Searching for the perfect wedding stationery to capture the spirit of your celebration can be a challenge. You have twenty-five tabs open in your browser-- shops and vendors, Pinterest photos and wording etiquette. It’s easy to get lost in a flurry of paper weights, pantone colors, belly bands, and printing methods.
I’d like to shed some light on one of the more mysterious aspects of what we do at Gatlin Paper Co.: letterpress. We get really excited about our process and can’t wait to give you a little behind the scenes peek of what makes our invitation suites and paper goods so special.
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS LETTERPRESS?
Letterpress printing is a relief printing process, which uses raised metal type and engravings to imprint words and designs on paper. It originated in the 1400s and served as the primary form of printing and communication for about 500 years.
Letterpress printing has seen a revival in the past few decades with a new generation of artisans realizing the beauty of its traditional process and its application in the modern design world. Some printers still hand-set their type (like Tyler & I did for our own invitations), but these days designers can have custom plates made from magnesium, copper, or even polymer, opening up a new frontier for letterpress design.
WHY IS IT REGARDED WITH SUCH HIGH ESTEEM?
Though letterpress used to be utilized as the most practical way of publishing books, these days it is viewed as an more of an art form in itself. When designs are pressed into the paper, the pressure leaves an impression-- creating a beautiful tactile richness that digital and offset printing cannot mimic. To best showcase the elegant debossed quality of our designs, we are dedicated to only using high quality specialized paper, custom cut to just the right shapes and sizes. Each piece of paper is fed into the machine, oftentimes by hand, and an experienced printer can determine even the tiniest adjustments that need to be made in impression depth, ink color, and design placement.
Fun fact: Traditionally, printers used to want the metal type to simply "kiss" the paper, applying the ink very lightly. Leaving an impression in the paper used to be a sign of poor technique, but has now transformed into a characteristic that modern printers work to perfect and our clients seek out.
MEET THE PRESS
These days we alternate between a few different presses to fit the needs of each project. When I started dreaming about launching my own business however, it was just me and a small press with a broken arm. I found my press in the basement of a shop where I was working. It was covered in an inch of dust and its handle had snapped in a very important, weight-bearing location. I pretty much begged the owner of the shop to sell it to me and to my great surprise, he agreed. One hundred bucks and I had to move it myself. It might be small, but believe me my friends, 160 awkward pounds of cast steel is nothing to joke about.
Completely giddy with my new machine, I dove into researching the history of this hunk of metal now sitting in a corner of our apartment. As it turns out, my press dates back to the 1880s and was made by the Chandler & Price company in Cleveland. The handle has a beautiful patina after over a century of use and every time I touch it, I wonder about how many other hands have done the same. (see above, left)
In 2014, Tyler and I had the broken handle machined (see above, right), the bolts sandblasted, and the rollers replaced. A restored press like mine is worth several thousand dollars these days. I am convinced that my boss at the shop knew the true value of what he was parting with and I am incredibly thankful that he gave an enthusiastic twenty-two year old the opportunity to follow her dream.