Eric Mersmann has just completed his Kickstarter project for Valentine's Day cards featuring an amorous octopus, dubbed the Cephalovepod. This past fall he ran a project to create a limited run of Cthulhu holiday cards. Mersmann clearly knows his way around a letterpress, so we asked him to walk us through the process.
Most of my work begins life as digital files. There are some great letterpress outfits who work with movable type, but that's not feasible for something like Cephalovepod. With Cephalovepod, most of the pre-press work was done by the original artist, Phineas X. Jones, who had originally designed the work as a screen print.
I had to make a few adjustments to prepare the work for letterpress printing, and then I sent the files off to Boxcar to have photopolymer plates made. About 95% of what I print is from photopolymer, a highly malleable plastic that cures when exposed to UV light.
While I wait for the plates to arrive (usually 3-5 days) I make sure that my paper stock is in order and ready to go. For Cephalovepod, I was using the same stock that I used for my previous project, so this time around it was mostly a matter of ordering more matching envelopes from French Paper Company, a great, family-owned mill out of Niles, Michigan.
Once the photopolymer plates have arrived (and funding on the project was completed) I head into the printshop to make the cards. For Cephalovepod, I printed at The Arm, a public-access letterpress shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Presses are huge and I live in a fifth-floor walkup, so it's not feasible for me to own my own press; having access to a place like The Arm is a lifesaver for me.
The printing presses at The Arm are a mix of motorized and hand-powered. For Cephalovepod, I was fortunate to be able to use the Vandercook Universal III, a 2350-pound beast with a powered carriage return which saved me from having to pace the floor for seven days.
I averaged around 150 impressions per hour (which is pretty good for me) so the whole process of printing the Cephalovepod cards took about 55 hours over the course of two weeks, printing the colors in a certain order to make sure the overprinting worked the right way—Pink, Yellow, Red, Grey, Black.
Once everything is printed, I do a quality check to make sure everything is perfect. The Vandercook presses are great at getting precise registration, but mistakes do happen.
I typically estimate 10% waste per color, and then am consistently pleasantly surprised when I manage less than that. On Cephalovepod, I did have some extras, which I was able to offer to folks who missed out on the 800-count edition for my backers.
Then it's into envelopes and out the door! Post-press on this project including QC and fulfillment took about five days. I was a little more rushed than I would have liked because I knew my backers would want the cards with plenty of time before Valentine's Day, so I made sure to get everything out the door with plenty of time to spare.