On the Pressing Future, as of the Past

On September 11, 2019, a new world fell upon me in a magnificent heap of wonderfulness: I, for the first time, used a real live traditional printing press!! It’s just like in a fairy tale; I still cannot truly believe that I was actually allowed contact with such a majestic device…

Experiencing letterpress firsthand for the first time opened my eyes in many respects. Feeling the wheel beneath my fingertips as I turned it was exhilarating, as was seeing the final product that came out of pressing our team’s stamp into the paper and passing my hand over the image after the print dried. The entire process of formulating ideas, formatting, and manually printing brought with it a sense of control that does not usually come with using electronics or other methods of creating content. I felt as if whatever I did would become the product itself — how much effort I put into the process would be perfectly reflected in the output as long as the letterpress was working properly.

I mean, just look at this beauty!!

Taken by Irina Rusanova

Traditional letterpress stands on its own in my book — it could easily replace modern printers if there were fewer people and businesses and useless things in the world — but, devastatingly, there is not always enough time to print everything from report cards to books with a letterpress without thoroughly working somebody to the bone. It is difficult to ignore the rise of digitized products that happened in the 1980’s (which played a big role in the fall of traditional presses’ popularity at the time) as well as the immense amount of time and effort the letterpress process can take.

Since letterpress has been “revived,” so to say, it has gone through some changes because of the modern surroundings it has been introduced into. Today, several modern technologies can be paired with letterpress to decrease time of production, to increase quality of prints, and even to bring back typesets that have been lost!

2 thoughts on “On the Pressing Future, as of the Past”

  1. I love that ‘marriage’ between old and new which the movie showed us…the guy plugging his old monotype machine into his Mac Book. I like to think that new technologies can and might help to revive our connection with the great technologies of the past in this way. Letterpress, in any case, doesn’t seem like an exercise in futility…its appeal is real, as you describe, and one can’t help but feel like the process and the product amount to something more than what one can get out of a laser printer.

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