Friday, July 31, 2009

"Club Cards"

Ever hear of "Club Cards"? These are minimal info cards,
printed very nicely, just to give folks a Phone number
and a name. Very simple and straightforward in design,
these cards have the client's monogramme blind embossed
into the upper left corner of the design. In Mark's case,
I used open faced Caslon for the name, cut a length of 2pt
rule. Below the rule, 10p. Caslon OS 337.

These cards were printed on 110 thru 220lb Lettera, by Crane,
which is handmade cotton rag stock. In this particular case,
three colours available are used, white, ivory and ecru. This
sort of loose fibre stock enbosses well, yet does not "punch"
when pressure is properly set.

These 'minimal info' cards can come in very handy and are
quite versatile. They can be personal cards or used for
business. (Bond . . . James Bond.) These particular cards
are handset, as opposed to digital design, using moveable
type. The price for these hand made cards averages around
$150.00 for 200 cards including the blind monogramme (which
means I have to run the cards through the press twice) or
$99.00 without the monogramme. Aww, But the Diamond Pattern
mono is so classy! It uses a two or three letter initial,
and arranges them in a diamond design, the first initial on
the left, the last name being set in the centre as the largest
character, and the middle initial positioned to the right.
My name, Gary Glen Johanson would be arranged:


Of course, either way, the cards are printed on Lettera,
which can receive a nice, tactile deboss without clobbering
the paper And, of course, the monogramme can be inked
and printed as normal, instead of the slightly deeperblind
"emboss", which is actually a deboss. The price would be
the same as that for the blind deboss, if the monogramme
is printed as a second colour.

The font I use for the Monogrammes goes back to the 1920s.
It was quite popular as part of a Stationery Header, which,
of course, I can also do.

That's it for this installment!


G. Johanson, Printer!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tiffany's Wedding Part 3: the Conclusion

Phase 5(b): Laying down the second colour

Well, how 'bout that. We put on the second and final overlay cover. In this installment we pretty well put all the pieces together and see just what these colours do in live action! The Dusky Teal and Magenta were not colours that Tiffany pulled out of the air, they actually BELONG somewhere, as the top photo sorta gives away.

Today is day two for this job. As you remember from the last episode, our hero had to let the monogramme run dry overnight because of heavy ink coverage and hard finish on the paper. Not a real great combo for fast drying, but a nice combo for sharp imagery.

I began the day with my sweet and colour-wise wife suggesting that before I head out to the studio/ shop, slap ink on the disk and crank the second colour, I might give Tiffany a call and let her look at the first colour. Who knows, she may want it lighter? And while I'm at it, double the white in the mix and have the twice-light teal ink ready IF she prefers the lighter version. It made sense, so I did just that, and ran a proof. It was half as dark, looked nice, but not really nice-er. I ran a proof of the magenta text over the lighter teal, and it was a bit more contrasty. So it could go one way or the other.

Tiffany came by and loved the first run. We need not run another 150 of the lighter. So, that accomplished, we proceeded to lock up the second die, which has the Edwardian Script body text in the place where the monogramme block went in the lock-up. This gave me pretty close registration to the first colour and saved me a sheet of tympan paper. I had to move the gauge pins just a touch. I use a micrommetre to level and centre justify my copy on the tympan, which took about 8 or 9 impressions to do. I ran a manual cycle, took an impression, and we were all set to go.

I took a few shots in case it was hard to imagine magenta on a press that had teal on it yesterday. Sheesh, talk about changing gears . . .

This run went a lot quicker because I didn't have to "double-clutch" the press, that is, I could pull an impression from each cycle, as opposed to yesterday's impression every two cycles. Today I was running text, and not an image with wide areas of ink coverage.

The Pearl Linen finish took the text very nicely, and no depression is seen on the reverse of the cards. But it's not exactly what is called a "kiss" impression, either. There is a little depression of the front fibres of the surface finish, but no separation of fibres. Thus you do see a very slight deboss on the front, which is quite classic. That's what I like to see. Just the old traditionalist coming out, I suppose.

