P22 Blox is a set of modular letterpress printing blocks made from space age material... plastic! It allows for a wide variety of lettering, experimental letterforms and pattern making, giving printers an entirely new medium to inspire modern presswork.
This project is a collaboration between Richard Kegler of P22 Analog, Aurora-on-Cayuga, NY, and Jennifer Farrell of Starshaped Press, Chicago, IL. P22 Analog is an offshoot of P22 Type Foundry, a digital type house founded in 1994, and is dedicated specifically to hand-printing and hand-craft along with research related to printing and typographic history. Starshaped Press, founded in 1999, is one of the few design and letterpress studios in the country producing all commercial work and limited edition prints with metal and wood type.
P22 Blox was originally intended to be made for personal printing projects, but due to the cost of tooling to make molds and having them professionally fabricated to exact standards, we decided to use crowd funding so anyone can get these blocks in their print shop. And what printer wouldn't want to ink up this space age, experimental type?
A little history of modular letterpress type and why we love it
In 1944, American Type Founders (ATF) introduced Alpha-Blox, an impressive system of both solid and linear shapes that could be combined to create all manner of typefaces, ornament and pattern in 1- or 2-colors. The design possibilities were endless and limited only to the imagination of the printer/designer.
Also inspirational to this project is Josef Albers' Kombinationschrift und Schabloneneschrift modular alphabets where an economy of a few shapes could render all possible letterforms required. These forms feel fresh and modern despite their age.
Why WOULDN'T we want to create a modular alphabet?
P22 Blox takes inspiration from all of the above; the challenge of creating an alphabet from a finite set of parameters is one to delight most printers/designers, including us. It is pared down to only 8 shapes on a square base which can be rotated for any number of combinations. Rather than use semi-circles, rectangles and triangles as the basis of the building blocks (as did Albers), the forms are based on Alpha-Blox which used stems, curves and typographic DNA.
• P22 Blox are 72 point (6-line or 1") and are made of plastic.
• Like the ATF set, there are positive and negative shapes for overlay options.
• Unlike Alpha-Blox, P22 Blox reduces the character set to only 18 shapes (8 positive, 8 negative, 1 solid block and 1 spacer). It still contains enough variants to form any letters, numbers or abstract patterns.
• The ATF set did not have a solid, positive option, but rather a series of lines (known as 'Linear'), which disguised the edges of each piece. P22 Blox features tight edges so the solids (both positive and negative sets) can be locked up (as is the intention of wood type 'streamer' fonts) as continuous artwork.
• Standard 6-line furniture and spacing can be used for additional lockup.
· Each block is 1" x 1" x .918" with a tolerance of +/- .003 inch.
Blast off with your own set of P22 Blox
One of the most exciting aspects of this project is being able to produce the Blox and share them with the print community. There are 3 different reward options for bringing Blox to your own press, all providing ample sorts for creating hundreds of designs. Try your hand with a simple set of shapes to create abstract patterns. Or go for the gusto with a full set of 264 pieces for the ultimate range of possibilities. Each comes with a label printed from the actual P22 Blox in a box and includes a care/usage cheat sheet.
Welcome to...the space age!
Looking at materials for production, it was determined that wood would prove to be too time consuming in preparation. P22 Blox plastic will most likely be TPE (Thermoplastic elastomer) which approximates linoleum or hard rubber (similar to mid-century plastic showcard type). We're working with a topnotch manufacturer in Central New York to both preserve the ease of communication about the process as well as keep all production local.
Several stages of test blocks were made and tested in print:
-Blocks carved from type-high wood
-3-D printed-sided blocks
-CNC router cut type-high slabs, finished with type shop saw
The 3-D printed test blocks have a charm and character of their own. These explored the concept of having two-sided blocks known as Verso-Tiles (so that the positive was on one side and the negative on the other). This concept presented problems for injection molding, but it does allow for an alternative approach. These will not be used as the final P22 Blox concept due to some concern when printing about maintaining the quality we seek with the blocks. However, the 3-D models are available as a reward at the digital level along with the OpenType font used to create the proof of concept artwork and the CAD file. The 3-D files can be sent to any 3-D printer so you can experiment with your own Verso-Tiles.
The CNC routered test blocks, while rough, gave us the chance to experiment with the design potential of P22 Blox. This was definitely the fun part! A few of these test prints are available as rewards in this campaign.
Not a letterpress printer?
Try your hand at the digital version of P22 Blox! You can get the full OpenType font system with limitless possibilities for character and pattern creation. We've been using the digital typeface to explore design options and character development throughout the process and are thrilled with the interesting (and entertaining) forms that have resulted from this. The digital font is fully functional for designing the same patterns and letterforms that can be made with the actual P22 Blox and includes bonus characters for even more exploration.
There's money in plastic!
The biggest cost for this project is making metal molds for injection molding. The precision involved will produce printing blocks that are exact and uniform with no stray plastic to clean off. The per unit cost is not as low as we were hoping, but we wanted to have quality control and know what plastic was being used rather than risk the unknown make-up of recycled varieties. Other costs included hiring a draftsman for precise CAD drawings, expenses already incurred for test models, meeting with various technicians across New York State and concept development for alternative methods of creating 1- and 2-sided blocks. Most of the funds raised go directly to the cost of the molds and the ability to produce enough sets to offer as rewards. With that in mind, this project will break even. We are most concerned with producing a quality new material for fellow printers to explore and enjoy!
But I heard Starshaped Press doesn't endorse plastic...
While it's true that Jen prides the work designed and printed at Starshaped because it is all created with metal and wood type, she'll never miss a chance to experiment with any type high material that can be combined with existing sorts in the studio. And the flexibility of this new medium provides decades of potential designs without the aid of a computer. She is also thrilled to collaborate with P22 Analog, an exciting new, yet old, approach to typography from P22 Type Foundry.
Risks and challenges
The biggest cost and risk in this project is the making of metal molds for injection molding. The design has been tested with hand carved, CNC routered wood, and 3-D printed blocks. The plastic cannot be fully tested until a mold is made and the first batch of blocks can be printed. The tests will have to confirm that they hold ink as anticipated and that they allow us to make informed decisions on cleaning methods. If there are any issues with the size or resilience of the plastic, then we have to resolve these as they arise.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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