Keeping Creative in California with Alissa Bell

Armed with a Chandler & Price 12×18, Alissa Bell flexes her creative muscles by balancing both business sense and creative aspirations. The cheery, go get-em gal has been in love with letterpress since she took her first class at the San Francisco Center for the Book, and has flourished as the Artist in Residence at the Kit and Ace Pasadena store, an iconic staple of creativity in Los Angeles. We caught up with Alissa between ink runs to catch up on her beautiful letterpress greeting card line and how her children are growing up with letterpress all around them.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

CREATING BALANCE WITH LETTERPRESS I run a letterpress and design studio in Los Angeles with two girls, Hanna and Audra, and my dog Henry. Before I got into letterpress, I worked in public accounting for 4 years. I’m naturally a classic, type A person, but also love exercising my creativity. Creating my business gave me a perfect balance of both.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT I first took a class in San Francisco at The Center for the Book. That’s where I got hooked.

LIVE IN CALIFORNIA Currently we are the Artist in Residence at the Kit and Ace Pasadena store. It’s definitely a unique opportunity to be doing our thing inside the shop while people browse the clothing and wander the neighborhood. My favorite thing about the space is that, compared to any of our previous locations, it’s the shiniest. Also, for this season, we are able to give people access to watch letterpress live, which is rare.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

THE DESIGNER & THE PRINTER We do a little bit of both. I’m lucky to have a nice balance in our work that allows us to both flex our creative muscles, as well as execute another business or designer’s vision. I have been running the business for four years, three of which were full time.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS Giving my brain clear space to create is most important. So, cleaning my home or studio are musts, and sometimes getting out of my normal environment, either a coffee shop, or lately, RVCC in Downtown LA. The actual inception of an idea comes differently for me each time. Sometimes I have to just put a lot of things down on a page and see what I can pull from. Other times I’ll have a quick flash of an idea, in the shower or wherever, which are the easiest to materialize.

PRINTING FEATS I’m proud of my team. I’m proud that we’re working in Kit and Ace. I’m also excited we have grown, and are able to make creating our own collections of greeting cards a priority.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

PRESS HISTORY A Chandler and Price, 12” x 18” was my first and my last.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has been an amazing resource since the beginning. Even when I didn’t know what I was doing, Rebecca sat with me on the phone and talked me through what kind of base I would need and what kind of plates to order. Since then, I’ve used them for all of my plates. They always catch my errors, show me grace in the ordering process, and present a great product. I love them.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

SHOP TIPS This may not be new to many people, but this year we got to experiment with ombré ink on a platen press. We were able to tie back the part of the press that rotates the ink disc so the color was applied unevenly, allowing us to create both color ombré and a black and white gradient.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

WHAT’S NEXT For the next year, we’re working on finding a new location after our residency at Kit and Ace, focusing on continuing to teach Hanna how to print, and having a good time. Last year we launched our ready to order stationery collection, and in 2016 we hope to build our collection of ready to order wedding invitations on our site.

A huge appreciative round of applause (and thanks!) out to Alissa for letting us get a glimpse of her wonderful printing world out in sunny California!

Learning Letters with The Alphabet Press

Like letterpress, the city of Selengor in Malaysia sits on the crossroads of both traditional techniques and revolutionary technology. The country also is home to Zeejay Wong of The Alphabet Press, a custom letterpress print shop that offers unique letterpress stationery featuring bold colors and bright imagery in the form of endangered Malaysian animals and favorite food delicacies of the country. We caught up with Zeejay to see how the letterpress journey started with an across-the-globe trip to Melbourne, Australia and resulted in a thirst to make print come alive again in Malaysia.

We follow the beautifully crafted designs of The Alphabet Press, a Malaysia-based letterpress print company that features the type-loving Zeejay Wong and his team of letterpress aficionados.

HANDMADE CREATIONS I was trained as a web designer and it was my profession for eight years before I got into letterpress printing. Shifting from high speed digital works to something that seems to be technologically backward; it was truly a transition. I am now a full-time printmaker at The Alphabet Press and I enjoy creating products that are made by my own hands.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Three years ago, we were a web design company who set out to look for something special for our business cards. We believe that the first impression is very important. I have been looking for printing technique such as letterpress in Malaysia, but we lacked the knowledge and resources. We decided to fly all the way to Melbourne to learn the craft itself from Carolyn from Idlewild Press. Since then, intrigued is an understatement to how I am at awe of the attention to detail that goes into letterpress printing.

We follow the beautifully crafted designs of The Alphabet Press, a Malaysia-based letterpress print company that features the type-loving Zeejay Wong and his team of letterpress aficionados.

MARVELOUS MALAYSIA I co-founded The Alphabet Press with 3 of my fellow partners. We rented a small shop in Selangor which is the second busiest town in Malaysia. Compared to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, Selangor is less busy a town with good neighborhood. Everything is easily accessible. Our shop is located in a small town in Selangor surrounded by suburban neighborhood, which fits the nature of our business and choice of lifestyle a lot.

