Naomi, a lovely paper cut artist (seriously, check her stuff out!), commented with a great question on my last post, and I spent some time this morning putting together an answer. It's a question that comes up a lot. I think it might be of interest to more folks, so i'll repeat it here! I've also included some example photos which will hopefully help clarify some of the thoughts. Fellow printers, feel free to comment with your own thoughts - I know it's a topic that everyone has an opinion on, and I'd love to hear yours!
I have questions! I have questions! I’m so fascinated with the letterpress process, thank you for sharing it with us. I don’t know if you have both a manual and electric press, but would you say there are jobs that are more suited for the hand-crank over the electric-powered machine (besides for reason of quantity, of course). There are letterpress studios that make really “pillowy” impressions, and others that look more shallow. I wonder, do you change the impression on the paper for different jobs, or do you set one impression depth and that’s the look you want to be known for?
Here's my answer:
We only have manual presses. They are either treadle powered with my feet (platen press), or operated with my hands (iron handpress), with each piece being fed into the press by hand. There are definitely benefits to motorized or more mechanized presses – larger quantities can be printed at a time, and more impression (depth into the paper) can be achieved. But in my opinion, you lose something of the joy & the quality of printing by hand when the machine is doing a lot of the work. The problem solving, measurements, and set-up are done similarly no matter what type of press you’re using, but the actual process of running the job is different. I really love the repetitive, rhythmic work-out that is printing manually, but it’s not for everyone and certainly has its limitations (quantity, needing to be in good health & stamina to print, etc.). I also think that printing manually (treadle vs. motor on a platen press) is much safer. The speed is set by your leg instead of by a motor, and your body inherently works well together. I’m not saying i’ll never have a motorized or mechanized press, but for now I prefer the simpler way.