Famous Letterpress: Enlivening vintage art impressions in old medium

Ketholeno Neihu
Dimapur | October 27  

Not because we are stuck in the past, but because old vintage styles can offer experiences digital cannot and make vivid art impression, lets us to consider the labour and passion of reviving a 15th century printing method in incorporated to 21st century designs.  

‘Letterpress’ is one lost art enjoying a new lease at the ‘Famous Letterpress’ studio, store and press located in River Belt Colony, Dimapur.  

For love of the art

On one of the weekdays, the store and studio is seen abuzz with clients negotiating with the proprietor and the designers on their screen.  

“We get absorbed in long talks, when clients come in to put their preference and check out our range of design,” Proprietor Akanito Assumi aka Aki says as he puts back old samples of client pieces into a box.  

Anything but, judging by the variants of services catered to clients, from custom-made or readymade stationeries, illustrated letterpress to wedding invitations, business cards, frames and their very own range of “Made in Nagaland” products, Aki says that the store has attracted clients not only from within the state, but from other parts of the country and also few outside the country.  

“People who know the result and difference of letterpress, seek tangible quality without compromising the cost,” he shares and puts that “Yes, the cost is higher compared to digital but the price is worth it.” And on thick cotton papers, it certainly does enhance the aesthetics and elegance of good design.  

‘Kiss, bite and plank…’ As Aki expresses vividly at how the techniques are incorporated, an emotional connection sets in. “It feels different in your hand. You can smell it, feel the materials, the textures or the reflections on foil.” A general technique, he explains, is to know when to “kiss, bite and plank…”  

On one end of the spectrum is the “kiss impression,” which the printer applies just enough pressure to the plate to give adequate ink on the paper, but the resulting print is devoid of any visual indentation. Likewise, letterpress prints can exhibit bitten, punched, or debossed impression.  

It was part of an experiment for Aki, who is also an NIT graduate, a co-owner of the DesignStash and NEBuzz.com, the idea of the traditional printing style came from woodcut art, and he pursued as a hobby at home, and then came the marketing mix which conversely started as the Famous Print shop in 2012 to the “Famous Letterpress” now.  

Preserving the vintage and original print

The machines at the Famous Letterpress are old vintage and original Heidelberg prints of more than 70 years old brought from Germany and Kolkata.  

At dawn, after usual business, as Aki recalls his fascination at how they got the machines running, “I along with one of the main compositors here practiced running the machine. The manually operated machines, though tedious is another pinnacle of the traditional method in use here.  

“When we run out of machine parts, we either look for it online or weld it manually,” he adds. And so, the team of graphic designers, pressman and compositors at the Famous Letterpress as Aki shares did not come in with an expertise in Letterpress or foil stamping.  

It was a matter of time and network that has brought the passionate team of more than ten people to run the store, familiarize in the printing methods and design for letterpress.  

An uncommon print style, “we learn techniques from the internet and put together ideas and creativities,” Sinlo Kemp, a graphic artist at the Letterpress shares. “Getting adapted to the style of minimalism, our limitations helps us create, and overtime it has also improved our skills,” the artist adds.  

These incidentals give letterpress printed material an elegant, tactile quality, which is strikingly unique in our age of the digital word and mass-produced text.  

“We want to expand our horizon of more than catering to clients”, built a website and sell our start-up range of stationary “Made in Nagaland” in an online marketplace.  

Letterpress is building its network through collaboration by welcoming people into their workroom as Aki says “we are open to people coming to our studio to share space, help us learn and collaborate with us.”