Sat., Nov. 7 | Type designer and printer Erik Spiekermann joined us from the entrance of p98a, his letterpress workshop in Berlin, Germany. He’s wearing a neat white lab coat, like that of a German engineer—or, as he deadpans, of a mad scientist—and invites us in for a tour.
P98a is large, airy, and bright, with wood type and posters on the walls. Sheets of holiday gift wrap printed from wood type in gold and gray ink were in progress on several of the five flatbed cylinder proofing presses, including German Korrex and Grafix, and Swiss FAG models. There’s a library, as well as a kitchen with an espresso machine to brew the custom p98a Letterpresso blend roasted by Spiekermann’s brother. It looks like an ideal place to print.
After a quick shot of caffeine, Erik takes a seat at the “Spiekermann’s Precision Table,” set with neatly organized printing tools. We learn that he prefers an awl to tweezers for adjusting metal type, that the shop uses only metal furniture for locking up forms, and that he owns a set of aluminum furniture from Italy he finds too beautiful to use. There are multiple rulers, calipers, and gauges for measuring points in various scales, all in service for his international collection of over 500 types.
Spiekermann moves back to the pressroom to discuss “post-digital letterpress,” his ongoing experimentation in combining digital and analog processes in his work. Digital fonts, page layout software, and computer-to-plate imaging technology are mixed with handset metal and wood type and the visual and tactile qualities offered by relief printing. Artz, a wood type Spiekermann designed using software, was produced in end grain maple at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum using a pantograph. Artz is also available as a digital font.
It is not nostalgia that draws Spiekermann to analog work, but the results those technologies offer him. He showed us a few of the shop’s “cross-media” results: From a collaboration with a trade book publisher, Spiekermann had an 8-page-up polymer plate form, generated from an Adobe InDesign layout, and letterpress printed on a 1956 Heidelberg cylinder press. 1
Spiekermann concluded with a live Q&A. His likes include Mohawk papers, Akzidenz-Grotesk, printing in Italy with friends, and affogato. Besides acknowledging he’s looking forward to leaving the pandemic year of 2020 behind, Spiekermann is clearly having a good time. I see his work as a reminder that printers can best get desired results when they consider all available technologies.
- 1 In an email to this website’s editor, Spiekermann explained: “…we built our own laser-setter that makes plates direct from data, no negatives required! These lasers are around, but we couldn’t find one big enough for our Heidelberg, 72cm wide (28.4″) × 52cm deep (20.5″). We don’t know anybody else who does this, and we couldn’t make books without it. Just the extra expense for the negatives would drive up the price (we’re just printing a book with 28 plates, and negs here in Germany would be around $100 for each of them; our plates are around $70 each).”.