Thursday, 3 January 2013

Wood Type Poster

... masquerading as wrapping paper

wood type

On the Friday before Christmas, when I should have been tidying the house, putting up decorations, chained to the stove (insert Christmas blah here) I was actually printing wood type in the print shed. But it was ok because I was printing wrapping paper... or that was my story anyway.

The idea was to assemble some nice examples from my various sets of wood type, including some tasty individual letters picked up at markets and second hand shops, in a random arrangement and make a large poster. 

I absolutely love wood type - it has a tactile, strokeable quality that lead type simply doesn't have. However it really is a world of pain to print, because being made of wood it expands and contracts. And if you print type from different sets you're sure to have a lot of work to do to make it all the same height. I knew this which is why I bought lots of sugar paper (12p a sheet - bargain!) so that as I worked with the type to bring it up to type high, I could turn the waste prints into wrapping paper.

Wood type print

"Phwoar! Look at the wood grain on that!" This was obviously my first reaction to the first print. Followed by surprise at just how invisible some of the letters were compared to others. To a non-printing person this looks rather nice -- though to a printer just looks like bad printing! I discovered why there was quite such a difference when I measured some of the letters using a micrometer. They ranged in height from 0.903" to 0.934", when as Any Fule Kno they should be 0.918". Although it doesn't sound much it really does make all the difference.

Micrometer showing 0.918" - type high

It did occur to me to sand down the backs of the tallest ones to make them match the rest... no, just kidding! The only way to get all the letters type high was to print a sheet to find the light letters, then unlock the type and raise up the offending letters with sheets of paper of various thicknesses and thinnesses and then print again... and then go through all that again and again and again until it looked right. (If any readers know an easier way to do this, please do make a comment!)

The type on the bed ended up looking like this:

Wood type on press bed


And the grim reality of working with wood type, aka the mess I created, looked like this (I did clear everything away before making the next print):

The grim reality of working with wood type

It could have been a chore, but it wasn't because 6Music was playing and I dropped into a sort of meditative daze. Quite pleasant.

I ended up with loads of wrapping paper, which satisfyingly looked like this:

Wrapping paper

You can spot the later prints as they are the ones where all the letters print at more or less the same strength.

However, ironically my friends and family actually preferred the paper where some letters printed really well and some badly. Nicer contrast apparently!

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