A Lesson in Letterpress – So Much More than Printing

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A Lesson in the Art of Letterpress

My colleague and I recently had the pleasure of attending a letterpress master class at Big Wheel Press in Easthampton, Massachusetts. The course was taught by letterpress expert Peter Fraterdeus and covered the intricacies of producing a dual-sided, dual-color, die cut coaster* using a Heidelberg Windmill.

Big Wheel Press in Easthampton Massachusetts

With extensive paper knowledge but limited letterpress knowledge, we presumed this would be an opportunity to see presses in action, meet some great people, and learn about letterpress along the way. That it was, and so much more.

In today’s high-speed, high-tech, digital world, this was an opportunity to take a step back, unwind, and appreciate letterpress for what it is – a process so meticulous, unpretentious, and timelessly exquisite it is nothing less than an art.

Below is a photo outline of our experience at Big Wheel Press. Though pictures can’t capture some of the best things we observed – the precision of setup, the smell of the ink, the feel of the perfect impression – we did get snapshots of lots of other amazing things. Take a look below.

Full view of Heidelberg Windmill press

Heidelberg Windmill

The Heidelberg Windmill, a German-built, world renowned press with a name derived from its sweeping windmill feeder. Though manufactured over a half century ago, Windmills are still widely acclaimed for their versatility, reliability, speed, and precise registration.

Original Heidelberg windmill press

Original Heidelberg

Polymer plate used to make letterpress coasters

Polymer Plate

A polymer plate, more commonly used over wooden and metal plates in modern day letterpress printing.

Process of adding ink to rollers in Heidelberg windmill press

Inking the Rollers

Inking the rollers. Letterpress ink is mixed by hand to specific Pantone colors.

Heidelberg Windmill in operation printing coasters

How it Works

The feeder uses suction to grip and rotate the paper from feeding, to print, to placement on the other side, each color requiring a separate pass.

Examining alignment in letterpress masters class

Examining Results

Examining a test print. Countless tests may be performed before perfect registration is achieved, but once it is, thousands of perfectly registered pieces can be printed seamlessly on a Heidelberg.

letterpress-coaster-stack

Coaster Stack*

Stack of 4-up coasters in progress. Once complete, coasters will be die cut on the Heidelberg.

Metal letterpress plates used for larger prints

Metal Plates

Metal plates used to make broadsides designed Big Wheel Press.

Trays of wooden letterpress letters

Wooden Type

Wooden letters and numbers used for manual typesetting in classic letterpress.

Trays of metal type letters and ornaments

Metal Type/Ornaments

Metal letters and ornaments for manual typesetting.

big-wheel-press-tee

Big Wheel Tee

Big Wheel Press tee outside of studio.

Big Wheel Press logo metal plate

Big Wheel Plate

A big thank you to Big Wheel Press and Peter Fraterdeus for letting us observe and for teaching us more about the art of letterpress!

For information on upcoming workshops at Big Wheel Press (in Easthampton, MA) or master classes taught by Peter Fraterdeus (locations vary) please visit the following:

To learn more about letterpress, download a free copy of our e-book:

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