We follow the beautifully crafted designs of The Alphabet Press, a Malaysia-based letterpress print company that features the type-loving Zeejay Wong and his team of letterpress aficionados.

DESIGNED FOR PRINT I am both a designer and a printer. I graduated from Multimedia courses in a local university, and I was trained to do everything that design entails from graphic to video to 3D modeling, web design, and more. But now, I have found my niche, which is letterpress printing.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS Malaysia is a big pot of culture. The vibrant nature of our nation that makes up from different races, cultural, food, and architecture really inspires me. I like to observe the little things that happen around me. Before I start doing any design, I will walk around in the town to get myself some fresh air and let the surrounding inspire me. And hopefully, I can find something that interests me and make it into a design subject. There are too many things to learn in Malaysia and the only thing that worries me is that I do not have enough time and resources to make it into something tangible. I usually don’t see this as just design but the documentation of our culture.

We follow the beautifully crafted designs of The Alphabet Press, a Malaysia-based letterpress print company that features the type-loving Zeejay Wong and his team of letterpress aficionados.

FULL TIME FUN Yes, I have been a full-time printmaker for two years, since we started The Alphabet Press.

PRINTING FEATS We finally released a series of social cards, notecards, and notebooks featuring the endangered animals in Malaysia and favourite foods of Malaysians. We launched the debut at Kinokuniya Book Store in Malaysia and to us, it’s more than just a product launch. We did a letterpress demonstration as well to educate people about the old craft of letterpress with the lead types we salvaged from the old printing shops around Malaysia.

We follow the beautifully crafted designs of The Alphabet Press, a Malaysia-based letterpress print company that features the type-loving Zeejay Wong and his team of letterpress aficionados.

BOXCAR PRESS We’re loyal supporters of Boxcar Press! There aren’t many resources for letterpress in Malaysia, and Boxcar Press has truly been our lifesaver. We started The Alphabet Press by purchasing most of the important tools from Boxcar Press. It’s not an exaggerated statement to say, without Boxcar Press, it would be pain in the arse to start a letterpress studio here. Oh, and the videos are particularly helpful for a beginner to start to learn how to use their Heidelberg platen press.

PRESS HISTORY A 1969 Heidelberg Platen Press (Windmill). We acquired this press from an old veteran printer. At first, he was quite reluctant to let it go. It took me 2 months to convince him to sell the press to me and promise that I will take care of it. Since then, we became good friends and he is also a good mentor of mine.

We follow the beautifully crafted designs of The Alphabet Press, a Malaysia-based letterpress print company that features the type-loving Zeejay Wong and his team of letterpress aficionados.

SHOP TIPS Paper is expensive for us, especially when we import most of our papers. We used to have a big margin on our printing. Now, we have reduced it to just 14mm (0.551 inches) for top and bottom and 10mm (0.393 inches) for left and right of the paper. We usually stick the plate to the very edge of our aluminum base and use a gauge for my print jobs most of the time as I require a perfect registration. Besides, I will always have rosin powder around me to fix the most irritating problem – the ghosting when I print a large blotch of colors. Apply a little bit on the roller track and it can solve most of the problems.

We follow the beautifully crafted designs of The Alphabet Press, a Malaysia-based letterpress print company that features the type-loving Zeejay Wong and his team of letterpress aficionados.

WHAT’S NEXT We will be focusing on our bespoke services. People love their wedding and business stationery printed with letterpress. Besides that, we will keep on participating in local art festivals to promote the craft of letterpress to the people in Malaysia. We want to make print alive again in our community and to upkeep the traditional printing skill that would otherwise become obsolete in the fast-moving world of technology.

Huge round of thanks out to Zeejay Wong of The Alphabet Press for letting us catch a glimpse into his vibrant printing world!

New North Press Pushes Printing Boundaries

Richard Ardagh of New North Press pushes printing boundaries by uniting technology and old-world printing traditions. The UK-based letterpress printer melds his traditional printing background, his reverence for type (and boy does New North Press have a few fonts… 700+(!) typefaces), and his love for technology. We caught up with Richard about how working with the 3-D printed typeface A23D (a first of its kind) continues to inspire him on a daily basis.

Richard Ardagh of New North Press pushes printing boundaries by uniting technology and old-world printing traditions.

LETTERPRESS IN LONDON My name is Richard Ardagh, I’m a partner of New North Press letterpress studio in London, UK. I studied graphic design at Central St. Martins and that’s where I was first got a flavour for letterpress. A few years after graduating, around 2008, I met Graham Bignell (who had founded NNP in 1986) and we began working together producing posters. In 2010, with the help of Beatrice Bless, we held an exhibition called Reverting to Type, showcasing contemporary letterpress from all over the world. New North Press is now run as a partnership, focusing on keeping the craft alive through teaching, working on commissions, and producing our own work.

