Because the world we live in is now filled with pixels—on our phones, our tablets, our computers, our watches—it’s easy to forget how simply wonderful the idea of a printing press shop making words come to live could be. Here’s a look behind the Printext, a printing shop in Australia, works. It’s a beautiful endeavor.
Decades ago, I worked in a shop for a dozen years, trained to run letterpresses when the rest of the shop was doing offset. Something special about laying out a form with lead slugs, locking up the chase and turning blank sheets of paper into printed pages.
Every type of job had its special challenges.
Some forms had to be numbered serially and to this day I can still recite the alphabet as rapidly backwards as some people do...well, alphabetically. Number wheels had ten digits, of course and the alpha coding wheels thirteen. Setting the plunger to turn over differing sized wheels only once per imprint was sometimes infuriatingly difficult.
MICR coding on checks used a special magnetic ink that had to have a very narrow window of magnetic content. Too much or too little and the scanner wouldn’t read them.
Handfeeding a platen press required flawless timing to keep one’s hands from being crushed.
Die-cut jobs had to have enough pressure to cut through the card stock, but leave enough integrity that the cutout portion didn’t separate from the rest of the main part of the card in the press.