I love press shots! I'm not a huge fan of my camera's flash, though. It makes my presses look so rusty! They are not, in fact, quite the opposite. But I don't have time to photoshop these pictures, so here goes. No, the smeary red on the die is not from the rollers. The roller height is set just right. It was from the proofing, after which I cleaned the die and got some magenta residue on the wood from the type brush.

The run totaled 180 impressions, two colour. This was over the amount requested, but heck, what's a little overkill? I told Tiffany that after the wedding she can send Derek out on the street corner and sell the overage to passers-by.

Phase 6: Wrap Up.
And now, once again, I have a living room and dining room full of cards drying. One of these days I'll spring for a wire tray pie rack. Yeah, when I get that store-front with the bay window.

Here's another shot of the completed announcement in the four-fold envelope. Here you can see why I ran the colours I did. The envelope and backing card keys with the monogramme and text. The flaps on the sides interleave as they close, not unlike the petals of a flower.

Here is the envelope, closed.

Well, that's it! From beginning to end. The whole process took several weeks with consultation, materials procurement, re-consultation, testing, sign off and process. Add this to the fact that I am a practicing Optician managing a clinic. And I get up every morning at 4am to do a 6.6 kilo course 6 days a week. Busy guy? Yeah. But my hope is that as Letterpress catches on around here in Central Florida, I can actually open my operation up to full time activity. It practically is that already!

Good Providence in all your Letterpress Endeavours!


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

Tiffany's Wedding Part 2

Phase 4: Impression testing of custom colours.

The next phase is the colour mixing, for which I wanted Tiffany to be present, at least for most of the process. Tiffany took most of the following photos, in fact.

It became pretty clear that the electric Teal and Fuschia, as it appears on the computer screen, wasn't going to happen. In fact Tiffany noted that even pulling a print from her file on her own printer gave hugely different colours. We agreed that the contrast between the red letters and almost blue-green of the monogramme required a much more muted monogramme and a darker magenta in the text. Now, one of the things we have to remember is that while most cards are around 5 x 7 in., we are reduced to putting the same amount of information . . . actually even more than most . . . in an area less than five inches square, which called for reduced sized letters. This, in turn, makes the thick strokes of each character thinner, and the thin strokes thinner still. We need to maintain sufficient contrast so the card will be something like legible without the need to take a couple Excedrin because of the optical contrast.

We mixed colour by as natural of light as possible. Mixing colours can be pretty tricky, certainly not a very linear affair. Each colour is chemically different in some way, not unlike Artist's oil paint. I mix with a palette knife. I started with Van Sonn oil based opaque white. Next came process blue. All you need is a couple molecules of process blue , and boom! You have a pale baby blue that looks pretty good. Then I added process yellow, about a molecule. Really! I'm exaggerating the proportions, the point is, it doesn't take much to darken down a colour, but to lighten it requires gobs of white. So go slow. A touch of yell0w, and we had a decent confederate blue on the verge of green. Tiffany wanted more blue, so I added 80% white and 20% blue together and added it to the mix. The result was a fairly light dusky teal.

Say what you want about the small Showcard Presses, I love my little proofer! It's no Vandercook, but it pulls a nice print. Good enough for Tiffany to give her OK to the monogramme colour. So, one more impression test to go.

Now we're shooting for a compromise Fuschia / Magenta. These cards are being adhered to a four-fold bi-coloured envelope which is, in fact, Fuschia and bright Teal. We need to stay at least acceptably teriary to these colours. Again, it's a compromise between Optics (I am an Optician, after all. This process smacks a bit of Ishihara Colour Blindess test patterns!), legibility, colour keying, and what is possible with real live printing on this particular stock. Changes are made as you go. This is quite a labour intensive process. In our case with this job, Tiffany and I spent two hours, and even then, at the point she had to leave for an appointment, I still needed to do some slight alterations. Thus, the custom colour selection process can take as long as the printing process itself! Keep this in mind if you are considering custom colour work. Pantone swatches and ink scales notwithstanding, it still boils down to eyeball, testing and proofing.

