Letterpress is a printing technique, which involves the action of locking moveable type into the beds of a press, inking it, and pressuring it against paper to form an impression. The invention of letterpress was by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1440s. This printing method remained the main method of printing until the second half of the 20th century. Letterpress printing is highly valued due to its time consuming efforts and beautiful embossed results. The visual hierarchy of grid has dramatically evolved, as there are several limitations within its process, highlighted by the introduction of modern technologies.
When designing visual hierarchy and grids there are text and image size restrictions. In some cases as most letterpress companies recommend the maximum area of an image or text is no more than 10cm by 25cm. Another printing problem is the even amount of pressure and ink spread across text or images. Colour is also limited when letterpress printing. One colour is applied at a time and the alignment of the use of different colours can be extremely difficult. Elaborate designs with numerous colours should be avoided and outlines of shapes do not produce very well in letterpress.
New dominating technologies such as the computer software ‘Adobe Suite’, in particular ‘InDesign’ not only allow the designer to overcome all letterpress printing issues but further in a considerably quicker and easier manner. They allow vast variety and diversity within developing designs and the use of many graphic features. Computer software’s act as such a significant tool for the designer as we now are able to “design, visualize, structure and edit the content of a publication” directly on screen. Style guides are easily created and are a powerful method for the design of visual hierarchy.
One of the first publications that Gutenberg printed was the Bible in 1455. It was an expensive piece at almost three years wages for an average clerk however it was considerably cheaper than the current hand written Bible of the time, which took over a year to prepare. 48 copies are known to exist, each page consisting of 42 lines of texts. It is a very traditional and limited grid form lacking features such as indents, paragraph breaks, various size of text, use of colour, different fonts, clearly restricted due to the letterpress printing method.
Bespoke is an Australian design and printing company which still uses the traditional printing method of letterpress however through the use of designing on screen. This opens up a number of unique design opportunities, expanding from the limits of traditional letterpress. They are able to letterpress custom illustrations, texts and shapes, a variety of colours and sizes, most importantly new and modern visual hierarchy and grid. Bespoke aim to keep the antique process of letterpress alive through beautiful typography and delicate images. The form of printing in similar to that of Gutenberg, obviously the machinery as evolved and improved over the years. However Bespoke’s designs and grid formats essentially have no boundaries or restrictions.
The letterpress printing method is still widely used today, only now with the use and involvement of emerging technologies. It is still a highly valued printing technique, still a difficult and time consuming method creating an extremely high cost for some projects. Letterpress is now commonly used for wedding invitations, with almost each and every line of text or image custom made to that particular project.