The Printing Process: Block Printing

Happy Monday everyone!  Every morning this week, I’ll be running a series of guests posts about different printing methods – so if you’ve ever wondered why certain printing methods are best for certain kinds of designs (or cost more than others), this is for you!  You can read the previous installments covering digital printing, engraving, screen printing, letterpress printing with antique type, and foil stamping all right here.  Today we have the talented Katharine Watson stopping by to tell us about one of the oldest printing methods – a technique known as block printing.

What is Block Printing?

Block Printing is one of the oldest types of printmaking, and has been around for thousands of years.  There is evidence that it existed as early as the fifth century BC, with actual fragments found from as early as the fifteenth century.  It has been done around the world, with roots in India, China and Japan.

Since there is such a long history of block printing, there are many different techniques, but it is essentially using a carved material covered in ink to transfer an image on to paper or fabric.  Block printing can be done with wood, linoleum, rubber, or many other materials, but I use linoleum for my work.

Images that are printed with this technique are typically much bolder than other types of printmaking: since the blocks are carved by hand, there is often less detail and more texture to the prints.  It is possible however, when using a very small knife, to carve blocks with a huge amount of detail.

Block printing is also known as “relief printing” because the ink leaves a raised texture on the paper.  This is different than letterpress where the image is applied with enough pressure to leave an indent on the paper; typically block printing is done by hand, so the ink sits on the surface adding a raised texture to the paper.

The Printing Process

The first step is to sketch the design.  It is important to reverse the image if you are using text, as the printed image will be the reverse of what is on the block.  Once I have the image ready, I then transfer the design on to the linoleum to give me an outline of where to carve.

The next step is to carve the design.  I carve away the parts that I don’t want to print, as the ink will be applied to the raised surfaces to print the design.  Whatever surface is untouched will be what prints onto the paper.  Carving a block can take anywhere from an hour for a small piece, to several weeks or even months depending on the size and detail of the image.

I use a range of knives, with very small-tipped knives for carving outlines and details, and much larger ones for cutting away the background.  Carving the blocks takes a lot of patience, because if your hand slips it can ruin the whole piece.  With practice, you can learn the amount of pressure it takes to carve the material, and the best techniques to use for certain designs.

Once the block is carved, I trim the excess off with scissors to give it a straight edge, and then it is ready for printing.  There are many different types of ink on the market, and it’s important to test them out to find the best one.  I use oil-based inks because they give the best even coverage and print well on both fabric and paper, but there are lots of options out there.

To print, I squeeze a small amount of ink onto a piece of glass or plexiglass, and roll it out with a roller (also called a brayer).  I do this to get a thin, even layer, because it’s important to apply the ink evenly to the block.

I then roll the ink on to the block, making sure there is a thin but even layer on the whole design. Then I take the block and press it down onto the paper or fabric. You can do this with your hands, a printing barren (a specific tool to apply pressure to a block), a rolling pin, by walking on it, or with a printing press – whatever it takes to apply even pressure.

The most important part is applying the pressure evenly, since the color will be stronger in some areas of the print than others if uneven pressure is applied.  This is also a step that takes some practice and perfecting.

The ink then takes several days to dry, so unlike other printing processes, there is a long wait time before the prints are ready to use.  The oil based inks can take from two days to a week to fully dry, whereas water-based inks will dry slightly faster.  The inks are made to dry slowly so that you are able to print without having the ink dry on the block; if you print with a fast-drying ink or paint, it will sometimes start to dry before you have even finished the print, giving a very uneven coverage.

Tips and Advice

I love block printing because of the bold and simple designs that can be created, but that simplicity takes a lot of steps to achieve.  The technique is excellent for images with just a few colors and fewer details, but can be difficult to use for images with lots of small text, or very fine details that tend to break off the block with too many uses.

One of the advantages of block printing is that it can be done on a surface of almost any size and texture.  I print on fabric, paper, canvas, wood and other materials, and you don’t have to worry about fitting it through a printer or a press.

