Our friends Jasmine & Yale are getting married soon, and Alyssa and I decided to go all-out with our letterpress habit to create their invitations.
The design process started on the computer, but the goal from the start was to create something really special, where the computer would only play one part of the tune. For the invitation itself, we decided to create a 5″ × 7″ card with a three color design (3/0), using two plates of computer-generated photopolymer, and one “plate” of actual, historic wood type.
When typesetting the invitation, we were careful to use a 72-point condensed gothic for the “JASMINE” and “YALE” type, with the hope that we would find something similar in wood or metal at the International Printing Museum. It’s easy to scale type on the computer to odd sizes, but there would be no chance of finding a historic typeface in, say, 83.7125 points. With that constraint in mind, we created the sketch of the digital design, and then brought
the black and white laser proof to the Museum to see what we could find. In what I can only describe as a mini-miracle, I found a 72-point condensed gothic wood type in a drawer that matched the dimensions exactly. Using the digital design as a spacing guide, I was able to lock up the type precisely, and after proofing, I cut out the type to do a paste-up overlay. The precise fit is absurd; there was no need to tweak the design in Illustrator at all.
With the type set, and the design ready for output, I sent off the design to have the photopolymer plates made.
In the meantime, we talked paper. We ended up making economical use of paper by using some stock that was left over from previous jobs, including one of my favorites, an 80# cover cut of Neenah’s Environment in Birch (which adds a perfect natural speckle to the already-woodsy design), paired improbably with French Paper’s Glo-Tone in Yellow Light, 65# cover. To add color to the unprinted back while simultaneously allowing for deeper letterpress impression, the papers were duplexed together for extra thickness, leaving us with the rough equivalent of a 145# cover.
To add to the incredibly bright and happy color scheme, Jasmine & Yale chose French Paper’s Glo-Tone Blue Light A-7 envelopes. We set the type for the envelopes in hot metal using the Ludlow Typograph (in Hauser Script and Karnak), and Alyssa and Jasmine printed the run of envelopes on the treadle-operated 10 × 15 Chandler & Price in the Museum’s ’40s shop.
With the plates made and the type locked up, we set out to print the invitation card on the Heidelberg Windmill. Alyssa, always a huge fan of the split fountain, came up with the idea of running both polymer plates using split fountain gradients, to give the effect of a five-color job with only three passes.
The tree was inked in yellow to green, which ended up creating a rather Hipstamatic lens flare effect on the tree, almost as if the sun were passing through the topmost tree branches.
Encouraged by this, we then ran the second plate in the series with the same yellow blending to a dark red-orange in the opposite direction. Lastly, we ran the wood type in a custom-mixed blue.
As the ink blends on the press throughout the run, colors shift, making every invitation somewhat unique.
We realized after the fact that we had not included an “RSVP by” date on the invitation, and using some of the leftover French paper, we typeset the “PLEASE RSVP” card entirely in hand-set metal foundry type (Rustic, Hellenic Wide, Microgramma) and rule. I needed to use tweezers to properly letterspace the tiny type of the URL with thin coppers and brasses. Using an efficient work-and-turn process on the Windmill, we were able to get 6 out of an 8.5″ × 11″ sheet with very little paper waste involved.
I’d be proud of the design alone, but following this job from conception to delivery and continuing to hone my skills as a period typesetter and Heidelberg pressman (thanks, Mike) has been such a joy.
Jasmine and Yale posted about the process on their site, too. We’re really looking forward to the wedding!