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 -- 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 kind of paper do you use?
Most 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.
Where do you get your maps?
The maps are hand drawn in ink on vellum by Gregory Mitchell -- that's me. They are drawn first in pencil by using a light pad and tracing a map from the U.S. National Atlas. The cartographic design is worked out at this point: decisions are made about what towns and roads and special features are to be included. Then the pencil drawing is overlaid with another piece of vellum and the final ink drawing is made. These originals are 11" x 17".
What is your production process?
The inked maps are scanned and imported into Adobe Illustrator. They are scaled to fit on a card, and additional text is added. The Illustrator files are then sent to Boxcar Press, where they are converted into letterpress printing plates. They are then printed, one-at-a-time, on a vintage platen press.
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 the 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 press do you use?
I use a "platen" press which was probably made in the late 1800's. Actually, I can find no nameplate or manufacturers name on it, so I have to guess, but it was originally designed to be powered by a foot treadle, so I think late 19th century is likely. It was later converted to be powered by an electric motor, which is how I run it. It can print a maximum area of 8" by 12", which works well for printing cards one up (or one-at-a-time).