Letterpress Print with Raquel Raney of SeeSaw Designs

Letterpress Print with Raquel Raney of SeeSaw Designs
Spring Eselgroth

In the age of digital presses where anything can be printed on demand at high speed, it's only natural there's a renewed interest in an old-school technique like Letterpress printing.

The design team at SeeSaw Designs in Scottsdale are not immune to the love of vintage printing, and they've taken the time and energy to find the Letterpresses and all the gear that goes along with it to create beautiful cards and calendars that have that retro feel.

We caught up with Raquel Raney, one of SeeSaw designers to discuss her crush on Letterpress printing and to get a feel for how it's done. "We're still learning as we go and I'm sure we do a lot a little bit backwards," says Raquel. "But, we love it and it's not going anywhere."

To see if you're ready to make the commitment to Letterpress printing, take the jump. 

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For those considering an adventure in Letterpress printing, or who are simply curious about the process, here is a very basic step-by-step guide and a few helpful hints from the team at See Saw Designs.

For a more thorough discussion on Letterpress printing, visit American Amateur Press Association or David Rose's Introduction to Letterpress Printing.

1. Apprentice for a year or two. Traditionally, printing was considered a serious skill and printers had a ton to learn before they were ready to go it alone. According to Raquel, seven years was a normal length of time to apprentice. Nowadays, most don't have seven years to commit to a Letterpress education and choose to learn as they go. Like the team from SeeSaw Designs prove, it just takes a love of old school printing techniques and the energy to do it yourself.

2. Find your Letterpress printer. There are a variety of letterpresses available, ranging for a very basic starter kit that can be bought new to older models that can be found on ebay or craigslist. Making your own letterpress is also an option.

3. Gather your supplies. The necessities include rollers, ink, paper (tip from Raquel: use 100 percent cotton paper, it's spongy enough to give you a nice impression). And there are plenty of extra supplies required such as exact-o knifes, little paper grips called gauge pins, pencils, rulers, etc.

4. Decide exactly how old school you really want to be. There are old wood and metal blocks of type that you can find around (again ebay and craigslist are your friends), but you might consider going the more modern route. Consider creating your design in Adobe Illustrator, making a vector file and sending it off to be made into a photo-polymer plate. (SeeSaw uses Boxcar Press in Syracuse New York.) And if that seems like a lot of work, just trust that it is, in fact, the simpler solution. Setting tiny letters in the right place is time consuming, and you might risk a headache or two, as the type can be very small.


5. Think upside down. When you begin to block (or set up) your plate, you'll have to do it up upside down so that it turns out, well ... right side up. Raquel says this is one of the hardest things to get used to.

6.Get ready to print. To set up the right alignment, you'll need to prepare the base (the image or letters you're printing) to be "type high," the technical term for making sure everything is the same height. Typman and packing paper allow you to control the level of the impression created by the press. Experimentation in paper thickness is key.

7. Find the perfect placement for the paper and keep the paper in place with the gauge pins. Adjust and adjust again until the print is aligned correctly.

8. Apply ink to the rollers. When it comes to the ink, a little goes a long way. Once you've spread the ink onto to the dispenser, allow the machine to disperse the ink on the round metal plate.

9. And you're off! Once you've got the placement of the paper just right and the press is inked and ready to go, you can start to work pretty quickly.

Extra note: For a multicolor print, the press will have to be cleaned completely in between each new color application.

So, if you haven't yet decided you'd rather just order SeeSaw's cards and skip the whole "do-it-yourself" bit, you might just have a future in the neo-retro niche market of Letterpress printing.

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