to the studio where she serves as mascot and favorite distraction.

Letterpress pieces from Albertine Press and Shelley Barandes

FIT TO PRINT I have a printmaking background but was turned on to the Center for Book Arts in New York City where I took my first class in hand typesetting. That was the beginning of the end of my architecture career as I started printing more and more, taking on custom jobs and started Albertine Press.

BEAUTY IN THE BAY STATE Our studio is located in an industrial building in Somerville, Massachusetts which also houses two (yes, two) chocolate companies. Our neighbors down the hall (EH Chocolatier) routinely bring us over trays (yes, trays) of “mistakes” which we happily consume.

THE PRINTING PROCESS I design our wholesale line of greeting cards and note sets as well as much of our custom printing. Drawing from my architecture background, many of our designs feature cityscapes, which I’m particularly drawn towards. For a new city sketch I’ll do a lot of research to pinpoint iconic scenes, buildings and elements of a particular place and start sketching from there. My style of line drawing translates well to letterpress, so aside from cleaning up the images a bit, they’re ready to use for printing.

Albertine Press and Shelley Barandes' Kesley press and printing helpers

FULL TIME FUN The studio is a full time business, which was always the goal. In addition to me (and I’m behind the desk more often than behind the press these days) Albertine Press has four full time production folks who oversee the custom printing and the greeting card line, as well as two interns.

PRINTING FEATS I’m proud that our work has been recognized both locally and nationally in the press as well as for some awards. I’m also really excited to see that several of my former interns and employees have gone on to start letterpress companies of their own.

PRESS HISTORY A Kelsey 5″x8″ that I found at a flea market. The Vandercook arrived not too long thereafter so it was really just used for letterpress classes. I’m waiting for my daughter to be old enough to start using it.

Detailed letterpress pieces of Albertine Press

BOXCAR’S ROLE All of our plates are Boxcar plates and I have printed exclusively with the Boxcar base / plate system from the beginning. The fast turnaround and super customer service and attention to detail have made it a real joy to have Boxcar as our partner. At times I look at the volume of plates we create and think about getting a platemaker, but then I think about how well you guys do it and I am just so happy to let you do what you do best, and you really do.

WHAT’S NEXT I could fill a book with my future plans, many of which I have to put on hold while I juggle the business and the girls. That said, I’m excited about the new designs planned for release in the new year – more city sketches, of course, but also some more organic designs, like fruits and vegetables.

Big round of thanks out to Shelley for letting us take a sneak peek around Albertine Press!

Boxcar Ventures Out

It’s always a happy experience when we meet our customers at shows and conferences. However, we get particularly excited when we can come to your place and meet you in your creative space!

Recently during winter travels, I was able to visit two customers in the Boston area. It meant navigating the Boston subway and bus system but it was such a kick to visit and get a tour from women printers and entrepreneurs, Smudge Ink and Albertine Press.

Shelley Barandes of Albertine Press is in Somerville, Massachusetts in a warehouse that also houses not one, but two chocolate companies.   That is the aroma you smell when you follow the signs that direct you to her space.  She has a large, open studio with plenty of natural light for printing and finishing.

I admired her Vandercook where her printer Matt was working and her Heidelberg windmill, not to mention seeing a pilot, a cutter and some tabletops.  On occasion, Shelley will teach a class to spread the love of letterpress, but not as often now that she has a pre-school daughter.  Shelley is busy!

A bus and another warehouse later, I was able to a have nice visit and tour with Deb Bastien and Kate Saliba of Smudge Ink.   They are in Charlestown, Massachusetts along the waterfront.  What amazed me was the quantity and variety of presses our customers have.  I lost count of presses at Smudge after five. Smudge Ink actually has a long history tied with Boxcar Press and we feel like we’ve grown in this business with them. 

They have a nice blend of letterpress with offset and everything was printed in gorgeous, vibrant colors (you should see their shelves!).  Everyone was hard at work while I was there and yes, I took note of their polymer plate recycling box.

