We live in an era when designers can knock up a poster design, hit print and have a stack of them within hours. So it’s pretty mind-blowing to take a step back in time and have a go at some traditional printing methods. I did just that today at the Penrith Printing Museum. I participated in their poster making course. For just $75 you can design and print your own letterpress poster. Our instructor for the day was Steve, who had a wealth of knowledge on printing and print processes.
They’ve got a range of historical printing machines, and their aim is to use them all and share them with people. Pictured below is the mind blowing ‘Linotype’. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a fully automated machine that allows the operator to make lines of newspaper text for printing. Except it casts those lines from molten lead as you type, using individual moulds for each letter or character, and then recycles the moulds for use again. All self automated. And the molten lead is about 500 degrees.
I was there to use a letterpress though. And for that you need letters. Lots of letters. Thankfully the Museum has heaps of letters. Though we were warned they they didn’t have all the letters for each font, which means sometimes you just had to get creative. This is about a quarter of their letter collection.
And this is part of the reason why everything needs to be in so tight. Once you have created your design, you need to pick it and move it with nothing falling out! Also everything needs to be held in tight so it doesn’t move in the actual printing process.
Overall it was okay, but as you can see some of the letters didn’t give a full print. You have to remember some of these letters are around a hundred years old – try getting that lifespan out of your inkjet printer!
The course runs with just two students at a time. Here we see Steve with the other student doing some ‘Moody Blues’ gig posters for a gig he went to years ago. You can see his design is a lot cleaner and more classsical than mine. That’s the cool thing about getting to design your own to your own taste.
Here we see my run of posters drying out. You’ll notice that most of the letters have printed better than the original pass. To remedy the faults, I had to loosen the locking cams, take out the individual letters and paste a slither of paper to the back to raise the height of the letter. It was pretty amazing to think this machine was so precise, the difference between a bad print and a good one was as fine as adding a piece of paper to the back of a letter! I also swapped a few letters around to make some backwards and some upside down to further enhance that imperfect look. If I wanted something perfect I’d print it from a computer!
And a final shot before I stick it on the fridge to show off. Down the track I’ll chose one of the better examples and get it framed professionally, as a unique piece of art with a cool story behind it.