Thursday, June 25, 2009

Proofing and Production of Handset Business Cards (part 2)

Ok, I have my type all set, or composed on the composition stick. It took a little while to get all the quads, spaces, 3-ems, brasses and coppers into place to centre justify my lines. One of the advantages I find in hand composition is justification, especially centre justifying. I cut a 4 point lead, say in this instance 21 pica, set the stick to 21 pic's and lay the lead in. Then I compose the line of type, setting it in the centre with an Em quad on either side. Then I fill the spaces on each side of the line equally one side to the other, 3M's, Quads, 2-to En's, spaces, brass, coppers, whatever I do on one side I do to the other. Then I lay in a lead for the next line. The Dingbat required a few rows of quads as you may have noticed, plus a set of 6pt flats. One side mirrors the other. It takes time, but if you are an artist, a sculptsit, a scriptsit, or whatever medium you ply which maintains a discipline that many would consider tedium, you might understand it when I say it's actually a catharsis. Composing for me is like chiseling or cutting a quill nib or grinding ink or any other involved preparation for any process which is labour and skill intensive.

Now that I've done all this work, do I just lock it up, slap the chase on the press and run it? Only to find out that I've mixed my sorts, 'p's are 'q's, a 'b' was pegged with a 'd', and I spelled "Traditional" Tradiditional? And then do my editing and correcting? No way. Enter: the Proofing Press.

Most proofing presses in my area of travel were of the cylinder variety, and most were very, very simple. Truth be told, you can even skip the actual proof press altogether and do your editing and proofing the way the colonials did: Beat (or roll with your brayer - you do have a brayer, right? Or leather balls?) the ink onto your tied up form, lay a sheet on top of the face, lay some padding, and tap it with your plane and mallet. This method was suggested in the Kelsey manuals, too. You even proof your new sorts in this manner.

Ahh, but a proofing press is so much easier and less messy. Plus, you can use some of the nicer cylinder proofers for large poster work where woodblocks, linoleum cuts, large wooden type, etc. is required. Some proofers are more expensive than Heidelberg Windmills! Southern Engravers in St. Pete used an electric Vandercook as their mag cut proofer for years.

I use a small Showcard Press for proofing. It will accommodate anything that I can lock up in an 8x12 C&Ps chase or my Pearl's 7x11 chase. It's old, it needs restoration, but the basic machine works smoothly. All it is is a heavy iron bed with an impression roller that rolls over that bed. You have to manually ink the type. The type itself is locked into a chase that snugs into the Showcard's bed. The chase is 6x10, and comes from a Kelsey. You have to lay it in upside down. All you need to do for proofing at this point is a "loose" lock up. That is, you set the type on the bed, lay the chase around it, fill in the gaps with furniture, and lock it tight enough so the type doesn wobble or stand on their "heels" (type leaning at a slight angle, exposing only part of their faces to the impression surface.)

Here is a view of the forme locked up for proofing. It actually looks no different than the lock up for the 8x12 except I use more furniture.

While I'm on the subject of locking up a forme, here's what I do to test the form to make sure I don't have any surprizes on the production bed: I slide the key under the chase to lift it a bit, then press on the form with my thumbs. If anything is loose, I'm gonna know in a hurry. If I can push any element of that form with my thumbs, I'll either tighten or shim with copper or brass spaces as propriety demands. Yes, I know, the chase is upside down. That's the only way it will fit into the Showcard. Heck, it works!

Here's the proofing set up. To the left is the Showcard. To the right, a plate with process black ink rolled out, and my ancient brayer. I think I got that brayer in Munich back in '67 when I was learning how to do my first Linocut in 7th grade. Man. It's an old Speedball, back before everything went plastic.

The type is inked, and paper laid atop the face. Here you see a piece of hardboard covering the paper, but only the paper is held by the grippers. What are thos 'C' clamps there for? Well, long story. But to make it short, in order for that chase to fit, I had to dismount and slide up the gripper assembly. Those small clamps hold it in place. I do not want to re-tap cast iron for the set screws. The clamps do the job. And I'm obviously not in a beauty contest as far as shops and studios go. If it works, use it!

Now, all we do is drag that roller over, maybe back again, remove the hardboard, loose the paper and see what disaster awaits us.

Well, looky there. It's not all that awful after all. At least I spelled my name correctly. Hey, look! That Engravers Medium actually looks pretty good after all! The cut is centred. No major faux pas, ( pardon my lousy French.)

The card stock is Neenah Classic Laid, which I got from the fantastic folks at the downtown Orlando Xpedx ( Thanks, Mark. Your cards are in process, btw.) I like to proof, if practicable, on the stock that will be used for the production run.

The cards you saw on the last installment were also proofs, but were proofed on Neenah's Pearl Linen Crest, an opaline finished paper which I will also use for production. Here's that photo again:

I would like to take time out here to comment about papers. Principle rule: the harder the paper surface, the more the polish, the better the imprint detail. If you are running tight lines on par with engraving crosshatching, you need to use a hard finish. The softer the paper, the more the deboss, but the less detail you will hold. You can't have both. There's a time for fine line detail, and there's a time to deboss, or throw a heavy depression with your type, which is the current "pink of the mode", or fad in Letterpress. I will not say one is good and one is bad or one is better than the other. Good typography is tied to it's overall presentation, design, and economy. Deboss, Detail, etc., are all part of that dynamic. Balance it wisely. Make your clients happy, too.
Above all, to thine own self be true. In the 19th century, especially the latter half which I consider the Golden Age of Letterpress Typography, very hard, even gloss polished surface papers were hugely popular. Especially for reproducting chromozylographs ( the fifty-cent word for colour wood engraving.) The Victorian mood for intricacy was best produced on harder wove and granite papers. Tight line filligree work could be executed with almost intaglio precision. Postage stamps of most countries from 1850 - 1900 were produced in this manner. These designs vied with their engraved counterparts. It was these postal issues that brought me to Typography and the Letterpress to begin with!

Well, the proof was successful. All that's left is to relock the forme into the production chase for the 8x12 and hand feeding these cards, one by one, for about one thousand impressions. Cost for a card like this? Probably about one hundred dollars for five hundred hand set, hand printed cards. That's about twenty cents per card. Cost of the experience of going through the process? Priceless!

Here's a shot from the delivery board. Nice new tympan paper courtesy Mama's Sauce. Blue tape courtesy Lowes. No, that's not rust on the gripper bars. The camera's flash does that sometimes. My presses are rust free, well oiled, and except for the electric motor which has nose bearing issues, extremely silent.

Here's a shot of the 8x12, and next to her the 7x11 Pearl. The C&P runs right now at about one impression cycle every three seconds, just slightly faster than treadle spead on it's Old Series counterpart. The Pearl, of course, is treadled.

And, of course, the finished product. These cards are stack drying on what is currently serving as my imposing stone: the type bed of a 9x13 Kelsey Excelsior model M. Perfect for the 8x12 chase!

Well, that about does it. Another video is in planning, which will go through another process. All this in the shameless course of showing my clients just what the heck they are paying for! And maybe inspire some newbies to the Art and Mystery of Letterpress Typography!

Good Providence in all your printing endeavours!


G. Johanson, Printer
Florida Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts


  1. I really enjoyed your posts on this, and I think your students will find it useful. Your tone is great: both playful and informative. I haven't tried that pearly Neenah paper, but I'll have to give it a shot.

  2. Gary that is just wonderful.. takes me back to those heady handsetting days of college.. Val