Block printing is also an excellent way to produce a something that is truly handmade, but can be very easily replicated.  Carving the block is time consuming and requires a lot of patience, but once you have the block you can use it hundreds or thousands of times.

Block printing is also one of the easiest printing methods to get started with, since the materials needed to start are relatively inexpensive, and you don’t need a lot of equipment for printing.  It’s a great way to get into printmaking!

Thanks Katharine!  Check out more of Katharine’s beautiful work right here!

Photo Credits: Katharine Watson

The Printing Process: Screen Printing

While I’m away on vacation I’m running a series of guest posts on the various printing processes, from digital printing to engraving.  I’ve asked some designers and printers to share their expertise and lots of photos to fill you in on what you need to know about different stationery printing methods. Today I’ve asked two of my favorite screen printing ladies, Carrie and Laurie from Two Trick Pony, to walk us through the screen printing process.  Take it away ponies!

What is Screen Printing?

two-trick-pony-wedding-Invitation

Screen printing (also known as silk screening) is one of the oldest methods of printmaking, with examples dating back to the Song Dynasty in China.  The process involves creating a stencil of an image on a screen of porous mesh, traditionally made of silk.  A roller or squeegee is used to pull paint-like ink over the stencil, forcing it through the mesh onto the paper being printed.  Unlike the inks used in some other forms of printing, screen printing ink sits right on the surface of paper, resulting in incredibly rich, vibrant color.

The Printing Process

The screen printing process has multiple steps, starting with the process of creating the screen.

The screens are coated with a light sensitive emulsion, and exposed using a positive image.  Your positive can be created in a variety of ways, from digitally printed film, hand-cut rubylith, or hand drawn with ink on acetate.  The positive is positioned directly on the surface of the light table, and the screen placed over the positive, print side down.  The emulsion hardens when exposed to light, and remains soft and water-soluble where the positive blocks the light.  After exposure, we take the screen to the wash-out sink, and rinse away the soft emulsion.  Once the screen has dried completely, we lock the screen into hinges that are mounted onto our print surface.

We align the paper for printing, and mark the location with registration tabs.  Ink is applied directly to one end of the screen in a long bead, ready to be pulled over the screen with the squeegee.

A nice, firm pass with the squeegee forces ink through the mesh, visibly showing on the print side of the screen.  The screen is lowered on the hinges, and the squeegee is used to press the inked mesh flat against the paper, transferring a thin, even layer of ink to the page.

The amount of ink transferred to the paper is controlled by the thickness of the emulsion, so crisp images need a fine, even coat of emulsion to maintain their detail.

Mixing the second color for this particular job was a challenge; we wanted to create the illusion of a 3rd color in the print, so the second ink needed to be transparent and overlay the first color to create a pleasing effect.  We settled on a yellowish green that would create a darker green where it overlapped the blue.

Registration was tight!  The blue and yellow-green had to line up perfectly along the sides of the image.

Printing finally completed, it’s time to cut!  Our cutter, Cooper, was made in 1867, and still works like a charm.

Two-Trick-Pony-Screen-Printed-Wedding-Invitation

Two-Trick-Pony-Screen-Printed-Wedding-Invitation-RSVP

The final piece; poster sized invite, ready to be rolled into tubes and mailed to guests!

Tips and Advice

Like most hand-printing methods, screen printing has a very distinctive look.  Even though the surface is flat, the velvety finish and extreme vibrancy of the ink cannot be replicated with any other technique.  Screen printing can also be used on a variety of surfaces, so anything that has a flat surface can be printed; paper, chip board, fabrics, wood, leather and metal are all viable candidates!

two-trick-pony-blue-wedding-Invitation

Like any other printing process, screen printing definitely has specific limitations, which makes it better suited for some projects (and not so well suited for others).  Fine details or delicate text can be lost or broken up in the printing process, and large blocks of text can be difficult to print consistently.  Light ink on dark paper works beautifully, but textured papers are out.  Thin papers also present difficulty, as the ink could cause them to buckle or warp.