Richard Ardagh of New North Press pushes printing boundaries by uniting technology and old-world printing traditions.

SHOP STORIES The building we’re in is an old shoe factory on a cobbled street in Hoxton, a previously industrial and now increasingly gentrified area of East London. The press shop is full to the rafters of type treasure. I love seeing people’s expressions when they visit for the first time. We have over 700 wood and metal fonts and three large cast iron hand-pull presses – two Albions and a Columbian – plus two proofing presses and an Adana.

Richard Ardagh of New North Press pushes printing boundaries by uniting technology and old-world printing traditions.

PRINTING MENTORS Beatrice and I are hugely fortunate to benefit from Graham’s 30 years of experience and enthusiasm.

DESIGNED FOR PRINT We set type by hand, so design is an integral part of what we do. We’re lucky to have clients who appreciate that and want to work with us because of it. It’s also an important part of our teaching to help people understand how to best communicate their intended message.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS Personally I start with a pencil and paper, getting ideas down and thinking through how to order the information. I prefer to start with a fairly clear vision, but have learnt to accept and work with the quirks of the process.

PRINTING FEATS In 2015 I ran a project to produce a 3D-printed letterpress font, with the idea of making a prototype that connected the newest and oldest forms of print technology. Thanks to an Arts Council grant I was able to commission the best people I could think of to work with: A2-Type to design the font and Chalk studios to fabricate it. The result, called A23D, is a font like no other; a wireframe design with each character made up of 0.3mm lines giving them a 3-dimensional appearance similar to an architectural plan. I’m very proud of it and hope it inspires the next generation to keep evolving what letterpress is and can be.

PRESS HISTORY Graham’s first press was the Albion and this was the press I learnt on too.

Richard Ardagh of New North Press pushes printing boundaries by uniting technology and old-world printing traditions.

PRINTING TIPS Pressmanship is a complex art, I seem to learn something on each job I print.  There are a million little tricks with hand-presses, ways of using the tympan for makeready and masking using the frisket.

WHAT’S NEXT We’ve been invited to be part of some exciting projects and also hope to attend the International Letterpress Workers Summit in Milan again.

A huge round of thanks to Richard of New North Press for letting us catch up with the delights of his printing abode.

Printing In the Mitten: an interview with Lynne Avadenka

Following the hum and surge of industrial buzz that abounds in Detroit, Lynne Avadenka uses letterpress printing to create distinctive mixed media works in the forms of prints, artist’s books, and personal art. Coming from a printing background that boasts over 35 years of passion, printing curiosity, and a love for type, Lynne re-crafts the components of being a power printer in today’s market by combining these sought-after traits and being able to share the joys of printing by pioneering Signal-Return — a community based print shop. We caught up with Lynne between print runs to get the scoop on how life with letterpress keeps one’s heart skipping a beat.

Lynne Avadenka of Detroit, Michigan and of Signal-Return Press.

FALLING FOR LETTERPRESS I have lived in the Detroit area all my life and I studied art and printmaking at Wayne State University. I’ve always loved letterforms, books and prints, I’ve worked as a professional calligrapher, and I fell in love with letterpress printing while in graduate school.

DETROIT INK When I graduated with an MFA in 1981 there was very little communal printmaking activity in Detroit, so I set up my own studio/print shop. I now have an SP-15, but began printing on a small platen press, moved up to a Vandercook #4, and then traded that for the SP-15 around 20 years ago. I also have an etching press. I love the fact that my studio is steps away from the rest of my house and that I can go to work in my pajamas.

A look inside Signal-Return Press in Detroit Michigan

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT When I was in graduate school, Susan Kae Grant came to teach photography at Wayne State University. She learned letterpress and book arts at University of Madison-Wisconsin and wanted to share it with Wayne students, so she set up a shop (one Vandercook #4 and some type) in the basement of the Fine Arts Building. I took her class and everything I loved ‐ books, letterforms, making multiples, and hand printing ‐ all came together.

Letterpress work samples from Lynne Avadenka of Signal-Return Press.

left: Gone I, 2014, letterpress from wood type and photopolymer, powdered graphite
right: Gone III, 2014, letterpress from wood type and photopolymer, powdered graphite

I was in graduate school before there were degrees in book arts and printing, so I learned by printing on my own, reading as much as I could, and taking workshops (thank you Center for Book Arts New York).

DESIGNED TO PRINT I am artist/printer. I use my press to create limited edition books and prints, but I also consider it a crucial art-making tool to create unique mixed media works.

Letterpress work samples from Lynne Avadenka of Signal-Return Press.The Solutions to Brian’s Problem, 2011 (written by Bonnie Jo Campbell), pochoir, letterpress from photopolymer, wood veneer

PRINTING FEATS My limited edition books and prints have been acquired by institutions all over the world: The Library of Congress, The Meermano Museum, in the Netherlands, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, The Detroit Institute of Arts, The Biblioteck zu Berlin, The New York Public Library, The British Library, The Jewish Museum NY and numerous university special collections libraries.

