So I asked Jim to explain the printing process to me so that I could take pictures and pass the information on to you, my blog readers, in hopes of conveying to you the art that this really is. This type of printing is VERY labor intensive. It isn't something where somebody pushes a few buttons and then goes off to do something else while it prints a thousand copies. This requires a human to set it all up, feed it, and run it, every second that it is working. When you receive a letterpress invitation, note card, or business card, you are actually receiving a little individual work of art--a treasure from the past that has been kept alive by a small group of dedicated, passionate individuals.
So, how does it all begin? Before anything else can happen, the design has to be decided, and the type has to be set. EACH LETTER is an individual piece. You may have seen these wooden blocks with letters on them in antique stores. The letters started out being made of wood, and later they were made from lead.
The type is taken, letter by letter, and placed into a "type stick"--a wood or metal tray which is held in one hand and the other hand picks up the individual letters and sets them into the stick to compose a line.
Keep in mind, the line is composed backwards, and upside down! AND all the letters are backwards.
When the type is all positioned in the chase, the printer then has to fill in the spaces between the type, so that something will hold the print in place. For this they use "furniture", little plain blocks, that are set lower than the type so that they won't pick up any ink when the chase is put in the press.
Then the printer uses a device called a "quoin" to lock the furniture and type tightly into place. The whole assembly has to be perfectly tight, or it will slip and move when it's put on the press and the printed pieces won't all be the same, and they won't stay in nice neat lines. The quoin is tightened with a key that expands it so that the type is all held tightly in place.
When the chase is filled and locked with the quoins, it is called a "forme". The forme is then placed into the press.
This is a picture of a small little tabletop press. The circle of metal you see is the "ink disk" where the ink is placed. The red cylinder below is the "ink roller" which when you operate the press, goes up to the ink disk and picks up the ink. The forme is below the ink disk in the sort of square area between the ink roller and the ink disk. The individual piece of paper is placed in the area just below the handle you see on the front. So when the operator pushes down on the handle, the whole assembly kind of clamps together, the ink roller goes up to the ink disk, picks up the ink and inks the forme, then it all pushes together to put the image on the paper. Whew!!! I have a little video I took of Jim operating this little press that might make all this a little more clear:
So, of course, a company that is making letterpress invitations isn't using a little tabletop model like the one you see here. They are most likely using a much larger, heavier, floor standing motorized model. But the initial set up work is still there, whether it is done on a tabletop or a floor standing large press, it is still a little piece of art.
I hope that this will give you more insight into the beauty of letterpress invitations. Yes, they are more expensive than thermography or conventionally printed invitations, but they are so special! When you send your guests a letterpress invitation, you are sending them a message about what your wedding is going to be--VERY special! These are definitely refrigerator invitations!
Here is a video I found on Youtube showing a little more about the whole process, with some great commentary.
Oh, ok, one more:
So when you are choosing your invitations, whether they are thermographed, flat printed or letterpress, be sure that you think about the impression that your invitation will make when your guest opens the envelope and holds it in their hands. What message will it convey? What will it tell your guest about your party? Will it tell your guest what to expect at your wedding? If you ask yourself these questions when you are choosing your invitations, you will find the perfect choice to send to your guests!
And remember, we are here to help you find that perfect invitation!