Letterpress — Centuries-Old Printing Today

The text and image of a printing press are deep in this business card.
The text and image of a printing press are deep in this business card.

Following in Gutenberg’s footsteps, the business card above was printed with movable type, with the individual letters assembled by hand.  The origin of the terms “upper-case” and “lower-case” letters lies in old print shops, where the capital letters were kept in a drawer above the “lower-case” letters.  The individual pieces are called “sorts,” and in the past, when you ran out of the sorts for a single character, or all those ones were broken, you were “out of sorts.”

Some print shops today have letterpress printing presses as an option for their customers.  Not all letterpress printing is with sorts assembled manually, as it is with this card.

Letterpress engages the senses:

  • Printers report that one can smell the ink on the finished product,
  • We see the depth of the text and images and
  • We feel the weight of the paper.
Thick and rough, the same business card feels solid and substantial.
Thick and rough, the same business card feels solid and substantial.

The International Printing Museum in Carson, California is one of the institutions that offers classes in letterpress.