Letterpress And The Death Of Print Design

I’ve lately been really into letterpress prints, and just received a set of Christmas cards in the mail that I ordered from Etsy.

Generic Holiday Cards from Etsy.com
The cards I bought don’t seem to be in stock any longer, but they’re absolutely fantastic, and I can’t wait to address and send them to some of my relatives. There’s something really awesome about the human touch evident in letterpress work, and these cards are no exception. Each one is individual, and deserves one of those stickers they put on t-shirts at Target that lets you know that any inconsistencies in the coloring are totally intentional and critical to the design.

What’s odd to me about this latest obsession of mine, though, is that it comes at the same time I’m contemplating phasing out designing for print as a primary service that I offer through Frivmo Design. With the web there is just so much more than can be done - and for considerably less money. The best part, though, is that by designing sites using modern and standards-compliant markup, you are creating something future-proof, something sustainable, and something that is flexible in a way that print could never be. I find this openness and adaptability to be a thing of beauty, and I marvel at the possibilities offered by the medium. Every day brings the announcement of a new technology, a new approach, a new way of creating something incredible that allows people to connect in new and different ways.

This is not to say that I find print uninteresting. Far from it, in fact. I have always - always will, I imagine - been deeply moved by printed materials. From baseball cards, to comic books, to novels and books of philosophy and art - I have taken great joy in collecting and owning work on paper. I share a love for the tactility of the printed page with all true-blue book aficionados, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

But what bugs me about print, I guess, is that it is becoming less and less like the handmade letterpress Christmas cards I just bought, or the books and cards and papers I’ve collected over the years. Technology has made designing for print so much more efficient, so much more predictable, and by and large, it has lost the very uniqueness that makes it so special. It has become, in many ways, little more than a printed version of the Web, with less functionality - in a reversal of the “websites as digital versions of newspapers and magazines” trend evident early in the Web’s life, and still somewhat widespread. Just look at Wired Magazine for a glaring example of this reversal.

Print has lost its soul.

Yes, there are exceptions. Thank goodness for them. But I find myself less interested in the industry as a whole because new, exciting, and soulful work is so rare and so expensive. Mass production may have made print a viable and important art form, but the ultra-mass-production of today’s world is commoditizing it towards obsolescence.

All that said, I would love to learn the art of letterpress. If anyone has information about how to get started (and how to find an inexpensive and small, but still functional, letterpress machine), I would really appreciate your input.