After a busy week in the office, 99designs’ San Francisco branch decided a Friday afternoon field trip was in order. We clocked out a little early and drove over to SF’s Presidio — a beautifully wooded former military base — to spend the afternoon touring Arion Press, home to one of the country’s oldest and most esteemed type foundries.
Then we went bowling. Check us out.
Arion Press and M&H type were so amazing, we thought we’d take you on a quick virtual tour. This historic press makes limited edition books using the antiquated, labor-intensive and singularly artful technique of letterpress printing — that means actually forging and arranging font molds letter by letter, page by page.
It takes them about a year to finish a book (one of their most recent prints was Don Quixote — quite a doosie), and you can snag one for the cool sum of $500 – $2,000. After seeing the process in action, we’d say that’s a bargain.
Waiting out front for the whole crew to arrive
A selection of Arion Press’ gorgeous books
The tour begins. The machinery is impressive. That beast on the right is a monotype machine dating back to the mid 19th century. This is where you set the plates of text for inking and printing.
The traditional process begins with literally re-typing an entire book, converting each letter into a code on a spool (top left). This spool is fed through a machine that turns those codes into actual letter casts by forcing molten lead into the corresponding letter molds to create blocks of type (below). Safety glasses were not worn.
Alternatively, modern technology allows a computer program to replace the spool of hole-punched code. That Macbook is actually connected to the century-old machinery via a special converter. The irony of this was lost on no one.
Rows and rows of lead, letter and spacing casts. Members of the community team explore…
Trays of Times New Roman! In various font sizes
Pages of text, with space for images
Finally, the binding process, which involves sewing then gluing