Old Techniques, New Designs, Handmade Quality: Albertine Press

Shelley Barandes in her print studio Albertine Press.

Shelley Barandes in her print studio Albertine Press.

Albertine Press
Somerville, MA

Letterpress printing is a centuries old process. The first printed books and manuscripts were painstakingly set by hand, letter by letter and printed on vellum animal skins. Letterpress is tactile, subtle, and requires patience and an eye for detail to print well. Today, printers like Shelley Barandes have taken this process into the digital age and are combining old and new techniques to create custom designs at her print studio Albertine Press. On a recent visit, she showed me around and talked about her process and products...

Can you talk a little about letterpress printing and what makes it unique? How did you learn to print using this method and where did you acquire your presses?
Letterpress is the oldest mechanized printing method, enjoying a renewed appreciation by both artisans and paper-lovers alike. A relief-printing technique, raised forms are inked and then pressed against (and often into) the paper. While old-school printers would moan and groan over the "printing for the blind" in vogue today, it is that very impression that sets letterpress apart. 

I learned to print at the Center for Book Arts in New York City, first with hand set type, and later experimented with photo-polymer plates. This allowed me a flexibility in design and image creation not afforded by traditional typesetting.

After finding and barely having a chance to play with two table top presses, the opportunity for two production presses and a guillotine fell into my lap. I had to quickly find a proper studio space to house the hulking half-ton beasts. Over the years other presses came into and left the studio, replaced by (slightly) more automated Heidelbergs, to help cope with the growing scale of production.

One of several hand operated presses used to print cards and custom jobs.

One of several hand operated presses used to print cards and custom jobs.

What do you like most about letterpress printing?
I love the clicking clanking of the machines and the beauty of a crisp print against a luxurious cotton paper, the physical realization of a design. I also still love the satisfaction in solving a mechanical quibble with one of these old machines and finally pulling that perfect print.

What are some of the things your customers respond to most about your product line? 
With our greeting cards, people love the simplicity of the designs, a few strokes of the pen and a few words conveying their wishes for celebration or occasion. 

The cityscape designs throughout the rest of our product line hit home, literally. People have a real pride of place and love to celebrate somewhere they've lived, traveled, or spent time, and so enjoy buying and gifting products that let them revisit memories and feelings of those places. 

The quality and texture of the finished pieces is always a draw - I can't tell how many people I've watched at craft fairs pick up a card or journal and run their hands over the paper commenting on how nice it feels. 

Traditional tools, new designs.

Traditional tools, new designs.

In a digital world, why do you think traditional stationery is still so popular?
It's true, in our digital world it's become far easier to stay in touch with people. But emails and text are intangible so when it really matters, weddings, birthdays, babies, people still turn to hand-written cards and when they do, they're looking for something really special, hand made, artisanal. The tactile nature of letterpress is exactly why it's enjoyed such a resurgence - you can't DIY letterpress.  

Production in motion.

Production in motion.

How does the Boston or New England region influence your products or business?
A large part of the business is in wedding invitations and most of that work is with local clients. Cityscape designs being one of our specialties means we're working on a lot of Boston-themed suites featuring skylines, maps, bridges, and specific buildings. Much of that filters down to our greeting card collection and we've included Boston, Somerville, Cape Cod, Providence, and nautical-themed cards, note sets, calendars, totes and more.

Why do you feel handmade goods are important today?
Handmade is the natural counterpoint to mass-production. When love and attention and work have gone into creating something, it doesn't feel as disposable or replaceable, because it often is one-of-a-kind. 

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The Letterpress Library collection of note cards.

The Letterpress Library collection of note cards.

You can learn more about Albertine Press, see their full product line and learn more about their custom printing for invitations and personalized stationery at
www.albertinepress.com

Photos: Melissa DiPalma


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