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Letterpress Printing with Paper Type

Published December 13, 2012

In continuation of our series of experiments involving 3D prints and letterpress equipment, Windham Graves and Allison Milham paired our Mcor Matrix 3D Printer and Vandercook Universal 1 Letterpress for a series of tests.

Graves created a 3D model of the FAR logo as moveable type.

The type was printed using the MCOR Matrix 3D Printer; the letters were printed on their sides to achieve an end-grain surface on the face of the characters. Printing the type sideways offered the promise of greater strength.

Allison Milham inked and printed the first round of type with no sealant. The resulting prints were perhaps the most visually interesting, but the type quickly compressed under the pressure of the printing press and became unusable after just a few runs.

Milham and Graves then experimented with coating the type in different sealants to improve strength and durability. One set was coated in shellac and another was infiltrated with epoxy.

Though the shellac did provide a seal, it did not make the type hard enough to withstand the pressure of the printing press, which resulted in less and less of an impression with each pass.

The type infiltrated with epoxy, however, stood up much better, and after 20 runs, still yielded a good print. A test was also done using increased packing (which means a harder contact of the paper and type) to see if the type would compress and give a lighter impression. The extra 100# piece of cover stock as packing did slightly lessen the impression on the following print, but significantly less than with the shellac coated type.

Overall, the bare, uncoated type printed the most beautifully, with the delicate texture of the thin paper lines being the most clear and prominent. Both coating and infiltrating the type effected the surface and generally made the face of the letters fuzzier and more blotchy, but provided needed strength. If the type is printed bare, it needs to be switched out every 10 or so prints (depending on the pressure) for a fresh set, which isn’t very practical, but perhaps could make sense for a small run.

Future experiments may include sanding the surface of the epoxy infiltrated type to get a smooth, hard surface, more equivalent to that of wood type. It is also possible that like freshly made wood type, the printing surface may improve with use and age.