Frequently Asked Questions
What is Letterpress printing?
Think Gutenberg. OK, my press isn't that old -- Johannes Gutenberg developed his printing press around 1540 -- but the principle of putting ink on raised type and then pressing a piece of paper to it remains the same. Letterpress printing was used for practically all printing from the 1600s through the middle of the 20th century, when offset lithographic printing took over.
What's so special about Letterpress?
Because Letterpress uses raised type -- as opposed to offset which uses a flat plate, or inkjet which doesn’t actually touch the paper at all -- you end up with an actual indention of the paper where the ink is applied. This creates a three-dimensional surface on the card which is unlike anything you can get with modern printing. You can feel it with your fingers, see the impression on the back of the paper, and the subtle shadows add a new dimension to the printed page.
What are pigment prints?
Pigment prints are digital prints made with archival pigment-based inks. Most inkjet printers use dye-based inks that, while they provide vivid colors, will fade quickly when exposed to sunlight. Because our prints, and even our cards, are intended to be framed and hung on the wall, this will not do! Pigment prints, also known as "giclee" prints, are more expensive but give you the quality you expect in an art print.
What kind of paper do you use?
Letterpress cards are printed on "Lettra" paper by Crane. This card stock (300 grams/square meter) is archival, acid-free of 100% cotton fiber and made in the USA. It is thick and soft, made especially for letterpress printing as it takes an impression well and showcases the special depth of Letterpress printing.
Our full-color pigment prints and cards are printed on acid-free cardstock made by French Paper, a small, family-owned paper mill in Niles, Michigan.
Where do you get your maps?
The maps are hand drawn in ink on vellum by Greg Mitchell -- that's me. The originals are drawn at 11" x 17" by using a light pad and drawing on translucent vellum. The first rendition is done in pencil by tracing a map from the U.S. National Atlas or other paper map. The cartographic design is worked out at this point: decisions are made about what towns and roads and special features are to be included. I spend a lot of time researching interesting features to add, and contacting "locals" to help me out. When finished, the pencil drawing is overlaid with more vellum and the final ink drawings are made. Typically I'll make at least three ink sheets: rivers, other linework, and text. This makes it easier to color the layers and to make small buffers around the text to increase legibility.
What is your production process?
The inked maps are scanned and imported into Paintshop Pro, where color is added and small corrections can be made, then imported into Adobe Illustrator, where title and subtitles are added and they are scaled to fit as required. For Letterpress prints, a printing plate is made by sandwiching a negative film image of the map with a photosensitive polymer printing plate and exposing to ultraviolet light. These plates are then mounted to an aluminum base plate and printed, one-at-a-time, on a vintage platen press. Digital prints are made on an Epson Stylus Pro 4900 inkjet printer.
WHERE DO YOU WORK?
I live and work in Fayetteville, Arkansas in the beautiful Ozark Mountains, in the northwest corner of the state. My office is at home and Letterpress printing is done in a print shop owned by Frank Sharp, longtime Fayetteville resident. For forty years Frank ran the print shop as part of his Ozark Mountain Smokehouse business. For about the last twenty years the print shop sat idle, until the summer of 2015 when I approached Frank about using it for my cards. Frank, always known for his generosity, immediately offered me free, unlimited access to the shop, and the story has unfolded from there. Thank you Frank!
What kind of LETTERpress do you use?
Frank has two "platen" presses and I use both of them. The smaller one has no nameplate on it but appears to be a Peerless Press made in the late 1800's (see picture below) and can print a maximum image of 8”x 12”. You can tell it was originally designed to be powered by a foot treadle, although it was later converted to be powered by an electric motor, which is how I run it. The other is a 1926 Chandler and Price 12”x 20”, a monster press that purrs like a kitten if you treat it right! Love that thing.