Figure 05.11.01
Prospectus for Color for the Letterpress, a book by Jim Trissel/The Press at Colorado College, made in 1987. An elegant book demonstrating the possibilities for color in letterpress and relief printing. Similar in many to the screenprinted plates of Josef Albers's Interaction of Color.

Last night as I was printing I was thinking about color and I was thinking about physical, viscous ink. I was thinking about the concept of making letterpress printing the books necessary and integral to them, and the black text that I was printing seemed to disappear, to retreat into processes that we all know and do not see.

The process is not completely removed from the text—when comparing it next to a digitally printed piece, the letterpress obviously has more heft to it.

Figure 05.11.02
Text from the book printed digitally (from one of the mock-ups). The typeface is 10 pt. Palatino Linotype.

Figure 05.11.03
Text from the book letterpress printed from photopolymer plates (from one of the many proofs).

Figure 05.11.04
A close-up image of the letterpress printed text. Overinked.

There is the impression, and there is also the irregularity of the print—the ink squishes over the sides of the letterforms, the solidity of the strokes varies with the amount of ink and the arrangement of the fibers of the paper. The edition breathes.

Figure 05.11.05
A close-up image of the digitally printed text. Nothing is perfect. The key is to decide which imperfections one wants and can use.

Upon close inspection it can be seen that digital printing is also highly irregular (it’s also often more subject to environmental degradation than other printing methods). But digital printing is a generally more “transparent” medium than letterpress (“transparent” in the sense of being unobtrusive and not being noticed on most occasions) precisely because it has no impression—the interaction of digital printing with the paper’s surface is far more subtle.

(The planographic, chemical process of offset hangs somewhere between the two. Offset, on most occasions is also very “transparent.” But it doesn’t have to be.)

Figure 05.11.06
Bruce Nauman, Please Pay Attention Please


The chaotic forces of the process of printing threaten to burst through every printed word. The irregularity of the printed letter is language’s link to the physical world.

The trick is to get the reader to experience the book on multiple levels—to make a book that employs multiple legibilities that are all accessible to the reader. Accessible, not necessarily concise and clear—there will hopefully be something to dwell in.

So maybe black text on white paper doesn’t make sense anymore, or at least doesn’t make sense for the future. “Make sense” in terms of being apparent to the senses.

(Those of you who know my work and the extremely limited palette that I use will understand the statement above as being a big deal, at least for me.)

The next book will be in “full color.” The next book will be in techno-color. Pure color and four color. Not black but not quite. Is there such a thing as neutrality?

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