hidden inside a small storefront behind an unsuspecting wall of greeting cards, there are several tons of powerful, ancient letterpress machines. We met with Scott McClelland, owner of Paper Meets Press, a small Main Line business which aims to utilize a centuries-old printing technique to create fun, dynamic products for their clients. He walks us through the intricacies of letterpress, what makes it unique + touches on what is next for Paper Meets Press.
hg: could you briefly explain what letterpress is for those who are unaware?
scott: throughout the years, the process has slightly changed, but it is a relief form of printing where a raised printing plate is inked + then pushed on or into the paper. Currently we use photopolymer plates—plastic as opposed to the traditional metal plates.
hg: how does letterpress differ from other printing techniques (such as screenprinting, etc.)? What makes it unique?
scott: letterpress printing is unique in that you are inking the plate on the press one at a time + printing an impression into the paper. Letterpress printing is usually done on thicker paper, so there is a crisp impression.
hg: why do you think it has become more popular again in recent times?
scott: I think that letterpress has become popular because each printed piece is unique and people appreciate that. It isn’t for everyone, but when you are handed a letterpress printed invitation, print or business card...
"...you know that it is different. You are instantly able to feel + see the difference..."
...whether the paper is thick or thin.
hg: does letterpress require a more “hands-on” approach as compared to other printing options?
scott: letterpress printing is a very hands-on. We take the final file from the computer, produce a film/negative, then make the printing plate in-house. The plate is adhered to the printing base and placed in the press. Each + every job prints differently, so there is always an adjustment to make on the press.
Like many other forms of printing, we mix the ink by hand, using the Pantone system. We calculate how much ink is needed for the job and mix accordingly. Some colors are more difficult than others, so in order to print the correct color exactly how it was designed, you need to apply the correct amount of ink on the press. Throughout the printing run, you are constantly checking to make sure there is no shift in color and each printed piece is as consistent as possible. If your print job is 3 colors, that means we have to mix three different colors exactly, register each plate perfectly + run each piece of paper through the press one at a time.
hg: what type of machinery do you use to press? Do you have any older letterpress machines in your shop?
scott: we have a few different printing presses that we use in the shop. The presses we have are not made anymore, and the “newest” one we have is from the late 60’s or early 70’s. The oldest is from 1898, which we still use from time to time.
hg: what inspired you to pursue pressing + printing as a career?
scott: I had no printing experience in my past until I was given the opportunity to learn [editor's note: by Two Paper Dolls Design, Scott's former employer + Paper Meets Press' neighbor]. I would have never had the chance unless I was laid off from my design job. Having a design background has helped tremendously, especially with the handling of files and understanding how the designs were created.
"I honestly did not think that I would make a career out of it when I started, but I quickly fell in love with it."
There is just something about bringing a file from a modern computer, and printing it on a machine that is no longer in production, then seeing or hearing the reaction once you hand off the finished product. Seeing a project all the way through, from start to finish is satisfying.
hg: letterpress has such a “personal” feel to it. Do you get to hear/see the reaction of the recipients of your work first hand? If not, do you wish you could?
scott: the majority of jobs are shipped out, so reactions are rarely seen. Every now and then a client will pick up their job in person, or an email is received to say how much they appreciate their letterpress or foiled job.
hg: why do you prefer letterpress to those other methods?
scott: I think it is the hands-on experience. You are always doing + learning something new. I think I would go crazy if I had to sit at a desk all day. I very much prefer to get my hands dirty and troubleshoot issues when they come up.
hg: what types of pressed/printed materials do you offer?
scott: we print announcements, personal stationery, wedding stationery, invitations, art prints + even tickets for events. We also foil stamp + die-cut. Foil stamping is a slightly different process than letterpress printing with ink, but you get the same debossed final outcome. Foil stamping is done by using a heated die which stamps a metallic or pigmented foil on the paper. Die cutting is when a shape or custom design is cut out of the paper using a die, which is done on a few of the presses we have.
hg: what type of clientele does your shop attract?
scott: the bulk of our work is for designers or wedding clients looking to have a unique printed result.
hg: how is life on the Main Line for a small business?
scott: business on the Main Line is good. Every now and then we have people wander in that are interested in the process or just want to see the printing presses. The bulk of work comes from word of mouth, social media (Instagram) + the Internet.
hg: are you currently working on any particularly unique projects which you could share with us? Are there any past projects which were particularly fun or challenging to take on?
scott: currently we are working on a few business card + invitation jobs. For the most part, every job is fun. It is always interesting to see what designers come up with and their vision for the final product. For me personally...
"...jobs that have super tight registrations are fun because it is a challenge."
hg: what’s the most unique request or job you’ve done or been asked to do?
scott: in the last year we have worked on a bunch of really fun projects. From foil stamping invitations on wood veneer, printing an invitation that mimicked a 7” record [editor's note: incredible to see + feel in person; pictured above], to printing thousands of three-color, super tight registration greeting cards.
hg: do you have a dream project?
scott: I think it would be a lot of fun to letterpress print or foil stamp labels for wine or beer. It's something I have not done yet.
hg: you’re a small, one shop operation. Do you see expansion in the future?
scott: we are currently a two man shop, and I think I would prefer to keep it small. There is a chance of maybe exploring other printing techniques such as screenprinting and offset printing, since I receive a good bit of those requests. In our current space, there are a few limitations as far as bringing in new (bigger) equipment, but we are currently content + able to produce what we need to get by.
hg: have you ever considered offering classes for those who wish to learn letterpress? Is that something which could become reality in the future?
scott: classes have been on my mind for a while. There are a few logistics that I need to figure out, but I hope to get the ball rolling soon!
visit Paper Meets Press' website to learn more about the company + how to place your orders! Make sure to follow them on Instagram, Facebook + Twitter for more news and updates on their recent projects!