‘‘A lot of our clients come to us because they value both local and quality. People are looking for something unique
One happy client calls Porchlight Press the ‘Bentley press’ of Vancouver. Certainly walking into the letterpress shop—with printing presses dating back to the turn of the 20th century—one can sense an appreciation for vintage style and a keen attention to detail.
Owner and creative director Heather Braun launched the company in early 2012. Located close to the downtown core in the up-and-coming Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, Porchlight occupies space in a three-storey brick building on East 6th Avenue, which also includes a recording studio, a textile business, designers and photographers. She now has a staff of two and says the cornerstone of her business is quality.
“A lot of our clients come to us because they value both local and quality,” she says. “People are looking for something unique.”
Braun, with degrees in landscape architecture (University of Guelph) and communication design (Emily Carr University), has worked in both urban and graphic design fields. She saysletterpress printing was a perfect way to combine her passion for design with typography, texture and the tactile.
“I like making things as well as designing them,” she says. “The things that attracted me to letterpress were the attention to detail,
the colours. Texture is a big consideration and that’s followed through into graphic design.”
She had to reach into the past to acquire a lot of her shop’s machinery. A Heidelberg windmill press came from the barn of a cattle rancher in Napa Valley. She scored a Vandercook proofing press from an auction in Baltimore, and her 1907 Colt’s Armory press originally belonged to legendary Vancouver graphic and type designer Jim Rimmer.
Polymer plates have helped bridge new with old. “It’s no longer just metal type or wood type, now you can take something directly from the computer and make a plate and put it into these old machines,” she says. The skill comes in having to manually control the impression on the paper. Braun says the learning curve for a Heidelberg, for instance, can be up to five years.
The Heidelbergs are the workhorses, she says, automatic feed presses perfect for everything from invitations to olive oil labels and hang tags for the fashion industry. The Vandercooks are used for workshops, which Braun plans to hold four times a year. Her holiday workshops are coming up (Sunday December 1 and 8) where people can learn to make their own hand-printed greeting cards using wood and metal type.
The workshops are about building community, she says. “There’s a lot of interest in letterpress. Setting type is similar to learning how to knit—you’re playing with letters and lining things up and the reward is putting ink on and seeing it come out.”
The design industry often writes off letterpress as a quaint business for low-run invitations and the like, but Porchlight produces coasters, business cards, wine glass markers, bottle labels, clothing tags and more.
Print runs range from 50 units up to 10,000. The cost, says Braun, is all in the initial set up price of the materials. Most of Braun’s business comes from word of mouth.
Clients include Exhibit A: Design Group, KJM Country Gardens, Shelter Residential Architecture, Union Wood and Supply Company, and 33 Acres, a craft brewing company that recently opened in her neighbourhood.
Braun is optimistic about the future of letterpress. Recently she started producing her own line of notebooks, greeting cards, calendars and art prints. The plan, says Braun, is to expand the product line nationally.
“We want to show people that this is a viable way to print,” she says. “People think it’s only for wedding invitations, but we can do a lot more than that. Every single project that we’ve done pushes the boundaries of traditional letterpress printing.”
Whereas typically a letterpress machine would be used to produce a simple manual, black ink on paper, Porchlight employs edge
painting, multiple colours, thick paper stocks and two-sided printing.
As for the future of print?
“I don’t think books are going anywhere,” she says. “And if we are going to be printing less in the world why not do a really nice job of it and make it more special?”