Primary Tools & Materials:
LETTERPRESS, 3D PRINTING
Additional Tools & Materials: ruler, Tinkercad 3D printing software, ink, paper, scanner, camera
This combination is one that I looked forward to investigating, and also one that took several days to complete. I wanted to combine what are likely the two most unlike processes on my list: letterpress and 3D printing. After my first few experiences with 3D printing, I wanted to try 3D printing letterpress blocks, then print with them on the Vandercook press at the College of Design. All it would require was to get precise measurements from an existing letterpress block and create a 3D printing file of an extruded letterform in reverse on a solid block, with the same dimensions. I chose three existing typefaces to try this with: Mission Script, a brush-style font; Griffin, a blackletter font; and Sabor Digital, an upright script made of a dot grid pattern.
Aside from the 3D printing process being a little hit-or-miss, creating the blocks was fairly easy. Try though I did, I was unable to get the blocks to print "type height," .918 inches - the standard height for all lead letterpress blocks. They started that way in the files, but 3D printing, while very precise, is not perfect. However, it is possible to raise and lower the bed of the letterpress, or pad your paper with additional sheets when fed through the press - so I knew this wasn't a deal breaker.
When the letters finished printing (a task that took a total of 6 hours of 3D printing time!) I also noticed that the face of the letters - the surface that would imprint onto paper - wasn't smooth. This is another inherent feature of 3D printing; without some kind of chemical bath or sanding, you're never left with a perfectly smooth surface. Instead, it's possible to see the paths of the extruder as it criss crosses to fill a shape. At first, I was worried about this, and wondered if I ought to attempt to sand it. Then I realized this texture would only add to the "hybrid-ness" of this study, and I rather hoped for a nice visible texture in the prints.
Once in the letterpress lab, my friend and classmate Scott Reinhard - who is far more experienced on the Vandercook press than I - helped me set up the bed for printing and adjust the type height until we got a nice even print. As expected, each letter did imprint with a visible texture due to the 3D printing as well as a slight indentation of the paper due to the letterpress.
Bringing these two processes together felt anachronistic, but appropriate. Introducing a new technological component into a centuries-old process provided visible results in the form of the letters. Particularly with Sabor Digital - which already has a hybrid feel due to its digital script, it struck me that 3D printing then letterpressing with this font allowed it to jump back and forth in time not once, but twice. Letterpressing using 3D printed letters could also make that process more accessible. I certainly don't have access to lead casting materials if I wanted to create a letterset (and I wouldn't even know where to start), but 3D printing is cheap, easy, and accessible. With a small hand press and a 3D printer similar to the one I used, one could easily create custom letterpress prints at home.