Home/Letterpress/2018 Christmas Card

2018 Christmas Card

I decided it was time to print my own Christmas cards. I’ve been meaning to do it for six years, but this year I was extra motivated to get my crap together.

I wanted come up with a design that wouldn’t require anything exotic, something that I could do with materials I had on hand. Inspired by a card created by Stumptown Printers that used the E13B/MICR typeface, I decided to re-purpose a bucket of Linotype slugs I had sitting in the corner of my garage. I bought this bucket of lead when I bought my first Linotype. The company I bought it from was in the business of printing cheques, so the bucket was full of MICR bank account lines that had been discarded after each cheque printing job. With those in mind, I created a mockup of my design in Illustrator:

I didn’t have any large type for the year, so I needed to create my own. I decided to carve a wood cut out of a piece of maple flooring. To get the text onto the piece of wood, I printed the year on a laser printer:

Then I taped it onto a piece of maple flooring…

And melted the toner with an iron…

Close enough.

Let the carving begin. I’m using Flexcut chisels that were given to me by my parents. They’re nice. Carving out the insides of the letters was a bit of a challenge.

The final carving, ready for printing.

Time to test it out. I put a bit of black ink on a piece of glass, and rolled it out with a brayer.

Then I rolled that on my freshly created woodcut.

And pulled a proof. Not bad. A little sand paper will fix the uneven impression.

Next stop for the block was my compositor’s saw. This is a table saw made specifically for printing work. All of the scales are graduated in picas.

The standard for printing is a number referred to as ‘type high’, of the height of type. In North America, it’s 0.918 inches. After trimming, the block came out to 0.914, which isn’t too bad. A sheet of paper is .004 inches, so I can easily shim things up to all be level.

Trimming the block to be square on the ends. That little bit of metal below the block is the clamp.

The completed wood cut.

Then I started on the Linotype slug tree. This was my first attempt at making a tree shape, but I later decided to do something less complicated.

Instead of staggering the slugs, I decided to selectively surface them down to create my tree shape. I trimmed half of the slugs half a character narrower, then trimmed all the slugs to the same width. This half character stagger means that I could build up the tree in half-character steps.

Here I’m using the saw the surface off excess characters to make the various ‘layers’ of the tree.

And the comple… oh what the hell?! I got some of the slugs upside down when I was cutting off the numbers. Oops.

Disaster partly averted, and the first lockup of the two parts of the card.

After a bit more fussing with the tree, I decided to trim all the slugs to the same, narrower width. Here they are locked up in the “chase”, a cast iron frame the goes into the printing press. Those toothy looking things are called “quoins”, they are tapered wedge that are turned with a handle to wedge the form together. The bigger wood and metal bits are “furniture”, used to space things out.

Of course, to print this stuff, I’ll need a press. This Chandler & Price Craftsman 10x15, manufactured in 193 will work handsomely.

For the final card, I intend to print the tree and the 2018 in different colours. To get everything lined up on the press, I temporarily printed both in the same colour. Those little metal doodads are called gauge pins, and are used to hold the paper in place when the press is closed.

The result of my lining up. In the business, this is known as “makeready”. It is during this process that I compensated for the 0.004” difference in height of the 2018 by strategically sticking some tape onto the press to act as a spacer, and adjusted the margins to centre the tree and year on the card.

I should mention that 5 years ago I took the motor off my press. Now I need to put it back on. My press is backed up against the rear wall of my garage, and I didn’t feel like extracting the pallet jack to move it, so I had to work in the narrow space that remained. The motor is very large for it’s horsepower rating, and insanely heavily.

The motor all wired up, belted up, and adjusted to keep belt on.

Next step: paper. I went to the local art supply place and bought 10 sheets of some nice cotton paper. Here, I’m using a knife and a big straight edge to cut this “parent” sheet up into strips.

The the strips go my tiny paper cutter ($2 at a thrift ship!) to get cut into blanks.

100 blank pieces of stock ready to go.

Photos of printing the tree are missing. I took video of that part instead, but I’m not ready to do anything with that yet, so you’ll need to use your imagination.

A close-up of the tree.

With the trees printed, I rejigged the form to print just the year.

For this project, I selected Pantone 357 for the tree, and Pantone 199 for the date. Both inks came from Van Son.

Letterpress ink. This. Stuff. Smells. Amazing. It has the consistency of molasses.

A little dab will do yah. This circular thing is called the ink disk. I suspect this was way too much ink.

The press mid-way through inking up. Those rubber rollers are what transfer ink from the ink disk to the form below. Each cycle of the press, the rollers roll up on the ink disk, then down over the type. Each cycle, the ink disk rotates a little bit to help create a very even film of ink. It was a bit cold in my garage, so it took a little time to get the ink evenly distributed.

And an impression taken under power:

Here’s what it looks like in real time. While the press is open, I have to stick my hands in there to insert blank paper and retrieve the printed item.

A stack of 100 cards complete and ready to be folded:

The final product: