Texas Tech University

TTU Letterpress Studio Introduces Students to Print Evolution

Hannah Fields

January 30, 2017

Thanks to the Texas Tech Letterpress Studio, students are able to experience the evolution of print first-hand.


Take a moment and think about what print, in the physical sense, looks like. Do books come to mind, or newspapers, perhaps? Maybe you find yourself thinking of posters or pamphlets. No matter the scenario, all of these things belong to the world of print. However, these representations have come a long way throughout history, and, thanks to the Texas Tech Letterpress Studio, students are able to experience the evolution of print first-hand.

From moveable type to a small Crafstman tabletop press to a working 19th century cast-iron Ostrander Seymour Washington Press, the studio is well-equipped with an assortment of materials unique to the average university setting.

"A lot of universities have a print department, like the one we have in visual arts," said Curtis Bauer, Texas Tech associate professor of English and director of the Letterpress Studio. "But there's not a letterpress studio like we have here. We're trying to bring together as many different print areas as possible."

Bringing together different areas has meant gathering a committee to head the studio with faculty from the Department of English, Southwest Collections/Special Collections Library and College of Visual Arts to not only use the studio, but to implement it as a teaching tool—a system that has encouraged students to think differently about print.

"When we have faculty from other departments bring students over for a tour, it seems to flip some kind of switch in their head," Bauer said. "They can see that printing isn't with a laser printer, that it used to be some other way. A lot of them don't even remember typewriters, so to talk about that and to show them that each letter fits into a line, that if I want to have a double space between lines, that's an object, that's something I have to be conscious of."

The teaching doesn't end with tours. Bauer said his students, along with others, work within the studio so that they can begin to think about the difficulties and attention to detail required to create a flawless print. It is also in the studio where students learn that print doesn't always correlate with an indentation (or imprint) being left in the paper they are working with.

"When these presses first came into being, you didn't make that kind of imprint. You wanted the press to slightly press onto that page so that the type would kiss the paper more-or-less, but not leave any indentation whatsoever," Bauer explained. "So you now have people who want an indentation, but fine letterpress printing doesn't want that. It wants to make sure there's no indentation. There's not an embossed surface. We talk about people who would want that, why they would want it. Other people, if you're going to print a book, especially double-sided, you don't want that kind of indentation because it's going to make it difficult to read."

Bauer also added that letterpress work can be messy; it's done by hand and requires complete concentration to avoid mistakes that often leads to a rework of an entire project, thus leading students to find a new appreciation for books and other printed mediums.

Not only does the studio serve as a teaching and learning tool, but it is also used to print various items from flyers to posters to pocket broadsides, which are about the size of business cards. Some presses have been made portable, being placed on movable carts, and have been used in Texas Tech's free speech area and the Arts and Sciences fair. Bauer said he's also done print jobs across the country including jobs for Alice James Books in Maine; printed broadsides for The Telling Project, a veteran's organization; and a chapbook cover for the Milton Society, an allied organization of the Modern Language Association.

If you'd like to learn more about the studio you can send inquiries to letterpress@ttu.edu.