The Importance of Letterpress




Letterpress creation from St. Vincent College’s Small Press Publishing excursion to Meshwork Press.

It’s always helpful to be able to experience something you’ve learned about in person, to touch and interact with the object so that what you’ve seen and heard about from afar becomes more real to you. Watching the film on letterpress and the people who carry on the old traditions and practices was interesting and attention-grabbing, but actually being able to hold the type and arrange it to print your own design makes the process more real and tangible.

My experience at Meshwork Printing revealed a lot about the physical process of letterpress and the amount of creativity that goes into each work. Setting the type into a cohesive and appealing layout for printing takes a lot of work and forethought, since everything is dependent on the assembly. The process isn’t as quick or easy as it may seem when just watching a video or learning about the process from a book. Letterpress requires a lot of patience and knowledge of the craft, making it an art where repetition, research, and practice is key.

I believe that small poetry presses continue the art of letterpress because of the amount of creativity and imagination that go into every page. Every page of a letterpress-made book is unique and has a history behind them, and no page is like any other. Letterpress has such a history and tradition behind it that attracts so many because of the opportunities it presents. To use letterpress printing to produce a book of poetry adds a nice aesthetic touch and puts history into the pages. Each page is a work of art, and printing poetry on these pages creates an even more unique piece of art.

With the uniqueness of the art form comes the wonderful opportunity for creativity and imagination. To make each page, one must be able to have an idea of what they want before they assemble the page. Imagination is the very first step to creation in letterpress and is critical for the preservation of the art form. As author George Bernard Shaw said, “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will,” (15 Famous Quotes on Creativity). Imagination is a critical step in the process of creation, especially for letterpress printing, where all format and style choices are prompted by the human mind rather than a format like we are used to in the age of technology.

Letterpress printing like what we experienced at Meshwork Press requires attention to detail, creativity and imagination, and, most of all, a desire and passion to create.


“15 Famous Quotes on Creativity.” TwistedSifter, 8 Nov. 2012, twistedsifter.com/2012/03/15-famous-quotes-on-creativity/.

4 thoughts on “The Importance of Letterpress”

  1. I agree with what you mean when you said there is a difference between watching the letter press getting done in a film and then doing it for yourself. I felt the same way, yes it was interesting to see it be done in a movie but to do it for myself was a much different experience. It took time and patience and a close attention to detail. Great description of everything we did at Mesh Works!

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  2. Johanna: I like this idea, “Imagination is a critical step in the process of creation, especially for letterpress printing, where all format and style choices are prompted by the human mind rather than a format like we are used to in the age of technology.” I just think about all of those little characters and letters floating around in drawers…it is truly an experience of writing with none of the comforts of “format” and none of the “magic” of word processing! Why put ourselves through that? Maybe writers put themselves through it because it’s our very job to break forms, resist the convenience of cliche (a term that actually comes from letterpress, ironically), and wade out into the sea of disjointed possibilities.

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  3. “Where all format and style choices are prompted by the human mind rather than a format like we are used to in the age of technology”… This is a great observation! As a Fine Arts major, I have a great appreciation for the use of imagination both in visual art and in writing. I don’t think society gives enough credit to people who can mentally create nowadays. But it’s so true for letterpress–if you can’t imagine what you want to print, you won’t be able to print at all. There is a deep connection between the mind and the hands through this tangible printing process.

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  4. I like how you mention the impact that choosing one’s own design can have on the experience. I also like that you mention some of the challenges involved, because for some people, learning to master something (as opposed to a craft just being leisurely hobby) makes the process all that much more exciting.

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