As traditional print shops face a continuing decline of the industry, attempts have been made in recent years to restore letterpress printing to its former glory by introducing contemporary approaches to address modern needs. What other possibilities are there? Here’s a guide to a group exhibition held by fifty-four artists showcasing playing cards that they have produced to revitalize letterpress printing.
Exploring More Possibilities in Letterpress Printing
At the beginning of 2017, Ri Xing Typography, the last traditional Taiwanese printing press still in operation, launched a campaign to repair damaged copperplate character molds. Ri Xing hoped that crowdfunding would provide the key to preserving the very last set of copperplate molds of traditional Chinese characters in the world.
As traditional industries have faced challenges brought on by the digital age, many have faded from history. Those still in operation, such as Ri Xing, are struggling for survival. While the debate over continuing to sell physical copies or going digital still rages in the mass media and the publishing industry, computerized typesetting has already become mainstream. To most people living in the digital age, the letterpress printing is an idea so distant that it’s merely a bit of knowledge gleaned from the pages of history textbooks.
Can the dying letterpress printing find a contemporary solution, and return to its culturally important status? Perhaps no one can truly answer that question yet, but there are people who are responding to this issue in their own ways. Letterpress Today 2017 is a spectacular event organized by Paperwork, FUFU PRINT INC., and Not Just Library to address the problem.
In early April, the three organizers invited people and businesses who are passionate about letterpress printing to hold markets, seminars, and workshops to explore new possibilities for this declining traditional technology. The organizers will also hold two exhibitions, Letterpress Playing Cards – A Joint Exhibition of 54 Creators and 100 Letterpress Business Cards, to showcase the allure of traditionally printed products.
A Tribute to a Tradition of Elegant Playing Card Design
Playing cards have a long tradition and thus were selected as the theme of the exhibition. The focus is on poker cards, the most widely-used playing cards in card games. Fifty-four artists have been invited to put their own stamp on letterpress printing and create an individual poker card.
Participating parties include fifty-four extraordinary artists, such as the illustrators Inca Pan, Wang Chuen Tz, Vita Yang and Hsueh Hui Yin, as well as the designers like Joe Fang, Ting-An Ho and Stacy Shi. Moreover, the event organizers Not Just Library and co-organizer Ri Xing Typography also took part in to show their love for letterpress printing.
▲ The 54 playing cards display the distinctive style of each participating creator. The full deck made by FUFU PRINT INC. is printed with two-color letterpress printing on the German Gmund cotton paper. It is also expected to issue limited edition cards for letterpress fans and paper enthusiasts.
The participating artists have all created ingenious poker cards with different patterns and number styles. Although each card’s composition, color scheme, and presentation vary, the combination as a whole demonstrates the artists’ affection and respect for letterpress printing.
“The key to preserving important things does not lie in yearning for the past and feeling nostalgic. It takes a group of people who are truly passionate about what they love and who endeavor to break through the challenges existing in modern society,” says Not Just Library, one of the event organizers as well as a participating artist. In today’s society with its profound upheavals, perhaps matters such as this deserve more thought.