Here, I am using my small brayer to lay on a magenta mix. We ultimately wound up going darker than the colour I'm using here. By principle, I always proof on the same stock as the run itself. Since this is Neenah's Classic Crest Linen in Pearl finished cover stock, there is a slight gloss to the surface, which means these cards, run with oil base, will smear very easily and require at least 12 - 24 hours drying time. Twelve hours is sufficient to permit the second colour. But in proofing, we are sort of doing a wet on wet thing that gets sorta smeary with handling, so we are looking basically at the combination of the two colours.

This is the first magenta mix. It was a bit light.

Eventually we went darker, and finally put the colour to bed. After the colours are mixed, I scraped the ink directly into small cans. Usually what I mix on the metal palette is more than enough for a platen press run of several hundred to a thousand. So, now we go to phase four: the actual printing!

Phase 5(a): Laying down the first colour.

The monogramme is the first colour printed. The text will be opaque and lay atop the monogramme. Now the Monogramme itself is no simple matter. Makeready on larger wood mounted cuts can be a bit tricky because the cuts are almost never exactly even. In my case, invariably I do a slight build-out from the bed to make up for lighter impression on one side or other of the cut. A strip of masking tape across the back on the low impression side usually does the trick, as in the case with this cut. For dies, I prefer to do most of the leveling this way. Spot issues of impression I handle on the side of the platen/ tympan.

Now, this cut needs a bit of analysis. Like the body text, this monogramme is fashioned from Edwardian Caps, which means it has thick and thin strokes. The thick strokes carry a lot of ink, which must be spread evenly over the wider surface. Platen presses can be tricky here. The ones that do the best job have four to six rollers, two Forme rollers and two or more rollers dedicated to handling and spreading ink. However, I have read that a way to compensate for this if you are using less than four rollers is an old printer's technique of double cycling the press, which is simply letting the rollers ink the Forme (or Die) twice for each impression. In fact, one web site says that the added ink rollers were actually there to imitate the technique of double cycling in a single cycle to speed things up a bit. So I'll pass this little tid-bit on to you.

Another thing: we are not using a loose fibre paper such as Lettera. We have a polished stock which means you cannot just "ram" the die into the paper. You must find that pressure which ensures good ink coverage without squeezing it off the relief surface and making the ink gather at the edges. I call that "Sabateuring" the ink, from the photographic "Sabateur",or "Posturising" effect where you flash the print paper in developer, forcing the silver salts to rush to the edges of the latent image as it's developing, producing exaggerated edge-line contrast and evacuated centres of mass. It was great for advertising images in the 1960s, but is sucks on Letterpress. And I see a fair degree of this effect even on loose fibred stock as people just punch away at that Lettera. Need I bring this up again? There is a time and place to deboss, and a time to apply judicious amounts of pressure to execute a finely articulate line. Tacticity does not equate to a punch.

Here's the set up. I wound up having to use a fairly hard makeready, and there is a slight depression noticeable from the rear of the printed piece, nothing like a punch, but enough pressure to imprint through the linen finish. The impression is on the verge of "light" but to increase pressure would be unwise. I can tell by the sound of the press when pressure starts to mount, and I like my iron and steel castings too much. A critical evaluation of the image through a loupe shows a fair edge, very slight deboss, no Sabateuring of wide area coverage portions, I call it a good impression. I then ran 120 more. These had to set out and dry, which took up a lot of room. I placed a 3 x 4 foot square drawing board on the upper deliver table to set out 20 cards at a time, then removed them into the house to park on the dining room table, coffee table, piano, piano bench, and wherever else they could spend the night.

That was my day yesterday. On Tuesday, the "red" run happens. If the contrast between the Monogramme and Text still proves lacking, I will lighten up the already lightened dusky Teal and run the job over again. If that's what it takes, we do what we must.

