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A California Type Foundry Is Keeping Vintage Printing Alive (atlasobscura.com)
45 points by diodorus 52 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 11 comments

The center for the book (https://sfcb.org) in San Francisco offers intro to letterpress classes, which I cannot recommend enough.

Being able to go from layout to printed paper so directly and viscerally is fantastic. If you've ever raged at InDesign or Microsoft Word, the physical embodiment of type, spacers, etc. feels like getting a glass of cold water in hell.

Of course it comes with its own tedium (can't Cmd + Z, can't just download new fonts, etc.), and I wouldn't advocate that anyone but specialty shops do a majority of their work on a letterpress; but having poured many frustrated hours into InDesign and its buggy features, it felt like a liberation to be able to control things physically.

To a degree, I feel like introduction to typography should be taught on a letterpress. You develop a much stronger feel for what's going on, and you physically grok what a baseline, em, en, etc. are. In my typography classes, students got confused by these notions because the definitions got muddied by the various software interpretation and implementations of it over the years (and the professor didn't do a great job at clearing it up either).

Having used the original thing first, the software implementations (and the liberties they took) became much easier to understand for me.

I used to hand-set type at my own letterpress company as a kid. What you say is true; there's nothing like being able to see and feel 3D letterforms when you're learning typography. Plus you have to learn to compose words upside down and backwards, which means you become an excellent speller with no need of spell checkers.

OTOH you might get lead poisoning. But I was probably in more danger from all the solvents we used back then.

You can get Bismuth and Aluminum type for some fonts. I've never used bismuth, but Aluminum was fine, it just lacked the heft.

Speaking of lead poisoning though, A pet peeve of mine is when people upcycle old california job cases in their homes. They look cool, but really should not be kept around in a home, especially one with kids. (https://www.google.com/search?q=california+job+case)

They bug me because usually the type just gets thrown away and the case sold to hold knickknacks. But I hadn't thought about the lead dust they contain. Excellent point.

Some makerspaces have letterpresses, too. Putting the old tech under the same roof as CNC machines and 3D printers is a really cool synergy. It's also nice having a real wood shop, so your random "can I use this to make type?" experiment can easily get a shim milled to make it exactly type-high without a lot of work.

I'm not the expert on it, but I'm pretty sure SLA 3D printers are basically the same machine that printing folks get very excited about when referred to as "polymer plates".

Pretty much the same idea for those polymer plates. the differences is that the printers have a z axis to make 3d parts while Polymer plates specifically make parts of a fixed thickness.

This is part of the problem with software eating the world: it replaces physical processes which obey physical laws with metaphors, and the only laws metaphors obey are the ones their creators set for them. So they take processes that used to be predictable and repeatable (if unwieldy) and turn them into processes that are easier to work with, but maddeningly unpredictable.

I had the chance to use a hand-press printing tool some years back [0] and would also recommend it if you ever get the chance. It's a creative and technical tactile experience.

[0] https://library.claremont.edu/scl/first-floor-press/

I used to get a kick out of watching Linotypes going. But I remember the day when 10 pt. Spartan turned out to look like 9 pt. anything else. There isn't any right-clicking on a galley of type to bring up the menu to change point size: you have to have them reset it all. Yes, there is a loss, but the gain is immense.

a few exercises with oversize print, then back to a standard page, repeat .. will sharpen the demarcation.. it is very visual, not abstract. One hands-on series with physical letterpress might be great, but hardly seems required to understand.

See also in Toronto: https://chbooks.com/About-Us


They have an open house once or twice a year where you have the chance to run a print with their old flywheel platen press and see a demonstration of Linotype typesetting. They'll also show you around their refurbished Heidelbergs.

Here's a photo of Stan with the Challenge Gordon press (used to share a drink [too many] with him at the old James Joyce pub on Bloor where he was a regular when I was at U of T):


The Wayzgoose is real soon, actually! And beer/wine/hotdogs:


(Funny enough they even had early inroads in the digital publishing space with: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SoftQuad_Software)

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