For the last three years I have served as Artistic Director of Signal-Return, a community letterpress studio in Detroit. I am one of a talented team of four sharing the beauty of letterpress printing with a wide community of artists and arts enthusiasts across the Detroit area.

Letterpress work samples from Lynne Avadenka of Signal-Return Press.
The Solutions to Brian’s Problem, 2011 (written by Bonnie Jo Campbell), pochoir, letterpress from photopolymer, wood veneer

BOXCAR’S ROLE I started using Boxcar plates on a particular limited edition project, the first in a series of works devoted to contemporary Israeli writers. I didn’t have enough Hebrew type in metal to produce the edition, so I designed the book pages using a digital design program and then had Boxcar make plates from my files. I can’t remember who first recommended Boxcar Press, but after trying several other companies, I have been using Boxcar Press exclusively for years now for both text and image photopolymer plates.

A look inside the Signal-Return Press shop.

PRESS HISTORY My first press was a small Chandler Price platen press with an 8 x 10 chase.

SHOP TIPS Years ago an excellent Detroit letterpress printer, Leonard Bahr, shared an invaluable trick with me — and although the better-trained letterpress printers might frown at this, I’ve found it to be invaluable. If you want to set type in an asymmetric shape, or “sprinkle” type on the bed, roll up snake like coils from oil based modeling clay and form them around the type to hold it in place on the press bed.

Letterpress work samples from Lynne Avadenka of Signal-Return Press. Letterpress work samples from Lynne Avadenka of Signal-Return Press.top: Lamentations 2009, (Chapter 5), woodcut, pochoir, letterpress from photopolymer
bottom: Lamentations, 2009,(title page) letterpress from photopolymer

WHAT’S NEXT I intend to make some real progress on limited edition projects that have been languishing: one is a tribute to the Dutch letterpress printer/artist H. N. Werkman, and the other is a book project based on a prominent contemporary writer’s story written and published totally on Twitter.

An immensely large round of applause out to Lynne for letting us get a look inside her wonderful printing world!

Printing Inclinations With Jennie Putvin of Nane Press

Part-time printing doesn’t have to mean small design. Big-hearted printer Jennie Putvin of Nane Press excels at breaking the mold as a side-business letterpress printer. The tactically inclined and design-centric Jennie has been printing up a storm in her unique studio that gleans its creative current from surrounding artists within the building and from the fact that her studio is part of a refurbished church. We caught up with her between late night print runs to check out how beautiful the perfect balance of makeready can be to the thrill of holding the final finished custom letterpress piece.

Jennie Putvin of Nane Press works expertly on her Vandercook printing press.

photograph courtesy of Eliza Gwendalyn

A LOVE FOR PRINTING At my day job I’m a graphic designer, but at heart I’m a craftsperson. Letterpress printing is a great marriage between the two; making something wonderfully tactile with your own two hands gives you a sense of satisfaction you just can’t get sitting in front of a computer.

Letterpress work samples from Jennie Putvin of Nane Press

HOME IS WHERE THE PRESS IS My studio is in a refurbished church with gorgeous original details and kooky additions. While I’m the only printer in the space, other artists of different disciplines are always working and creating. Feeding off the creative energy in the environment is definitely something that keeps me going.

A peek inside the Nane Press letterpress print shop

NATURAL BORN PRINTER I took printmaking classes in college, and as a designer, I’ve always been interested in type and book design. So it sort of came as a natural progression to take my first letterpress printing class at the Center for Book Arts in New York City. It was also great to be able to rent studio time in their facilities before I bought my first press.

DESIGNED FOR PRINT I design and print my own work, as well as print other people’s designs. Other designers’ work always poses an interesting technical challenge, and I think makes me a better printer.

A peek at the type inside the Nane Press letterpress print shop

THE CREATIVE FLOW I’m always collecting images and writing down ideas. For custom jobs, I always make an inspiration board with a color palette. Some of my projects are hand-illustrated, and some are only type-based. In the past, each of my designs has been tailored towards a specific client, but I’ve got plans to start building cohesive ready-made designs that look more like my personal style.

Letterpress cards from Nane Press Letterpress work samples from Nane Press
(above photographs courtesy of Eliza Gwendalyn)

FULL TIME FUN I don’t print full-time, but I would love to one day!

PRINTING FEATS Paper has the ability to impact people’s daily lives in a very unique way. I’m always excited when my work is shown in galleries or published in a book—but when I hear that someone has received an invite or card I’ve printed and loved it enough to save it, well, that’s the best compliment a girl can get!

