How it's Made

It all begins when you choose one of our existing collections or work with us to create a custom design. Either way, we'll work together closely during the creative process. We'll provide you digital proofs to review as revisions are requested - this process continues until you love what you see. Once a design is finalized, the real magic begins! 

The digital design is output to film as a negative (right) and then exposed to a polymer plate using UV light (left).The polymer plate is made of a light-sensitive, water-soluble plastic with a clear backing. The portions of the plate that are exposed to light through the film harden and the non-exposed portions wash away.  What remains is a raised surface in the shape of the design. A separate plate is produced for every color being printed, and the paper is run through the press once for each color in the design. These plates are then mounted to a block of metal called a boxcar that raises the plate to the correct height when locked into the press. 

photopolymer making

Next, one of our 65+ custom ink colors is mixed by hand. In our shop, we mix everything by eye and often match ink to a specific Pantone color.  We use both rubber and oil based inks. The inking process has to be done carefully - too much ink will produce a blurry print but too little will cause "ghosting." 

mixing letterpress ink

Once the ink is mixed, we select the correct paper for your order. Our house favorite paper is 110 lb Crane’s Lettra paper. Crane's Lettra is engineered for letterpress printing. It is 100% cotton - soft and luxurious to the touch, yet strong and stable on the press. Lettra is uncalendered, meaning that its texture is not smoothed in the paper-making process. The cotton fibers are relatively uncompacted and are receptive to the deep impression required by letterpress.  Paper is hand fed into our presses one sheet at a time. Differences in pressure and the amount of ink on the platen can dramatically affect the quality of the print. Adjustments are made to produce the desired color and the print output is checked often to ensure consistency. A print job is affected by variables such as ink type and frequent re-inkings are sometimes required. 

Time to pick a press!

Our first press is a Chandler and Price 8x12 named Mia. In the early days of the company, she handled everything we printed. Mia was built in Cleveland, Ohio in 1893. She was built during a time when great attention was paid to craftsmanship and the manufacturing process. You can tell she's an early example of a Chandler and Price by the sexy curves on her cast iron flywheel. Mia's name came from a Facebook naming contest we held in 2013. Her full name is Miriam Wallace - named for a character in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction. 

The second press we acquired is another Chandler and Price named Marcellus (also a Pulp Fiction character.) Marcellus Wallace was born in 1915, so he's actually a bit younger than Mia. He came from the factory with a beefier construction than Mia so he handles most of our larger invitation orders. 

Jules (yet another Pulp Fiction character) is the shops newest addition. Jules is a Heidelberg Windmill. The moniker Windmill comes from the way the paper-gripper rotates when moving paper through the press. Two arms rotate as they pick up a sheet of paper, drop it for impression, and finally move the finished product into a collection hopper. The Windmill is perfect for large quantity orders because of it's automatic paper feed. Jules was built during a completely different era than our other two presses. 

Once the print job is finished and the ink has dried, we cut each order to size with Vincent, our vintage 1890’s Chandler and Price guillotine paper cutter. If you are still following along with the theme, Vincent was played by John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.

Each order is double checked for quality and accuracy. Finally, the order is wrapped with a protective bag, placed inside a sturdy box and cushioned with repurposed packaging materials for safe travel and sent to you - one of our eagerly awaiting customers!

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