Letterpress isn’t just for wedding stationery: how hot metal typesetting can improve all letterpress printing

Unique, distinctive beauty drives revival of interest in letterpress printing

The revival of interest in letterpress printing, after the market for letterpress work nearly vanished a few decades ago, can be attributed primarily to couples recognizing the beauty and distinction letterpress printing adds to wedding invitations.  This has been well and good for the old black art, but social stationery is far from the only item that can benefit from hot metal typesetting and letterpress printing.  With the glut of business cards that can be created on your computer printer and with the “instant” look of ordinary wedding invitations, people came to appreciate the feel and appearance and grace that letterpress printing adds to these items.  In short, letterpress printing stands out!  It’s sophisticated and turns heads because it is distinctive.

Linotype photo

Linotype hot metal typesetting designed specifically for letterpress printing

Letterpress makes its mark in many areas

The renewed interest in letterpress printing began spilling out of the social stationery arena as people saw how it adds pizzazz to so many printed things.  Quietly, for example, amidst all the noise about Kindle-type books and the supposed “death” of the printed book,  authors discovered that having their manuscripts letterpress printed gave their books another way to stand apart from the ordinary.   For further discussion of this trend, see From Hot Metal to Cool Books: affordable letterpress book publishing.

So it is that letterpress books, again, have come into their own.   Many of today’s letterpress-printed books have been created using photopolymer plates, a process that allows typesetting to be done on computers and then the computer images are made into raised images on photopolymer plates and printed on both cylinder and platen letterpresses.  This process permits authors to be intimately involved in typesetting and, consequently, can mean reduced production costs.  It also allows authors to use the wide range of type fonts available for computers and permits book design options not easily available with traditional letterpress typesetting.

But there are other typesetting options designed solely for letterpress printing

Long before computer typesetting appeared, type founders had perfected the art of crafting hot metal type. Letterpress printing squeezes raised type images into the paper and in the process the type image tends to spread slightly.  When designing type for letterpress printing, this expansion was taken into account by the venerable old type houses.  This fact of letterpress printing, however, has not been adjusted for with many of the modern computer fonts available today.  In addition, when computer type is transferred to photopolymer plates, the type is distorted slightly in the process, setting yet another obstacle between electronic type and the ability to compensate for such distortions while printing letterpress.

Linotype and Monotype casting machines still working

Not to worry, because there are still some hot metal typesetting machines still churning out distinctive type designed specifically for letterpress printing.  Check with your printer to make sure this option is available to you before you commit to printing your book.  If you decide to go with hot metal typesetting, the range of type faces available will be more limited than when using computer-generated type, and it will involve resetting your manuscript, but you may be surprised at how competitive such typesetting can be.  Besides, you are assured that the type you select for your book has been stamped with centuries of experience and hand craftsmanship that guided letterpress printing from infancy to its heyday in the 20th Century.  In short, your book can have the feel and look of time-tested masterpieces. It’s worth looking into.

Until later . . .

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