Letterpress work samples from Nane Press

BOXCAR’S ROLE The great folks at Boxcar help me troubleshoot along the way. If there’s a part of a design that’s going to be challenging for the plate to print (usually with punctuation in a thin font), I get a call from them with the heads-up. Knowing more about the limitations of the photopolymer has probably saved me dozens of hours of headache on the backend.

Letterpress work samples from Nane Press

PRESS HISTORY A Vandercook Universal I. Her name is Phyllis, and she’s a great press.

The Vandercook press at Nane Press

SHOP TIPS I couldn’t live without my calipers. My shop isn’t humidity-controlled, and I spend a decent amount of time getting packing right. I’m always swapping in and experimenting with different types of paper, and knowing how thick your makeready is before you disassemble what’s under the drawsheet takes out a lot of guesswork.

Letterpress wedding invitation samples from Nane Press

WHAT’S NEXT I’ve got a collaboration in place with a calligrapher that I’m super excited about. I also just got a die-cutting jacket for the press, so I’m really looking forward to experimenting with that!

A huge round of thanks to Jennie of Nane Press for letting us catch up with the delights of her printing abode.

Shining Brightly at Dogs & Stars Press

Lafayette, Colorado is an award winning small city where Dogs & Stars letterpress shop calls home.  This “Best Place for Young Families” and “Top Fifty Best Places to Live” community is an inspirational place for the edification and admiration of letterpress printing. Brian Wood of Dogs & Stars is banking on that to advance his craft in his new workshop. Getting into letterpress has evolved over a ten year period for this graphic designer.  His early influence was old letterpress posters with inspiration drawn from wood type.

Take a virtual tour of Dogs & Stars Press, the printing workspace and home to Brian Wood and a plethora of printing adventures.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS  My first press was a Showcard 8×12” sign press. I took over our second bedroom and started a very makeshift shop, continuously adding the needs of a print shop bit-by-bit, eventually resembling a studio of sorts. Once more equipment and  type cabinets arrived it was time to take over the next logical area of our home – the garage.

The shop has undergone a recent renovation thanks to the generous Kickstarter community. Before the conversion it was just a basic garage with letterpress stuff in there. It now features reclaimed chicken feeder lights, recessed can lights, solar tubes and four windows for lighting. The garage door remains, so it can be opened up during the warmer months for both natural light and fresh air. A fellow printer once told me to paint the floor to help improve temperature control. So the floor is painted a nice blue-gray using epoxy paint, so it’s durable as well.

THE SIZE AND LOCATION Our house had a 2 car stand alone garage that I have converted into a fully functional 400 square foot letterpress shop. It’s in the back of the yard so it’s tucked away. We live in a historic area of town that is starting to see some really cool shops, breweries and restaurants opening. I’m about 2 blocks from a coffee shop that carries my greeting cards and also hosted a letterpress poster show of mine. The local arts community is very supportive in Old Town Lafayette. There’s an excellent brewery less than 5 blocks away as well. I’m in good company.

THE PRESSES The work horse is a Golding Jobber No. 7 (10×15). I also have 3 sign presses: A Showcard, Nolan and Fremont. And a Golding Pearl that needs parts.

NUMBER OF PRINTERS IN THE SPACE It’s a one-printer show right now. It’s open by appointment only at this point due to location. But I’m happy to host anybody who wants to see what I have going on.

FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP My prized possession would have to be a toss up between my Golding Jobber No. 7 and the cabinets we had installed.  They are impressive and have created an organized workspace for me. The Stik Wood reclaimed wood we installed on one wall is warm and inviting and everyone who visits loves it.

MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL I really value my quoin key. Without it, I would not be able to print on my platen press. My base and plate are the 6 x 9 boxcar base and the Jet 94FL plates.

PIED TYPE I do have some pied type floating around my shop, but I let it lay.

FAVORITE INK I use Van Son rubber based inks. My current favorite color is Warm Red. It always seems to cooperate, looks great on the press and prints well.

CLEAN-UP ROUTINE Boy, do I hate cleaning up. I use kerosene with Scott shop towels to clean up the majority of my mess. I use a paint scraper to get up ink on the ink disk and mixing stones.

ORGANIZATION ADVICE I do a good solid clean up after each project so things don’t get too hectic going forward.

PRINTING ADVICE Know your presses and what the limits are. Knowing what you can and can’t do on your specific press from the beginning can be helpful carving out your niche in the letterpress world.

Take a virtual tour of Dogs & Stars Press, the printing workspace and home to Brian Wood and a plethora of printing adventures.

Brian’s work at Dogs & Stars Press will continue to be type-driven and he laments that he was a few decades late on being a lino-type operator instead. Thanks for the insight and look into your creative new workspace.

Top 20 of ’16 Letterpress Valentine’s Day Cards

We count down the top 20 of ’16 Valentine’s Day letterpress cards and why not treat yourself (or your letterpress lovin’ sweetie) to a hand-picked (and pressed!) card or two for this upcoming Valentine’s Day! Let us know what you are getting your special someone this year in the comments below!

