Letter No. 11 - Letterpress Reborn

What a whirlwind it's been since our last letter! Hard to believe so much has happened in a month. 

Up here in Ottawa, my family is getting adjusted to a new baby (Eve) in the house, while down in Cornwall, our printer Ian has been working away with his baby (Charlie the Heidelberg Windmill Platen Press) churning out 500 copies of the Great Gatsby.

In our previous letter we discussed how letterpress printing was lost in the mid-20th century. In this one today we'll chat about how letterpress has undergone a renaissance in recent years, and how we're updating the process in 2021.

Rather than using metal type to imprint text on the page, we are working with photopolymer plates to do our printing. Below is an image of Ian at his platemaker.

Ian Making Photopolymer Plates Polimero

The first step in making photopolymer plates is taking the digitally typeset book that we created and having it converted to negative film. In order to make highest definition plates, we require super high-quality negatives to be created from our digitally typeset pages. We work with a Montreal-based team that's been in business for over 34 years to ensure the crispest of impressions.

Negative Film Photopolymer Plate Making

Once the negative film is combined with a blank photopolymer plate and processed through the platemaker, you have raised text on a relief plate, almost exactly the same as if you hand-set the metal type. Here, I was able to design the divider digitally and have it well translated to photopolymer.

Photopolymer Relief Plate Divider Great Gatsby

Once the plate is inked and imprinted onto paper in the press, you have the resulting print:

Gatsby Divider Printed

You can check out a video of this process in action that Ian took below.

I think he knows more about printing on a Heidelberg Windmill than just about anyone around these parts. His savoir-faire and commitment to quality mean that each page of our books are a complete pleasure to read.

This video makes the whole process look like a straightforward load-er-up rinse and repeat, hit cmd-P, etc. Honestly, there couldn't be anything further from the truth! 

Ian needs to be constantly adjusting and accounting for factors such as the outside humidity to ensure that sheets aren't sticking together and running as doubles. He also needs to be aware of thunderstorms in the area, since a power outage during a print-run could seriously impact the machine. Plus, precise adjustments need to be made before running every plate so that the impressions are deep, but not so deep they bleed to the back of the page.


Last but not least, here's an image of my fully loaded car en route to Smiths Falls Bookbindery. Thankfully I removed the car seats or all the copies wouldn't have fit!

Car Trunk Full of Printed Pages Gatsby Letterpress

Looking forward to sharing some more content from bindery soon,




  • Jaye

    Likely the plate is mirrored but the image of the plate was probably flipped for effect.

  • Tim Moore

    Wonder how the plate that you included showing the raised characters can print onto paper because it isn’t a mirror image as I expected if it replaces lead type!

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