How Erik Spiekermann is reinventing printing

Erik Spiekermann’s experimental letterpress workshop, 98a, is the birthplace of post-digital printing

Change Is Good is a new fiction book by Louis Rossetto, co-founder of Wired, about the birth of the dot-com age. And fittingly for a book about a revolution, it's the first book to be designed and printed by typography legend Erik Spiekermann's new printing process, which he calls 'post-digital printing'.

This method will use a combination of new laser plate cutting technology and letterpress to print 1,000 copies of the book, which is available on Kickstarter. We caught up with Rossetto and Spiekermann to find out more about this printing process.

What are the benefits of letterpress printing compared to offset?
Louis Rossetto:
Offset printing handles colour really well. But at the same time, when you're reading a book that's only text, offset doesn't deliver on a quality level like letterpress used to. On the other hand, letterpress has the limitation of not being able to do typography well. 

What Erik's able to do in developing this new technology is marry the advances that have occurred in typography over the last 30 years to the clear benefits of letterpress, in terms of its black type and sharp forms impressed into the paper. The whole package ends up being startlingly better than what we're used to.

What's the process for this new printing method?
Erik Spiekermann:
We bought an image setter machine that cuts into polymer plastic with a laser, and then we can print from those plates. 

We put these plates with metal backs in our machine, which has a magnetic base. It goes into the printing press, and stays there. And then we get the impression, the raised surface, of the letters.

You can see the printing process in action in the video above

Tell us about Change Is Good...
LR:
Change Is Good is a story about a moment that changed the world. In the 90s, there were young people with fire in their eyes, with big ideas and a passion to make change happen. Change is Good is about those people and their challenges.

It's utterly appropriate that the story of this era of revolutionary change is brought out on new technology which will revolutionise printing.

Change is Good is the first book to use Spiekermann's new print process

Are there any types of books that you think wouldn't print well using this method?
ES:
Text is where letterpress shines, but we can imagine printing books using a mix of processes, for example, full colour offset and black type, or other combinations. We are no Luddites, and we like all types of printing on paper – including using our Risograph.

What's the future of post-digital printing?
ES:
Bringing together the best of each technology: digital type and typesetting offer more choices and better precision. Letterpress printing makes type look better than watery offset.

We've already printed two books for a major German publisher, and will print another five titles this year.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get more from letterpress, who doesn't have your resources?
ES:
Come and buy plates from us. We need to get our money back on our investment.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 270. Buy it here.

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