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Re: Letterpress


I have had my calligraphy reproduced in both magnesium and photo-polymer,
then printed from them: much depends on the skill of the plate-maker. If
you trust your camera jockey, then it doesn't really matter as far as
quality of impression goes. There are some other considerations that will
guide you to the right choice for this job.

COST: You'll probably find that the mag. dies are cheaper than
photo-polymer, but you'll have to do some comparison shopping.

EQUIPMENT: If you're just starting to print, figure out if you can get help
from someone knowledgeable about polymer printing. It requires that you set
the plate on something milled exactly to type-height when the plate is
affixed to it. Then there's the decision to buy the expensive milled
magnetic base, or go with a plexiglass block and find a suitable adhesive.
Once you've done all that, you're just about ready to sling some ink. The
advantage (generally) to polymer is that make-ready is just about
non-existant. This is the fussy little printer's task that can take hours
because you have to use little paper shims underneath the block in areas
where it's not getting enough pressure.

SKILL: As for trying to do 200 invitations that satisfy your craft
expectations, having never printed before, you may just want to put down
your ink can and slowly back away from that press ;-) I'm kidding, but it
is a challenge to learn to print well. It's even harder to learn on your
own. If you are self-taught with calligraphy then  you know how hard that
is to do well. And if you learned from teachers, then you know how helpful
they can be when the "pen doesn't work, 'cause the letters I write don't
look as good as the ones you do." What an experienced letterpress person
can do may look pretty straightforward and easy, you'll find that it's like
trying to ride a unicycle on an icy hill as your first attempt.

If you don't take a class to learn to print, try something simple, and
controllable. Make a letter, have a plate made, buy some ink and paper,
then print that one letter till you get even, crisp ink distribution,an
impression that hasn't punched through the paper, and something that looks
like a good printing job. Then take it to a printer who's work you admire
and get a critique.

Or, you could get that printer to do the job for you, and con them into
letting you watch and have a less painful learning curve on this particular

Printing is a craft that requires a lot of mechanical ability because you
are using a machine to produce what you wrought by hand. You need to master
the machine, a new kind of ink that has very little in common with writing
ink. And finally, you have to masterfully apply these skills to a paper
that takes this ink in a different way than calligraphic paper does. Where
writing depends on a flowing ink to reduce the mechanical friction of pen
on paper, leaving a track that defines the movement of the pen, printing
requires that you smack the heck out of the paper with an inked-up thing,
making a good "first impression" on that abused surface with enough ink
having been left behind in the bruise to be legible. I'm not prejudiced or
anything, I know lots of gentle printers in spite of their craft. ;-)

Hope this helps,

Nicholas G. Yeager 51 Warren St.#2 NY, NY 10007 212.346.9609

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