I’ve always had a special fondness for stationery. I love the handcrafted nature of it, the personal touch, and the idea that someone invested time beyond the obvious convenience of shooting off an email or Facebook message. I use stationery and personal snail mail notes in everyday life, so you can only imagine the love affair I have with the gorgeousness of wedding stationery – and to take that a step further, letterpress.
The letterpress process is one of the oldest forms of printing and one of the most increasingly popular trends in printing today. It relies on a physical representation of each letter being inked and then pressed against the paper – that’s why it’s both so interesting and expensive. With the rise in popularity of letterpress printing, I wanted to share a peak behind the curtain of how its all done, the true beauty in the letterpress process. I took a field trip with photographer Josh Gruetzmacher to San Francisco-based stationery, invitation, and letterpress print studio, Hello!Lucky. We spent an afternoon in their pressroom learning how a design concept slowly and thoughtfully became a gorgeous piece of letterpress.
James (pictured above), was our guide for the day – so incredibly interesting and knowledgable about his craft (he’s been printing letterpress for 7 years!). Hello!Lucky creates a majority of their designs in-house, so the wedding invitation James worked with that day was an actual invitation designed by the artful Hello!Lucky team. The first thing James said to us was “let me know if its hard to keep up, letterpress printing is like sailing – full of lingo”, so with wide and anxious eyes, I had pen and paper in hand ready to scribble down his every. last. word. But alas, James was a pro and explained the whole process beautifully, even with the always daunting game of “100 questions”.
Hello!Lucky uses a Heidelberg Windmill, a printer dating back to the 1950-60′s. Believe it or not, this is one of the newest, most modern models – no more letterpress machines were made after the 1960′s. The process begins with a film printable made from the actual design. Once the film printable is ready, its transferred to a photopolymer plate that’s used in the actual print press. The photopolymer plate has raised texture for each individual design element that makes the printed impression on the final invitation.
Once the photopolymer plate was adjusted correctly on the print grid and installed in the printer, a special cotton paper made specifically for letterpress was loaded in. With a letterpress printer, each piece of paper is individually and slowly fed to allow for quality imprints per piece.
James was using a beautiful, handmade charcoal ink on his stationery. Once the ink was applied to the printer, he showed us how imperative a set of “checks and balances” were in order to achieve the right standard of quality. James fed the paper through several times, checking and adjusting for the right depth of imprint and balance of color. Once he was satisfied with the results, he let the machine work her magic…but not without a few points of human contact before the run was over. James had to re-set the ink after every 10 invites, all the while checking on quality and consistency throughout the entire run. On average he counts on at least 5 sheets of “make ready” per run or in other words, 5 sheets of blemished invites.
Once color checks were done, imprints were perfect, and James was happy with a full run of invites, he set them out to dry. The letterpress invites would dry for 1-2 hours before being cut down to their proper size. Along with these gorgeous vintage letterpress machines, Hello!Lucky also uses a paper cutter that dates back to the 1950′s. Being in their pressroom, was a lovely step back in time to a 1950′s Main Street print shop.
After a run has been printed to James’ standards and cut down to size, the team over at Hello!Lucky packages each invitation suite by hand depending on style and design. Hello!Lucky offers an array of existing designs fit for just about any taste or preference, along with a custom design option too.
I want to personally thank the Hello!Lucky team and James for letting us observe, admire, and indulge in an afternoon of letterpress printing. The careful thought put into every single invitation, in every single run is utterly fascinating. In a world where convenience is assumed top priority, its so inspiring to know a beautiful, handcrafted art, that celebrates the mild imperfections, is still alive, thriving, and not conforming to the ease of technology. This my lovelies, is why letterpress is a tad more expensive then the rest, but this is also why its so special.
Photography: Josh Gruetzmacher