amaryllis log



I learned how to print on a letterpress yesterday. It was an awesome experience. Here’s the back story; although most of the work I do is for the corporation I work for, from time to time we do pro bono work. Almost a year ago we did a letterhead system for the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. As a thank you they allowed us to come for a day and learn to press type. It was just a small group of us, with lofty ideas. Quickly I figured out it takes a lot of time to set up type and prepare it for the press.

As you would expect, I took tons of pictures. The place is beautiful, full of old cool things including wood and lead type. There are drawers full of type and old advertising images. It was a surprise in each drawer. We probably spent the first hour just making discoveries. I think it dawned on all of us that we were going to need to make decisions and move along quickly if we wanted to make something in a day.







David decided to make a poster for a friend’s band in the style of Hatch Show Print and Yee Haw Industries. Ed, well Ed’s a funny guy, he was making a poster for his 7-year-old son who has decided he wants to be in the Guinness World Records for having the largest Afro, never mind he’s a white kid. The standard right now is 4 feet across in diameter. So instead of an Afro we’ve been calling it a Wafro…fair enough.





It’s starting to come together nicely!






Heidi went with a little simpler plan, greeting cards…

Oh what did I decided to make, well since this is all happening close to Christmas I wanted to make something I could give away. I’m not sure if I have told you too much about my Mom, she was an excellent cook in her day and really excelled in all things kitchen related, as in extraordinary! But now my mom has dementia and has forgotten a lot and can no longer cook. She loves the holidays but really can’t get out and shop anymore, so I thought I would make recipe cards using her name and print out some of her favorite holiday recipes for baked goods and give a set to family members from both of us.

My original plan was really elaborate but I had to scale back as I got into the details of setting the type and making the cards come to life.


I used a mix of wood type and metal type. I titled the cards “June’s treats”. The image above is the start of setting the type…


At this point I’m prepping the press and building out the card. I have probably already spent 4 hours on this.


Pretty simple cards but I’m really happy with them. I pulled about 60 images.



I wrote up the cards last night and made little packets tied with twine.


The dining room table is now gift central…prepping, and packing for Christmas.


Parting shot of Heidi, truly a very satisfying day!

And one last plug; if you are in or around Minneapolis check out Minnesota Center for Book Arts. It’s really an incredible organization, with classes, a little history center and a shop. There is also a publisher located in the center.


  1. Cathe, I am totally jealous…. This looks like the most fun day.. And I love, love the recipe cards and doing them
    for your mom and the memory of her cooking abilities.. Oh wonderful.. it brought tears to my eyes..What a wonderful
    daughter you are.
    All the red in the building.. I love it.. SO proud you had a fun day..

  2. How cool! You always get out there and do such fun creative things.. I used to be massively into Gig-posters (screen printed and letter pressed) so I love this. It would be fun to add some illustrations next to the text ..

  3. Great read. I really like your idea of recipe cards. That is something truly special and unique. Letterpress is something I want to learn and do. Even if just for fun. I find myself trying to get back to more analog real world approaches to things and this would be perfect.

  4. I love the idea of making the recipe cards for your family. It’s a shame when favourite family recipes disappear because they don’t get passed along. Now you can be sure that your mum’s favourite recipes will live be around forever!

  5. Ah yes! Printing was a skilled trade back in the letterpress era. I’ve lived through two major revolutions in printing technology in my life. Big-city daily newspapers started converting from letterpress to offset printing in the mid-1970s. Smaller weeklies, who didn’t have unions, converted it in the 1960s. Letterhead was called “hot type” and offset printing was called “cold type.” Cold type was basically unskilled labor. All you needed was scissors and an unlimited supply of paste or wax.

    The second revolution started in the late 1980s or early 1990s, with the advent of word processing and desktop publishing. I went through the conversion from offset printing to full-page pagination using Quark XPress or similar Harris software at two different newspapers. With pagination, the entire page was created on a computer screen and sent to the printing presses by wire. No more union printers, no more composing room. Soon, the big rotary printing presses will be bypassed as well. Most newspapers and magazines are now available online, and via Kindle and Nook. Soon, most of the paper editions will be discontinued. Paper costs too much and manufacturing paper is horrible for the environment.

    • It’s amazing how much change the printing industry has gone through! Sounds like you have had your hands in it for some time. Yes I would agree, they way of the printed paper will be a thing of the past.

    • There’s definitely a difference that purists can see and some can even feel. In letterpress, the ink goes on the surface of raised letters, usually made of metal, sometimes of wood. When the press, whether rotary or flat, is applied to the paper, the ink is transferred to the surface of the paper. Depending on the pressure of the transfer, the ink is even pressed INTO the paper.

      With offset (cold type), the printing plate is flat. It feels flat if you run your hand across it. You can see the letters but you can’t feel them. Ink does adhere (by magic, or more likely by chemical attraction) to the letters on the flat plate, but not the space around them. On a modern rotary press, the turning plate transfers the ink to the surface of the paper. Some printers would characterize the cold-type ink transfer as a “kiss.”

