Send a Letterpress Invitation

by Fabian Toulouse

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, famously credited with inventing movable type printing in Europe, was born in 1400 in southwestern Germany. He designed metal movable type, which allowed for the mass printing of any and all books. Movable type was considered a vast improvement over calligraphic, handwritten manuscripts. Its proliferation heralded a new dissemination of information. The spread of this new technology throughout Europe is often considered a major contributing factor to the Renaissance and the rise of nationalism centuries later.

In 1439, Gutenberg brought investors to his studio and swore them to secrecy. He unveiled his idea for a moveable type printing press. Intrigued, he managed to secure financing and by 1440, Gutenberg had made incredible strides towards completely the press. Nevertheless, it would not be until eight years later, and a loan from his brother-in-law, that the press would be perfected. In 1455, he printed the first Bible.

The history of letterpress printing itself dates back to the Chinese use of woodblock printing around 750 AD. As a result, printing was prevailant throughout Asia where there was extensive printing of patterns on textiles. The process was not unknown in Europe as a result of extensive trade via the Silk Road. Gutenberg’s press was a one-color wooden press that produced beautiful prints and has stood the test of time.

As an aside, the word “clich” has its base in letterpress printing. Printers would take words and phrases that they knew writers used frequently and set them prior to the start of printing, in a bundle known as a clicher. Then the phrase was used, it was pulled from premade type and inserted. Thus the term clich was born.

Today, letterpress printing is primarily used to create high-quality artwork and customized correspondences. It is still considered a tradition to announce significant events, like weddings and birth, with a letterpress invitation. When a great deal of definition and refinement are required, often only a letterpress printer will do. The use of the letterpress requires a high degree of craftsmanship and training. Though letterpress printing has undergone a recent revival, it is still a process with roots firmly planted in the past.

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