04.07.2011 cătălina zlotea
Books, newspapers, magazines, folders, labels, business cards, brochures, annual reports... all these things are printed at different standards and usually on various qualities of paper. Every day we come into contact with such printed material, things that are usually ephemeral in nature and whose form we eventually begin to ignore, allowing them to recede into the background of our daily lives. We simply scan them rapidly for the information we require and pay little attention to the type of paper or font used. 


Next time you find yourselves in a second-hand bookshop or with a book in your hand that was printed anytime before the 1960s, take a moment to run a finger over the printed surface of its pages. You’ll most likely feel that the characters are slightly in relief. If the print is high quality you should also notice how the letters are well formed and clear and the colour of the ink vivid. This is the result of letterpress, a method used for hundreds of years to print text and which, when done properly, provides extra beauty and, at the same time, a delightful tactile experience


The printing process I’m going to discuss here, that used by Gutenberg (i.e. letterpress printing) is based on the principle of bringing a relief surface into contact with another medium. Until midway through the 20th century, this was the predominant method of printing, and today there is a genuine revival in this black art. The principles of letterpress are simple, but achieving high quality print, applying the optimum amount of ink and the correct pressure, choosing the right paper, etc., are variables that can only be controlled with the benefit of years of experience often acquired as an apprentice.


In a previous article I talked about the method of producing metal type and how Gutenberg's invention revolutionised the printed word and transformed the book from an individually crafted object into a mass production item. All the same, we shouldn’t forget that it took nearly a year to complete the type-setting and printing of Gutenberg’s Bible, which, by modern standards, is a very long time. It’s true, what with the number of religious holidays in the Catholic calendar, there were fewer working days in the week during the 15th century, but the main reason it took so long was that Gutenberg wanted to produce a book that was perfect from an aesthetic point of view. He produced type of different widths (e.g. different versions of the letter e with varying widths) so that each line of the book would be of exactly the same length and contain no ugly white spaces.


Apart from the technology needed to cast movable type, Gutenberg also invented a machine inspired by the wine presses he knew from his native region of Mainz. The design of printing presses has changed over the years, but the basic principle – that of placing pressure on a surface to which ink has already been applied and which is in contact with another surface (i.e. the print medium) – remained unchanged until the middle of the 20th century. So, as I mentioned earlier, printing is a meticulous art that requires a lot of time, skill and passion. To print a page the type first had to be set (a process I will describe in more detail in another article), fixed in metal frame and covered with an optimum and uniform layer of ink; only then could it be printed onto the handmade and dampened paper.


Relief printing stopped being used to print books in the middle of the 20th century. All the same, in recent years there has been a revival in this art together with a renewed interest in analogue media and books as objects. For example, in February 2011, The Folio Society in London, which specialises in printing luxury editions for collectors, issued the first in a series of limited editions of four of William Shakespeare’s plays that was manually set and letterpressed on high quality hand-crafted paper.


cătălina zloteais a graphic designer specialized in the field of publication design and typography. She has a BA in Graphic Design from the University of Arts in Bucharest and a BA in Advertising from the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Journalism and Communication. In September 2010, she finished the MA Book Design at the University of Reading, Department of Typography and Graphic Communication.
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moroianu andrei

09.06.2013 la 23:55

sunt un pensionar tipograf am litere de plumb si de lemn mai am si opresa de tipar inalt si o ghilotina manuala dar i/mi doresc si o masina de tipar ca aceasta aceast pe care o prezentai a tehnologiei acum desfiintate GUTENBRG dacva e posibil sa fiu posesorul unuei asa bijuteri cu respect andrei brasov

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