The Private Presses of New Mexico

Letterpress Tools

Most of the printers featured in Lasting Impressions have used a raised-surface form of printing known as letterpress. Introduced in the mid-1400s, this method of printing changed little until the end of the 19th century. Metal or wood type and relief artwork are impressed directly onto the paper surface. Contemporary fine printers often opt to use hand-operated letterpress equipment because of the control it offers and the sculpted quality of its direct impressions. Some of the tools of the letterpress craft are shown in the accompanying photograph.
Letterpress Tools ©2005 Blair Clark.

  • California Job Case. The most popular style of type case, the California Job Case combines both capital and lower case letters in one drawer. The capitals are arranged in alphabetical order except for J and U, which appear after X, Y and Z. The lower case letters are positions according to frequency of use.
  • Brass Line Gauge. The printer’s measuring stick, sometimes called a “pica pole.” There are six picas to an inch.
  • Composing Stick. The hand-held tray into which type is assembled in lines.
  • Reglets and Leads, Thin wood and metal spacing material used between lines of type.
  • Case. Frame in which printing material is fixed for press work.
  • Furniture. Wood or metal pieces used to secure type into the chase.
  • Wedge Quoins and Key. Used for locking printing material in place.
  • Plane and Mallet. Used to coax types into a level position.
  • Galley. Tray in which set type is proofed and stored.
  • Imposing Stone. Marble table upon which types and printing blocks are prepared for the printing process.

Virtual Cuderno Virtual Print Shop