  6. I am envious!! I really really want an Adana letterpress ( smallest press) but Ican’t really justify the expenditure or the space i would need to set it up. Grumble, grumble. your project was truly inspired. Very lovely. Congrats on Freshly Pressed.

  7. Love the photo’s. A fun story as well. We have a Book Arts Center here in my city. I’ve never thought of enrolling until now, you made it look so fun.
    Also, just want to say how touching and beautiful it is that you made the “June’s Treats” cards for your family. Those will be treasured gifts I’m sure.

  8. Pingback: letterpress | stevomedia

  9. Wow, that is so great! I would love to try that sometime. It is cool to look at the finished product and think about all of the posters and things that were made with this same kind of machine way back when. So interesting! Thanks for sharing and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  10. Even rarer in the letterpress realm these days is the Linotype that was used to set most of the printed text. For that matter, accompanied by the Ludlow machine for the headlines. John Hayden above has noted the economic changes in the newspaper world and will likely share with me a sense of loss when the Linotype and Ludlow operators were let go (many of them deaf-mutes, in a livelihood where they could flourish) — they saved our asses more times than we could ever count, even when we had far more editors than we now do.
    The other thing I miss is the artistic discipline the craft imposed. Yes, we can do many, many things with our computer typesetting now that would have been impossible in those days, but we’ve also lost much. I see hyphenation and spacing that would make those skilled compositors cringe. Nor did we have the “bastard” headline sizes we now do. It ran 18, 24, 30, 36, 48, and maybe 60 or 72 point with nothing in between. None of this “bump it up a size” to make it fit.
    So I salute you who keep your hands on the tradition and can admire the results we have continuing over these centuries.

  11. This is so awesome. I’m very interested in letter presses so this was a perfect post for me. I also love your gift to your family partnered with your mom. That’s a very sweet, memorable gift. The baker in me just squealed a little over your pressed recipe cards :) And hey look…with all this pressing going on…you also got Freshly pressed :P congrats!

  12. I don’t know what it is about letterpress, but if you tried the same designs on the computer they just wouldn’t look the same, there’s something extra that letterpress adds that makes it. I’d love to try it, maybe for wedding invitations!

  13. A really nice trip down memory lane. I’m fifty four, my second job at eighteen was working for a letterpress printing company. We printed personal checks either top stub, side stub or no stub. Also ran three up business checks as well as other banking forms. I ran a vertical letterpress and I remember clearly having the rollers of the press grab a rag I was holding and pulling my hand up and then down and back out of the press. Just like an old washing machine would with those rollers. Broke my index finger into a W. Still have a pin running through the bone to this day. The company I worked for finally went to offset printing when it was in it’s infancy. I ended up spending thirty years in printing. I have to make one comment about that nice red sweater you were wearing. That sweater wouldn’t have lasted a week in a work environment. :) Apron or no apron… Thanks for sharing your day with us.

    • That’s great that you have such an extensive background in printing, sorry about your finger! The red sweater gal is my friend Heidi. And yes, I can see where this could get really messy if you were printing a large volume or more complex.

  14. botanicart

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    A look into how to press type. Need to find out if there are places here in Berlin that offer them. Definitely fun & interesting…

  15. Hello Amaryllis, new on WordPress, i come with “HASARD” tout visit U, ur wonderfull pictures attract me ,only wanted to compliment ur work and pictures of it! i love words, serigraphies or well writings even if ….Sorry, i’m french and make mistakes when i write in english ! ) Only hope U understand me…..Bonne continuation sur votre site, Greetings!

  16. What an amazing place. I love the pictures of all the letters laid out in drawers / filed away. I bet the place smelled cool as well as being full of cool old stuff. And what a lovely lovely idea to make recipe cards of your Mom’s recipes for the family. Lovely idea.

  17. Pingback: letterpress « Design O’ Saur

  18. Reblogged this on In the mind of Kate and commented:
    This article about a letterpress is amazing, i’ve always found traditional means of design production interesting and this is great to read if your looking for an introduction into the field. The pictures are wonderful and the final design is outstanding, it’s fair to say it’s very impressive! Kate xxx

  19. The designs are all beautiful, i love the way a letterpress makes every print slightly different from the next, the homemade feeling is all the rage at the moment, and vintage design methods tie in perfectly with the current vintage trend here in the UK. Great article.

  20. Shit, I am so jealous!! I have loved letterpress from afar for so long now, and these days I’m in Japan but I’ve managed to find a letterpress studio about 5 hours away. Mark my words… 2013 will be the year I finally get to learn it for myself!

  21. Reblogged this on Under an Artichoke and commented:
    I love this—and have surrendered too often to my weakness for letterpress cards. It’s fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at the process of making them, especially when you realize just how much work goes into making something look easy. Reminds me of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry quote, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Spoken like a true editor!

  22. Ruby Canoe

    In the last photo you looked like you were going to give it a big cuddle. I think I would have done that! I don’t think I would have wanted to leave, ever. Thanks for the post. Great photos.

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