Letterpress Christmas cards

By Tom Moertel
Posted on

Per our family tradition, my wife and I design and print our own Christmas cards. We print them on my 2650-pound, 10x15-inch Chandler & Price Craftsman platen press, which was manufactured in 1939. (See image below.) Presses like these are generally considered to be obsolete. They must be oiled by hand before each operating shift, print only one color at a time, do not meet current OSHA specs, and use the finicky letterpress process to put ink on paper. (Almost all printing these days is done on presses that use the offset process.)

!http://community.moertel.com/ss/space/start/2004-12-22/1/press.png(10x15 C&P platen press)! Letterpress printing is just like it sounds: The letters you want to print are inked and then pressed into paper to make an impression. In the case of my platen press, the entire surface to be printed is pressed into the paper at once – with up to twenty tons of impressional strength. (Watch those hands!) However, the hallmark of good letterpress printing is the “kiss impression,” where just enough strength is used to get perfect ink application. (Crushing the type into the paper wears down the type and ultimately reduces the crispness of the work.)

To get an idea of what letterpress printing looks like, take a look at the image below. (This is the front of our 2004 Christmas cards.)

!http://community.moertel.com/ss/space/start/2004-12-22/1/xmas-cards-2004.jpg(Our 2004 Christmas card)!

The following 300-dpi close-up shows how crisp the letterpress process can be. The paper we are using is Fabriano Mediovalis, which is a thick, soft mouldmade paper. If you look closely, you can see how the letters have been (gently) pressed into this soft stock. You can’t do that with offset!

!http://community.moertel.com/ss/space/start/2004-12-22/1/xmas-closeup.jpg(Close-up of Christmas card text)!

If you are at all curious about letterpress printing, take a look at these resources:

* [Introduction to Letterpress Printing](http://www.fiveroses.org/intro.htm) by David S. Rose. A compact, complete introduction. Start here.
* [A short letterpress documentary about the Firefly Press](http://elsa.photo.net/firefly.html). Of particular interest is the 10x18 Chandler & Price Craftsman platen press, the big brother of my press.
* [The LETPRESS mailing list](http://fiveroses.org/letpresslist.htm). I learned a ton of letterpress lore by lurking on LETPRESS for a few years.

Should your new hobby be letterpress printing? Think about it. (It makes a great New Year’s resolution.)

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