Monday, February 16, 2009

Letterpress: the machines that make the magic

You may recall from a few of our earlier info-posts, Letterpress 101, Letterpress 102, learning all about how letterpress works. You may be able to spot that telltale deep impression from across the stationery store, but do you know what the printing press looks like? There are many different kinds of printing presses. Most presses are at least 60 years old but many are much older. One common misnomer is that the press is not actually called a 'letterpress' like I hear so often by customers.

This is a Chandler & Price Pilot. It is considered a table-top model and is good for small shops or hobbyists. Because it is run strictly by (wo)man power and the lever, you often can not as good of an impression as with the big guys.

This beauty is a Chandler & Price New Series. This type of press is also known as a 'platen jobber' and is really good for larger runs. You operate this press with either a foot treadle (like the old fashioned sewing machines) or by using a motor. This is the type of press I use day to day and prefer for printing invitations and cards. This press typically weighs around 1100 pounds and can give a good impression.

The Vandercook 4, also known as a gallery proof press or cylinder press, is the other press type preferred by many printers. The paper is hand-cranked around the cylinder and onto the printing plates. The wonderful thing about this press is the the area for printing is much larger. This is great for printing larger pieces such as posters. This is also a monster of a machine weighing about 1/2 ton.

For the higher production print shops, you may see something like this, a Heidelberg Windmill. This 3000 pound whopper can tackle big runs in a jiffy. If you get cards or invitations from some of the big name letterpress shops, there is a good chance they have a bunch of these lying around.

Hopefully this will give you a better idea, if not a greater appreciation, for some of the massive equipment used to make such a delicately printed card or invitation. Until next time...

~Kelly, Paper Stories

print courtesy Paper Stories
press images from Briar Press Museum

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