Learning letterpress printing with Harrington & Squires

Learning letterpress printing

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In my day job I work with an amazing company – Hurtwood Press – that produces extremely beautiful bespoke books and printed artifacts. They have a long history with print of all mediums and working with them has sparked in me a curiosity in typography, design and printing. So I was delighted that for my birthday last year my lovely husband gave me the gift of a letterpress workshop at Harrington & Squires.

Learning letterpress printing - ampersands

What is letterpress printing?

Letterpress printing is a method of relief printing using a printing press.  Many copies of a design are made by repeating the direct impression of an inked, raised surface onto paper using wooden or metallic type. Unlike digital printing which has a smooth finish, letterpress has a tactile quality that is individual and, I think, artistic.

With origins in the 15th century, letterpress printing was critical to communication for over 500 years. However in the 20th century, developments in technology and the arrival of the cheaper methods of offset lithography and digital printing signalled the demise of this traditional printing method. Today letterpress is experiencing somewhat of a revival driven by an increased awareness and appreciation of the craft techniques used to achieve its unique finish. Letterpress is valued for its beautiful tactile quality and is used for wedding invitations, greeting cards and other ephemera.

To discover more about letterpress I found this resource useful – British Letterpress

Harrington & Squires

Designers Chrissie Charlton and Vicky Fullick run the small design and letterpress business that is Harrington & Squires. Apart from running letterpress workshops they design and produce stationery, invitations, calendars, greetings cards and other products using letterpress and digital printing. You can learn more about them and visit their online shop here.

Learning letterpress printing

The studio

Chrissy and Vicky’s studio is in a fabulous tall and narrow building called ‘The Corridor’ in Tufnell Park. If ever you wanted a lesson on how to best use space you only need to take a tour of their workshop. Typefaces, presses, merchandise and other materials all have their own home and it is an extremely organised space, full of light and perfect for exercising your creativity. Take a sneak peek into the goings on at the studio here:

The letterpress workshop

Over a full day Vicky and Chrissy shared their considerable knowledge with me, starting with an introduction to design and typography. We then discussed some of my ideas. Once I had sketched them out (badly!) we then set about bringing the concept I had in mind to reality. I wanted to work on some business cards and a little postcard but you could design a card, invitation or other printing project. It is useful to have an idea of the colours and look and feel you want so you can choose the stock and paints later on.

Chrissy helped me to select the type I liked for each of the items I was printing. I am no design expert so her advice was useful in helping choose the fonts and sizes for each of my pieces from their collection of typefaces.

Learning letterpress printing

The next step was to hand-set the metal type and lock it up in a chase. This is a bit tricky and again experience wins out in getting the type set in the best way to achieve the design you want. I learnt all about printing terms such as pica, leading and furniture. Chrissie guided me through the process and patiently described the importance of spacing and setting up the chase so the design would print evenly.

Learning letterpress printing

After a delicious lunch Vicky showed me how the Adana press worked. We chose the stock and paint to use and then began inking the press.  I was surprised how little paint was needed to achieve what I think is a very rich look. We then did a few proofs to align the paper correctly and also test the level of debossing or imprint. I really like the texture of debossing so we needed to adjust the padding on the press so we could achieve that look.

Learning letterpress printing

Once satisfied I was left to print my pieces. I had chosen to use two different fonts and an ampersand for my business cards. They were also double sided so that meant some careful alignment and then waiting for the ink to dry. I managed to do this without smudging.

Later in the day I also tried printing with wooden typefaces on the Farley proofing press. This requires a lot of patience and technique to get just right. I think I managed one item I was really happy with out of 25!

Depending on your project you can also learn some simple bookbinding and finishing during your workshop.

I really got an appreciation of the knowledge and experience required to produce a single printed item. I have always appreciated the beauty of letterpress but now I know how much careful consideration goes into printing a single item. I very much enjoyed the workshop at Harrington & Squires and have been proudly showing off my creations.

The output

I am so pleased with the end result. Here are the designs I completed over the day.

Learning letterpress printing

One of the amazing things about living in London is that there are so many interesting courses and talks you can attend and participate in. From history and fashion to sport, art and design on any given day I can guarantee you will find an outlet for your curiosity. If you are interested in learning letterpress printing I would recommend you spend a day at Harrington & Squires.

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Learning letterpress