Just as I was searching for some non-cheesy Valentine’s Day inspiration this week, my friend Anna suggested we check out a letterpress workshop being hosted by the lovely Andria Sato of Lilikoi Design + Letterpress. Cozied up in her adorable studio in Hayes Valley on Tuesday night, we shared some bubbles, nibbled on dark chocolate, and learned all about the incredibly romantic art of letterpress.
If you are looking for a simple and beautiful way to declare your feelings for your sweetheart, (or convey just about any message, for that matter!), in my opinion nothing is more special than receiving a handwritten note on a letterpress card. The weight of the cotton paper feels luxurious in your hands and is a joy to write on, and the design possibilities with letterpress are almost endless.
So what’s all the fuss about with letterpress? It’s easy to dismiss this ancient printing technique in favor of digital printing, which tends to be faster and cheaper, but the result is not nearly as special. Letterpress printing goes all the way back to the 15th century when Johannes Guttenberg invented the movable type printing press. By the time the 20th century rolled around, the letterpress printing method had been almost entirely eclipsed by offset printing, which was considered cheaper and more efficient. After having fallen out of favor for many years, letterpress has recently seen a huge resurgence as a printing method as designers, print makers, and lovers of paper goods alike have rediscovered it and fallen in love with its charms.
What letterpress might lack in efficiency and cost, it makes up for with quality and beauty. The press that Andria uses at Lilikoi is 125 years old and is truly a thing to behold. Her name is Peach. As these presses are no longer made, each one is unique and has its own personality and quirks.
Before printing can begin, the press must be inked. Once ink is applied to the circular plate on the top of the press, you’re ready to roll. The actual type or design that creates the impression on the paper used to be made from individual moveable type letters. Sound familiar? I bet you’ve seen at least a few at the flea market. Today, the illustration is created digitally, and then transferred onto a type of plastic plate using a chemical wash process.
Ok, so maybe chemical washes don’t sound that romantic, but here’s where it all comes together. Successfully printing a beautiful image using the press truly requires the hand (and foot!) of a skilled craftsperson. The printer must simultaneously pump a foot pedal at the right speed, while feeding the paper into the press, pulling a lever at the right time to transfer the image onto the paper, and then removing it again. Good printers like Andria can continuously run the press like this without stopping for long periods, but as the press only prints one color at a time, the process becomes instantly more complex if multiple colors are to be used.
After trying my hand at the press for a few minutes I could see why people become so enchanted with it. The machine itself is beautiful, and there’s something almost meditative about going through the same motions over and over again. Not to mention that the result is so, so gorgeous!
Here's hoping that your valentine's day is filled with beautiful heartfelt messages of love, and maybe a few 'bisous'!