2016 Valentine's Day letterpress cards featuring sweet moments, funny cards, and letterpress beauties!

1.I Love You A Bushel And a Peck And a Hug Around the Neck card by Cherry Laurel Studio | 2. Scandinavian Folk Style Rose Pink card by Fluid Ink Letterpress | 3. Amore Forever badge card by Hammerpress | 4. Rococo Valentine Heart card by Foglio Press | 5. I Love You As Much As…. card by Paper Plates Press | 6. Cereal Love card by Paper Parasol Press

2016 Valentine's Day letterpress cards featuring sweet moments, funny cards, and letterpress beauties!

7. Hotspot Love card by Kiss and Punch designs | 8. The Moments card by Ditto Ditto Works | 9. Lobster Love card by ShedLetterpress | 10. Like Campfires card by Smock | 11. I’m Mad For You card by Rise and Shine Paper | 12. My Heart Belongs to You card by Pup and Pony

2016 Valentine's Day letterpress cards featuring sweet moments, funny cards, and letterpress beauties!

13. Lots of Love Heart card by Sugar Paper | 14. Love Ledger Paper by favorite design. | 15. You Rock My Socks card by Flyaway Paperworks. | 16. Happy Valentine’s Day card by Grey Moggie | 17. Love Bracket card by A Favorite Design | 18. We’re Purrr-fect together! card by Ratbee Press | 19. Love You Like No Otter card by McBitterson’s | 20. For Fox’s Sake I Love You card by Runaway Press

Let’s See That Printed: Primer Scares Up Fun

As soon as we found out the electric and spooky illustration designs of Primer were passing through our platemaking service department, we had to learn more about eye-catching letterpress poster designs. The printer behind Primer, Brian Isserman, and his wonderful wife gave us a sneak peek at the chilling yet beautiful tale behind these letterpress pieces.

Brian Isserman's halloween and spooky illustratrations going through the letterpress plateaking process from film to plate.

Brian helped fill in the blanks on how such captivating project came to be:

“Primer is a brand development agency located just north of Philadelphia in the historic town of Hatboro, Pennsylvania. We specialize in brand strategy development, graphic design, web development and video production, but what we really love, is print.”

Our "Let's See That Printed" article features the spooky letterpress posters by Brian Isserman (and wife) of Primer.

“Several years ago we purchased and restored a GEO. P. GORDON platen press circa late 1870’s. It was a 6 month labor of love to get it back up and printing (and see here for the journey!). Especially considering we knew nothing about letterpress printing when we started. Now we use it every few months for personal projects and small promotional runs for our clients.”

A beautiful Chandler & Price letterpress press stands ready for printing fun at Primer.

“Every year we put together a Halloween promotion as a thank you to our clients, friends and family for their continued support. It allows us to step away from coding and web development so we can get back to our roots, ink and paper. We usually create a short run limited edition series of prints. Two years ago the theme was Day of the Dead, last year it was the Universal Studio Monsters, this year we decided to go with vintage Halloween.”

Primer-IMG3

“Once we had the concept in place, we collaborated with the super talented Michele Melcher to illustrate a series of three iconic Halloween images. The flat graphic, off-registration look of those vintage Halloween decorations gave us a safe zone margin of error that helped us tremendously. This was our first multi-color print run and we wanted to create a design that was forgiving. It really worked out well. The prints that were in perfect registration looked awesome, the ones that were really off looked even better.

The print run itself ran over 15 hours and for the most part went pretty smooth. We learned a lot from the experience and I am totally looking forward to tackling another multi-color job. Everyone really loved the prints. We received numerous calls and emails and got lots of social media love.

PRO TIP – Our press is old. I mean really old – and although it still prints amazingly well, we knew it would be extremely difficult to keep the plates and prints registered. We do not have a paper cutter so we opted to not include crop marks of any kind on our plates and ordered pre-cut paper instead.”

Brian Isserman of Primer sets up manual color registration mock ups for his letterpress broadside poster.

“So, how do you keep everything in register without crop marks? Boxcar sent us a large press proof. We cut out the individual images and spray mounted those proofs onto our paper. We placed a small piece of tape on the front of the plate and aligned it face down onto the paper. Once in position we removed the sticky back of the plate and ran it through the press. The plate would then attach itself to our base. We then carefully peeled off the paper and tape, and we repeated the process with each of the 3 plates per illustration. Using the master proof helped keep all of the plates aligned.

I think one of the most interesting parts of printing is figuring out the little tricks and treats to make your vision come to life. We could not have done it without the guidance, plates and custom ink colors from Boxcar Press. Thanks Boxcar!”

Huge round of thanks out to Brian and his lovely wife at Primer for letting us get a closer look at these brilliantly colored poster designs!

