015: The New Age of Letterpress with Britt Rohr of Swell Press
Updated: Feb 21, 2022
It’s time for Talk Paper Scissors and I’m over the moon to share another interview with an awesome design and print entrepreneur. Britt Rohr, Founder of Swell Press just outside of Los Angeles, California, joins us on today’s podcast! Britt attended her first letterpress workshop in early 2014 and a few months later, she bought her first letterpress! Britt continued her letterpress journey as a side-hustle and set up a garage studio working on wedding invitations and pieces for friends or friends-of-friends. She continued to work at her day job while growing her letterpress business until May 2017 when she decided to take a six-month leave to give Swell Press a go full-time. From attending that very first letterpress workshop to now, her business has grown substantially, she’s purchased new equipment, she has continued to learn the craft of printing on different types of presses, she moved three times (eventually into her dream studio space!), and she hired a dream-team of women to work with her part-time and then eventually full-time. Britt’s work has been featured in Martha Stewart Weddings, the knot and oh so beautiful paper, among other news outlets.
Britt combines old and new technologies to create her beautiful pieces. She uses letterpress technology that uses the same principles that Gutenberg perfected over 500 years ago (inking up and pressing a raised image area onto paper). However, instead of moveable type (individual letters assembled to create the design) she uses polymer (flexible plastic) plates, which means that she creates her designs digitally using software like Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator. These plates are very similar to those used in flexographic printing to produce all kinds of packaging and labels. Designing digitally means that Britt has much more control over her design, as well as virtually unlimited access to typefaces, versus having to physically own moveable type. It’s comparable to wanting to watch a movie and being able to stream hundreds or thousands of movies on a service like Netflix, versus having to actually own hundreds or thousands of DVDs to get the same level of choice. The latter is expensive, cumbersome and less functional than the digital option. Designing for letterpress digitally provides access to all the benefits of using computer design software, while the letterpress technology and beautiful cotton paper accomplishes an artisanal, textural and handmade feel. Letterpress printing takes the finished product to a whole new level.
Although she and I could talk all day about everything paper and printing and ink and presses, today’s chat will focus on the areas of design, colour and typography.
There is so much I can’t wait to talk to her about so let’s dive right in!
Key takeaways from Britt’s interview:
Your world can get turned upside down with a single workshop you attend - don’t have your heart set on a specific career path
Nature is hugely inspirational to Britt’s designs (so are booze labels!)
Look outside of your industry for inspiration instead of copying what’s already out there in your industry
Keep your phone on you because inspiration can strike at any moment!
Britt was a letterpress printer first and a designer second, so she thinks about her design work differently - know the medium you’re designing in so that you understand the design possibilities
Client process: customers come to Britt with a mood board > contract signed > creative design process for Britt where she presents 2-4 initial concepts > Britt and client refine concept together > design is complete > sign proof to move ahead with production > production
When thinking about colour, think not only about the ink and the overprinting and interactions between transparent ink, but also paper colour
Check out @swellpress on Instagram on August 19, 2020 to check out Britt’s recent favourite project
Pantone doesn’t discriminate in terms of the size of your audience - post something beautiful related to them and you may get reposted!
Go your own way and try not to care so much about what other people are doing - you do you!
The hardest part of printing using letterpress technology is how unpredictable 50 - 100 year old technology can be
If you have a medium that you enjoy (like letterpress!) find a local school or business who will teach you how to use the equipment
Design for yourself first; don’t jump into getting clients right away so that you can ensure your vision is realized before you work for others
Not everyone likes Futura
Music by Podington Bear: Niagara Falls in a Raft
Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle
Boat Origami Photo: Boat Origami Photo by Alex on Unsplash