Letterpress printing is an (almost) lost art, consisting of 2000lb machines made of iron, lots of messy ink, and some really fun people! I'll introduce you to our team, as well as what we do in this post.
Papillon Press is me (Madeleine) and my dad (Vernon). We work long-distance as a team from Saint Louis, MO and Grand Rapids, MI respectively. I'm the main stationery and invitation designer, while Vernon focuses on historical design and pattern making. You can read more about our story here, but long story short, we've been working together since I was a kid, and in 2017 we started Papillon Press, LLC.
Madeleine and Vernon Wiering, 2021
Let's start with some history...
Back in about 1450, a man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the first letterpress. This was a huge development in the world of printing, because these machines worked much faster than previous methods of printing. He's the most famous name in letterpress printing, however, the first letterpress type machines were actually invented in around 1040 in China. Letterpress remained the primary method of printing until the mid 1900s. Both of our presses are from the 1920s and '30s. Though letterpress went out of style and became less used due to newer and faster forms of printing, it was revived for purposes such as wedding invitations in the '90s.
Madeleine printing in the STL Studio, 2022.
How does it work?
Our presses, both Chandler & Price Platen Presses, operate mechanically and are powered by small motors (thank goodness). There is a large flywheel which turns, and moves the press. Rubber rollers roll over the ink plate, then over the design plate, and then the design plate is pressed against the paper, creating the iconic letterpress print. The printer (me or Vernon), has to then replace the paper before the press goes through another cycle, or the print can be ruined. One must be careful though, as our specific presses were both discontinued after crushing a few too many hands. We stay safe by not printing when tired, not having distractions around, and by being quick! You can watch a video of one of us operating the press here.
Why is it so expensive?
Mostly, it's very time consuming. We do all of our own design, which can take some time to do well. It also takes a while to adjust the press to print perfectly, and this has to be done before each new design is printed. We also use only the best materials- 100% cotton paper, vibrant vegetable-oil-based inks, and sometimes hand-carved woodblocks. These materials are better for the environment and are all made by businesses who pay a fair & living wage, so they're a bit more costly than standard materials which could be used.
Custom letterpress invitations, 2022.
What do you make?
We make a large variety of products. Our main product lines are notebooks, greeting cards, linens, and art prints, but we also sell stickers and other little doo-dahs to go along with. In terms of custom items, we have done custom book publications, business cards, and wedding invitations.
American Victorian Letterpress Notebooks, 2021.
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The first step in creating my own stationery was to design it. My partner, James, drew this lovely Dahlia. He then carved it into a cherry woodblock and we used that throughout our suite.