Papillon Press is a letterpress and illustration studio located in Westport, Ontario, Canada that specializes in illustrated greeting cards and paper goods. Our greeting cards, note cards, gift tags, thank you cards, stickers, etc. all feature our hand-drawn illustrations and are printed by hand on our 60 year-old letterpress.
I never thought I’d be able to associate a country like Costa Rica with letterpress, but here it is: I (Chantal) went to Costa Rica for a week in August. I had one day to spend by myself in the capital, San José, so I decided to visit one of the few museums they have. As an aside, I don’t recommend spending more than a day in San José because it’s one of the worst cities I’ve visited. The rest of the country is beautiful, but San José is a dump.
As I was saying, I’d just paid the admission to the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and as I’m walking in, just sitting there in the foyer is a Heidelberg! My day had not been especially good up until then so this sight heartened me. Plus, I’d never seen a Heidelberg up close before.
Turns out the Costa Rican currency museum was also in the same building and the Heidelberg was used to print currency as late as the 1990s! It was regularly used until 1994 and then was used to print bills on special occasions. The last time it was used was in 2000. They even had the engraved plates that were used to print the different colours on the bills.
How awesome would it be to have special letterpressed currency?!
Here’s a photo I took of the Heidelberg; it’s not the best quality, but the light was very dim in the foyer.
Our first ever print on our letterpress was made after we reassembled the press a couple weeks after the big move.
When we bought the press it came with a bunch of blocks of type that were just sitting in the galleys, tied with string. These blocks of type were arranged for wedding invitations, business cards and coupons, among many other things (like hotel check in times), and just sat in the galleys. The type is usually sorted and returned to the typecases after printing but this stuff never was, and hasn’t been put away in over 30 years.
We decided to take one of these blocks and lock it up in the chase to print a test print. We ended up choosing at random (it became too hard to choose from all the good ones) this $1 coupon for the Knights of Columbus with a nice border.
It’s a bit spotty and definitely not the greatest print for our first ever on the press, but we were just happy to see that the press was working smoothly after we reassembled it.
Hopefully we’ll get the chance to print more of those 30-year old blocks of text, even if the coupons have all expired.
In addition to being letterpress printers here at Papillon Press, we also do illustration work for editorial clients. I (Joel) just sent out a batch of new promotional postcards and decided to include a letterpressed card of my drawing of the Sudbury water tower. I drew this piece a few months ago (you can read about it here) and thought it would look great printed with the press, as so many things do.
Photopolymer plate of the Sudbury water tower
The first step was to scan the drawing at about 1200 dpi and clean up the lines a bit. I then sent the drawing off to Boxcar Press for them to create the photopolymer plate needed to make the print on the press. The amount of detail in the plate is really amazing. The small cross-hatched lines are almost invisible on the plate unless you tilt it into the proper light.
I made a print without any ink (called blind printing) and it gives a really nice appearance. Once I had the press set up with ink, the gauge pins set and the paper registered, (some pure black mixed with a bit of red) I was ready to start printing.
Painting the sky with watercolor
I printed 200 cards but about 7 of them were over-inked or fell under the press into the oily puddles below (a lot of oil is required to keep Claudette, our press, running smoothly). With those cards lost I ended up with a limited edition of 193 cards. I signed and numbered them all, but the most time-consuming part of all was laying down watercolor washes on each card to give them a colorful sky to contrast with the black ink. Here’s a shot (above) of a bunch of them laying out to dry. 193 of these things, that took a while.
Colorful edges on Crane Lettra paper
I really put down a lot of water on these cards and the colors bled over the tops to give an appearance of edge painting. I used Crane Lettra 110 lb paper for this project and they turned out great, even though it’s not the best paper for watercolor painting. I’m looking forward to doing more promo cards on the letterpress.
If you’re an illustrator or designer and want your promotional postcards printed on a letterpress, we can do that for you. Contact Papillon Press for more information to give your promo cards a really unique appearance and feel that art directors will want to hold on to.
Joel and I are huge fans of vintage book and magazine design, specifically from the turn of the century or the early twentieth century. That time period was considered a golden age for illustrators and you could make a very nice living doing it back then (unlike now). At the turn of the century, N.C Wyeth made the same amount per book cover as illustrators do now! But before I digress into one of my favourite rants, let me talk about the main reason for this post.
I came across these covers for The Golden Book, a 1920s & 30s magazine that published short fiction, through a Livejournal community. There is precious little information about this publication on the web, except that it ran short stories that were mostly reprints from classic stories (H.G Wells, Victor Hugo, etc.).
But the covers! I love the covers. The core of the cover design remains the same (the golden circle and the title) but every cover artist found a different way of dressing up the core elements. The colours and illustrations are really beautiful.
Back in May 2009, Chantal and I rented a big truck to drive down to Cornwall, Ontario to pick up our letterpress (see the post about our move here). We had already decided (after much discussion) that we would name our new stationery company Papillon Press. We love butterflies, they’re fun to draw and paint and we see a lot of them around here. It also sounds pretty good!
We tossed around a bunch of ideas like Full Court Press (not seriously, though, but I’m a basketball fan so I couldn’t resist the suggestion) and Hirondelle Press (a French word for a type of bird), but Papillon Press is the name we liked the best.
On the morning that we rented the truck we opened the back to give it a quick sweep and load it up with our moving supplies when Chantal came across the wing of a butterfly. It was such a great sign of good luck for us- for both the move and the eventual launch of the company.
We held onto the wing safely for the rest of the trip and when we got back we placed it in a small frame that is now on display in our press room.