Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Printing Experience with Letterpress

Dear Mom,

I went to a good friend’s, The Mullen’s house to set type and print my own bookmark. Several years ago I had the pleasure of setting type at their printshop—a group of us together created a piece, but Saturday it was all me.

With my favorite quote picked out, Carole helped narrow down my selection of type. They have over 900 fonts to choose from. After looking at four choices, I chose Grolier (24pt). We used Garamont 14 pt for the author’s name.

Bob and I lifted the case (looks like a drawer) of type out of the case stand onto an area where a metal holder (called a case bracket) keeps the case slanted while you pull type.

I was reminded to place the text into the composing stick upside down and backwards. I let the experts put in the proper spacing and then I’d start the next line.

After the entire quote was set, we took it over to the proof press to take a look at my first print. Unlike a computer where you can hit the delete key and correct your mistake, you had to pull the type from your form and either replace it with the corrected type or like in a few of mine, I had the letters backwards.

All type has a little notch (called a nick) in the middle of the type body that allows you to know which way to place the type. In my excitement I had a few in backwards. I corrected my mistakes and ran another proof.

There’s a hand ink roller that I’d roll over the text, lay a piece of paper on top and another sheet on top of that and crank the handle and the type moves through the big cylinder press roller imprinting on the paper.

I had two more mistakes. We ran it again. In the meantime, Carole had me pick out some designs that I might want to use with my quote—quills, inkwells, books, etc. She ran a proof of them and I cut out each design and laid it on my proof to see what looked best. The ink well with the feather seemed the perfect choice. I loved the row of books, but I knew that wasn’t going to work with my quote.

We added the design cut and ran another proof.

It was decided to make a few adjustments and I wanted to add: Printed by Lynn Obermoeller at the Mullens’ Printshop. We used Garamont 8 pt.

Another decision was needed with the type of paper and ink I’d use. Again Bob and Carole narrowed my choices and I preferred the gray with black ink. They agreed it complimented my type and design.

Bob cut the cardstock with the monster paper cutter and when I say monster, I mean monster. This would easily slice off your arm. Extra caution is used and it was left to the expert.

Before we ate our yummy lunch of veggie burgers that Carole prepared, Bob inked the 1907 Chandler & Price printing press. A dab of thick ink was added on the circular metal piece (ink disk) and as the press churned, ink spread evenly on the rollers and the ink disk.

My typed quote needed to be blocked into a square metal holder (called a chase) using wooden pieces (furniture) and an expanding metal wedge (quoin)—it has a hole in it. A key is inserted in the hole that allows the quoin to expand to tighten the entire piece in the metal holder. You then tap it to make sure it’s not loose—as you don’t want pi(e). See Carole’s blog on pi for a detailed explanation. Carole’ blog (Lasting Impressions) is about growing up in letterpress. You’ll learn more about letterpress in a fun and interesting style. And if you want to see more about my printing experience, then check out Come Over and Print!.

After lunch Bob set the gauge pins for the placement of the bookmark. He cut a scrap piece the size of my bookmark and printed a sample. We checked it over—fine tuning it. We lowered the inkwell and feather and moved “Printed by” just slightly by pulling out a spacer and moving it to another spot.

With everything lined up, no errors in the type we were ready to print. Bob showed me what to do, how to place the paper on the machine, to turn the heavy flywheel and viola, my beautiful bookmark.

I could seriously become a hobbyist letterpress printer—and the Mullens are the best teachers.

Thanks Bob and Carole!


  1. pretty awesome. i was blown away being at their press. super cool stuff. send me a bookmark immediately!

  2. Wow! That looks like a lot of work, but fun. What is your quote? I couldn't see it in the picture.

  3. Great! i see your hard-work..you will prosper very soon..keep up the good work!

  4. Wow! Lynn, thanks for this post with accompanying pictures. You could spend a day there, couldn't you? This takes me back nearly fifty years. There was an independent printer who did just this on the corner of our block. I can still smell the ink, the paper and hear the sounds. I can visualize the little short heavy set man with his visor and printer's apron bulging over his belly. How fun this must have been for you.

  5. Hey Lynn, this looks just like the old items at the Free Press in Iowa. It's amazing to think how the newspaper was printed for so many years! How fun for you! Thanks for sharing with us!

  6. That is so interesting! In the age of desktop publishing, we forget how the process used to work!



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