Thank you so much Ponies!  You can see more of the talented screen printed designs from Two Trick Pony right here!

Photo Credits: Two Trick Pony

The Printing Process: Foil Stamping

While I’m away on vacation I’m running a series of guest posts on the various printing processes, from digital printing to engraving. I’ve asked some designers and printers to share their expertise and lots of photos to fill you in on what you need to know about different stationery printing methods. Today we’re talking about one of my very favorite specialty printing methods – foil stamping!

The Printing Process: Foil Stamping / Elegant Gold Foil Wedding Invitations by Paper Bloom / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Invitations by Paper Bloom

What is Foil Stamping?

Foil stamping is a specialty printing process that uses heat, pressure, metal dies and foil film. The foil comes in rolls in a wide assortment of colors, finishes, and optical effects. Metallic foil is most commonly seen today – particularly gold foil, silver foil, copper foil, and holographic metallic foils – but foil rolls are also available in solid colors in both glossy and matte finishes.

Early foil stamping was done using hand-set lettering or custom engraved dies. Because foil stamping was so labor intensive, early foil stamping was primarily restricted to book covers and literary titles. To print gold text on a book cover, printers used separate fonts of lead or brass type, with text assembled by hand, one letter at a time, or a custom engraved die with a single image. Once the text or die was assembled, it was loaded into a press, which then pressed thin sheets of metallic foil into a book cover or other material.

The Printing Process: Foil Stamping / Gold Foil Baby Announcements by Lauren Chism / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Baby Announcements by Lauren Chism

The development of modern hot foil stamping took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Ernst Oeser, a master bookbinder in Berlin, is credited as a pioneer in the development of hot-stamping foils as early as 1880. In the 1930s, an English foil manufacturer, George M. Whiley, introduced atomized gold on thin sheets of polyester film. Hot foil stamping using these rolls of gold foil increased in popularity in the 1950s through the late 1960s.

The Printing Process: Foil Stamping / Gold Foil Art Deco Wedding Invitations by 4th Year Studio / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Wedding Invitations by 4th Year Studio

The Printing Process

Foil stamping is somewhat similar to letterpress and engraving, in that the color is applied to paper with pressure. Once the design is finalized, metal dies are created in the appropriate shape for each individual color foil to be applied for a particular design. The dies are heated and then stamped with enough pressure to seal a thin layer of foil to the paper, and each color is applied individually through multiple runs of the press to create the final design. A final die may also be created if an embossed (raised) image or effect is desired for the design.

The Printing Process: Foil Stamping / Thimblepress Gold Foil Embossed Cheers Card / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Cheers! Thimblepress Gold Foil Embossed Greeting Card

Crane-Stationery-Factory-Foil-Stamp-Printing-Process

Crane-Stationery-Factory-Foil-Stamp-Printing-ProcessCrane-Stationery-Factory-Foil-Stamp-Printing-Process

Crane-Stationery-Factory-Foil-Stamp-Printing-Process

Crane-Stationery-Foil-Materials

Photos from my tour of Crane & Co. in September 2011

Tips and Advice

As with any printing process, there are pros and cons.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you’re considering foil for your wedding invitations or personal stationery.

The Printing Process: Foil Stamping / Gold Foil Calligraphy Wedding Invitations by Lauren Chism / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Wedding Invitations by Lauren Chism

Pros

Foil is an opaque medium. Unlike thermography, lithography and letterpress, foil stamping does not use any ink. As a result, the foil color does not change based on the color of paper on which you are printing.  This makes metallic or lighter color foil great for darker or colored papers. Foil can be used for a variety of finishes, including metallic, matte, glossy, pearlescent, holographic, and patterns such as marbling. There are also semi-transparent tint foils, if you do want to allow the paper color to show through.

Metallic foils have a shiny, lustrous finish with a big visual impact. With thermography, lithography, and letterpress, metallics can fall flat and aren’t very shiny.

