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What began with Johannes Gutenberg’s moveable type in the 15th century, printing press technology and letterpress remain a timeless classic that creatives enjoy experimenting with. We caught up with Berlin-based letterpress studio P98a to dive in deeper about what they do, and how they’re exploring this analogue process in the digital age.
Amber: Can you tell us about the history of the studio? When / how was it set up? Did it have a particular purpose?
Lilith: P98a is an experimental letterpress workshop in Berlin dedicated to letters, printing and paper. The workshop was founded in 2013 by Erik Spiekermann and is housed in a historic building in Potsdamer Straße 98a. Here we are exploring how we can use letterpress in the digital age and save the analogue approach thought research, printing, collecting, publishing and running workshops.
A: What’s a standard day like in the studio?
L: There are two kinds of days in the p98a. Sometimes it is loud and crowdy and sometimes just one or two of us are here. There are workshop days when ten or more people come to print at our machines. Those are my greatest days, I love to show people how letterpress works and see their surprise when they print their first poster. But usually, we begin our day with a coffee from our great Italian coffee maker. After that, we move fast and get some shit done. In the afternoon we often meet at the espresso machine, eat some cake (we all love cake!), and talk about current projects and statuses.
A: Sounds like a print-lovers dream. So tell us about some of the workshops you currently run?
L: We run full-day workshops and studio tours. When people come to take part in a workshop, we welcome them with a coffee and describe what we do and explain how letterpress works. After that, the participants walk around the workshop, search for fonts, sketch their ideas and finally print their own posters. In that process, we help, advise and support their projects. In the afternoon we tidy up and clean up the workshop together because this is one of the differences between analogue and digital work, in the analogue world you have to tidy up after your work.
In addition, students often come to have a brief visit to our workshop. We give them a quick overview of what we do and what this place is made for. After that, they can try out a press and print a poster of a prepared form.
A: Can you tell us more about what you’re doing with laser cutting type to print?
L: We do have a laser cutter here and it’s so much fun to use. We also have a 3D printer and a moulding router but our superpower is polymer. With this technology, it is possible to design with a computer and print with letterpress so you can pick the best parts of both worlds.
A: And in an age of digital typefaces and typography, do you think that letterpress will still stand the test of time?
L: Letterpress as we know it has been around for more than five hundred years. Although other printing technologies emerged we believe that letterpress will have an important place in the mix of printing technologies available. Nobody wants to set a book by hand, that’s simply not economic. But we are convinced that it’s always helpful to have a trip to the analogue world to understand printing, type and typography. Working within constraints defined by the analogue process can create an alternative approach to problem-solving. In the end, the printed product is just great because of its intense colour and haptics.
A: Finally, any new exciting projects coming up or plans for the future?
L: We are planning to produce letterpress books as we did for Suhrkamp and have a number of design projects that we are working on. There are always projects going on from postcards to books as well.
Head to the p98a website to book some of their exciting workshops. Or visit their Analogue shop where you can find a range of interesting published works and publications.
Special thank you to Lilith for your words in this article.