Crop Marks and Registration Marks – A Printer’s Tool

When prepping a file for platemaking (or any printing job), you may find yourself deciding between crop marks and registration marks. Not sure which one to use? We’ve put together some scenarios where you might find these tools helpful — but first, we’ll start with some definitions and distinctions between the two.

Crop Marks Or Trim Marks:

Crop marks — also called trim marks — thin lines placed at the corners of your artwork that indicate where to trim your finished project. If your paper is larger than your final cutting size, it is helpful and sometimes crucial to include them. Crop marks help the person cutting to know precisely where to cut your piece.

When might it be important to have paper that is larger than your final size rather than a pre-cut size? For presses that grip the paper, using a larger sheet and making a finish cut allows you the paper edge or space to grip and guide the paper while printing, and provides space for you to use a guide pin (which may leave a mark on the paper).

An example of crop marks on a film negative and printed via letterpress.

Crop marks become crucial if you are printing a bleed (which is a design that runs to the edge of the finished piece). A design with a bleed is one where the artwork extends a minimum of 1/8″ past the edge of the finished design. Extending your artwork past that point prevents a blank or unprinted area from showing up along the edges of your design.

Crop marks are added during the design stage of a project, and are an option in most design software. We’ll share tips for adding them below.

Registration Marks:

Registration marks are used when you have a piece that will have multiple applications during production. This could mean two or more letterpress ink colors, die cutting, foil stamping, or embossing. Registration marks are important for precision and placement.

An example of mis-registered multiple color letterpress print.

A piece that is mis-registered (as shown above) will show elements that may be side by side when they should have been on top of each other. There are many different forms of registration marks, but the most common are the “crosshairs” or “target” style marks, color bars and even using the lines of crop marks.

An example of registration marks in the bulls eye or crosshair design on a two-color letterpress printed piece.

These marks will eventually be trimmed off the final piece, and registration marks should also have crop marks added, too. Registration marks will appear on each plate that you make, and they should be aligned to overlap perfectly.

Creating Crop Marks

When creating crop marks in Adobe Illustrator there are two ways to make them:

Option One

Create crop marks in Adobe Illustrator by drawing a box using the rectangle tool (M) with no stroke or fill color the same size and position as the final trim. Using the direct selection arrow (the white arrow tool), click on the box. In your color window, turn off the stroke by clicking the red diagonal line (none).

Step-by-step illustrator instructions from Boxcar Press on how to set up crop marks and registration marks

Now click EFFECT > CROP MARKS (for all versions of Adobe Illustrator). You may also use OBJECT > CREATE TRIM MARKS (this is only available for Adobe CS6 and above). Lines will appear on each corner of the box.

Step-by-step illustrator instructions from Boxcar Press on how to set up crop marks and registration marks

With the box still selected, click OBJECT > EXPAND APPEARANCE. You can now modify your crop marks, if needed.

Step-by-step illustrator instructions from Boxcar Press on how to set up crop marks and registration marks Step-by-step illustrator instructions from Boxcar Press on how to set up crop marks and registration marks

Option Two

Set your art board in Adobe Illustrator to the final piece size. You can set this when you click FILE > NEW and put your measurements in under length and width. If your art board is already open, select FILE > DOCUMENT SETUP > EDIT ARTBOARDS and resize if needed.

Once you are done creating the file, you can save it as a press quality PDF by going to FILE > SAVE AS > ADOBE PDF (file format).

A window will open – choose Press Quality PDF from the Adobe Presets dropdown at the top. On the left, select MARKS AND BLEEDS and click trim marks. You can also set your registration marks by clicking on the Registration Marks box. NOTE: The default trim mark thickness may be less the the required minimum line thickness for your plate type, so adjust this to be higher, if needed.

Step-by-step illustrator instructions from Boxcar Press on how to set up crop marks and registration marks

In most printing jobs, registration marks and crop marks should always be in Registration Black. That means they will show up on every color plate and will not affected by spot colors or other special markings added in design.

Feel free to contact our prepress team if you’re not sure if you need crop marks for your next plate order. They do add additional space and cost to your platemaking ticket, but may save you time and money in the long run.

Design tips for letterpress printing on chipboard

Available in several paper weights, our 100% post-consumer recycled chipboard is a popular paper choice for letterpress printing. Thick and textured, chipboard is kraft brown and completely utilitarian: we’ve printed wedding invitations, business cards, letterpress broadsides, and more on this versatile stock. Today we’re sharing a few tips from designer Angelena Bruesewitz on how to design for chipboard, along with some of our favorite examples of letterpress printing on this popular paper.

Design tips for letterpress printing on chipboard from Boxcar Press

Dark colors + bold lines are a great starting point.

Darker colors tend to be the easiest to work with when it comes to printing on chipboard – you’re sure to have contrast and legibility as long as your line weights are thick enough to be readable.