The Printing Process: Foil Stamping / Gold Foil Hand Lettered Wedding Invitations by Ladyfingers Letterpress / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Wedding Invitations by Ladyfingers Letterpress

Cons

Like letterpress, foil stamping is a labor-intensive printing method that requires multiple runs through the press to achieve multi-color designs. As a result, foil stamping can be expensive.

Because foil is applied by heat, it should not be applied near text or designs already applied by thermography.  The heat will melt the thermographic resins.

To see more of the foiling process, check out the video below of some foil stamping in action from the Crane & Co. production facility!

 

The Printing Process: Letterpress Printing with Antique Type

While I’m away on vacation I’m running a series of guest posts on the various printing processes, from digital printing to engraving.  I’ve asked some designers and printers to share their expertise and lots of photos to fill you in on what you need to know about different stationery printing methods.  This afternoon, we have Jen from Starshaped Press to talk about antique letterpress printing!

Hi everyone!  Jen here from Starshaped Press, and I’m here to talk about letterpress printing specifically using antique metal and wood type.

Starshaped-Press-Letterpress-Printing-Antique-Type

What is Antique Type Letterpress?

Letterpress printing was the standard method of printing for approximately 500 years prior to offset printing taking the reins in the twentieth century.  Letterpress printing is the ‘relief’ printing of text and images using a press with movable type or plates, in which a reversed, raised surface is inked and then pressed into a sheet of paper.  Invented by Johannes Gutenberg, it replaced handwritten calligraphy and was the popular form of printed text from the mid-15th century until the 19th century.

Until very recently, much of this letterpress printing was accomplished using both metal and wood type, literally individual letters arranged to form words.  The type could be reused over and over as long as it was cared for and well-maintained.  While metal type was ideal for commercial printing involving small type (like newspapers), wood type was the best option for larger projects, i.e. posters, broadsides and playbills, due to its lightweight nature.  Type often reflected the trends of the day, from Victorian to Art Nouveau to clean, contemporary stylings of post war design.

The Printing Process

The process of letterpress printing is virtually unchanged; type and cuts (ornamental or image plates) are arranged and locked in place into a ‘chase’ (a metal frame that is inserted into the press), and can be used on any press that will take materials that are ‘type high’ (this standard measurement is .918″).

letterpress-antique-type-in-chase

All type is relatively similar in that it is the same height and has markings that help the user determine what typeface it is and what foundry produced it.  Since letterpress is a relief printing process, the type is in reverse – hence the phrase “Mind your p’s and q’s.”

antique-wood-letterpress-type-in-chase

Thanks to the development of standards, type comes in common sizes ranging from 6 to 72 point in metal (give or take).  Wood type is measured by ‘line’, or pica, and comes in a large variety of sizes.

letterpress-antique-wood-type-in-chase

There are many interesting set up pieces (known as leads, slugs and quads) that help letterpress printers achieve really fantastic tricks, such as combining different point sizes of type together, setting type on curves and angles, and printing in multiple colors without altering the set up.

letterpress-antique-type-in-chase

Many small and intricate border and ornamental pieces are veritable designer candy; some are so detailed and miniscule that they cannot be replicated in a magnesium or polymer plate.  This is also true of many 19th century typefaces that are shaded, outlined or have lots of ornaments characters.

Letterpress printing with antique type has many distinct characteristics that may or may not be appealing to everyone.  It is not designed to produce a heavy impression in paper, as the type is soft and would be ruined.  In fact, the concept of a deep letterpress  impression is a very recent development.

letterpress-baby-announcement

letterpress-baby-announcement

It also does not produce perfectly crisp and even results, given that the type comes from a variety of backgrounds (some may be 100 years old, and some may be brand new from one of the few extant type foundries).  However, there are many wonderful qualities to hand set type, including an element of surprise that happens after the forme is locked up and the first print emerges from the press.

letterpress-wedding-invitations

letterpress-wedding-invitations

letterpress-wedding-invitations

Some letters are charmingly awkward in a way that digital type is not, and many wood letters have an incredible texture to them.  There are elements to working with metal and wood type that can be frustrating for the printer, as well as exhilarating, as one learns how previous craftsmen worked around the quirks of type.

