What would letterpress for the iPad do for fine publishers?

By Harriet Staff

In The Faster Times, Andrew Gorin introduces LetterMpress, the letterpress app for the iPad created by graphic designer John Bonadies. Letterpress is a favorite format for publishers of fine poetry chapbooks and Gorin laments how poorly those translate to the current technology available for e-books. While some, like Ugly Duckling Presse and their series of web-based books, have found a way to communicate the art (if not the experience) of print online, most fine publishers are either holding out for something better or staying away from e-books entirely.

One of the problems with e-books—and there are many—is that the form has not developed sufficiently into an art for it to allow individualism into its products. (The same was true of photography at its inception, and at one point, also of typography.)

Bonadies' application-- while it beautifully mimics the ritual of typesetting (mixing colors, backwards type, galley trays)-- is not so much an e-publishing app as Gorin implies, as it is a tool for traditional publishing with a very different, more tactile (and more touch-screen friendly) user interface. You can export your design to other applications, but the emphasis is really on preserving an aesthetic (keeping it in print, if you will). Letterpress is regaining interest after years of disuse and Bonadies' goal is to make sure that it stays accessible even as letterpress publications (and the equipment and type itself) continue to be pushed into collector territory and out of reach for most.

Bonadies plans to include 12 typefaces and 50 art “cuts” for the first version of LetterMpress. The way the software reproduces that good old fashioned aesthetic—uneven ink distribution, funky textures, and idiosyncratic detailing—is by manipulating scans of real wood type impressions. At a later stage, LetterMpress users will be able to get actual letterpress prints custom made from their designs by typesetters working with the growing collection at Living Letter Press, a co-op Bonadies has founded in Champaign, Illinois, which will serve as a resource for designers, artists, and students.