Letterpress Variation Talk at 2016 LolCon

In September, I will be a two day business class for letterpress printers at the Ladies of Letterpress conference. Joing me at Type on the Cob III in Mt Pleasant, Iowa September 13 to 17, 2016:

Letterpress Variation

Even while most manufacturers have systematically reduced variability in their operations, letterpress printers embrace inconsistent printing. After all, the inherent variability makes letterpress more “hand-made” and desirable. Customer expectations are also highly variable and often unknown; those who spend more money for the slight inconsistency of letterpress printing are usually not happy with too much inconsistency. This balancing act has always been a challenge at Boxcar Press, as fewer than 1% of customers are on-site for a press check and fewer than 25% have direct contact with us at all. In this class I will cover some of the techniques that we use to bridge the gap between variable customer expectations and variable printing quality. We’re far from perfect, but I will share some techniques that seem to improve our odds of satisfying customers.

More details are online at the Type on the Cob III conference page. Feel free to ask any questions about the class in the meantime.

Letterpress Costing Materials

Earlier in the month I had the opportuntity to speak at the Ladies of Letterpress Conference. It was a terrific venue and an inspirational group of people on hand. After morning classes we got hands-on with a lot of cool letterpress equipment–including some scary/fun non-OSHA compliant wonders:

T.W. & C.B. Sheridan paper cutter

A video posted by Harold Kyle (@haroldkyle) on

On two mornings, I spoke about letterpress costing and product development. I had approached the Ladies to speak after classes on these topics during the January session at MIT Sloan’s Executive MBA. I love the intersection of cost accounting and product development, where operational capabilities and market possibilities collide. I created a spreadsheet to envision costs for the slides, something that you can open and copy to play around with. This is a Creative Commons licensed spreadsheet, so feel free to embellish and re-share; instructions are on the first tab.

A couple of students asked for the slide deck afterwards. I have this embedded below if you’re interested–bearing in mind that all numbers are ficticious and aren’t giving you any top secret insight into my operation. By way of explanation, the first day we covered slides 1 through 36, and broke down the costs behind a single Smock Happy Birthday Card. The second day we discussed the remainder of the slides–how careful cost accounting has kept Smock’s gift wrap products afloat despite many cost overruns along the way.

Many good discussions flowed from the audience. Jeff Marrow of Percolator Press shared how his detailed cost accounting in Excel rolls up into annual reports that he uses for decision making. Nancy Flemm from pixies & porcupines talked about how 17Hats keeps track of many business functions, including cost accounting–allowing her to focus on her work better.

A theme of the talk was finding creative ways to keep products profitable despite rising costs. Smock gift wraps in particular have had to suffer many bumps in the road, so it made a good example. As a postscript to the talk, I faced another obstacle in our gift wrap production when I returned to Syracuse: the printer in Syracuse who runs these large (25x38) 2-color offset sheets was going to scrap the printing press! I really didn’t like any option at this point, but I quickly ran some numbers and realized I should send out some riggers to save the press. It will pay for itself within 6 months with the current volume of work. I never thought that I would own a 2-color, 40 inch, 40 year old offset press, but here it comes:

The correct way to move a press

A photo posted by Harold Kyle (@haroldkyle) on

…so the saga continues!

Thanks to all the attendees and to Kseniya and Jessica for creating such an invigorating conference. If you have followup thoughts, open up this post to leave them in the comments section below.

On the Reliance

I was very pleased to have some quality time on the handpress over the weekend at the Type on the Cob 2015 letterpress conference. My handpress instructor Sara McNally shot this photo while I was “in the zone.” It captures a nice moment for me being creative on press for the first time in years.

Harold Kyle on the Handpress Photo by Sara McNally

I plan to post some notes from my presentation at the conference next weekend, so stay tuned.

Like Father, Like Son

List all fonts in directory's PDF files

Someone at work asked if we could search through our platemaking files to see what were the most popular fonts used each month. Wouldn’t that be something fun to share? “Trending letterpress fonts.” So this of course called for a command-line one-liner:

find . -type f -iname '*.pdf' -exec pdffonts {} \;|sed -E 's/^[A-Z]+\+//g'|grep -o '^[A-Z].*'|grep -o '^[-,A-Za-z]*'|grep -e '^$' -v

I’m going to guess there are more elegant ways to do this, but there you go: it appears to work. At some point I may get the time to feed this into a database to post online, so I’m leaving it here just so I don’t have to perform those mental acrobatics again. Note that pdffonts in in the Debian poppler-utils package and is also available for Mac via Homebrew‘s poppler package.