Letterpress Printing Kick-Starts Revival

By Takei, Yohei | The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan), August 19, 2015 | Go to article overview

Letterpress Printing Kick-Starts Revival


Takei, Yohei, The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)


Despite the digital age, the time- and labor-intensive letterpress method of printing is making something of a comeback.

Letterpress is the process of printing pages one by one using pieces of movable metal type, assembling them to form text, placing them on the press bed, inking them and pressing them onto paper.

Recently, business and greeting cards are being created via letterpress at the many workshops and do-it-yourself studios that have been popping up in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

In December last year, Hasegawa Insatsu, a printing company based in Shibuya, Tokyo, opened a printing workshop in the area's Dogenzaka district, where metal machines with a black luster sit in a bright space of white and beige.

The machines are printing presses that have been in use for half a century.

"The smell of ink, the impressions and the shades of the letters. These are the charms of letterpress printing," explained shop manager Kazuo Hasegawa, 42.

The printing company was founded in 1937, and about 30 years ago switched from letterpress to offset printing. The company also handles digital printing, but Hasegawa said he started this workshop because he "wanted the younger generation to understand the subtle charms of letterpress."

After the company began taking orders for items such as personal business cards and restaurant menus, and introduced a service that allows customers to operate the printing machinery themselves, it has started to attract younger people in their 20s and 30s.

The results of letterpress printing can vary -- too much ink causes unevenness while not pressing hard enough can blur the final product. Nevertheless, the workshop has received positive reviews, such as, "It's fun to print each individual sheet" and "I get so attached to the finished product that I don't even want to use it."

Down to business

Tsukiji Katsuji, a company that has been manufacturing lead printing type in Minami Ward, Yokohama, since the Taisho era (1912-1926), maintains about 260,000 molds and six casting machines.

Company President Kiichi Hiraku, 56, and artisan Hatsuyuki Omatsu, 71, manage the company. At one time they were on the verge of going out of business, but they said that in recent years orders for printing type have been rolling in from designers and other individuals. I recently participated in a hands-on seminar on casting printing type and printing business cards.

We started by making the printing type. I set the molds of two of the characters in my name into the old casting machine, then turned the handle and poured in a lead alloy. The metal molds were immediately cooled by water, and in a matter of seconds the letters tumble out. …

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