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Real printing works in three dimensions. It means pressing a letter with ink on it into paper. Most of what we see and read these days, whether it’s a newspaper, a book, a sheet off a photocopier or words on the TV screen, is two-dimensional. It’s black and white but it lies flat on the paper. The shapes of the letters are the same, but what you see lacks the bite, the sense of impression, of type that’s been really printed. Letterpress printing remains the only way to gain the full impact of printing as it is meant to be seen, read and appreciated. Whether it is an edition of the Bible or Shakespeare, an invitation or a calling card, a poem or a piece of promotion, it has to make that impact. If it is to be understood as well as read, appreciated as well as seen, it has to be printed by letter press.
The process starts with lead type, each letter separate. This is produced by the Monotype process, of which I am probably the last commercial typesetter. It consists of a keyboard and a caster. The keyboard produces a perforated tape, which programmes the caster. One piece of type is cast at a time, and ejected into a channel to make ‘justified’, i.e., squared off, lines of individual types. The lines mount up in a long tray called a ‘galley’. When it is full, they are taken off and made up into pages by hand. That is when extra items like headings and page-numbers are added.
That is where the job ends, but for me it never ends. I go back to work I’ve already done, enjoying it when it’s come out well, sometimes wondering if I couldn’t have done it better. So when you, the customer, come back for more, you’ll find me ready to start work again, ready to repeat what’s been well done before or to create a new design for a completely new job.