Letterpress


Our letterpress workshop is equipped for hand composition and letterpress printing. Facilities include two proof presses, platen presses and approximately 120 cases of metal type.

The workshop is equipped with the following:

  • Vandercook proof press
  • FAG proof press
  • 2 x Adana 8×5 hand platen presses
  • Beevers Hydraulic press
  • Large collection of wooden poster type and metal composition type
  • Examples of letterpress work
  • Collection of samples from paper merchants

Questions answered by Specialist Technician Helen Ingham

Workshops are valuable because they are hands-on and students are not always in control of the process, this develops innovation. They also develop an understanding of the raw materials they are designing for.

Why do students come in here? 

Graphic design students need to understand type and composition, they have an induction timetabled with me during Stage 1, then can use the workshop to develop work for their course briefs. Working in here, they are literally developing a physical relationship with type and space, also an understanding of colour mixing, paper stock and producing items in multiple.  

I encourage them to use the equipment correctly, but ultimately, as an art school we are about breaking rules and pushing boundaries. Students can basically do what they want as long as they don’t harm themselves, the equipment, or me! Of course, with letterpress, there are limitations. But that forces analysis and problem solving within those limitations. You have to plan things well and be organised - great training for industry! 

What is the most common request you get? 

Embossing and de-bossing. We don’t have the correct equipment here, but I am working on that. Students also come in because they simply want their projects to look “old”. This is letterpress, a 600+ year old technology, of course it is going to look old! In certain contexts this is OK, but as I said earlier, letterpress is developing again and there's lots of exciting new contemporary work out there. 

Is there a particular project you remember? 

A BA Graphic Design student who graduated in 2013 designed a complete typeface digitally from scratch, then made a set of large size wood type with the help of the 3D Laser Cutting Workshop. She then printed large format letterpress posters with it. Laser cutting letterpress type is nothing new, but as far as we know, this is the first time anyone has been so involved with every stage of the process. 

Any interesting stories about the workshop/studio and/or its content? 

We have a collection of equipment coming from three different colleges. Most of it comes from the Central School in Southampton Row and Saint Martins, Longacre, but we also have some rescued type from London College of Printing (now London College of Communication).

The most modern metal typeface we have in here to my knowledge, is Helvetica, which dates back to the late 50s. We also have a lot of Gill Sans, very large (264pt) to very small (6pt) which is interesting, being part of the Central School's heritage, Eric Gill having studied and taught there. 

There are ways of producing print blocks and type from digital artwork though, so we're not chained to the past by any means! I am expanding the equipment and machinery as letterpress develops anew and the workshop gains popularity. 

What is it about this workshop that makes it a special place when at CSM? 

Letterpress almost died out because of digital technology, but there is a renewal of interest because of the subsequent resurgence of hands-on graphic processes. It is a valuable educational resource in that it teaches you so much on many levels. One example is you are forced to use numbers. I repeatedly see the look of horror on the faces of art and design students at the prospect.  Trust me, I feel the same way!  But I've found being comfortable with numbers his a big help in planning your work more effectively, be it analog or digital. 

In this workshop, you are forced to slow down as you cannot work quicker than you can think, which I believe is a very good thing at certain times in this establishment - typesetting, printing and even tidying up are a great cure for designer's block!

Often staff and students pay the workshop a visit simply because they enjoy the relaxed-but-productive vibe - I try and have some interesting work on the walls and good atmospheric music on the go too.