You Think You Know, But You Have No Idea

Posted 7 September 2012 by Willy
Categories: Letterpress

This is the story of our printing process. In our quick video,  you'll see a bit of everything, from ink mixing to the roundtable discussions to trimming and of course, the printing. LOTS of printing.

Kottke Stamen Map from Swayspace on Vimeo.

With technology as instantaneous as it has become, it's easy to get into a mindset where everything pretty much happens by force of... magic, really. Most people don't think twice about clicking the 'print' button on their computers, expecting what was on screen to pop out on paper immediately (unless you have a color printer like ours that is notoriously difficult to work with, in which case you might never get anything to print). At Swayspace, we work in the digital and 'instant' world quite often, but there's nothing like a four color letterpress job to bring us back to earth and some cold hard realities, i.e. physical labor.

We printed a four color piece for the first time in 2009, and it was definitely an exciting and experimental project. It was something new that really pushed us, and we used some new techniques digitally to get a great final result. Since then, we've done a number of jobs that were four colors and all have been experimental, exciting, and definitely all learning experiences in their own way. We decided to use the latest project, a map for Jason Kottke's Quarterly Co. subscription, to give everyone a glimpse at different elements of the process that our printed letterpress pieces go through.

Most of the labor in letterpress goes into a period of time called the 'make ready' process. This is where we're setting up the plate, registering it, adjusting the ink coverage, adjusting rollers, adding or reducing pressure, and fine tuning color. With four color jobs, overprinting is hard to accurately predict, so we have to rely on approximate color print outs as guidelines and our troubleshooting wits when on press. Sometimes the colors, pressure, and registration all work out right away, and sometimes we have to rework things a few times before we get the right results.

So, how long did it take us to get the right results? From separating the original artwork into distinct color plates through printing and down to shipping the final took nearly seven solid days of work. The two minutes of video probably doesn't do it justice, but we thought it'd tide you over while you're waiting for that printout.