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Re: [BKARTS] confusion


You will be able to find lots of information about letterpress printing
online, including some very useful sources that have recently been mentioned
in this list. To give you the kwik 'n dirty rundown: there are several types
of printing processes, ie, process for getting ink onto paper in a more or
less permanent form. Letterpress is an example of what is known as a RELIEF
process, similar to wood cuts, lino cuts etc., where the ink sits on a
raised surface (non image areas are lower than the inked surface and
therefore doesn't print) and is PRESSED into the paper by a press or by hand
or other methods. This is the method that Gutenberg used, and while further
developments increased its efficacy, ease of use and aesthetic qualities,
the basic process remains the same to this day.

Letterpress was replaced by offset printing as the commercial medium of
choice in the middle 20th century. Offset printing is based on lithography,
which is a PLANOGRAPHIC process, meaning that the plate, ink and paper are,
in theory, on the same plane (molecularly of course, they are not on the
same plane, but who's counting?) Offset represented a huge leap forward
technologically for many reasons, among them the ability to capture much
finer detail in the printing, especially in halftones (photos).  (Your
friendly printer down the street is probably an offset printer. The presses
range from small ones, the kind used by "quick printers" to huge mutli-color
presses used by large print houses making books and so forth.) One of these
improvements was the fact that plates used for offset are made
photographically, which also allows type and images to be printed at the
same time. Setting metal type by hand or by machine was replaced by
photographic type, and then by computer type. In the past 15 years or so,
digital processes have completely taken over the graphic arts industry. The
ink jet and laser printers are examples of DIGITAL printing, and refinements
in that process are bringing down costs and improving longevity, so that now
DIGITAL is rapidly becoming the medium of choice. Digital printing is also
planographic in that the ink is not pressed into the paper; with ink jet,
the ink is sprayed by tiny nozzles into the paper, and with laser printers
toner is put onto the paper and then fused into the paper particles.
Photocopying is similar and is sometimes referred to (mistakenly) as digital
printing. These are the most expensive printing methods, relatively
speaking, but can be cost effective for small runs.

Letterpress has never died among type and printing enthusiasts, and is still
considered a high standard that other processes have yet to meet. It has
been making a comeback in recent years partly as a backlash to everyone's
getting sick and tired of computers and longing to have work done with the
hand, as well as because of the tactile qualities it imparts when the ink is
pressed into softer rag papers. Letterpress is still used commercially
whenever an impression has to be made in paper, such as for scoring and
perforating, numbering, etc.

Because letterpresses are no longer used commercially, they are not being
manufactured and can often be picked up for very little money. But they are
always used and sometimes used badly, so sometimes you get what you pay for.
Parts are not being made either, so if they are gone, they are gone. And we
are rapidly running out of people who know how to work on these presses,
too. The recent resurgence of interest in letterpress has led to an
inflation of prices for equipment, especially with speculators on ebay and
antique markets, etc., pushing prices way out of line. It's still possible,
however, to find someone getting rid of equipment that can be had for free
if you haul it away, but the cost of hauling and refurbishing can be

Hope this helps.

Katie Harper

 (on 6/21/03 4:12 PM, henrietta at quilter@xxxxxxxxxxxx wrote:

> Pardon a very ignorant question and I'm hoping it has a simple
> answer.  In my personal experience and understanding of printing, I
> skipped straight from the 'old days' of printing - which consisted of
> metal letters/words slotted into frames backwards, inked and printed
> - and also engraving, aka wedding invitations - from there it seems
> the world went right fast forward to computer-inkjet-laser printer.
> So I don't understand what you-all are referring to as 'letterpress'
> and how can you buy one for $400?  Is this what the local printshop
> is using these days?  I know that with both ink-jet and laser
> printers the ink sits on the surface of the paper, although I
> understand the mechanism is different.  Does letterpress in some way
> impress the ink into the paper?  and how?  Tx - enquiring minds want
> to know.
> --
> Henrietta in Blue Hill, Maine

Katie Harper
Ars Brevis Press
Cincinnati, OH

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