Matt Holmes

The Press Print Project – Matt Holmes

What happens to a craft when the equipment is no longer being made? How do beginners learn the skills to pass on the knowledge without the tools they need?

Like many other traditional crafts, letterpress is reliant on specific tooling and equipment, much of which is long out of production. What remains is often in limited supply, hard to source, hard to repair, frequently expensive, and potentially even intimidating to new practitioners.

The Press Print Project aims to step in and form a fun, accessible bridge between the past, present, and potential future of letterpress. These new printing presses, by drawing on rapid prototyping technologies means these costly tools can now be remade, evolved and adapted to suit new creative needs. The press is constructed from a combination of plywood, 3D printed parts and commonly available hardware. The printed components are designed to print with minimal support structures to reduce waste and fit on the print bed of increasingly common budget 3D printers.

The plywood and 3D printed press operates in a similar way to an original proofing press, meaning the skills learnt through its use preserves the knowledge as true to the craft as possible. The intangible feel of the craft is what gives it soul - by deliberately designing the press in a way to keep as many of the unique features of an original press, it carries these skills forward. That said, these presses also have quirks of their own, and so potentially can creatively add to the story of Letterpress.

Beyond the university project, it is my hope to continue to develop this new tool and push its creative potential.

Copyright (c) Matt Holmes, 2020.

A traditional process, digitally crafted. The aim of my final major project is to use digital fabrication to increase the accessibility to the heritage craft of letterpress, by remaking and reimagining the equipment required.

The plywood and 3D printed press operates in a similar way to an original proofing press, meaning the skills learnt through its use preserves the knowledge as true to the craft as possible. The intangible feel of the craft is what gives it soul - by deliberately designing the press in a way to keep as many of the features of an original press, it carries these skills forward These presses also have quirks of their own, and so can creatively add to the story of Letterpress as well.

Before entering lockdown, a number of 3D scans were taken of the printing presses held by the University of Plymouth's letterpress workshop. These proved valuable interactive reference materials for developing the plywood press.

The Press print printing presses can operate with original metal letterpress type, as well as woodblock type, and lino printing plates. It can also be used in combination with a 3D printer to build new type pieces and printing plates. Through the project I have experimented with a number of ways to optimise the creation of 3D printable letterpress type, allowing non-physical, digital typefaces to once again become physical, and create inked letterpress prints.

From computer to 3D Printer, to printing press, to ink, and then to paper, the 3D printed type takes on its own unique aesthetic, which builds the narrative of the process as a whole.

The 3D Printed type texture, in a close up from work developed with graphic designer Anthony Burrill, who kindly provided some typography to test the process.

Not only have the presses been reimagined, but the tools that accompany it have been remastered into 3D printable and plywood versions, creating a whole letterpress system. From composing sticks to quoins, the collection of equipment is still growing that can now be recreated.