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Why I Love Letterpress

I am very much a perfectionist. I’ve got a sharp eye for detail, especially in my design work. I’ll notice if a hyphen needs to be replaced by an em dash, if the leading of one line of type doesn’t match the rest of the paragraph, or if an element needs to be shifted just a fraction of an inch within a composition. Luckily for me, I’m designing in the digital age, when most everything is done on a computer. It’s easy and efficient for me to make edits to my projects if I notice something needs to be changed. With my Macbook, my work is precise and as perfect as I want it to be.

If you look closely, you'll see that I ran out of 10pt bold italic lowercase y's when I was setting my "Fourth of July."
If you look closely at the final print, you’ll see that I ran out of 10pt bold italic lowercase y’s when I was setting my “Fourth of July” poster.

Perhaps this need for perfection is what led me to love letterpress printing so much. In letterpress, it is a challenge for me to make my final print match the composition I visualized at the start. I have to let go of my strict expectations and just let the composition happen. Sometimes, I’ll start to set type and run out of letters in the font, which leads to a series of possibilities: should I find a whole new font? should I set just a few characters in a different font? should I set some words in one font and some in another? and before I know it, the composition is completely different than I imagined yet somehow more magical. On the computer, I simply design a piece and send it off to a digital printer; on the press bed, I have to measure and add the furniture, lock the form, pull some test prints, and repeat for every color! The design process feels much more like a process when it’s physical, and the end results are so much more satisfying.

I usually stay away from hand media because they give me less control over my designs, but letterpress is different, somehow. I have to get over myself and just let the print happen; I have to let the composition control me, or else I will always leave the shop frustrated and unsatisfied. Imperfection is what gives letterpress its character and its humanity. You don’t get the same feeling of personality and creatorship from a digitally printed poster. Even though it is a challenge for me personally, loving the process has been key to my development as a letterpress printer and also as a graphic designer.

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