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Perfectly Imperfect: Human Connection

Written by in Create, Profiles

“Beautiful Imperfections” 

Craft, Color, Texture, and Human Connection

Although letterpress printing is a traditional, laborious process, and flies in the face of modern technology, it’s never been more popular. People crave the beautiful imperfections and sensory experience of this timeless media, and designers value the handiwork and intrinsic qualities it adds to their creative output. In this feature post, we show the designs of Felix Sockwell, Gary Rozanc and Chad Michael, plus the printing talent John Selikoff (Vote for Letterpress Press, South Orange, NJ), the craftsmen and women at Studio on Fire (MPLS), and Gary Rozanc himself. Enjoy.


Design: Chad Michael

Project: Self Promotion Liquor Packaging

Printing: Studio on Fire



Designer Chad Michael wanted to send clients and potential clients a unique self-promo that would demonstrate his design capabilities in a spirited way, literally. Working with a liquor distributor, he developed a limited-quantity of specially packaged white rye whiskey. Three-hundred bottles of Promineo, which is Latin for “stand out,” were dressed in beautiful letterpress-printed labels designed by Michael. “Ultimately, this was the first liquor project coming out of my new design studio so it had to be a show-stopper and encompass my designer skill set. I wanted to display my meticulous nature, attention to detail, love of custom typography, and an overall unique label design that hadn’t been seen before,” he says.


He wanted the label to be dark and mysterious, drawing on inspiration from old medieval bookplates and gothic architecture. The exquisite hand-lettering and design details he created are extra challenging to capture with Letterpress, but Michael entrusted Studio on Fire to do the job. “It was definitely a challenge because of the amount of label finishings I wanted to achieve—two foils and three engraving inks—is a bit unheard of,” he says. “Most printers couldn’t even handle a label requiring so many press passes at that level of detail, but Studio On Fire is no ordinary printer.”

You also can’t use an ordinary paper stock for a job like this, so Michael specced Neenah’s CLASSIC CREST® Epic Black 80C for the job. “A common problem with label finishing at this level is that it causes the paper stock to lift away from the glass and peel off due to the embossing, but that was not the case with the Epic Black. Its strong adhesive qualities made it a great companion for this design,” he explains.


Michael also added a personal element by hand-bottling and numbering each one.
No two bottles are the same, which is just the way he likes it.

“The entire project was a surprisingly large undertaking. It was like I was trying to start a liquor company but on a much smaller scale, so I have a huge appreciation for my liquor clients knowing what it takes to get a product together from start to finish. I had to not only design the label, but source the bottles, liquid, shipping containers, tissue paper, wax and oversee production in all areas.”


Design & Printing: Gary Rozanc

Project: Wedding Invitations




Designing one’s own wedding invitations isn’t as easy as it seems. Just ask Gary Rozanc. “If it was up to me, I probably would have asked a friend to design my wedding invitations,” he admits. “It was really a daunting task trying to design something for your future wife. I wanted everything to be perfect and I didn’t want to disappoint her, her parents, and everyone else.”


Rozanc’s snarky holiday cards feature illustrations and hand-set type.
This Mother’s Day card is printed on Neenah’s ENVIRONMENT® Pageant Rose 80C.

His now wife, loved the letterpress holiday greetings he would send out each year, so naturally, she wanted the save the date and invitations letterpress printed. Rozanc teaches responsive web design at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, but he’s always had a soft spot for printmaking. While in graduate school in Arizona, he acquired a 1908 Poco Proof Press #0. “Since then my press weighing in at 210 pounds, has traveled in the bed of my pickup truck for each of my moves from Tucson to Kirksville Missouri, to Chicago, and finally Baltimore. I don’t have any plans now or in the future of getting rid of it,” he says.


His “client” had already come up with a color scheme for the wedding, so he started with that. “Since I didn’t really have a clear vision for our save the date postcards I do what I always do when I don’t have a clear idea, I make three different designs,” he says. The first was a very classic typographic layout using elegant script fonts.

The second design I knew wasn’t going to work because of the color scheme, but I tried really hard to make it work. My wife loves art deco so I created an art deco themed save the date card, actually several different layouts using fonts from the era and more geometric patterns than you could imagine. In the end though, the colors she chose didn’t historically fit the art deco period.”


It was his third attempt that won the day, but he wasn’t sure she’d go for it. “The third layout was basically my ‘screw it, this is what I like,’ hail mary layout. Since I’m a big fan of open source and really big bold type, I used the open source font from the League of Movable type called Ostrich Sans and mixed in a little Univers for nostalgia. To my surprise, this is the version she ended up picking,” Rozanc says. “It should have been obvious at the time since I wrote the copy for the save the date card, and my writing style didn’t reflect the elegant type or the art deco layout. Rather the design was a reflection of myself, which matched the voice in my copy I created.”

Paper choice for this project, was of course, paramount, as well. “I’ve always wanted to print on Crane’s LETTRA®, so once it was decided that I would be designing and printing our wedding invitations and other materials, I knew that I was going to finally get a chance to use Crane’s, and now that I’ve used it, when it comes to letterpress I won’t use anything else. Some papers I’ve tried in the past don’t absorb the ink very well and will smear if you don’t use the exact pressure, or use too small of a font. With Crane’s LETTRA® you can over pressure or under pressure the print and the paper is so absorbent the ink doesn’t smear. The paper is thick enough that you can get that classic indented look and feel, yet not indent so much that you see the impression on the back side of the paper. Anybody new to letterpress should use this paper. Other papers are unforgiving and can be frustrating to work with.”


Design & Illustration: Felix Sockwell

Project: NPR calendar for New York Public Radio

Printer: John Selikoff, Vote for Letterpress


NYPR-Poster-Final  001


When Felix Sockwell was presented with designing and illustrating a calendar for his client, New York Public Radio, he naturally drew squirrels. “Calendars can be anything, so I thought everyone would love the squirrels and think it’s funny. It’s pretty hipster,” he says. But his client didn’t go for it and when they suggested he do something with a tree, he winced a bit, “but I figured out a way to do it that would be a little more complicated than four seasons,” he says.


“I took the tree idea and started throwing all kinds of images around it to make a story happen, and it did, by accident. I started seeing things that could have some kind of relation, and I pushed that angle,” Sockwell explains. “The aesthetic is slightly pop surreal and borrows from the Pushpin work from the ’60s and ’70s, by filling the areas.” He also created a story in the tree. “There’s a man carrying a sunflower to his lover in spring, and then they hook up and have a child in the fall,” he says.


“Paper is always important because you want something thick enough
to show the impression, but smooth enough to keep the detail,” Sockwell says.

“They didn’t have the budget to do a four-color press run, so I chose letterpress so we could do a split fountain and get all the colors in,” he says. He and Jon Selikoff at Vote for Letterpress were on press for three weeks churning out the 2,200 calendars, “which is an assload for letterpress,” Sockwell notes.

Video of printmaking process, shot by Ande la Monica of Ande & Partners, LLC.

“My client was a dream to work with and she was happy with the poster,” he says. “My only beef was the black should have run silver because it’s too harsh on the eye if you stare at it very long.”Nevertheless,  we cannot stop staring. It is “Perfectly Imperfect.”


Want to learn more about how paper color and texture can shape your brand?: See: Color and Texture in High-value Print Applications.