Kneeling Drunkards letterpress poster | Designed by Jarrod Taylor Design, Letterpress printed by Boxcar Press

Kneeling Drunkards 12″ x 20″ poster, job #25934. Designed by Jarrod Taylor, printed in black ink on 28 pt chipboard on our Cylinder Press

Bold letterpress business cards for UXA Lab - letterpress printed by Boxcar PressBold letterpress business cards for UXA Lab - letterpress printed by Boxcar Press

UXA Lab 3.5” x 2″ business cards, job #26428 for UXA Lab. Printed in Pantone 185U on 60pt chipboard on our Heidelberg Windmill Press

Tips for designing a low contrast piece.

If you’re looking to create a low-contrast piece, make sure your line weights are thick enough to be legible. We recently worked with Angelena to create the identity suite below, which included a double-sided gift card with metallic gold ink on the back. The piece required a second run on press to achieve the desired look, but the end result was a subtle bamboo forest with lots of intricate details.

Letterpress identity suite for The Wellness Tree - printed by Boxcar Press, designed by Angelena BruesewitzLetterpress identity suite for The Wellness Tree - printed by Boxcar Press, designed by Angelena Bruesewitz

Identity suite for The Wellness Tree, jobs #26310 + 24962, designed by Angelena Bruesewitz at the Dandelion Shoppe. 2.5″ x 3.5″ business cards and 5.5″ x 4.25″ note cards, printed in Pantone 1805U on 28pt chipboard. 5″ x 5″ double-sided gift certificates, printed on 60pt chipboard in Pantone 1805U on the front, with a double hit of 874U on the back.

Keep the end use in mind.

When it comes to designing for chipboard and selecting colors and fonts to work with, keep your customer and the end result in mind. If you’re going for something rustic, Angelena recommends tone-on-tone. More fun and playful? Opt for lighter shades with more vibrancy to achieve the look. The earth tones used on the Bedford 234 business cards below matched the restaurant’s rustic, farm to table vibe perfectly.

Letterpress business cards for Bedford 234 | Designed by Sol Shim, printed by Boxcar PressLetterpress business cards for Bedford 234 | Designed by Sol Shim, printed by Boxcar Press

Bedford 234 3.5” x 2″ business cards, job #26802. Designed by Sol Shim, printed in Pantone 161U + 021U on 28 pt chipboard. 

If color accuracy is a priority, consider drawdowns or foil.

Just like printing on any other colored paper, color does shift on chipboard. If color accuracy is of the utmost importance for your clients, foil stamping may be a better choice than letterpress.  Alternatively, we offer a drawdown service for $50 per color if you’d like a test run to see how your color would look on our chipboard.

C_A11A2945Letterpress identity suite for The Wellness Tree - printed by Boxcar Press, designed by Angelena Bruesewitz

Faith Neidig 3.5” x 2″ business cards, job #24666. Designed by Kelly Moses Design, printed in black ink + gold shine foil on 28pt chipboard on our Heidelberg Windmill + Kluge presses. 

Red foil stamped holiday cards - design by Jenny C Design, printing by Boxcar Press

Custom 4.25″  x 5.5″ holiday cards, job #25576. Designed by Jenny C Design, printed in red shine foil on 28pt chipboard on our Kluge.

Go a shade brighter to achieve richer colors.

Because ink colors may appear more dull or muted on chipboard, we recommend going a shade brighter in order to compensate for the difference.

Die-cut product tags - letterpress printed on chipboard by Boxcar Press Die-cut product tags - letterpress printed on chipboard by Boxcar Press Die-cut product tags - letterpress printed on chipboard by Boxcar Press Die-cut product tags - letterpress printed on chipboard by Boxcar Press

Yo Amo 305 1.69″ x 4.25″ product tags, job #25740. Designed by Wynwood Letterpress, printed in Pantone 806U on 28pt chipboard on our Heidelberg Windmill.

Keep size and paper weight in mind.

When it comes to working with chipboard (or any thicker papers), be sure to check your margins when you’re designing – you’ll want to make sure your cards fit in your envelopes! Additionally, postage weights may increase when it comes to heavier paper stocks, so make sure your client is comfortable with any added costs. Lastly, when it comes to sizes and shapes: we’ve found that 60pt chipboard is too thick for die cutting (though we have had success with 40pt chipboard). If creating a unique shape is important, consider straight cuts – the save the date pictured below was trimmed on a regular cutter, but has the look of a die-cut shape.

Letterpress + die-cut save the date tag with gold grommets - designed by Kristin at Reverie Made, printed by Boxcar Press Letterpress + die-cut save the date tag with gold grommets - designed by Kristin at Reverie Made, printed by Boxcar Press Letterpress + die-cut save the date tag with gold grommets - designed by Kristin at Reverie Made, printed by Boxcar Press

Custom save the dates 3.25″ x 5.5″ luggage tag style, job #241166. Designed by Kristin at Reverie Made, printed in black ink on 28pt chipboard. 


Our final piece of advice? Don’t be afraid! Experiment and have fun.