Kimberlin Co.


For folks who aren’t familiar with the art form, what is letterpress?

Letterpress is a relief style of printing. It was invented by Gutenberg and it contained moveable type so you could move the letters around to produce and publish any printed material that needed to be done. Bringing mass production to traditional printing. That’s traditional letterpress. Today it’s more commercialized and known for having a bite or a press into the paper. That’s been the resurgence of the more modern time. 

You mention resurgence. I’ve noticed it’s become a lot more popular in even just the last 5 years alone. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve heard in the very beginning they didn’t want to achieve any sort of an indentation onto the page. It was almost as if it didn’t show that it had been letterpressed, that was a good letterpress. Whereas now, we feel the texture in the prints and that really defines it. Is there any truth to that?

Yeah, there definitely is. Taking a bite out of the paper makes it harder to print on the other side of the sheet. So it was traditionally not popular to do that. Also using movable type with lead and wood type, it would start to beat things up ultimately ruining their form. You wouldn’t be able to keep reproducing it from there, so achieving no impression or deboss was a lot more common when having to reuse the same type, form or relief elements. Today we’re able to achieve more of a deboss in the paper imprint with the evolution of the plate process. A copper, magnesium or polymer plate allows for digital media to be used in this process of letterpressing.

When you’re typesetting, you’re almost always looking at things backwards. Training your mind to be able to look at that and see the final outcome, right?

Yeah it’s definitely in reverse and takes time to get your spacing correct. From what we do day to day in production, when it goes to the digital format, things are a lot different. Things just look differently, they’re spaced differently. Nothing really beats the look of handset type versus typesetting on a program.

Tell us a little bit about your location and the story of how you stumbled into this location because it’s a really beautiful spot! 

We really lucked out. We had been looking for a space to inhabit once we got some jobs rolling and this space was vacant for a few years, so we kinda just rolled into it. We definitely cleaned up the area outside and inside of the space. Making sure it could cater to our production and also cater to our retail customers and clients. It’s really evolved. Started with next to nothing. A few posters were donated from the School of Visual Concepts that we were able to hang up. Also worked with some local artists to keep the the retail space filled. It was really just an evolution to get to this point of stability. We opened in March 2011 and have our foothold here in the community below Pike Place Market. We’re really striving to become that local Seattle printshop of nitty-gritty printing mixed with aesthetically pleasing design working with local artists and we’re in the perfect environment down here below The Market. A lot of foot traffic. A lot of exposure. Which is really premise of what I originally envisioned a space. I wanted to have the printing press in front of people so they could see how it’s done and to see the production. To know that it’s not just something being mass produced in China or being overlooked by something that just gets printed to fill a job or to fill a void. We are a commercial shop, but we do lean more towards the fun and creative projects. A lot of design firms around here give us that outlet.

You’re able to do more of these small batch/intentional jobs. Like you said, not this mass produced thing or where you’re outsourcing, but rather this very controlled.

Yeah it a very controlled environment for the most part. With letterpress printing you have things that come up or things that are always unexpected. So over the years, with our experience we’ve been able to control those. Everything we do can be in-house. From the design process we can offer all the way down to the finished product. 

I think a really good example of that is the adhesive used with the Wilder Candle labels. I mean you guys made that happen. It couldn’t have existed elsewhere. Maybe just touch on that for a second because that process was really cool.

When I first started letterpress printing I always had this vision of doing some neat labels. Specifically for wine. But I was like, “Man… if I can get myself into making some really unique labels, that could be the edge we have over other competition.” So I started looking around and found some good outlets for sources and what ended up happening was that we have to apply the adhesive by hand. It’s a little bit more of a labor intensive process. There are some machines and more resources available now than when we first started. But yeah, we apply it by hand and then we cut it down and then we run it through the press. It gives us that really strong adhesive that we’re able to apply to any substrate wether it’s hot or cold. The reason that we have to apply it by hand is because thicker paper stocks don’t have adhesive on them. Adhesive paper or label paper is usually text weight or a really low cover weight. And so in order to get the nice deboss of letterpress you need to have thicker stock. You need a thicker substrate to really press into to get the depth of the deboss that you’re looking for. The thinner substrates just can’t get as much depth. 

We discussed your candles and the temperatures required for the labels on the outside of the glass jars. We had to sit back and look at the specs for what the adhesives were made for and the people over at 3M are great. You know, you think of Scotch tape generally but they make a whole variety of products in every industry. And each one is specced out with different temperature readings, pressure sensitivity and all these factors that go into something so simple as a candle label. But when you try to push the limitations of what is commercially available for label stock, it just doesn’t exist to get the deboss we wanted.