It seems that every day brings another story of exciting applications of 3D printing technology. As recently as Dec. 17, a Princeton University team announced it had printed a contact lens with an embedded LED capable of projecting light.
But despite this constant stream of innovation, some printers are turning to older techniques in order to satisfy a growing demand for handmade or artisanal products.
“It is a safe bet that at least one Christmas card you receive this year will be printed in the old-fashioned manner, by letterpress,” reads an Economist article from Dec. 18. “You’ll recognise it by the way the letters are pounded deep into the paper, like some kind of reverse braille. The point, for a new wave of hobbyists around the globe, is the ostentatious tactility.”
Why this desire to turn the clock backward?
Some suggest what they call “digital fatigue” — an oversaturation with modern technology that leads to a feeling of disconnectedness. This isn’t a purely consumer-driven movement; many arts fields, even technology-driven ones like graphic design, are championing a return to traditional methods.
“Digital kids are sick of sitting in front of screens pushing buttons all day,” Erik Spiekermann explains to The Economist. Spiekermann is an internationally recognized typographer who turned to the letterpress after spending decades working in digital font design. According to him, digital design is like fast food.
But this turn toward older techniques isn’t pure Luddism. “The paradoxical fact [is] that technology has made it easier to print letterpress than ever before. No longer must an apprentice spend years learning to set metal letters into rows; a computer design can be turned into a plastic printing plate,” The Economist explains.
This means that digitally enabled letterpress printing joins a host of other printing technologies blending the old and the new.
“Many times over the years we have been asked to reproduce quality prints of original paintings be it oil, water, tempura that the artist then hand signs,” says Howard Sturm, CEO, Apple Visual Graphics. “It is a way for the artist to reach out to a wider audience, that makes their works affordable without deluding the price of the original.”