The bottom line is that Tiffany will have a great card, one that she will always remember, one that she will have in a scrap book for the rest of her life. The very least I can do from my studio is my very best. And guys, one thing I learned from restoring antique wireless transmitters and receivers, and a few presses: it's a labour of love. You do charge for your sevices but you will never extract a price for all the labour you will be performing. It just cannot be done. You charge a fair price for your services based upon what the market will bear in your area, and based on what you need to make to keep the doors open and a roof over your head. But the bottom line remains: you gotta love it. You must enjoy it. Excellence always resides at the intersection of Talent and Passion. You must have a Passion for this stuff. And I will assume you have some talent in this art, otherwise why even consider it? Hmm?? :>)

Last installment to come after the last run. I know that to many of you, this is old hat, but I hope that for some it will prove to be a revealing and educational glimpse into a field that you may be considering as you grow your interest in Letterpress Typography.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Tiffany's Wedding

So, how does a design jump from the drawing board and onto printed media? I thought we might walk through this process, especially for those of you who may wonder why the heck letterpress printing is so costly. Another reason is that this is an educational blog. My first priority is always to encourage folks just getting their feet wet in this industry and art. Particularly those here in Central Florida.

"Gary!" you may ask, "Why are you encouraging competition?? You are one of literally a handful of Letterpress operators and craftsmen/women in the whole State! Why do you want to encourage competition when you have this huge field all to yourself?"

Answer: Competition makes me better. It makes YOU better, too. It makes you work. But more than that, a community of craftsmen and craftswomen inspires. It promotes creativity. It creates awareness of your art. It also creates a better environment for your equipment because suddenly, parts, supplies, presses become more available. We learn from each other! So, in MY book, the more the merrier, and we all benefit. Letterpress was once dead. It's now alive because people like you and me are paying attention to it and are taking advantages of the tools we have at hand. This is how we grow, no?

To tell the naked truth, Letterpress in the main took a backseat back in the 1970s when offset printing and photo type editing, and later computer editing finally eclypsed the old Platen Jobber and Cylinder presses. Running these types of presses, traditional as they were, was just plain too labour intensive. When you had Union Tradesmen working at the God-awful 1972 rate of 5 - 8 dollars an hour, and Masters clocking 10 - 12 dollars per hour, and this new organisation OSHA breathing down your neck, you cut costs ASAP. Platen presses became the domain of die cutting, museum pieces and what few High Schools would risk them for Print Shop Classes. Even then, the cylinder type proof presses such as the Vandercooks, pretty well replaced the Platen Jobber Press in the Halls of Higher Learning. In short, until just a short time ago, Letterpress was essentially dead. In particular the Platen Jobber. (yes, I know, there are a whopping 20 or 30 printeries around the country that boast that they never stopped using them. Wow. 30 out of 30,000. We'll call them the eccentric few.)

Along came Digital Graphics Imaging, Vector algorithms and transparency printing, replacing the old high contrast Lithofilm. Along came Polymer Plates. The attention of traditional graphics plating firms took note, and, thankfully, interest in the new digital technologies. The computer replaces the old 14 x 22" R&R Robinson Camera and Darkroom for copy imaging, and suddenly a whole new world of possibilities are brought to bear on the Dear Olde Platen Presses, and indeed Old School Typography in General. And by the New Millenia, Gutenberg had shaken hands with the Digital Age. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Ok, so what about hot metal type? Oh, to be sure, handset type is still a practiced art and craft! If anything, the Digital Plating phenomena has created more interest in the classical protocals and printing arts. There is a growing demand for handset products, in fact many consider "true Letterpress" to be Handset Only, which adds to what the Germans used to call the "Handwerk" of it all. ( Some of you living in Munich may recall the annual "Handwerks Fest".) There are still traditional type foundries in the U. S., such as M&H in San Fransisco, or Quaker City up in Honeybrook PA. But I digress . . .

Letterpress owes the rennaissance it is currently enjoying to the digital technologies. And dyed in the wool traditionalists like me just simply have to get their heads around this immutable fact. I am mentioning this because as of late, I have encountered a bit of pooh-poohing from the Museum Printing crowd of the new era typographers who have moved into the neighbourhood, implying they are something less than Letterpress Printers. I colour that notion absurd. Oh, yes, it's different. Oh, yes, one must learn new skills. I think that's the rub. New skills.

So, let's take a look at these new skills by taking a tour of the production of Tiffany's Wedding Announcement. We will look at the original concept, the "lofting" and editing of the digitised image and the final plate product in this installment.