Tips and Advice

When deciding on letterpress printing, if a deep impression is the one thing that you really want, working with an antiquated printer is not the direction to explore.  But if you’re seeking a vintage-inspired design that incorporates original Victorian, Art Deco, or other forms of antique type, then an old timey press is perfect for you!  Antique type is also perfect for couples seeking to model their wedding invitations after vintage show or concert posters, since the medium is particularly suited to text-focused designs.  It is also the most eco-friendly option for letterpress printing, as the type can be used and reused for centuries if it is maintained, eliminating the need to create new materials for every job.

Besides Starshaped Press, where we do all of our printing with handset metal and wood type, here are a few shops we admire for their commitment to antiquated type setting:

Hatch Show Print

Yee Haw Industries

Hammerpress

Thanks Jen!  You can check out more from Starshaped Press right here!

Photo Credits: Starshaped Press

Notes on our images:
Grant’s Baby Announcement was printed in two colors on a platen press. The smaller type is all metal, while the name was set in wood. The close up shows the fun texture the wood type created (there’s also a close up of the type itself).  The pale green texture in the background was achieved by printing the back side of a large piece of wood type, combined with ornamental linotype slugs (patterned lines that were cast on a linotype machine).

Abbey and Derek’s Wedding Invitation features a perforated reply card and folds to fit in a #10 envelope.  It is printed in two colors on kraft cover weight stock and combines both wood type and metal type. Because of the amount and variety of size of the type included, it was printed on a Vandercook proof press.  To justify the type, it has to be letterspaced extensively, as shown in the close ups.

*Starshaped Press is a spon­sor of Oh So Beau­ti­ful Paper; for more on my edi­to­r­ial poli­cies please click here.

Laser Cutting with Candyspotting

Candyspotting is a laser cutting studio based in Portland, Oregon and founded by Sarah Holbrook in 2009.  Though Sarah cuts many different mediums, she tends to focus her efforts on paper.  The laser’s ability to both cut and etch allows for some stunning results and it never ceases to amaze me how detailed the final product can turn out.  The fine art foray into laser cutting paper is a fairly new trend.  Historically, laser cutters have been used for more industrial applications.  It’s very exciting to see more artists and designers using this medium – I love discovering new stationery lines that are working with cut paper.

Sarah was kind enough to cut the Oh So Beautiful Paper logo (featuring calligraphy by Bryn from Paperfinger) as a demonstration of the laser’s intricacy.  Since Candyspotting specializes in cutting paper, Sarah is an expert at calculating the laser’s settings for the cleanest cut and the least amount of residual burning.  The end results are simply breathtaking.

OSBP laser cut

OSBP laser cut 4

This piece took over five minutes to cut.  If you are interested in reading more about the technical side of the process, be sure to visit Candyspotting’s blog.

Rhode Montijo

Rhode Montijo’s papel picado style Skeletown card will soon be for sale at the very first Latino Comics Expo in San Francisco next month.

Saelee Oh

Saelee Oh’s limited edition cut (this piece is sold out) “All Together Now”. The equally stunning “Infinite Path” is currently available in Saelee’s shop.

Béatrice Coron

Béatrice Coron creates the majority of her paper cuts by hand, but has recently begun offering a small selection of laser cut pieces. “BZCT” is available in a numbered edition of 500.

Squirrel Loves Nut

Squirrel Loves Nut is my own small line of cards. As a rep for so many talented designers, I’m inspired on a daily basis – it’s been a treat to have my very own creative outlet.

Wedding Invitation

This wedding invitation, designed by Candyspotting, combines laser cutting and etching.

Business Card

Catchy business card design, by Brian Behrens.

Scraps

Laser cut paper scraps are particularly cute.

Thank You cards

Test cuts for a Thank You card designed by Candyspotting.

Many thanks to Sarah for allowing me to invade her studio.

“Laser Cutting with Candyspotting” is a guest post by Carina Murray of Crow & Canary.