In a digital world, two mid-century letterpress machines and their operators are still working and paying their way.
Small facility is part of large commercial print shop ArborOakland Groupwhich invites guests to visit the print shop at 4237 Normandy Court during an open house from 3-7 p.m. on September 22.
“People will be able to see 50-60 year old equipment making their personal cards,” said Don Kirkland, president of ArborOakland, headquartered in Royal Oak. “They can select an image and they’ll walk away with their own note cards and letters.”
Employees will talk about the historic printing process and guest John Benson will carve linoleum blocks and discuss the process of making hand graphics.
“Graphic design professionals appreciate the craftsmanship” of vintage printing presses, Kirkland said. “When you receive special embossed or debossed invitations, these are all signs of quality and, frankly, an experience.”
ArborOakland got the old-fashioned letterpress studio about four years ago when it acquired Utley Brothers, a specialty printer in Troy.
The typography studio was moved next to the 27,000 square foot building in ArborOakland.
“We rebuilt it with wood and brick,” Kirkland said, “and it feels like you’ve stepped back in time.”
Three people work in the typography workshop. Kirkland considers them craftsmen.
Each week, ArborOakland fulfills project orders on the printing presses, which include working with silver or bronze sheets that are pressed onto paper to create an image or letter.
According ArborOakland websitethe demand for unique or high quality print products has increased in recent years.
The small pressing studio has different presses for embossing or foiling and uses special plates or old wood. The oldest press is a Heidelberg windmill from 1955.
“If you’re hosting a major event, you want your invitations to represent the importance and significance of the event itself,” Kirkland said, “whether it’s a wedding, a bar mitzvah or a fundraising event.Other people love the old world charm.
“A typographic invitation or poster has a tactile feel – it is not digitally printed or computer based.”
He compares customer demand for letterpress commissions to shoppers buying a range of handmade works from Esty, even though they might buy a mass-produced item online or in a mall.
“It’s something that still shows craftsmanship,” Kirkland said.
One of the people who will speak to visitors at the upcoming event on Sept. 22 is Ralph Rinaldi, a printer at the Detroit Historical Museum’s 1840 Printing Exhibit, which he helped bring into operation in 1981.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to continue the story of the printing press as history took us in a different direction,” Kirkland said. “It is our role to perpetuate the heritage of craftsmanship.”
The open house is the first since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. The event will be smaller than usual, but another open house is expected to be held for some time in December, Kirkland said.