First: the initial design

Tiffany and Derek, friends of ours from Church, were thrilled over the prospect of having handcrafted wedding announcements. Tiffany had no idea that lurking in my workroom were two Platen Jobber presses, or that I was a sort of ersatz Christof Sauer (german revolutionary war era printer in Philadelphia. That's another story.)

Tiffany is quite talented in her own right, and soon I had a design which she came up with on her own drawing board, or, ahem, "Integrated Developmental Environment", IDE, the fifty cent word for a computer image made on whatever imaging programme you name, from Microsoft Paint to Word to Illustrator to Quark. In Tiffany's case, it was MS Word.

Tiffany used Edwardian Script to make her text body, and then used the Edwardian caps "D" and "T" with an Edwardian ampersand in the middle to be used as a background Monogramme. My job was to render these images into files which could be edited and sent to the plater. My IDE of choice is Macromedia's FreeHand MX. Two colours would be involved, the monogramme in a blue-green sort of teal, and the text in a fuchsia sort of magenta. The paper is an awesome Neenah Linen finished Pearl, which has an Opaline reflective effect, but not overly severe. The finished printed piece would measure 4.75" by 4.75", and would be adhered to the inslide of a four-folded cover which will enclose the announcement like petals of a flower. A very creative idea, Tiffany!

Second: the digital work.

Importing an MS Document is not easy because Word is usually not very friendly to vector IDEs, so the best way to go for me was to redraw the whole thing. I resized the image on a 4.75" square canvas, and superimposed the two designs in as close to the finished colour as possible. The image below is a screenshot of the FreeHand IDE and the superimposed image.

It took a little tweaking here and there to make it fit and not so reduce the text so as to make it hard to read. Also the contrast of colours must lend towards legibility. Fortunately tertiary shades of green/ blue and red/yellow are complimentary and contrast each other. Upon finding a comfortable point, each element of this design must be separated and converted into black and white images for the Plater. In this case, the Plater is Owosso Graphics.

This is the first plate which will be printed. Tiffany did the final arrangement of the elements of this monogramme herself on my computer until she had the three elements arranged according to her liking and approval. At this point I saved the image. It was ready to send.

This is the second plate, converted to Black and White. But we ran into a snag: Tiffany's Wedding Website changed ownership, and the address had to be changed. And later still, when the new ownership proved a bit limiting to Tiffany (she really likes to design her own stuff, not having her choices limited!) we had to edit the text for a new web address. This was done by my saving and sending .pdf images to Tiffany for approval. But the deadline, July 26th, is coming on fast! So the approved second plate, along with the first plate was sent off to Owosso, taking advantage of their overnight return option. I might add that the metal we ordered is 16g. magnesium mounted on wood, type high. This was a cost cutting move on our part. We initially wanted copper to polish and give to the Bride and Groom as a souvenir, but in this economy such luxuries often need to wait. We can have copper cast later. As a designer AND printer, I can save my clients a bit of money here and there by offering alternative choices, which is the cool part of what I do.

Even though by this time I have several hours of design time into this project and Tiffany has an even greater investment in "sweat equity" owing to the twists and turns of plans, it's been great to work hand and glove with Tiffany through this project, and for her, having a personal part of the design is invaluable.

Third: the Plating.

The plates arrived from Owosso the next day. Platers send proofs along with their plates so you can proofread without having to ink up and roll your plates through the proofing press. In this case I have cut down the proofs so I can physically check their sizes against the actual stock which will be used. You can see that piece of stock at the top of the photo.

The next shots are close-ups of the plates and proofs.

And now we are ready to take a colour impression test for the colour mix. Hopefully Tiffany can make it down to the shop for this phase of the operation. While she has given me an awful lot of room to make choices for her, I want the client to be as much in charge as is practicable. The process is not inexpensive, and involves a lot of handwork, design work, time and involvement to make happen. Digital technology notwithstanding, there is an awful lot of handwork that goes into Letterpress printing even BEFORE you make the First impression!

That's it for now. Stay tuned for the next installments where we visit the colour testing and proofing, makeready and lock-up, and the actual run of the two colours.

I remain your most humble and obedient servant

G. Johanson, Printer.