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Postcards Hot Off the Presses

Published September 27, 2012

FAR staff recently created a takeaway postcard using some of the facility’s most interesting tools. We believe this may be the first time some these tools have ever been used in conjunction. Follow the processes used to create the card below:

The plate file for the hexagon pattern on the front of the card was generated in Adobe Illustrator, extruded into a plate with backing in Rhino, and printed at 170mm x 115mm x 2mm on the Makerbot Replicator in “natural” ABS plastic. The printing surface was constructed on the smooth build plate to improve consistency in the final print.

The ABS plastic plate was backed with a 3M mounting tape and adhered to a boxcar base. The height of  the plate plus the base allows the printing surface to sit at exactly ‘type high’, or .918 inches, the required thickness for letterpress printing.

A Vandercook SP 15-21 letterpress was used to print the first run in transparent white.

The FAR logo was printed as moveable type using our MCOR 3D paper printer, which is uses both additive and subtractive processes to build 3D forms. The letters were printed on their sides to achieve an end-grain surface on the face of the characters, for greater strength and a more interesting texture.

We experimented with coating the type in shellac to give the letters more strength and also tried sanding the faces. But in the end, the bare, uncoated type yielded the best results. The third run of the 3D moveable type, (FAR logo), was printed in black. After about 30 runs, the type had to be switched out for a fresh batch. To improve the longevity of the type, we are experimenting with infiltrating the characters with epoxy. Obviously, this process yields quite a different result than traditional lead or wood type!

To ensure proper registration, each image was first proofed on mylar, which is then laid over the to of each successive run. The postcards were printed on a ‘work and turn,’ four per sheet, to speed printing.

The back of the postcard was designed using Adobe InDesign and the image was output as a negative on an Epson printer using special, opaque inks. The plate was then exposed, washed out and dried in FAR’s photopolyer platemaker. Photopolyer is a material commonly used by letterpress printers as an alternative to hand-setting lead type, or cutting relief printing blocks for imagery.

The QR code on the back of the postcard can be scanned using a smart phone (equipped with a QR scanner app) and will take you to the main FAR website.

The final press run was the small type under the FAR logo on the front of the postcard, which was printed from hand-set 12 point Franklin Gothic lead type.

A simple vector file was created in Adobe Illustrator to cut out the postcards, four per page, on our Epilog Legend EXT laser.

100 postcards done! Thank you makerbot, MCOR, laser, vandercook, photopolymer and good ol’ lead type!