While my visits were brief, it was special to see these talented ladies and where they find their creative energy. I was impressed above all at how they have built their businesses and thrive. And I especially appreciated their warm welcomes on short notice.  Our Boxcar doors are always open should you ever want to reciprocate and drop in here!

Boxcar Talk with Albertine Press

Once upon a time, Shelley Barandes was working as an architect, but her love for paper couldn’t keep her away from being devoted to letterpress. Albertine Press started out as a simple custom design and print studio and has bloomed to include a vast collection of fine stationery. Located in Somerville, Massachusetts, their work can be seen in more than twenty states nationwide and Canada, and counting.


{Photo by Melissa Coe.}

How did you first get into letterpress?
I studied printmaking in college (while an architecture major) and came back to it after several years working at architecture firms. When I moved back to New York, I was turned on to the Center for Book Arts by a friend. That, as they say, was the beginning of the end.

What was your very first press?
I learned on a Vandercook SP15 and a Craftsman 8×12 platen press (neither owned by me). I bought two tabletops before finding my very own Vandercook #4 and a C&P 10×15, both of which we use nearly every day.


{Photo by Melissa Coe.}

What medium do you usually print (lead/wood type, photopolymer, lino, etc.)?
Primarily polymer plates, but we have a small collection of lead and wood type that we break out for special projects as well as the occasional workshops.

What’s your process from sketch to press?
Pretty much exactly that. I always have a Moleskine with me (I prefer the gridded style) for notes and sketches. I move on to nicer papers or tracing papers to clean up drawings before scanning them in. Final drawing touch-ups and most typography happens on the Mac, along with all color separations.


{Photo by Albertine Press.}

What other print shops do you admire?
The commercial work done by Studio on Fire is pretty mind-blowing. I wish I had the time and resources to experiment with all of the techniques they use. I also really love the peaceful simplicity of Rebecca’s designs for Moontree Letterpress in Brooklyn. Firefly Press here in Boston does exclusively hand-set and linotype projects and their work is impeccable.


{Photo by Melissa Coe.}

Who or what inspires you the most?
I find inspiration everywhere – patterns I see in the sidewalk, in architecture, in fashion; ideas sparked by my wedding clients as they describe their perfect event; fallen pinecones and flowers in neighborhood gardens; drawing on command for my 18 month old daughter.

What are your favorite things/items from Boxcar Press?
Besides the base/plate system? The apron, definitely. And also the super-cute baby-tees. I have a Boxcar Baby myself (now a Boxcar toddler) and had bought her a shirt before she was even a twinkle in her daddy’s eye.


{Photo by Melissa Coe.}

Any neat tricks you can share?
I can juggle, sort of. But you probably want printing tricks. We come up with all kinds of tricks to achieve certain effects, or use up seemingly unusable scraps of paper. It’s more about finding creative solutions to your every day problems. I don’t think we ever do the same things twice because each job we run has its own quirks.

What are you looking forward to?
As exhausting as they are, I look forward to our winter craft fairs and open houses. I love getting a chance to meet directly with our customers and see how they respond to our work, new and old.

What was the experience like for you at NSS this year?
NSS was great. It was our fifth year exhibiting and it seems that every year just keeps getting better. We finally hit upon a booth design that really speaks to us and for us and I can’t wait to use it again!!!


{Photo by Nole Garey.}

Do you have any suggestions for people hoping to exhibit next year or how to promote their new product lines?
Focus on what you absolutely love to create and start with a small, cohesive, well-designed collection. Better a few things that everyone will love than getting overwhelmed trying to manage 200 designs and not have a clear sense of yourself or your brand. You can always add more later.

How was NYIGF for your first time?
This summer was our first NYIGF and we couldn’t have been happier with our reception. It was nice to be exposed to a new, completely different audience. We can’t wait to go back next year!


{Photo by Albertine Press.}

For more from Albertine Press, stop by their Etsy store and visit their blog to keep up with the current doings. If you are in the Boston area, they also offer great classes. Thanks, Shelley!