Richard Ardagh hails from Chorleywood and works in East London, dividing his time between graphic design using a state of the art Apple Mac and hand-printing at New North Press, a traditional letterpress studio.
He was involved in one of the most innovative projects in type – creating the world’s first 3D-printed letterpress font.
New North Press, an artisan studio run by Richard with business partners Graham Bignell and Beatrice Bless, is packed from floor to ceiling with drawers full of print blocks. The smallest fonts (4pt) are made of metal and measure barely a millimetre, while the largest, in wood, are over 2ft. Recently there has been a new addition to their type library, a font fabricated in photo polymer using 3D-print technology.
Richard, who is passionate about typography, couldn’t be happier
“I love letterpress – you are arranging physical elements, almost like building Lego. For a control freak like me being able to hand-set the type, letter by letter, then ink and pull the press manually means you can control everything to the finest degree.”
It was a craft that had almost disappeared, having been superseded by modern print technologies. “I had been contemplating for a long time what was next for letterpress. It was the common form of printing for over 500 years and, although there has been a recent revival of enthusiasm, it is mainly driven by nostalgia. I wanted to find a way of making it contemporary and have a reason to survive. Making a 3D-printed font was an attempt to connect the oldest and newest forms of printing and breathe new life into letterpress. I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from Arts Council England which meant I could do things to the highest possible standard.”
Early tests in various materials were unsatisfactory, but eventually Richard found something that could achieve the accuracy needed. Working closely with specialist model-makers Chalk Studios he knew he was on to something exciting and that they would be capable of fabricating the font accurately and to withstand the printing process. But it wasn’t until he met typeface designers Scott Williams and Henrik Kubel, of A2 Type, that the idea started to become a reality.
“I said to them ‘Show me something I’ve never seen before – it has to look distinctly new’. Thankfully they didn’t balk at that.”
A2 came up with a ‘wireframe’ style design that was reminiscent of architectural plans of buildings and named it A23D, a 3D-looking 3D-printed font.
“A23D works large as a display font but you also want to get up close to examine the fine detail. It’s hugely intricate and the files crashed the computer a lot! The blocks are photopolymer, built up in layers and cured using a UV light, mounted on a chemiwood base which means they handle in a very similar way.
“I wanted to breathe new life into letterpress and I’m so glad I managed to make the project a reality. I really just chose the best people and shepherded them along, leaving them to it and trusting that it would be fantastic, which I think it is. We launched it at the V&A in September during London Design Festival and it’s been very well received by the design community.” Now it needs to be appreciated by the wider world!
Richard’s idea of marrying the oldest from of printing with the newest form of 3D printing to create the world’s first 3D printed letterpress font captured the imagination of the design world, resulting in this film.
New North Press usually run monthly workshops for the public giving a hands-on introduction to the craft of letterpress, from composition (hand setting, spacing and locking up type, inking and pulling the press). Access to their library of wood, metal and 3D-printed fonts is open and everyone leaves with a printed example of their work. Currently, due to COVIS-19, the classes are cancelled until further notice. See www.new-north-press.co.uk for more information.
Nov 2014 Oranges at Lemons Print for SCD