The Great Gowanus Letterpress Paper and Ink Challenge, Part II

Posted 11 June 2013 by Willy
Categories: Ephemera, Letterpress

The results are in! After testing dozens of weights and finishes, we finally found a paper with a good balance of tactility and smoothness. This paper worked well with the letterpress printing process, while bringing out the lyrical quality of David Biskup's gorgeous Gowanus photographs.

And the winner is....

We used the winning paper to execute this large format letterpress print, based on a photograph from David Biskup's Gowanus series.

REVERE SILK 300 gsm !

Although the toothier papers can be very satisfying, extreme texture affects the way the ink distributes on the surface of the paper. In some cases, artwork may benefit from this texture, which creates a "salty" (i.e., patchy) print. But in the case of Biskup's photographs, we felt that smoother was better.

But not too smooth!

Below is a sampling of the runners-up, from slickest to coarsest.

PLIKE 330 gsm

The Plike gave us an extremely slick, photographic look. So slick that we almost forgot it was a letterpress print. The surface felt more like plastic than paper; in a word, it lacked soul.

Plike detail 01

Plike detail 02


Although the Reich has been a great option for business cards due to its relative stiffness and subtle texture, in the case of these photographs (printed by laying each layer of color on top of the next– Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black), the color became muddied and, frankly, a little gloomy.

Reich Savoy detail 01

Reich Savoy detail 02


Although the detail shots make this option look pretty interesting, the overall effect was too dark, and the detail– particularly in the trees– was almost totally lost.

Chipboard detail 01

Chipboard detail 02


More gorgeous details, but, again, the overall result was patchy and uneven. The canvas effect is nice, but after running the paper through the press 4 times, the texture of the paper was flattened in spots and so took the ink unevenly. And not in a good way.

Neenah detail 01

Neenah detail 02

GMUND EVER, Amori, 111# C

The GMUND Ever has what can only be described as a reptilian finish. The detail shots are totally lovely, but unfortunately, their quality doesn't translate when looking at these prints in real-world scale. Many areas are unreadable, and the sense of reflection in the water is totally lost. We're sure this paper could be used to make a really interesting print of some kind. Just not of this kind.

GMUND detail 01

GMUND detail 02


REVERE SILK, 300 gsm

This paper walks a good line between slick and knobbly. It's smooth enough to hold the detail of a photograph, and soulful enough to give the print a special, tactile quality.

Revere Silk detail 01

Revere Silk detail 02

We were ready to do a second print. We selected this image, manipulating the digital files to ensure that we'd get a nice clear sky and sharp detail.

Shannon Miwa, our resident letterer, hand-drew the caption, which is printed in four colors

We're pretty happy with the  tension between the photographic and the painterly in this print, and the way it manages to celebrate the confluence of the dirty and the dignified.

Although not yet available for purchase, one print will be available through silent auction this Saturday, June 15th at the Gowanus Challenge, a historic boat race between the Gowanus Dredgers and the Red Hook Boaters on your favorite radioactive canal!