Presswork: 6 – Setting and printing circular shapes

Playing with Type: setting some circular shapes

Playing with ornaments one day (as you do), I decided to try using blue masking tape to hold some sorts together so I could get an idea of what they might look like set in a circle. It turned out way better than expected. This is an abridged version of the process of our seasonal greeting card design and production this year, showing the highlights but none of the back-and-forth design and production issues that generally occur.

  1. So the challenge was how to fit the circle in a form and print it. 
  2. I happen to have some old trick furniture in different sizes for setting type on curves, and 8 of them make a somewhat circular shape. As it turned out, it was not a circle but a rather pleasing hyperellipse. It looked unfinished, so I decided that it needed a border. Using a strip of paper, I measured the interior circumference and cut an oversized piece of 2-point strip material, and wrapped it around a mailing tube to get it roughly circular and started fitting it into the form. After some very careful fitting and trimming, I was able to snap it into place where the tension held the ornaments tightly to the circular form. I removed the strip material and repeated the process with a thin and then a thick lead rule to make an Oxford Rule Border. This process was largely trial and error – but getting the edges square and the tension just right was possible after a few attempts.  
  3. The tension alone might have held the form together, but taking no chances, I put together some internal blocking using some small cornerstone quoins, some spacing, and some small circular furniture
  1. The next step was to add some type, but in a different color, so I repeated the form with 24 pt Em spacing to get the same shape.
  2. After trying a couple of different sizes of type, I settled on 16 point Wilhelm Klingspor Schrift. Note that the type – as with all of the spacing used in circular blocking in this form – is taped together for ease of manipulation.
  3. Again, I used the same internal blocking & quoins for secure printing.
  1. I put together a small Granjon star for the center and rotated it 45 degrees in some small 3D-printed “Pangone 2” rotating furniture, which I bought from Letterpress Amsterdam some time ago.
  2. After carbon-paper proofing each form, I assembled a composite proof to confirm the registration I wanted 
  3. The printed card in four colors
  1. I should probably also point out the kerning on several letters in the greeting (photo flipped to right-reading for clarity).
  2. Something to avoid: all of the typesetting and lockup (but none of the printing) was accomplished with an encumbered left forearm, wrist, and thumb. I had hand surgery in September, and really can’t recommend holding a composing stick while wearing a cast.

Presswork: 5 – a Tetraptych, completed.

Limited to an edition of 25 sets, the series was designed & produced over the 18 months between March of 2022 and September of 2023. Printed on dampened 250gsm Stonehenge Vellum (100% cotton), the sheet size is 12-1/2” x 18,” and the bottom edge has a natural deckle. The printed image area is 8-3/4” x 12.” As described previously, this series was hand-set in metal type and printed on a Vandercook 317 proving press.

Of possible additional interest, the Tetraptych project recently received an Award of Excellence in Communication Arts magazine’s 2024 Typography Annual.

Signed and numbered editions of four are available for sale directly for $3500.00 (plus applicable taxes). A few individual panels may be available for $950.00 each; please inquire if you are interested.

Presswork: 4 – A Tennyson Tetraptych (Panel 4)

Setting type for panel #4 is pretty much like the other three panels with one significant exception – the text contains a character for which there is no glyph in the face I’m using: a lowercase “e” with a diaeresis above it. The face has several glyphs with umlauts: ä, ö, and ü – (visually, pretty much the same thing) – but no ë.

My first thought was to cut off an umlaut  from one of the accented sorts and put it on top of the “e,” but that proved impractical because of the individual sort widths were too wide. As luck would have it, two “period” sorts in this face are very nearly the same total width as the sort for the lowercase “e,” so it was relatively easy to use blue tape and super glue to align and join the two periods precisely into what can be best described as a free-range diaeresis. 

Trimming ever so slightly with a hand miter brought it to the precise width of the “e” sort, and I then used my Hammond saw to trim the bottom to fit above the “e” glyph. This move was kind of tricky, so I used two double quads as vise jaws in the saw to hold the work securely and accurately. Using the same setup, I trimmed the top of the “e” and used the align-and-superglue trick again to glue the diaeresis to the top of the “e.”  

Using the same setup on the saw, I then trimmed the resulting sort to the correct height (confirmed with a digital height gauge), and it fit right in.

So, in full disclosure, it took three attempts to achieve what I wanted. The first attempt used an umlaut, which proved too wide. The second attempt (using periods) was much better, but I messed up on the last stroke of the hand-mitering operation. So apparently, third time’s the charm.

The final panel is done. It’s now down to 11% moisture content, so I should start trying to figure out how to frame the set of four.

For the record, dampening paper is best done on single-color work. Registration of second and third colors becomes interesting when the paper stretches and shrinks as much as a full pica (1/6 of an inch), depending on moisture content. Printing moisture content varied from 19% to 21%; dry paper is in the 8% to 9% range.

Yes, I bought a moisture meter.

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